Hashtag-jacking: A fun look at a serious issue with Twitter research

Hashtags are a great way to organize similarly-themed posts on Twitter, but they also have a couple of downsides. On one hand, anyone interested in a particular topic can use a hashtag to join the conversation. On the other hand, anyone using the hashtag for other reasons also winds up in the conversation.

Over the past several months, I’ve been working with Josh Rosenberg and Leigh Graves Wolf to examine tweets related to the Master of Arts in Educational Technology (or MAET) program here at Michigan State. In doing so, we’ve discovered that “MAET” also means a few other things, and I thought I’d share some of the more humorous examples:

“Mæt” is the Danish word for “full,” as in “I’ve eaten too much!” We read a lot of Danish tweets doing this research.

MAET is the name of a “8 bit noise metal” band in British Columbia.

MAET means… something related to videogames in Brazil? Still figuring this one out.

This post isn’t meant to do much more than provide a fun look at some of the stuff that we run into when doing Internet research, but there is an important lessons here for anyone who leans heavily on hashtags when doing Twitter research: If you’re collecting anything and everything related to a particular hashtag, there’s a good chance that you’ll wind up with stuff that you didn’t mean to. In some cases, such as these, they’re serendipitous pretty benign. In other cases, people might intentionally hijack a hashtag to forcibly move the conversation in another direction. That’s something that I think is worth examining in your research, but it will take some effort and close attention to figure out! In yet other cases, its a totally impersonal and decidedly malignant effect: We’ve seen some disreputable spammers use another hashtag we follow just to get some extra attention.

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