Among the trending topics on Twitter earlier this week was keywords related to the late Corazon Aquino, who was a former president of the Republic of the Philippines. Hailed as an icon of democracy, the former head of state passed away on August 1st, and tens of thousands of citizens flocked to the streets to escort her funeral cortage. The expression of support was also shown online. For a few days, Filipino citizens from all over the world sent messages of support through blogs and other social media, including Twitter.
In fact, “Cory Aquino” was among the top trending topics for a few days. Users have been talking about the events at the wake and funeral, and about her contributions to her country from the 1980’s up to the present, often attaching the #Cory hashtag. However, I’ve also been noticing some irrelevant tweets containing the #Cory hashtag. That made me wonder about how people will ride on the popularity of trending topics in the hope of getting their share of the limelight. It also makes me wonder how easily groups of Twitter users can game the system.
Irrelevant posts tagged with a certain hashtag can do one of two things. First, it will make your tweet appear on search results for that hashtag. So if you’re out to get attention, it might be a good idea to attach popular tags to your tweet, no matter how trivial or irrelevant. Secondly, it adds to the volume of tweets with that hashtag attached. So you could imagine that a keyword could trend if a ton of people wrote unrelated tweets, but with the same hashtag.
This could be one way the system can be gamed. It’s akin to keyword stuffing, which was one of the ways website owners optimized their sites for search engines. This practice is now frowned upon, of course, and could cause penalties from the search engines. But with Twitter, weeding out unwanted tweets from trending counts might be difficult, if not impossible. Granted, Twitter can exclude certain hashtags from their trending topics list, particularly if these violate terms of service, or if these constitute content not applicable for general consumption. They have done this before.
However, it might be different with tweets with irrelevant tags. The most they can probably do is not count a particular tweet under a particular hashtag if it is found to be irrelevant. But through what mechanism can this be done would be the question. Twitter staff cannot monitor every tweet and trending topic manually, and it might not be as easy to determine relevance without human intervention. Maybe Twitter can implement a report/feedback mechanism so that users can point out improperly-tagged tweets, and when the number of reports reaches a critical level, then those hashtags or posts would be looked into–something like a “bury” or “vote down” mechanism.
I think the best way to deal with this is to tweet responsibly. I’ve always advocated the idea of being careful with what you say online, be it on a blog post, video, tweet or just about any medium. Social media is powerful, and as such, it should be wielded with care and responsibility. And so, the next time you feel like adding an irrelevant hashtag to your tweet just to get attention, think again. Are you contributing positively to the Twitter community with what you are doing? Or are you just adding pointless drivel?