Use it, Don’t Abuse it

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A “#”, as proven by Twitter, can be a useful tool to relaying important information to large groups of people. The spark of its popularity can be attributed to its use in 2007 when forest fires were occurring throughout the San Diego area. This new phenomenon of reaching mass amounts of people in a short period of time is what lit the flame for the “#” epidemic (no pun intended). But as the “#” craze grew, so did the misuse, overuse and abuse of the symbol amongst social media users.

A sketch performed on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” featuring Justin Timberlake, attempts to show just how ridiculous the use of hash tags has become today. The parody portrays hash tagging taken to an ultimately ridiculous extreme. So extreme it is not only a language utilized and created in the online world, but has penetrated our social interactions in the offline.

The parody is poking fun at those who have adopted this use of the hash tag by showing just how wrong it looks and sounds. I for one could not be happier that this parody was created, mirroring an image to people of themselves, showing them just how unnatural it looks to be using a hast tag out of context.

We cannot think of the hash tag as something that belongs in every single one of our online posts and comments. As Nancy Baym argues in her book ”Personal Connections in the Digital Age” the hash tag is a language created in order to help us interact with others in the online world due to a lack of social cues. For this reason it seems irrelevant to transfer the use of the hash tag to our interactions in our offline world. Baym would argue that the “#” helps define an online community with shared practices, but would essentially have little to no effect in the offline world.

However, the community that the parody is revealing, one which I have decided to call the “tag-bussers”, is causing many problems for the original purpose of the hash tag, and due to the vast amounts of people miss-tagging, the value of the hash tag continues to drop. People are not only transferring the hast tag to the offline community, but they are creating an epidemic where everything comes accompanied by a “#”. Today people post pictures on instagram and include comments with 20 or more hash tags per post, people on twitter find it necessary to place the “#” before every word in their 140 character tweet, assuming that they are reaching like minded people who have similar interests due to the hash tag.

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Although, Nicole Ellison and Dana Boyd’s argument of context collapse in “Sociality Through Social Network Sites” touches on the use of the “#”, there are caveats when utilizing the hash tag to reach an audience: miss-using, overusing and / or abusing. When over using hash tags, as is mentioned in a news.com.au article, it is argued that “for every person who stumbles upon your tweet via hash tag, you’re likely turning off many more who are put off by hash tag overuse,” And the article takes it as far as to argue that any tweet free of hash tags will most likely gain more support because of its smooth read.

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Articles and websites such as “How to Hash tag” and “Social Media Etiquette for Everybody”, have clearly defined what a hash tag is and how it should be used, leaving us with no excuse on not knowing the proper “hash tag” etiquette. They urge people to avoid overuse and miss use in order reaffirm the proper use of the hast tag via social networks, keeping the effectiveness of the “#’s” ability to bridge weak ties in order to lead to the creation of strong ones. As Haythornthwaite suggests through her explanation of social capital being created online through resources, in her article “Social Networks and Internet Connectivity Effects” such like the “#” .

Through hash tags we can associate with people who have similar interests, whether those interests are: for one person finding a job via #internships for another finding work out tips and motivation via #fitness or #health, etc. etc.  But NO one will get anything out of #hash #tagging #every #single #word. Trust me.  All we accomplish is becoming an annoyance to our connections online, as well as risk sounding like a complete idiot, as seen through the Jimmy Fallon parody, and thus inevitably diminishing our social capital and community.

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An article written in reaction to the Jimmy Fallon video titled “In defense of Hashtags” argues that the sketch by Jimmy Fallon may take the hash tag joke a little too far. Arguing that: “Hashtags expand our expressive and emotive vocabulary. In a way, our growing insistence on hashtags to convey real, fleeting feelings like #lol and #sad aren’t so different from the growing popularity of emojis “. And sure, this may be true, but when have you seen a sentence that is just emojis? And if you have when has it not annoyed you to an extent?

In the article Chris Gayomali rebuttals this by arguing that people can simply “un-friend/un- follow” those that are annoyingly overusing hash tags, but isn’t that counterintuitive to the creation of the hash tag in the first place? Chris tells his readers to “#Yolo, after all. #DoYou”. But how can one “do you” without community?

This overuse / abuse of the “#” has lead to a loss of social capital, rendering hash tags ineffective and there for redundant. The hash tag has proven, that when used efficiently, it can hold great bridging power as introduced mentioned by Haythronthwaite. But, in order to continue to foster the community created by appropriate hash tagging I urge you, next time you are online or instagramming, think before you tag. Even if you need to keep the rules handy, it better than annoying those people you are intending to connect with. The whole point of being on social media is to connect, don’t ruin that for yourself!

#k #thanks #bye.

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