Corporate sponsors of the 2018 Olympic winter games in PyeongChang have been warned to expect their hashtags to be hijacked by social media users looking to make political statements.
Big-name brands sponsoring or partnering with sports events could find their social media strategies increasingly co-opted by those keen to use viral hashtags for their own purposes, according to Deakin Business School’s Michael Naraine.
Hashtags are regularly used on social media to tag a comment with a topic so it turns up in feeds and searches about the particular event or discussion. Companies use this tool to generate awareness, discussion and publicity for their brands and on some platforms can pay to promote their hashtag.
Dr Naraine, who has published extensively on social media and its changing use in sport, has seen a rise in corporate concern since social media use ramped up during the 2012 London Olympics.
By the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, there was a noticeable shift. Social media campaigns started by brands to gain publicity during the Olympics were subsequently being used for commentary about athletes’ living quarters, and Russia’s non-acceptance of LGBTIQ+ people.
On the list of major sponsors and partners for PyeongChang are fast-food brand McDonald’s and drink company Coca-Cola.
McDonalds “lost control” of its #CheersToSochi and #imlovingit hashtags on Twitter to “vitriol online” in Sochi, Dr Naraine said. In 2012, its #McDStories hashtag was also hijacked.
With the Winter Olympics to be held next month in South Korea, in a politically charged environment, brands should be concerned this would heat up even further, he said.
“It will be interesting to see how the political element surpasses the Games themselves, with the potential for sponsor hashtags to be used in posts about athlete safety, the likelihood of retaliation from North Korea and the omnipresence of US President Trump’s threats.”
This wouldn’t stop sponsors from seeing a benefit in being connected with the Games nor using social media to generate publicity.
Other big names with Olympics involvement include Visa, Samsung, Toyota, Panasonic and LG.
Major brands are still intending to use hashtags as part of their Olympic Games promotions, with teams in place to monitor social media responses.
A Facebook Australia spokesman said hashtags on Facebook and Instagram “may not be available” if they were consistently found to have content that didn’t follow community standards.
“We review these hashtags on an ongoing basis and may make the hashtag available again if the content associated with particular hashtags changes over time,” he said.
The company receives millions of reports each week and will double its safety and security team to 20,000 people in 2018, with experts in hate speech, child safety, counter-terrorism and legal specialists.
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment, but it’s understood the company has an anti-spam team and specifically targets automated tactics used to derail trending topics.
In the last six months, it introduced a feature to “down rank” low-quality content.
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