British Columbia·Analysis

Vancouver housing debate: Who owns a hashtag?

The creator of a hashtag focusing on the high cost of housing in Vancouver says the campaign has been hijacked by a real estate group.

#donthave1million creator says conversation has been hijacked by real estate group

Eveline Xia started a Twitter conversation about Vancouver real estate using #donthave1million. (Eveline Xia)

Vancouver is expensive. 

Anyone who lives here knows that. Whether you rent or own, the struggle is real. 

But unlike many of us who just vent our frustrations to friends, family and coworkers, Eveline Xia decided to take her dissatisfaction to Twitter last month, starting a conversation with the hashtag #donthave1million.

It hit a nerve with young professionals from across Metro Vancouver, tweeting out their own anger about how out of reach Vancouver real estate has become. 

A Twitter uses shares his frustration about the lack of affordability in Vancouver real estate by joining the #donthave1million conversation. (Twitter)

The conversation — originally intended for Xia's handful of Twitter followers — went viral, and Xia was overwhelmed. 

"It's really struck a chord, people are responding like crazy." 

But a month later, she feels the conversation has been hijacked. 

'This is our way to help'

While Xia was busy organizing and planning a grassroots campaign for affordable housing, a group of realtors and mortgage brokers decided to help out in their own way.

They bought the domain and using the Twitter user name @donthave1mil. Their website says they are giving away $1 million in real estate services to Vancouver-area buyers, including up to $20,000 in free services to the winner of a monthly draw. 

Luis Ayala, who is part of a group of real estate group that owns, said he is trying to help the community. (Luis Ayala)

Realtor Luis Ayala, who is part of the group, said "this is our way to help out the community," adding that he knows just how difficult it is for first time buyers in the market. 

"I don't see what we're doing differently, for example, from a dentist looking to help out certain families by offering them a donated service."

But Xia, sees it differently. "They're in it for their personal gain," she said.  

Xia said many people on social media confused the new @donthave1mil account, thinking she was behind it.

There was also a Twitter backlash, where many users questioned the intentions of the real estate professionals donating their services.

No one owns a hashtag- Rochelle Grayson, Social Media Expert

Ayala — who was surprised by the negative response  — doesn't see the problem. 

"When they say misappropriating a hashtag, I don't think anyone actually owns a hashtag," he said, and technically he's right. 

Social media 101

According to social media expert Rochelle Grayson, "no one owns a hashtag unless you are the first person to use it in which case like anything, you have the copyright to that term but copyright doesn't necessarily mean someone else can't use it."

Grayson, who teaches social media at UBC, said it would be a difficult case to prove since Xia hasn't taken issue with any of the others on Twitter who have used the hashtag.

The realtors may not have joined the conversation with the same goal Xia intended, but does that mean they should be shut out? 

"To be fair, they're still part of the conversation, they're just reflecting a part of the conversation that she doesn't like," said Grayson. 

As many brands and companies have found out the hard way, it's difficult to control conversations on social media.

"With the masses, the conversation will change and you have no control over how that conversation will change and as excited and worthy her intentions were, what she needs to understand is that the best intentions can be turned and the other side can embrace it and make it into something you didn't want," said Grayson.

Grayson suggests securing a domain before starting a conversation with a hashtag online, especially if you think it has a chance of going viral. 

Eveline Xia says she hopes the #donthave1million conversation stays focuses on the high cost of housing in Vancouver. (Twitter/@Eveline155)

 'It's completely twisted'

Ayala said his group doesn't want to get involved in the politics of the issue, but the real estate professionals are committed to giving back and making it easier for people to buy homes.  

Xia, on the other hand, said the turn of events is "completely twisted" and hopes people continue to talk about the issue of affordability. 

"The original intent was to raise awareness about a problem that affects a lot of people in this city, which is the inability to afford a home...I just hope that message stays here," said Xia.


Bal Brach


Bal Brach is an award-winning reporter at CBC News Vancouver. She has worked in television, radio and online news across Canada for more than 15 years. Bal's storytelling skills have earned her two Jack Webster Awards. She is also the recipient of regional and national Radio Television Digital News Association awards. Bal can be reached at or on social media @BalBrach


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