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Twitter exploited for easy advertising

Furniture company apologizes for hashtag abuse, but future misuse from others still likely

Technology trends and news by Ronny Kerr
June 24, 2009
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/907

twitterDespite the fact that the rising tide of social media is changing the way news works, these new services cannot be without flaws.

While ordinary journalists were increasingly silenced over the past two weeks in Iran, Twitter was recently held on a pedestal as a fundamental source of breaking information. The popular stream of tweets swirling around the topic of the Iranian election, however, appears to have been corrupted at times by a company trying to capitalize on free advertising, according to BBC News.
tweets
The UK furniture store, Habitat, after employing several hashtags—#mms, #Apple, #iPhone—to advertise their completely unrelated product promotions, took their capitalist abuse into outright exploitation when they began using the hashtags for the Iran election.

A letter from Habitat’s head office has already been issued to the Twitter community, apologizing for the abuse: “The top ten trending topics were pasted into hashtags without checking with us and apparently without verifying what all of the tags referred to. This was absolutely not authorised by Habitat. We were shocked when we discovered what happened and are very sorry for the offence that was caused. This is totally against our communications strategy. We never sought to abuse Twitter, have removed the content and will ensure this does not happen again.”

Though the apology arrived swiftly following deletion of the controversial tweets, the events mark an important point in Twitter’s history. With the social site’s increasing popularity, companies and stores will be increasingly tempted to get their name out by exploiting the vast user base.

Twitter’s Terms of Service identifies “Spam” in many ways, including two kinds which perfectly characterize Habitat’s actions: “if you post multiple unrelated updates to a topic using #” and “if you post multiple unrelated updates to a trending or popular topic”. But as the site expands more and more, it will be harder for the site’s administrators to track down and eliminate daily abuses all by themselves.

The site’s best defense most likely rests in that same immense user base that will be luring greedy companies. Whenever any sort of unacceptable comments get noticed, Twitter users respond rapidly with “re-tweets” identifying the perpetrator and encouraging other users to block them.

Social media users must accept that their participation on these sites is making them obvious targets, but they should not forget that they have the power to thwart blatant exploitation.

(image source: BBC News)


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