HashtagIn the forefront of every twitter user’s mind is the hashtag, the single character which can mean the difference between twitter obscurity and an influx of followers leading to internet stardom.

Hashtags can be anything, some are trends that are regularly populated such as “#news” for news, “#tcot” for “top conservatives on twitter,” and “#p2″ for progressives on twitter. Others are the result of a specific event; twitter users in March saw “#sxsw” used by attendees at the annual South by Southwest conference to locate each other and share information about the conference.

Online, people can group around a hashtag, using “#ff” to suggest users to follow every Friday and “#fail” for when things go wrong. Using hashtags in this way serves to expand a users online community at a level superficial even for Twitter. Connections made on Twitter are based on common interests or in the case of “#fail” connecting based on a failure. Stemming from use of these hashtags someone might see one, and might follow based off that tweet and a small selection of the user’s other tweets but not enough solidify a strong or lasting internet based connection.

Tweeting reporters can use this #tool to their advantage by searching for trending topics when seeking out sources or stories, since hashtags can be used by any group to express or share anything, however the lack of strong ties forged by hashtags and over twitter limit this ability. An article in The New York Times examined the culture surrounding the hashtag.

Because you have a hashtag embedded in a short message with real language, it starts exhibiting other characteristics of natural language, which means basically that people start playing with it and manipulating it,” said Jacob Eisenstein, a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University in computational linguistics. “You’ll see them used as humor, as sort of meta-commentary, where you’ll write a message and maybe you don’t really believe it, and what you really think is in the hashtag1.

Understanding how users can manipulate #reallanguage gives a reporter an edge by providing a glimpse into the subject’s or source’s mind that would be unavailable otherwise due to the physical distance and cultural differences separating subject and reporter. In these cases Twitter, and the hashtag serve as a neutralizing platform where people can communicate, and the hashtag-as-meta-commentary provides a way for reporter and subject/source to communicate that would be imposable offline.

Some users take the hashtags to the #extreme, using multi-word, multi-line hashtags that are often hard to read, and counteract any potential benefit gleamed from using the Twitter platform. Examples include #waitingforcomcastcustomerservice, and #stuckintrafficonthebetlwayagain. While use of these long hashtags would appear at first glance to be excellent uses of the tool, they are prime examples how there can be #toomuchofagoodthing.

These hashtags are hard to read, and while they convey the workings of the authors mind, the reader must work to decipher them. #WhenUsingHashtagsThatAreMoreThanOneWordCapitalizeEachForEaseOfTheReader.


1Ashley Parker, “Hashtags, a New Way for Tweets,” The New York Times, June 10, 2011, Online edition, sec. Fashion & Style, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/12/fashion/hashtags-a-new-way-for-tweets-cultural-studies.html?ref=technology&pagewanted=all.

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