One of my greatest joys as an educator is having been a part of the #caedchat moderating team. Ever since we started back in February of 2013, it is has been a phenomenal experience. The #caedchat community has grown and many networks and friendships have been made through this hashtag. Our weekly chats have tackled many educational issues from integrating edtech, to focusing on our language learners, to supporting LGBTQ students. There have been many transformational conversations, thousands of tweets, and hundreds of resources that have been shared.
We have built a community out of a hashtag. Think about that. Just by placing a “pound” symbol in front of the letters “CAedchat” all of this was born. And I love this community. As do many other people.
So what do you do when your community is threatened?
Last weekend, a spambot found our hashtag. This wasn’t just any spambot. It was a spambot spewing xxx-rated photos objectifying women at an alarming rate. As soon as you reported the photos and blocked the Twitter handle, a new Twitter handle appeared, recycling some of the very images you blocked. The tweets came into our hashtag quicker than we could block them. At first we thought, this spambot will just move on. But as the tweets increased even as our reporting increased, the task of getting the tweets to stop seemed insurmountable.
Direct messages began showing up in my inbox on Twitter. People asking me what are we going to do about this? The only response I had at first was to keep reporting and blocking. Reporting and blocking. Reporting and blocking. And don’t share the #caedchat hashtag with any new teachers at this point.
The #caedchat mods began brainstorming together in a DM group as well. David Theriault created some unique tweets. We started requesting that @Twitter, @Support, and @Jack (Twitter CEO) to please help us.
And even asking politely…
Then we learned we were not the only ones. These tweets appeared:
And guess what? #sschat, #pblchat, and #dtk12chat had the same spambots. The same problems. The same objectifying xxx-rated images. This is when we all teamed up. We started a group DM and began brainstorming together. We all wished we had connections at Twitter. This problem just seemed so much bigger than us. It was even suggested we consider changing our hashtag, but to me that was always “plan z.” We wondered why this was happening to only our relatively small educational hashtags, when big hashtags like #edchat were unaffected? Well that didn’t last long. As soon as we uttered those words, a small amount of the spam tweets started to show up there as well.
Then before we knew it, on America’s glorious birthday, the tweets just stopped. After 5 days of battling the bots, they just disappeared.
We don’t know exactly what helped our cause. It could have been the sheer number of people working to report and block on three different hashtags. It could have been the many tweets to@Twitter, @Support, or tweeting directly to @Jack. Whatever it was, the problem went away. We survived. We kept our hashtags. And our community is put back together again.
But we have to wonder. How vulnerable are our education related hashtags? After all, no one owns a hashtag. They are as public as a community park. Yet, unlike a community park, you can’t just call in for emergency services and get the creeps out of the park. And if it was our public park, emergency services would have shown up right away. But in the Twittersphere of hashtags, it took days. 5 days to be exact.
Our hashtags rely on all of us. If we want to keep this going, if we want to keep connecting on Twitter to learn and grow, we have to come up with some sort of strategy that will work. It is my hope that in sharing this whole ordeal in a blog post, we will at least have an archive of it happening. So far, I haven’t heard of this happening this badly with any other education related hashtag. But if so, if you have seen this happen before, please share the story of what happened and how you think you may have solved it.
Until then we are just thankful…
Thank you to all who helped battle the bots!