By Ali Abel

This past weekend, I attended the IABC Canada West Region Dare to Lead conference, for current and incoming board members of the various IABC chapters in Western Canada. Like most conferences these days, we had a hashtag (#d2l2016) to use when tweeting about the conference. As the conference got underway on Saturday morning, we eagerly awaited the golden nuggets of truth to tweet out to our followers and to share the great wisdoms we were absorbing.

And then… tweets from Cathy6070 and Melissa2075 started showing up in the stream, completewith profile pictures of bare breasted women, clad only in their underwear, usually cut off just above the shoulders so you can’t see their face. Tweets using the same hashtag as us, but not related to what we were talking about at all.

Screenshot for Hashtags and Hotties
A screen shot of the delinquent tweets.

Why us?
Yup, we got Twitter spammed because our hashtag was trending in Calgary. But we weren’t the only conference in town that was getting spammed by the Twitter sexbots that weekend. Eight thousand academics started arriving in Calgary last Friday for Congress 2016 of the Humanities and Social Sciences, using the hashtag #congressh. Based on the vibe in our meeting rooms, and the posts on Twitter from Congress, I think we were taking the whole thing a lot more lightly.

So what happened? According to Stephen Waddington “Activists and spammers monitor niche trending hashtags to push out messages promoting their cause. The purpose can be anything from promoting illicit products, to porn or propaganda.”

When it happens to you
There isn’t much you can do if this happens at your conference or special event. You can block the accounts in your feed, but that will only stop you from seeing it, not all of the conference attendees. And a spam account usually only sends something once, so it’s not that worthwhile.

Waddington provided six steps you can take for when the sexbots take over your hashtag, and how to avoid it:

  1. Monitoring: Make sure someone is always monitoring the hashtag throughout your conference so that you can know, pretty quickly, when the spam starts.
  2. Stop using the hashtag: You can switch to another hashtag, but once that one starts trending, it will likely happen again. (As an aside, when we started using #d2l2016 on the second day of the conference, the volume of spam was not as high as the day before.)
  3. Communicate: Use Twitter or other methods (for example, PowerPoint displays) to let people know about the spam and that the conference organizers are aware of it.
  4. Use a Twitter wall and moderate tweets: There are a lot of great sources for having a public Twitter feed during your conference, and many of them allow you to approve or reject a tweet before it goes public on your wall. (Two examples I found by searching “Twitter wall” here and here.)

(Read Waddington’s full list.)

It also doesn’t hurt to report the tweets and accounts to Twitter, but could be time consuming if you have an event that is going on for more than a day or two. Twitter has instructions on how to report spam, and you can also review The Twitter Rules online.

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