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Twitter experiments with a major change to hashtags

Update October 13, 2022: Twitter reached out to Digital Trends to clarify a few points about its current experiment with hashtags and had this to say:

This is a temporary test visible to a small number of people on web only. We have no plans to remove hashtag functionality on the platform.

Clickable hashtags are kind of important to how people experience Twitter. Clicking through hashtag links is a convenient way to find more tweets related to specific and niche topics. And they’re so useful for browsing content that other popular social media platforms (like Instagram and TikTok) have them too.

So why would any platform, especially Twitter, want to experiment with reducing the functionality of such a feature? We don’t know. But apparently, that is what’s happening. On Monday, Jane Manchun Wong tweeted a screenshot of what appears to be an experimental change to how hashtags work on the bird app. In this case, as Wong notes, that change apparently involves having hashtags without clickable links “unless the tweet contains branded hashtags like #OneTeam and #Periscope that brands pay to add an icon next to hashtags for a while to promote stuff.”

Twitter is working on an experiment where #hashtags are no longer clickable links

(unless the Tweet contains Branded Hashtags like #OneTeam and #Periscope that brands pay to add an icon next to hashtags for a while to promote stuff)

Not sure what this is for… pic.twitter.com/DdcYyDVaNM

— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) October 10, 2022

Wong’s screenshot shows a single tweet that features a single hashtag and nothing else. And since the hashtag featured in Wong’s screenshot is just a simple word and not affiliated with a brand, the hashtag only appears as plain text, not a clickable link as it normally would be.

Reducing the functionality of hashtags and only allowing them to be clickable if they’re a form of paid promotion could be another way to monetize Twitter. But if that’s what Twitter’s experimenting with here, it seems to be an odd move. Hashtags are part of what makes Twitter a place for cultivating community, building movements, and keeping up with the messiness of our fellow humans. It seems like a mistake to limit part of the usefulness of hashtags to just brands and their promotional tweets. Promotional tweets and those sponsored hashtags that can’t be removed from the What’s Happening sidebar are already a blight on Twitter. We don’t need more of them and they shouldn’t be the only ones with hashtags you can click through.

And if you were wondering what the inventor of the hashtag Chris Messina thinks of all this, he’s already tweeted his response: A single finger-wagging GIF.

https://t.co/r7CQaQ3BzS pic.twitter.com/rfnETfjpLj

— Chris Messina (@chrismessina) October 10, 2022

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