As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the hashtag today, Donal O’Keeffe looks how the Irish have used it to highlight important cultural and social moments online
The hashtag is ten years old today.
If you’re not on social media, that sentence will be meaningless to you. If you are on social media, then Happy #Hashtag10.
A hashtag is a word (or series of run-on words) preceded by a #, in a Twitter post, making your tweet immediately searchable and identifiable with other tweets on the same subject.
“Hashtags are hugely beneficial in that they allow us to develop user-driven ways of classifying content,” says James O’Sullivan, UCC lecturer in Digital Arts and Humanities. “So when there’s some big event or incident to follow, you can see what people are saying using relevant hashtags.
“They’re basically how people filter content in a riot of information. Social media without hashtags would be chaos, they provide an intuitive and democratic means of organising people’s contributions.”
Sinead McSweeney, Twitter Ireland’s Managing Director, says “Ten years ago, the hashtag was created by a Twitter user and has since evolved from a way to categorise Tweets, to a fun way to add commentary to a Tweet and to a powerful tool in creating global conversations and connecting people to form movements.” James O’Sullivan concurs.
“Hashtags have been a major force in various cultural and social movements. Just look at the role of social media in things like Black Lives Matter, or in response to terror attacks or the rise of the Alt-Right. Hashtags bring people together, they allow individual responses to form part of a more powerful collective. They’re a simple way of aligning ideas that go together in a very vast space.”
Pretty much anything worth talking about online – sporting event, political happening, tragedy, festival - will quickly earn a hashtag and most TV and radio shows have one. Here in Ireland, some of the most prominent television and radio shows have their own tags, and viewers and listeners are seldom shy about venturing opinions.
A look at the #LateLateShow tag most Friday nights would show you pretty clearly why Ryan Tubridy deactivated his Twitter account.
The #Liveline tag is usually worth a look, especially when Joe Duffy is giving someone the frog-in-slowly-boiling-water routine. (Pro-tip: If you’re on Liveline, struggling to justify something and Joe is reassuringly urging you to stay on the line, it’s too late. You’re already done.)
For many fans of the dearly-departed Tonight With Vincent Browne, much of the show’s attraction was in Vincent making a hames of reading out tweets, glowering out from under his eyebrows even as he encouraged viewers to “send the tweet at #vinb”.
Browne’s show had a symbiotic, interactive relationship with Twitter, even if the host clearly thought the Tweet Machine was infested with alcoholics, insomniacs and/or the generally unemployable.
One of my own happiest Twitter memories is the night Vincent splutteringly read out one particularly snarky tweet of mine. That night’s programme had featured a clip package from shows across several years. Commenting on Vincent’s – er – somewhat inconsistent colouring, I tweeted “Tonight on ‘Tonight With Vincent Browne’: Hair-dye Through The Ages. #vinb”. That earned me a particularly terrifying version of what Mario Rosenstock calls “The Eye”.
Favourite Twitter memory is Vincent glowering at me as he splutteringly read out my tweet about his somewhat inconsistent colouring. #vinb https://t.co/XCrfIvzvEW— Donal O'Keeffe (@Donal_OKeeffe) August 19, 2017
“We Irish own Twitter from time-to-time, particularly around the Rose of Tralee or the Toy Show,” says James O’Sullivan. “There’s a real humorous element to hashtags, in that they tend to get hijacked by people all competing to share the funniest remark. They’re great in that sense, adding some entertainment to otherwise boring and outdated affairs, showcasing the best of Irish wit.”
Some of the funniest people in Ireland are on Twitter. I apologise that I cannot include even a fraction of them here, but you’d not go far wrong by following people like @TaraFlynn, @RubberBandits, @RuthePhoenix, @OwensDamien, @colmtobin, @amyohconnor, @JayRow and @johnmoynes.
It’s interesting that the funniest people on Irish Twitter tend to be politically savvy and engaged with current affairs and popular culture. Perhaps that reflects a particularly Irish interest in the public life of so small an inter-connected island.
A look at some of trending hashtags for 2016 acts as an antidote for Twitter-brain – the worry that constant information overload and outrage fatigue renders one forgetful – and offers a reassurance that people online are no different from anyone else.
We are interested in politics, public discourse and daily life. We gather together our thoughts around key-words and group ourselves around agreed phrases. We are clever, kind, funny, decent, silly, opinionated, occasionally cruel, sometimes obsessive, often stupid but always interesting. We are chattering around the fire and we have done this ever since first we came down from the trees.
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