Huh?

A look at "#napaquake" and some of the other most-used Twitter hashtags related to Sunday's Napa quake turned up images of dead U.S. soldiers and slogans in support of a militant Islamic group.

So what does the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have to do with an earthquake in Northern California?

Nothing, of course. But digital propagandists grab any social media hashtag that is a trending topic and use it in a crass bid for attention.

This is the ugly side of social media. Its openness and unfiltered nature, which makes it so useful and appealing, also means that some bad actors gum up the works for their own ends.

Despite efforts by companies like Twitter to go after these hijackers, their speech threatens to erode what makes social media our new town center, particularly during an ongoing event like Sunday's quake.

That's a shame, because for the most part, the Napa quake was yet another chance to see the best of social media in action, especially valuable because the shaking began at a time and a place that made it hard for traditional media to start their coverage. People all over the Bay Area gave first-hand accounts of what they felt and saw. State and local emergency services posted timely critical information.


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And on Twitter and other social media, there were some classic California moments, like a post of a photo of destroyed bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and another of a skateboarder launching over an earthquake-created buckle in a road.

But the images also included people holding weapons, coffins draped by American flags and slogans accusing the U.S. of torture. The tweets were purportedly in support of ISIS, the militant organization in Syria and Iraq that claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and beheading of American photojournalist James Foley. Images of Foley also included Napa earthquake-related hashtags.

Most of the time these sorts of hashtag hijacks can be ignored. But these images and messages are often disturbing. People in Napa and the surrounding areas didn't need to contend with that on Sunday.

At this site, and perhaps many others on Sunday, Twitter feeds intended to provide the latest information on the earthquake's impact swiftly had to be turned off and the content had to be monitored before posting.

I hadn't heard back from Twitter and Facebook about whether these sort of hijacks are increasing and what they are doing about it.

But it may be time for them to do more to get rid of the hijackers and trolls who threaten to turn this great tool into a junkyard people are too scared to walk through.

Contact Michelle Quinn at 510-394-4196 and mquinn@mercurynews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/michellequinn.