Text by Serena Kassow
Illustration by Anna Buckley
We’ve all seen them on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds. “Brunch with my other half! #loveyou” or “life with a newborn #sotired” or even the classic “#tbt!” or “#selfiesunday!” Yes, friends, the #hashtag. As stigmatized as it has become nowadays, the creation of a web tool to unite the world so candidly was nothing short of brilliant. However, it is that ease of access, the casual nature of using it, that has morphed the hashtag into something extremely questionable.
When used lightheartedly, I’ve found the hashtag to be a wonderful source of inspiration, creativity, and ideas. When I’m feeling uncreative on a Sunday morning, #brunch takes me to a whole new world of possibility. When my busy schedule keeps me from staying on top of it, #nyfw unlocks fashion week and brings it right to the tips of my fingers. #Paris helps me look forward to my summer trip, #snowpocalypse, a way of virtually commiserating with my fellow Bostonians, and #foodporn, a dangerous trip into the lures of food photography.
However, it is this universal sameness, the equal distribution of value to whatever comes after the # symbol, that has proven difficult to apply in the real world. One of the most prominent usages of the hashtags in recent years has been to stand by a social cause. A single hashtag is created to represent a cause or event, and those who post it signify that they stand in solidarity of the cause/event at hand. For example, surrounding the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, “#blacklivesmatter” and “#icantbreathe” were everywhere, but where have they gone? #Jesuischarlie stood by the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris by honoring their memory and taking a stand for free speech, but it has been several weeks since I’ve seen anything but regarding the attacks on my social media handles.
The issue at hand is the evidence that tragedies are being reduced to fads and trends at the hands of the hashtag. “If I don’t post it, will people think I’m weird? I already posted something today...should I post it and then delete it later?”
Does #jesuischarlie carry the same weight as #sundaybrunch?
By using the hashtag as a universal symbol for the here, what and now, everything falls under the same umbrella. The same concept. No matter what your status is, it’s a status, and falls under the caliber of a status, posted for likes and comments and forgotten later.
The hashtag, and in the broader sense, social media as a whole, has lead people to leap and bound ahead of where we are in terms of global communication and unification. But if we keep going at the rate of “causes of the moment,” it is scary to think of the future. If you are passionate about a cause, let the world know and fight for it. But almost 100% of the time, that fight won’t end with a #hashtag.