Have you ever tried to explain to your parents or grandparents what the proper use of a hashtag is? If you haven’t, it’s definitely worth the entertainment value. Understanding it ourselves can even be difficult sometimes, because its uses today aren’t what they were five or six years ago. What started as the pound sign on a telephone has taken off into a social media frenzy. The hashtag, or as my mother now refers to it, the “hashtag-pound sign,” transformed itself from being a purposeful tagging function to a parenthetical commentary summarizing a social media post.
To take a step backwards, lets point out that my above description is as clear and formal as it comes… In reality, its quite difficult for us to truly explain WHY we hashtag what we hashtag. Is it sarcasm? Do we overuse it? Here are some examples of its uses and how we come across it in our everyday social media.
1. The #FIRSTWORLDPROBLEMS
The obvious parenthetical value of the #firstworldproblems hashtag is known across our communities… It’s almost as if we’re bragging (about our upper-class lives), but we don’t want to admit that we’re bragging, so framing it in a hashtag re-works it to make it completely more acceptable. Hm, I see how that works now.
2. The #FITGIRL #FITNESS #GIRLSWHOLIFT #YOGA #YOGAPANTS
It may actually be quite sad that I don’t have to offer much of an explanation for what the hashtag word vomit above is getting at. No matter how many fitness Instagrams I unfollow, and no matter how many times I try to avoid going to the gym, these posts somehow find me. Instagram in particular is crawling with fitness hashtags of health enthusiasts flexing their muscles in their gym’s mirrors. Why is this necessary? Because if they didn’t hashtag all of these “keywords,” then other fitness fans wouldn’t be able to find their fabulous posts.
3. The #ThisTagWasActuallyUsefulSomehow
Two situations accompany the posts above. The first was my manager tweeting at me when the Ebola outbreak had everyone in a frenzy. Since he hashtagged #Ebola, four or five different accounts claiming to “rid the world of Ebola” started following me and tweeting articles about Ebola at me. The second picture was a photo I posted on Instagram of my Fiori’s Pizza in 2013. If you don’t know what Fiori’s is, I suggest stopping what you’re doing and clicking here. Since I included their name in a hashtag, they found my post and I got a free pizza on my next visit.
In an article by Muriel MacDonald, she summarizes three reasons why hashtags are turning into parenthetical commentaries.
1. Hashtags are “Paralanguage”
- Similar usage to JK, LOL, emoticons, and body language.
2. Hashtags are our Greek Chorus
- A shift in viewpoint from first person to third person that lets us step aside from the situation.
3. Hashtags were always meant to mimic speech
- The way language develops and words become popular is mimicked on Twitter. We really are writing how we talk.
In a nutshell, we are able to use these hashtags as parentheticals because they allow us to withdrawal ourselves from the situation–not completely–but ever so slightly. That begs the question, does using hashtags make us less responsible for our words? If a hashtag can be taken as seriously as a JK or a LOL, then my answer would have to be sure.
“For a generation especially interested in brevity, that’s a pretty cool way to talk.”
-Lauren Schuhmacher, Huffington Post
Last but not least, we’ve already seen the “#Hashtag” skit with Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon–but just in case you need a refresher:
*Instagram and Twitter screenshots are my property. For the accounts that I follow which are listed above, click here.*