Hijacking Hashtags in Times of COVID-19: How the Far-Right Polarises Twitter
Stephany, F., & Darius, P.
“Stand back and stand by”, said President Donald Trump, as his opponent, Joe Biden asked him to distance himself from far-right extremists during the first 2020 presidential debate on September 29th. The president’s call was addressed to a far-right, neo-fascist, and male-only organisation; the so-called “Proud Boys”. Even though the Proud Boys movement has meanwhile been banned from social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, activity under the hashtag #ProudBoys began to spark a few days after the presidential debate. However, the hashtag, formerly conveying hate speech and misinformation, was now attached to messages, pictures, and videos transporting love and pride. An initiative had gone viral, supported by politicians, TV stars, and the Canadian armed forces, portraying gay couples “proudly” declaring their love to each other and flooding Twitter with thousands of positive postings. The fate of #ProudBoys is a typical (and positive) example of what political communication calls “hashjacking” (hijack a hashtag), the use of someone else’s hashtag in order to promote one’s own social media agenda.