What is a Hashtag?
OCT 12, 2023
What is a Hashtag?
Living in an ever-evolving digital world can be challenging. As parents, understanding online languages such as emojis, leetspeak and slang, or video game terms helps us understand and guide our children.
One term foundational across various social media platforms is “hashtag”. This article demystifies what a hashtag is and its impact on online safety.
What is a Hashtag?
A hashtag is a word or phrase preceded by the hashtag symbol, also known as the pound symbol (#). Hashtags are metadata tag used to categorize content and make it easier to find information on a topic on social media. Some people think of it as a modern-day catalog system.
The concept of the hashtag was first introduced by Chris Messina in 2007 on X (formerly Twitter), and is now used across social media platforms as searchable links that allow you to follow discussions and find trending topics.
When a video or image is uploaded onto a social media post, the creator can list several hashtags. For example, a video on the cell structure of plants and animals can include the specific hashtags #biology, #biologyhelp, #cellstructure, #nucleus, #organelle, #chromosomes and more.
The Power of Hashtags
Hashtags have become an integral part of social media. Popular hashtags can boost the visibility of social media posts, connecting users globally on trending topics.
Hashtags are used to search content. By simply typing a specific hashtag into the search bar of a social media site, a user can explore a wealth of related content. The impact of hashtags extends far beyond simple convenience while using social media. It has changed the way we search and gather ideas. Studies have shown, for example, almost half of Gen Z use TikTok and Instagram hashtag searches to find information instead of Google.
This can be helpful when a teen needs help applying for colleges, and can search for topics such as #reccomendationletter to learn about asking a teacher for a recommendation letter.
Unfortunately, there are also dangers to hashtags.
The Dark Side of Hashtags
The very thing that makes hashtags so useful – their ability to find content online quickly – is also the reason they can be used inappropriately.
While some harmful hashtags are banned, kids and teens can misspell or alter hashtags using leetspeak to bypass filtration systems. For example, a teen looking for pro-eating disorder content may find the hashtag #anorexia to be blocked, but #an0rexi@ is not.
Hashtags are not well regulated—there is no process to ensure that a hashtag is actually related to what the content posted is about. This leads to hashtag hijacking, which is when a trending hashtags is used for a different purpose than was intended.
This is a technique used as a social media strategy to gain clicks, but also can be used by malicious users promoting harmful or spam content. For example, a child searching for innocent dog videos using the hashtag #puppylife could come across inappropriate content if someone decided to use that hashtag on a post with objectionable content.
These risks highlight the importance of talking with our children about their online activities and understanding parental controls.
Navigating Hashtags: A Guide for Parents
As parents, it’s essential to stay informed and proactive. Here are some ways to safeguard your children from the potential dangers of certain hashtags:
1. Be Intentional About Your Child’s Social Media Use
If your child is still learning the basics of technology, it is probably best to keep them off social media entirely. A recent Surgeon General Warning has brought to light many concerns about young children using social media.
There are great tech options available that allow them to stay connected and begin learning how to safely navigate technology without exposing them to the dangers of social media.
If your child is ready for social media, you can establish ways to regularly check in with them about their activities online, including the hashtags they are following or using.
These can inform you as a caregiver of their interests and hobbies, and help you know what information they are getting online.
2. Educate About Hashtag Dangers
Explain the potential risks associated with certain hashtags. Encourage them to use hashtags responsibly and be cautious about the content they might uncover.
3. Foster Open Communication
Create an environment where your children feel comfortable discussing their online experiences with you, especially if they are in danger or made a mistake online.
This can help you address any potential issues promptly and keep your kids safe.
In the digital age, understanding hashtags is more than just keeping up with trends; it’s about doing your best to ensure your child’s online safety.
By staying informed and maintaining open communication, we can better navigate the digital world, turning challenges into opportunities for learning and growth.
Remember, every hashtag has a story to tell. Let’s ensure our children’s stories are safe, positive, and empowering.
What did you learn about hashtags? Share in the comments!