On Twitter, "be careful what you wish for" takes on a new meaning, especially if you're trying to get people talking about your product or idea. A hashtag helps bring together conversations on Twitter. You can follow any phrase proceeded by "#" and see all tweets that include the tag. Companies and groups like to use hashtags to get people talking about a campaign they've launched. But sometimes the Twitterverse has other ideas, turning them into "bashtags," or opportunities to call out the company or make fun of the original idea. Time and again we see efforts to get create a popular hashtag go awry. Here are the top examples of hijacked hashtags.
Starbucks UK encouraged people to tweet happy holiday messages, which would display on a video screen outside London's Natural History Museum. But UK residents were ticked at the coffee giant for its labor policies and low tax rates and used the public forum to voice disapproval. Example: "I like buying coffee that tastes nice from a shop that pays tax. So I avoid @Starbucks #spreadthecheer"
This hashtag began with McDonald's effort to promote how hard its food suppliers worked. But Twitter users decided to make it their own, and used it to share less flattering stories, like how gross they think the food is. Example: "Hospitalized for food poisoning after eating McDonalds in 1989. Never ate there again and became a Vegetarian. Should have sued. #McDStories"
On New Year's Eve 2011, Research in Motion started a Twitter campaign encouraging people to tweet their New Year's Resolutions using the #BeBold tag. But people hijacked #BeBold to foretell the demise of the struggling company. Example: "People, be gentle with the #RIM senior managers behind #bebold. They're going to be out of work and have no marketable skills."
President Obama has had several hashtags hijacked. Most recently, he used #My2K to ask people to tweet what they'd have to cut back if tax cuts for the middle class aren't passed. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, bought the phrase as a promoted hashtag (Twitter's version of an ad) with a link to a blog post railing against tax hikes for top earners.
The airline ran a Twitter campaign asking people to submit their most creative in-flight luxury. But the contest came on the heels of disputes with three unions that resulted in the fleet being grounded. The public used the hashtag to voice their displeasure through tweets such as, "Getting from A to B without the plane being grounded or an engine catching fire. #qantasluxury."
After Newsweek ran a story on Islam, it asked people to tweet comments using #MuslimRage. Muslim and non-Muslim Twitter users turned the hashtag into a mockery of the article, which many people found inflammatory. Example: "Orders pancakes at IHOP, came with a side of bacon.#MuslimRage." An offshoot hashtag — #MuslimRave — also became popular.
Walgreens pharmacy used the hashtag #ILoveWalgreens to promote itself as part of a PR battle against ExpressScripts. Walgreens also paid Twitter to make it a promoted hashtag that appears at the top of people's feeds. But many people didn't like seeing the Walgreens/ExpressScripts battle among their feed and used the hashtag to say so. Example: "So, Walgreens had to pay Twitter to get #ilovewalgreens to trend – like a sad teenager mailing himself love letters; without the sincerity."
President Obama's campaign highlighted his Affordable Care Act on Twitter, encouraging people to tweet how Obamacare had improved their lives. But conservatives jumped on the hashtag to deride Obama's policy. Example: "#ILikeObamacare because anything we do to be more like Canadians is only a good thing."
London's police started a public service campaign to help reduce robberies. But Twitter users took the opportunity to mock the program. Example: "Wait until police are distracted by a backfiring Twitter campaign, then clear out the neighbourhood. #thinklikeaburglar"
President Obama wasn't the only one to take an online beating during the campaign. The Romney crew was often the butt of jokes, too. When the campaign created the hashtag #AreYouBetterOff to question Obama's policies, liberals used it as a chance to rip on the Republicans, such as comedian Chris Rocks rant about Republican views on feminism.