Margaret Cho, a well known American comedian and actress, recently shocked the public when she announced that she had been a victim of sexual violence as a child. She took advantage of social media to encourage sexual assault survivors to publicly share their stories with the hashtag #isurviveandTHRIVE on July 31. Within an hour, hundreds of survivors and fans flooded Twitter, an online social networking service, with their own stories of abuse and statements of solidarity.
Hashtags have become common usage with users employing them in text messages, chats, and even advertisements. The symbol “#” has been widely used as a music symbol representing a sharp note, while also being used on phones as the “pound key” along with the “star button” as well as in computer programming language. “The hashtag, however, has become a regular part of daily dialog these days. As it has become one of the key functions in Social Networking Service(SNS), the hashtag has both positive and negative points,” said Cheon Jae-young, a Social Media Marketing Expert and CEO of U-naeil Media.
How the Hashtag Has Become Popular
A hashtag, preceded by a hash mark(#), is used within a message to categorize a particular topic, allowing people to search for information quickly and conveniently. People are also using hashtags to express their opinions on a particular subject. “As the search business in the Internet grows larger, the hashtag is playing a crucial role on the Internet. Naver and Daum, portal sites in Korea, are trying to hoover up market shares in the search business using hashtags,” said Cheon.
SNS is now described as Interest SNS or iSNS, which is used to network and share feelings and interests by using hashtags, and it has been steadily gaining popularity. iSNS also involves a social curation service that enables people to search and gather information. Compared with standard search engines, a customized service suited to individual likes and desires is being provided these days successfully.
Various Uses of Hashtags in Our Daily Lives
Hashtags have become an effective tool to use especially when categorizing posts, which in turn makes it easier for users to look for posts on the same topic to find the content. Hashtags also provide a way for the public to express sentiments on a particular issue. #BringBackOurGirls is a hashtag that was used in the campaign for approximately 270 girls who were kidnapped by Islamic militants in the spring of 2014. As the number of the hashtag increased to 130 million, the campaign aroused international interest. Citizens’ support added weight to the campaign, leading to demonstrations in Europe. #PrayForNepal is another key phrase used to make a statement of solidarity. “I expressed my sympathy for the horrible natural disaster in Nepal. I mourned for the victims using the hashtag #PrayForNepal,” said Kim Geon-pyo, a Junior in the Department of Physics at Hanyang University. In addition, #LoveWins was used to celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Also, hashtags can be used to issue warnings ahead of natural disasters, and it actually helped some institutions to warn the public in affected areas and in rescue efforts. Federal Emergency Management Agency(FEMA) of the United States uses Twitter with hashtags during all stages of a disaster. When Hurricane Earl moved up the East Coast in September 2010, FEMA looked for what people were writing on Twitter by tracking hashtags. One of the most commonly used hashtags at that time was #snomg, which enabled FEMA to monitor what was happening, and it could successfully prepare for rescue plans.
Furthermore, several business marketers have figured out inventive ways to use hashtags so as to promote branded products. IKEA, an international furniture company, launched a campaign asking customers to post photographs of IKEA furniture on Instagram, an online social media service, using hashtags for its advertisement. Nearly every item IKEA offers was featured on Instagram after only about a month of the promotion, boosting its sales. Similarly, hashtag campaigns are now a common marketing practice for many companies, from large to small and domestic to international.
Negative Effects of Hashtags
The marketing uses of hashtags can have unwanted effects when people use them inappropriately. McDonald’s, the world’s largest chain of fast food hamburger restaurants, tried to advertise its fresh ingredients and favorable services with #McDStories. However, the word “story” of the hashtag had unexpected consequences when customers began posting negative contents about their experiences in the restaurant. McDonald’s had to cancel the event in two hours as most of the postings that customers wrote were complaints.
There are numerous people who violate Internet laws when they are using hashtags. On July 16, Instagram banned the search term #curvy because it was used to share images and videos that violated Instagram’s community guidelines around nudity. Cheon said, “As the site does not require specific confirmation whether each user is an adult or not when searching words with hashtags, even very young people can easily access pornography. Lots of people these days post pornographic pictures even with the hashtags that are irrelevant or completely unrelated, so even those who do not intend to look at such contents are able to encounter them easily.”
How to Use Hashtags as a Positive Force
Hashtags have been integrated into most popular social media platforms. “As hashtags have become a part of modern culture these days, users’ attitudes are important. Plans for institutional improvement are also necessary to redress several possible drawbacks,” said Cheon.