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We live in the age of the ‘Bashtag’

#myNYPD mashup shows you need to understand Twitter before engaging

Tim Querengesser is senior editor with Alberta Venture. Email Tim

Apr 23, 2014

by Tim Querengesser

As Gawker writes, Twitter has been around since 2006 but its users’ tendency to speak back to half-truths still seems to surprise many organizations. Over the past 24 hours, the New York Police Department has surely learned this. Its #myNYPD Twitter campaign, posted on Tuesday morning and designed to incite positive feelings toward the force, has backfired, as Gawker notes, in the “most predictable way possible.” Rather than happy pictures of happy citizens with cops, a sampling of the #myNYPD Twitter hashtag instead shows pictures of NYPD cops beating people, pulling their hair, shooting their dogs or otherwise behaving badly. One New York tabloid called #myNYPD a “bashtag.”

The subversion of #myNYPD has created palpable joy on social media (“I love it when corporate attempts at going viral on Twitter backfire in their faces,” writes one friend, on Facebook). And this subversive joy is the flip side to the ‘virality’ that many organizations naively try to mine with their social media campaigns (remember #McDStories?). As Gawker rightly notes, any tuned-in user of Twitter could have predicted the #myNYPD campaign was going to explode into an anti-NYPD bashtag (and for a list of the top 10 bashtags, click here). The apparent divergence in what is obvious to some and wholly oblivious to others suggests that the immediate social media policy an organization should implement is entrusting its social-media messaging to someone who actually uses the stuff.

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Alberta has played host to several Twitter “bashtags,” as well as viral hashtags that spoke back to power and led to swift action. Remember #630ChedPolls? Or #SadDonIveson? Or #NosehillGentleman? Social media users will tell you these subversions were entirely predictable. Those who were affected probably would tell you the reaction came out of nowhere. Welcome to the brave new media world.

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