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The revolution will be hashtagged: How one little symbol means big changes for Facebook

hashtags on facebookIt – is – FINISHED!: Facebook has added the hashtag. After months of rumors that the social network was preparing to go full-fledged Twitter on us, the deed has been done and all your pound sign-pushing is about to mean something.

This day has been in the making for awhile; nearly every major social network and app is using the hashtag. Sure, Twitter started it, but the feature is used by Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Google+, Tumblr. It’s become a ubiquitous tool of the Internet and it knows no prejudice and feels no loyalty to its origins. It’s just a thing that everyone who’s a part of this grand experiment called social media has embraced for their own respective purposes, network affiliation be damned.

Twitter may have started it all, but it’s ours now – there’s no going back from whence you came. So naturally, Facebook had to give the people what they wanted. But hashtags don’t come without strings – the good and the bad kind – attached.

Cross posting will finally make sense (and stop annoying you)

To start with the simplest and more straightforward of the implications, pushed posts will now work. Yes, cross-posting is finally about to actually make sense instead of look like misplaced code or keyboard mashing. Those of us who have long-lobbied against the auto-pushing of Twitter posts to Facebook might be a little less annoyed now that those hashtagged-beyond-recognition posts will now work.


That, on Facebook, would be indecipherable, annoying madness. Until now: A Facebook spokesperson tells me that those hashtags will now lead to the other posts on Facebook’s bearing the same hashtags. You won’t be redirected to Twitter, obviously, where this content may have originated, however.

The same applies to Instagram images pushed to Facebook. Now all those #tbt Instagrams you’re sharing on Facebook will be linked to their brethren.

You know what would be great? If all of these companies could get over their pissing wars and we could have a client that actually pulled in and made sense of all the content being posted with hashtags. Then we’d have an actual view of an Internet-wide conversation, no holds-barred! Tis but a dream … 

I think this sums up the state of cross posting best: 

fb cross posting
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Come on into the topic and real-time discovery pool, Facebook! The water’s fine

On top of the long list of reasons Facebook is implementing hashtags is discovery. The current state of topic search and discovery on Facebook is, to put it in the nicest way possible, absolute and utter shit. Want to know who else is talking about the NBA finals, or who else watched the Games of Thrones season finale (seriously, everyone shut up about it, I haven’t watched it yet and you already ruined the “Red Wedding” episode for me so go jump off a bridge)? Well then you better just troll the hell out of Facebook and see if you can catch a mention of those things in the feed.

Right now, Facebook is like a chaotic, swirling whirlpool of information that you can’t segment or parse.

But even that horrible, no-good method might not work: We’ve lamented about the misadventures of the Facebook News Feed. You end up missing a hefty amount of information, and the order in which stories are posted and how long Facebook keeps them around is mystifying. (My personal favorite? When Facebook keeps shoving the same post to the top of your feed because one friend keeps commenting on it. I will not ever care how many times people respond to what someone says about their new profile picture.)

Hashtags aren’t necessarily going to fix this, but they are going to help significantly. With a click, you will be able to find who else is talking about the respective topic. Right now, Facebook is like a chaotic, swirling whirlpool of information that you can’t segment or parse. Go ahead, try that search bar, or even Graph Search. You are not going to find the real-time information you’re looking for.

fb hashtagIt’s what makes Facebook such a pit of frustration. People are updating it all the time, per Facebook: “This year’s Oscars buzz reached an all-time high on Facebook with over 66.5 million interactions, including likes, comments, and posts.” But you couldn’t readily find all of what was available because there was nothing to connect these moments together. Now you can! But it comes at a cost, and that’s how it could change the way we talk on Facebook.

Get ready for an attitude adjustment, young man

I’d like to subtitle this section “Your days of self-referential, purpose-less, sarcastic hashtag usage on Facebook are over, David Lawrence.” David is my friend (I guess) and one of the many Facebook users who are hashtagging away in their Status Updates as a sort of hilarious (is it though?) way to mock Internet culture and communication yet still be a part of it. I’m using him as a scapegoat here, but you all know who you are.

hashtagged horrible
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Yes we get it, the hashtag’s rise and its unfortunate real-life application make it sort of a joke to some people – but now, that sarcastic hashtagging of inane Facebook postings is over. Connected to other conversations, they will be.

hashtagging on facebookYou might think it’s funny to tag a status about your dinner with #damnthischickensgood – but you could unwittingly be linking yourself up with a hashtagged KFC advertisement. One can only hope. I can only hope, if we’re being honest. Because the whole hashtagging-as-a-joke-on-hashtagging has gotten old, guys. Let’s be part of the solution, not the problem.

But before you lament the loss of yet more Facebook privacy, know that only the people you’re sharing a status with will be able to see your hashtagged post when they hit that tag somewhere else. For example: If I post, “IDGAF about Miami Heat haters #NBAFinals #GoHeat,” and share that with my Close Friends group, then only the people in that group who hit those hashtags elsewhere will see my posts. I won’t be connected to the public #NBAFinals #GoHeat posts.

Now it can be assumed that if you’re using a hashtag, you generally want to be found; you want to be part of a larger conversation – especially if it’s happening in real-time. There’s a reason you’re using the Internet during live events, you want to know what other people think about what’s happening. So this could be your motivation to make more public posts, which would make Facebook a very happy camper.

What you’re sacrificing is a sort of intimacy that many sites don’t have…

If this effect does happen, and it makes sense that it would, then we could be witnessing how Facebook works and the type of messages being posted there change before our eyes. Take a quick scroll of your Facebook News Feed right now: A lot of personal statements, right? What people are having for lunch, a comment on a frustrating morning commute, a post about how much someone loves her mom (we all love our moms, OK? You don’t love yours more.).

Compare this to Twitter, where people are talking about news and current events and brands – that’s a lot of valuable content Facebook’s been missing out on that it can try and capture now. But it might mean you see fewer personal posts from friends and family than you’re seeing now; fewer “what I did this morning”s and more “what I think about PRISM”s.

Maybe you hate this idea, maybe you love it – but the attitude and feel of Facebook is about to get a major makeover. What you’re sacrificing is a sort of intimacy that many sites don’t have – and what you’re gaining is a News Feed that you can make even a modicum of sense of. But it’s ultimately up to you to decide if that’s worth it. 

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Molly McHugh
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Before coming to Digital Trends, Molly worked as a freelance writer, occasional photographer, and general technical lackey…
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