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Hashtag

Hashtag: Brief Summary

A hashtag is a type of label, typically used on social media websites like Twitter and Facebook, but also employed on other websites, which makes it easier for users to find posts related to a specific topic. Hashtags are created by placing the hash character (#) at the beginning of a single word, or a phrase without spaces. A user who searches for the hashtag will then see all public posts on that platform which contain the same hashtag.

Hashtag: Detailed Summary

Adding hashtags to posts on social media helps to make them more accessible to other people. Essentially, all public posts containing the same hashtag are indexed and able to be viewed on the same hashtag feed. On most platforms, these can be monitored in real time. For instance, if you search for the hashtag #GameOfThrones, you will see all public posts tagged with that hashtag, making it simple to find posts related to the TV show ‘Game of Thrones’.

On social networks like Twitter and Facebook, the use of hashtags will automatically turn the connected word or phrase into a searchable link. Clicking on a hashtag contained within a post, or searching for the hashtag using the site’s search function will then display the related hashtag feed. Over time, the hashtag has crossed over onto other platforms, with one example being Instagram, which allows users to attach multiple hashtags to photos they upload.

In terms of hashtag usage, people posting content on social media have the option of either using existing hashtags, or creating their own unique hashtag phrases. This has great potential for businesses, allowing them to promote a specific hashtag and encourage conversation related to a specific topic, while automatically ensuring all of that discussion is indexed and fully accessible in one place.

Hashtags on Twitter

The origin of the hashtag can be traced back to Internet Relay Chat networks, where the hash character was used to label groups or topics. However, its modern usage began in 2007, when it was suggested as a Twitter indexing tool by the developer, Chris Messina. After initially being rejected by Twitter, hashtags took off in a big way after the hashtag #SanDiegoFire was used by citizen journalists to tweet and consequently document the 2007 San Diego forest fires.

Interestingly, this means that modern usage of the hashtag was adopted organically by Twitter users. This type of unofficial usage continued, with users grouping “Tweets” related to the same topic together. By the summer of 2009, Twitter had officially adopted the hashtag format and the social network began to add an automatic hyper-link to all hashtag phrases, making it even easier to search for hashtags.

In 2010, Twitter introduced “Trending Topics”; a function on the website which displays hashtags or phrases that are rapidly gaining in popularity. This ‘trending’ function enables users to easily keep track of breaking news stories or popular topics of discussion on the social media website. Twitter’s ‘trending’ list can be organised to show topics that are trending globally, on a country-by-country basis, or even locally.

The accepted format of a hashtag is the hash sign (#) followed by a word of phrase with no spaces. Hashtags are also not able to include special characters. When a hashtag phrase contains multiple words, it is common for the beginning of each word to be capitalised (e.g. #TheDarkKnightRises). However, this is purely a stylistic choice, as a search for that hashtag will display results tagged with #thedarkknightrises as well, and vice versa.

Evolution of the Hashtag

Despite originating on Twitter, use of the hashtag soon found its way onto other platforms, often unofficially at first. For example, people who used Twitter would often include a hashtag in their Facebook statuses, even though the platform did not offer official hashtag support until June 2013. Today, hashtags on Facebook work in much the same way as they do on Twitter, serving to group posts about the same topic together.

Other social media sites have also adopted the hashtag. Instagram, for instance, is a social networking site where users post photographs and the hashtag is used to group photos that have something in common. When users start to type a hashtag, the platform automatically shows popular hashtags that already exist. Certain hashtags are related to challenges, with an example being #ThrowbackThursday, which encourages users to post old photos.

Hashtags can also be seen on platforms like Google+, Flickr, Tumblr and Pinterest. It is also worth noting that hashtags are sometimes used incorrectly, with users posting a hashtag to summarise a post, or to describe a mood. Meanwhile, hashtag usage has become so commonplace that linguists have noted the word “hashtag” is now sometimes said out loud, prior to a word or phrase, vocally mimicking the use of the hashtag function online.

Furthermore, television companies have started to adopt the hashtag in order to generate discussion online about their content. It is not uncommon for television networks to display a specific hashtag in the corner of the screen, encouraging viewers to use that hashtag when discussing the programme online, particularly via tweets on Twitter. Research has demonstrated that this sort of interactivity helps to boost viewing figures, while simultaneously generating a fresh ‘buzz’ online.

Hashtags and Privacy

The increased prevalence of the hashtag has impacted upon many industries, including journalism. Indeed, when searching for information on a particular topic, it is not unusual for journalists to use hashtags in order to look for individual opinions that can be included in content, or try to pinpoint a consensus viewpoint. Similarly, everyday users can also browse hashtags and see social media or blog posts from complete strangers.

While this can be extremely useful in terms of keeping conversations in one place, indexing content and finding posts related to the topic you are looking for, it also raises some concerns about privacy, something which a lot of people care about. After all, many social media users post things expecting the audience to consist of their own friends and followers and may not expect their posts to be available to absolutely anybody using the service, no matter where they are in the world.

Nevertheless, most social media websites are aware of the privacy implications, and have put measures in place to protect the privacy of those who do not want their content to be viewed by strangers. For example, on Twitter, users can ‘protect’ their tweets, making them inaccessible to random users. When this feature is enabled, tweets will only appear in the hashtag stream of users who have been approved to see them.

A similar system is in place for Instagram, while hashtags do not have any major privacy implications for Facebook users. If, for example, a Facebook post is set to display only to friends, it will not be searchable by non-friends, regardless of which hashtag is used. On the other hand, if a post is set to ‘public’, it will be visible to anyone and may appear to anyone who searches for the hashtag contained within it.

Conclusion

Hashtags are now widely utilised across the internet, but especially on social media websites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Although occasionally used to summarise a Tweet or Facebook post, their primary purpose remains to group similar content together, in order to make it searchable. Today, use of hashtags is so well-known and has such mainstream acceptance that the word ‘Hashtag’ itself was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2014.

Modern businesses utilise hashtags to generate discussion about a product or service, with the hashtag function helping them to keep the conversation in one place. Meanwhile, certain hashtags occasionally become ‘viral’ internet sensations, sparking interesting discussions, or allowing users to have a shared experience of some kind.

Over the years, the hashtag has proved extremely useful when it comes to providing live coverage of world events and certain well-known phrases have actually originated as Twitter hashtags. One example was the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie, which was used to show solidarity on Twitter after terrorists attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, France. Moreover, Twitter’s ‘Trending’ function has also emerged as a recognised barometer of a topic’s online popularity.

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