Beating the Event Hash Tag Spammers

by | Oct 3, 2012

How can you reduce the risk of getting hit by the event hash tag spammers? In this post, we explore some of the ways to reduce the impact of hash tag spam…

Attacks by event hash tag spammers seem to be on the increase, with large-scale events, popular events, and smaller events featuring high profile speakers seeing a proliferation of spam. Most of this spam originates from automatic bots, and there are growing calls for Twitter to clamp down on such accounts, with little action so far.

The worst attack I have experienced professionally was at Leeds Trinity Journalism Week, where students were addressed by addressed by Channel 4 News anchor man, the legendary Jon Snow, who has a very high profile on Twitter. After he mentioned/was mentioned on the event hash tag, the hash tag spammers went to work, resulting in a flurry of promotional tweets accompanied by profile pictures of scantily-clad women. I spent most of his keynote blocking the spammers!

So how can you assess the risk that your event hash tag will be hit by spammers in advance, and what can you do to minimise the impact this has on your event community?

Are You Really at Risk?

If you are worried about your event hash tag attracting spam, carry out a risk assessment to consider whether you really are at risk. Risks include:

  • High volumes of Twitter activity

    If you hope your event hash tag will trend, be aware that that will imply a higher risk of spam. If you are not sure how much Twitter activity you are likely to get, look at similar events or collect Twitter IDs from participants as they sign up and create a Twitter list. This will help you to get a rough idea of how vocal they are!


  • High profile speakers

    If you are inviting a well known person to speak, search for them on Twitter to see how much spam they tend to attract.


  • Hash Tag Clashes

    You should be checking for this as a matter of course anyway, but it is worth reiterating that if your hash tag is the same or similar to that of another event, you may end up with irrelevant content on your event hash tag, which could be viewed as spam. If your event hash tag uses an acronym, check for organisations that use the same acronym that may be holding events around the same time. Remember, not all event organisers publicise an official event hash tag, so the community around that event may end up settling on your hash tag quite by accident.

Whilst these are not the exclusive causes of event hash tag abuse, these are risk factors that can make it more likely that you will encounter some level of spam activity during your event.

Once you have identified your potential level of risk, don’t panic. Twitter users are, unfortunately, quite accustomed to spam activity, and as long as they can see you making an effort to address the problem, they will generally support you.

Here are some of the efforts you can make to tackle spam, when it occurs…

Encourage Community Ownership of the Problem

Identify a team of people who can keep an eye on Twitter and block any offenders. Unfortunately, Twitter does not action blocking requests instantly, but the more people who block spam accounts, the better. Appeal to the audience for their help and thank them for their patience and assistance accordingly.

Filter Twitter Display Screens

If you are using a large screen to display tweets at your event, you might be using a tool like to render a Twitter search in an aesthetically engaging way. However, it is difficult to filter what appears in the results for the Twitter search, which can mean that spam tweets appear writ large for everyone to see.

I’ve been playing around with Twitter’s advanced search operators to find a solution. The best I can suggest is this:

#eventhashtag -filter:links

This filters out any tweets on the event hash tag that contain links. One of the key features of hash tag spammers’ tweets is that they contain links: after all, they are spamming because they want to attract traffic to a particular site. By filtering out tweets with links, you should be able to avoid a large proportion of spam content. Pictures attached to tweets will still appear as links, but not as expanded pictures, meaning the risk of offensive content appearing on the screen is relatively low, even if the event hash tag is targeted by spammers.

Arguably, whilst in most contexts links are really valuable, having them displayed on an animated screen is less useful. There will be some really insightful tweets that do not get to appear on the big screen because they contain a link, but this may be a sacrifice that an event organiser has to make in order to reduce the risk of spam content appearing.

Where the risk of event hash tag spam is high, my ideal solution would be to take a feed of favourite tweets from the official event amplifier’s account to display on such screens to provide a completely human filtered selection of “top tweets” from the event. However, there does not appear to be a Twitter search operator that will allow you to specify favourite tweets from a particular user. If you know of one, please let me know!

Provide Client Filtering Advice

Know how to filter certain search terms out of the Twitter search results given by the most popular Twitter clients so you can provide assistance to any participants who are feeling overwhelmed by the spam. When hash tag spammers hit, they often repeat the same message, so filtering particular words used by the spammers should help to reduce the amount of noise in the hash tag search results whilst you wait for the blocking to work.


It is not always possible to avoid attacks by event hash tag spammers, but if you can mitigate the worst effects, your participants should appreciate your efforts and tolerate the noise that unfortunately often comes with popularity on Twitter. You never know, Twitter may even do something about it one day!
Photo Credit: Isabelle Palatin.
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