by Tara Enke 

A hashtag is the marking of a certain word using the hash sign. It started out as being an addition to posts on Twitter, but now it is used on most social platforms that are out there, such as Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr etc. It allows people to search for specific topics and through that, transmits keywords. A hashtag can be added to any word and any combination of letters or signs can become one.

This gives the hashtag the power of making certain topics or keywords stronger, depending on how many people are using the same hashtag. Not only does this count online, but in actual speaking terms, because keywords, as recognized through hashtags, help putting things into groups and simplify making a statement. The word has become natural in our everyday language so quickly because it allows us to easily make a point, while using fewer words.

What is new here, is that hashtags actually trigger the invention of new (key-)words. But not being a keyword or a category itself.

Hashtags also allow you to be more public, in a new way: You can be found by people who share your interests and are using the same hashtags that you are, all over the world. Those people may be “digital natives“, or so called “digital immigrants“. Through that you can also see a demographical devision, so within who is actually is using hashtags and who is not, may it be by choice or because the lacking access to the right technology. If it is by choice, the problems of communication, that we recognize between different generations can now be recognized between hashtags users and non-hashtag users, such as, for instance the “digital immigrants“.


In the form that we know and use it for today, it was invented in 2007, by Chris Messina for using it on Twitter, as a way to communicate within groups and also to, in a way organize posts, according to their subjects. This also makes it a Hypertext. This means, that hashtags therefor, like hyperlinks, connect different posts, and with that texts to one another, but also especially to different hashtags, that can be related to other topics, which makes it a new way of transmitting knowledge in a way, that it even becomes collaborative knowledge.

Why am I talking about our current usage of the word? The hash sign itself actually has more meanings, than what we associate it with today. Firstly it is used as a number indicator, and secondly for currency, (the hash coming after the number -> 2# equals 2 pounds).

Too get an overview over the different keywords connected to hashtag, a fun tool is hashtagify.

The hashtag is transforming our language, while reducing the words that we use in writing and talking, it is taking away the politeness of phrasing sentences. Under one picture, may it be on facebook or instagram, one would post as many hashtags as possible and not write whole sentences with it. An example that a friend pointed out, was a picture, which was tagged with “#dog, #doglover, #animallover, #animallove, #rescuedog, #animals, #cuddly, #cute, #inbedwithmybaby, #goldenretriever, #puppy, #dogkisses” instead of writing “Cuddling my cute golden retriever dog, who I rescued and who is an animal, in my bed because I love him so much etc”. It seems to be too easy to just write a normal sentence (#irony). You can not only see the lack of any grammatical structure with this example, but also how the hashtag is becoming a hypertext. but also the overuse of hashtags, although some people claim that they only do it ironically (#ihatehashtags). But the problem is, that in written form, you often can’t recognize the irony. Jimmy Fellon for example though did a video, where he and Justin Timerlake are mockingly overusing hashtags.

Hashtags have an enormous power and even the ability to start a revolution, like in Tunisia. 2011, a single hashtag #sidibouzid led to Zine Ben Ali, the corrupt and ruthless dictator of Tunesia, stepping down from his presidential post and even fleeing the country after 23 years of ruling the it. This shows us a completely new form of social activism and there is more than one example. Australia, #illridewithyou was brought to life by a women, who started a campaign offering to accompany muslims on public transport.

Not everyone agrees on the power of hashtags though. Shonda Rhimes, a producer, writer and tv show creator is one of them. In a speech, she gave at a graduation at the Dartmouth College, she shared her view on hashtags not counting as social activism.

Of course there are also social rules, which are not official and differ from source to source. One example for one of those rules would be not to overuse hashtags, so you can already see, that these rules or guidelines, rather seem like suggestions than something that needs social acceptance.

You see how difficult it is to specify what hashtags do, since they don’t actually categorize. And given the huge amount of hashtags, that can be found on the internet, it is not easy to keep and overview on different hashtags that might actually means the same. This is also what makes it the geographical devision a bit of a difficulty, even only considering the language differences, among many others.

Now is it just a trend or here to stay? Imagine a world without hashtags. It does not seem strange, because it is still relatively new, but that could change within a few years and I do suspect, that as long as the social media platforms are staying strong, the hashtag will too. But, we won’t know until we find out.

Annotated bibliography: 

1. As anything can become a hashtag, there are regulations on twitter and instagram, that ban misused or overused hashtags, and even goes as far as excluding users. Instagram also forbids meaningless hashtags and those, that are connected to illegal activities. An example for that can be found on the following website:


2. If you are interested in how powerful hashtags are and which ones actually have been the most powerful hashtags out the so far, this post might interest you:


3. The New York Times actually has a whole collection where you can find the columns on “Hashtag Nation“. It is Check it out here:


4. The picture of the world map with the various hashtags above is actually a tool which, in order to use, you have to sign up and pay for. It then allows you to track local twitter trends in real-time. It seems to combine twitter and Google Maps.


5. What people don’t know, is that hashtag can interfere with your privacy. Facebook is setting an example for this and everyone should know about it!


6. Now, is there a way to keep track of different hashtags with the same meaning and to keep track of that chaos on the internet? An application called HyperTwitter is working on that problem and therefor making Hashtags more accessible for a bigger variety of people.



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