There can be little doubt that social media platforms have entered our lives and irrevocably changed how we do things. For instance, the simple hashtag. A quick look at any Instagram timeline will reveal that the categorisation of photographic media has expanded beyond the simple caption. The popularity of the hashtag means that users not only describe their photographs but the atmosphere and context in which they are captured, for example #coffee is easily followed by #friends or #studyfuel. As a result, hashtags are already more powerful than the traditional caption in data terms. Yet despite this power the hashtag comes under criticism as no more than a destructive millennial fad used to propagate vanity and self-obsession. While it is true that the application of these tags can often be trivial it is also true that they hold real power, power that could easily expand beyond the typical newspaper and could ignite political awareness in what can be described as a politically apathetic but increasingly connected generation.
The real advantage of hashtags is their simplicity. The short structure of an essentially one or two word medium allows for quick, identifiable quantification which can be harnessed to rapidly and successfully build or consolidate a movement. This easy and simplistic identification facilitates the immediate construction of a narrative, a narrative which can be dispersed with little effort yet spread like wildfire. The power of these narrative is to counter more traditional forms of mass media within minutes, with little effort and at little cost.
In his study of mainstream media versus alternative online media coverage of the TEKEL workers protest against privatization in Turkey, Burak Doğu notes that alternative media flourishes when mainstream media fails to represent important facets of social and political reality (Doğu 631). The aim of this media flourish is to raise public awareness. The challenge for this new media however is to make their presence known and, in order to achieve this, a campaign must rely on memorable categorisation in an ever changing platform.A campaign must make their media stand out through data categorisation so that they can compete with the popular competitors such as #selfie #tbt and #food.
Similarly, the beauty of this quick categorisation is its multi-functional capacity across various platforms. As well as becoming an everyday form of communication over text and Snapchat #hashtags are recognised as data containers across Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. This multi-platform engagement, therefore, facilitates a media empire that requires relatively little beyond a public or private computer and a data connection.
#everydayafrica is a wonderful example of simple data categorisation which has been used to huge success as a base for a counter-narrative to traditional mainstream media. Photographer Peter DiCampo and writer Austin Merrill began the project in 2012 in order to combat the cliché images of war, poverty and death that dominate media coverage of Africa (Teicher AmericanPhoto). Initially a tumblr product the movement reached booming success following its transfer to Instagram and has inspired several “Everyday” accounts embodying a similar perspective in different locals around the world.
In conclusion, hashtags may be divisive, a concept of mockery among some and a revered art among others, but there is no doubting the simple tag’s ability to construct a debate. Of course this depends upon application but if we can divide newspapers in tabloid and broadsheets why can’t we apply this same categorisation to Instagram or Twitter? Why can’t we acknowledge the power of #selfie?
Biddle, Sam, ‘How the Hashtag Is Ruining the English Language’ Gizmodo http://gizmodo.com/5869538/how-the-hashtag-is-ruining-the-english-language. Web. 01 December 2016.
Chan, Casey, ‘Justin Timberlake Shows Us How Dumb We Sound When We Use Hashtags’ Gizmodo http://gizmodo.com/justin-timberlake-show-us-how-dumb-we-sound-when-we-use-1382465357. Web. 01 December 2016.
Doğu, Burak, ‘Comparing Online Alternative and Mainstream Media in Turkey: Coverage of the TEKEL Workers Protest Against Privatization’ International Journal of Communication, 9: 2015. Web. 630–651. 01 December 2016.
Reznik, Eugene, ‘Taking a walk with Ruddy Roye, Instagram Activist’ AmericanPhoto http://www.americanphotomag.com/taking-walk-ruddy-roye-instagram-activist. Web. 01 December 2016.
Teicher, Jordan G, ‘How Instagram Changed Street Photography’ AmericanPhoto http://www.americanphotomag.com/how-instagram-changed-street-photography. Web. 01 December 2016.