A Twitter account using the Cyrillic-alphabet is using the #Saanich hashtag to advertise a website promoting sexual encounters with older women.
Twitter users employ hashtags to categorize tweets, follow ongoing conversations and search for posts.
The account – which also uses the name of cities and states in countries around the world including Germany, the United States, and India – features nude and non-nude images of women of various ethnicities promoting casual hook-ups.
The District of Saanich, individuals, businesses and organizations including the Saanich News use #Saanich to promote themselves, and the account in question appears to have hijacked the hashtag. According to a 2016 paper published by scholars at Michigan Stage University, hashtag hijacking “occurs when a group of users starts using a trending hashtag to promote a topic that is substantially different from its recent context.”
Kelsie McLeod, a spokesperson for the District of Saanich, said the municipality is aware of the problem, adding #Saanich is one of several hashtags used by many members of the community, local businesses and media outlets.
“It’s important to note that Saanich has no ownership or direct control of #Saanich or the content posted there – we only control content posted from our account,” she said. “However, Saanich is aware of a few cases where inappropriate content has been posted using this hashtag by individuals not associated with the district. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for content like this to randomly appear on frequently used hashtags on social media [including] #yyj.”
Salacious images have also appeared under the hashtag #Victoria.
Saanich has taken a “proactive” approach, reporting offensive posts to Twitter for follow-up as per Twitter’s policies and procedures, said McLeod. “We encourage members of the community to use social media responsibly and report any content they deem to be inappropriate to the relevant social media company.”
McLeod added Twitter has various tools to help individuals manage what shows up in their personal feeds, including blocking problem accounts and reporting offensive material.
“Saanich also encourages community members to report any content that may be criminal in nature to their local police agency,” she said.
Catherine Holt, chief executive officer of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, said hashtag hijacking belongs to a list of techniques, with which “unscrupulous individuals” seek to damage and besmirch the online reputation of businesses and others.
For all of the advantages that technology offers in promoting business, it can also cause considerable harm, she said. Twitter is no different. “Anybody who uses Twitter has to be aware that it is the wild west of communication,” she said.
Businesses subject to techniques such as hashtag hijacking, phishing and denial of service attacks should immediately seek professional help when it comes to managing their online reputation, she said.
“It’s absolutely something that businesses have to be vigilant about,” said Holt.