When Twitter bites back: Hashtag hijacking trending among disgruntled tweeters

twitter-badTwitter is well-known for its role in granting a voice to all, from the disenfranchised to the lunch tweeter. But what happens when the Twitter hive doesn’t like what’s being said? Well, they change the subject. Recently, hoards of tweeters have hijacked some hashtag campaigns out of disgust; co-opting and rebranding the hashtag to create a new discussion.

The #McFail

The McDonalds fast food chain set out last week to begin a social media campaign in order to boost its image by using the hashtags #meetthefarmers and mcfail#McDstories. The first hashtag highlighted the company’s commitment to fresh produce and meat, while #McDstories was intended to encourage warm and fuzzy stories about Happy Meals.

The paid-for, Promoted Tweet campaign’s initial tweets were positive, like this one from a McDonalds supplier: “When u make something w/ pride, people can taste it.” Eventually, the campaign backfired, as detractors turned #McDstories into something, Forbes privacy blogger Kashmir Hill seems to have popularized, called the bashtag. McDonald’s had the sense to quickly take down the campaign after only using the hashtag twice, though the anti-McDonalds legion had already latched on. The #meetthefarmers hashtag was also hijacked to a degree, with some farmers like @MassaOrganics condeming McDonalds.

Here are a few sample tweets from the disaster:

  • “One time I walked into McDonalds and I could smell Type 2 diabetes floating in the air and I threw up.” #McDStories @SkipSullivan
  • “#McDStories Paid for my food but almost left cause I was high and convinced that the workers called the cops and were using my food as bait.” @gui_camillo
  • “I haven’t been to McDonalds in years, because I’d rather eat my own diarrhea.” @MuzzaFuzza
  • “Ate a McFish and vomited 1 hour later….The last time I got McDonalds was seriously 18 years ago in college… #McDstories” @stilletochemist

Perhaps the fast food chain learned a harsh lesson about the nature of social media by losing control of its discussion, but McDonalds’ social media director Rick Wion points out that social media blowback is unavoidable for a “lightning rod” like McDonalds. The burger joint has actually jumped back into the fray with a new campaign using #LittleThings, which hasn’t seemed to draw as much ire yet.

Not so obvious LGBT facts

In a less snarky and lower profile vendetta, a group of Twitter users have been badgering a Twitter account called @lgbtfactsstoplgbt. The 300 follower strong account appears to be quite bigoted, with a sincere mission to go about “spreading the truth about the abhorrent homosexual lifestyle.” An example of the ridiculous flavor of the tweets: “In fact, AIDS in America originated in a small group of homosexual men in San Francisco, LA & NY. #LGBTfacts.”

Twitter activists seem to have caught on to the account’s discussion and have been tweeting ridiculous and witty “facts” in an attempt to co-opt the #LGBTfacts hashtag and neutralize the bile. Some noteworthy examples include: “When cornered, the male homosexual can shoot glitter into the eyes of an attacker to blind them.” @mikestuchbery, and “The LGBT community uses that abbreviation so people don’t catch on to how fabulous a BLT becomes when you add gravy” from @samclifford.

The @LGBTfacts account seems to be incensed by the hijacking, accusing the “Gaystapo” of immaturity, hacking and having a disregard for free speech. Hacking? Probably not, though you may be able to get away with a comparison to a DDoS attack. The hive mind can be an awe-inspiring and fearsome force, as we saw with reddit and its role in mobilizing the internet against SOPA. What do you think? Is social media getting drunk on its power? Or is this organic protest an example of Twitter’s viral immune system?