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Olympics Comes Down Hard On Event Hashtag Newsjacking

Traci Browne
Aug 03, 2016
hashtag stealing

Hashtags—event organizers love them. You love seeing all the activity on Twitter and Instagram. Your columns on Hootsuite are stacked with posts from attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors using your hashtag. Everyone is talking about your event, and the news is trickling down through all of their social networks. If you are lucky, you might even see your event hashtag trending!

All that is well and good but what happens when someone or some brand “newsjacks“ your hashtag? Some company who could not be bothered to sponsor or exhibit at your event, heck they couldn’t even bother to attend, starts using your event hashtag to get some attention. It is the social media version of suitcasing. Suddenly, you find yourself channeling your inner grandfather shouting, “Hey, get off my lawn!”

The Olympics say no way

No organization channels its inner grandfather quite like the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). As the world’s oldest sports competition, perhaps the Olympics are the grandfather and therefore setting the precedent.

According to MediaPost, “The organization recently told advertisers that sponsor athletes, but don't also pay multi-millions to sponsor the USOC or International Olympic Committee, to refrain from using hashtags connected to the Olympics.”  

The Olympics have laid down the law saying that no commercial entity may post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts using the hashtags #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA, which they say are trademarked.

Yes, not only are the Olympics yelling get off my lawn, but they are also threatening to call the cops. Does this mean you can demand the same with your event hashtag? Is this really a thing—trademarked hashtags?

Is it illegal or just frustrating?

Lawyers seem to think this one is a gray area. It’s entirely possible this could be an issue of free speech. Some say hashtag suitcasers are just exercising their first amendment rights. That’s right, when the United States Supreme Court said corporations are people (Citizens United v. FEC) a giant can of worms was opened. Until someone actually takes a case like this to court, it will remain a legal gray area.

So, what should you do when your hashtag gets jacked?

Option 1 - Call the offending party out publicly on social media. If you have a dedicated community, they may get behind you and shame the hashtag suitcasers into a cease and desist.

Option 2 - Do you think you have a legitimate trademark claim? Contact Twitter and report the offender. Technically, it is their lawn, and they get to decide who plays on it.

Option 3 - Sit back and enjoy the reach. Ask yourself, is it so bad to have a brand with thousands of followers using your hashtag? That’s thousands more people hearing about your event.

Option 4 - Make lemonade. It is clear the hashtag suitcaser finds value in your event audience. Have a conversation with them once your event is over, and invite them to become a sponsor or exhibitor.

Have you ever had your event hashtag newsjacked? How did you handle it? Did you try to stop them, or turn it into a positive? We would love to know. Please share below in the comments.

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