Can you remember the last social moment across the United States or even around the world that was ignited or sustained by a simple little hashtag (otherwise sometimes referred to as the pound sign)? Here are a few just from the last five years that should look very familiar to digital natives:
As we have discussed before, the hashtag has moved into a realm of language that is no longer exclusive to numbers. Social media sites -most commonly Twitter- have utilized the symbol beyond its historic numerical usage. It was back in 2007 when Twitter user Chris Messina suggested it (via Tweeting) that the pound sign be used as a universal symbol of grouping, where as conversations across the digital web could be grouped together by topic or keyword for better communication and sharing.
This idea OBVIOUSLY exploded across the digital native culture and around the world as a new tool in language and communication. The hashtag invited every online user to voice his or her opinions and ideas regarding, most prominently, mass social movements or digital calls to action. The social movement Black Lives Matter progressed from an online political caller into an tangible and organized movement of people who support the cause outside of the digital space- that kind of impact language has on people goes to show how impressive the influence of social media alone can be.
It is 2017, and by now we have seen a wave of digital native culture hurrying to call the online community to action using the hashtag. That relationship (created within the internet) between the symbol and its purpose has been redefined with a new purpose- and this is exactly how language works as a tool, created by beings like us. Let us refer to it now as the digital vernacular of a call to action. Writers are taught that a call to action is,
“something such as a speech, piece of writing, or act that encourages people to take action about a problem”, ( Cambridge Online Dictionary ).
It should be no surprise to us that our digital language has encompassed its own symbol that satisfies our desire for visual interaction via the web, and promotes massive calls to action around the world – it’s like an internet flare gun!
So, if the internet now contains its own life line tagging agent, does it mean it actually works? When people use hashtags does it actually draw other internet users into the conversation for the purpose it holds? It does!
In March of last year, writer Tanya Sichynsky for The Washington Post discussed in her piece the substantial results of people using hashtags on the internet. What she found was intriguingly strong evidence supporting the need for a digital language symbol that draws people together in communication and information sharing:
Number of uses: 7,200,200
The mass amount of tweets and post regarding Hurricane Sandy in 2012 helped researchers map out the path of damage and supply aid to those affected by the disaster.
Number of uses: 3,100,000
This hashtag was a social movement hoping to generate donations to charities on the Tuesday following Black Friday back in 2012. Since, the movement is reborn at the end of every year and has resulted in millions of dollars in donations to charities around the world. In its first wave, the hashtag call to action generated 10.1 million dollars in donations.
Number of uses: 12,000,000
Back in 2014, Scotland was ready to dip out of the United Kingdom. The hashtag “IndyRef” tagged the digital conversation that ignited political activism in Scotland and the U.K. It was a sign that the conversation on the internet could easily reflect the voices of people to such a powerful length that it would not go unheard.
(Check out the full list of hashtags and the after affects in Tanya’s article, here.)
Without knowing the numbers or the research invested in the use of hashtags, I am sure few people truly understand the scope of consequences our digital interactions have on the tangible world. This is hard for many to swallow – the idea that the internet has any kind of influence on our real world. And it is understandable to draw conclusions like the latter without the right knowledge of all the good the internet has promoted. There are two lessons to take away as a digital native:
- Language is malleable. We built it and therefore we can change it. So assimilating with the changes in definition and purpose behind our language (both verbal and nonverbal) can be easy with an open mind.
- People are the internet. The internet is not its own sentient being and the masters behind it, especially in social spaces, are ourselves. When social movements are ignited or political debates are stirred in digital space, it comes from other human beings. If the internet is changing the world, in reality, it is really us changing it as we master and navigate our own understanding of what our relationship is with one another as digital natives.
Going forward, pay attention to the headlining news popping up on Twitter and/or Facebook. If you notice a Hashtag associated with it, explore! Information is gentle and therefore must be handle responsibility. It is our job as digital natives to utilize vernacular (like the Hashtag) in a way that expands our understanding of the world around us and of course, ourselves.