Who owns a hashtag?

Got Hash Tag?

I’m doing a MOOC from Futurelearn at the moment with some friends: Social Media Analytics: Using Data to Understand Public Conversations It’s interesting, I am getting to use some familiar software (TAGS) and some new stuff (Tableau), and it’s good to think through all of this with others. One of the topics for this week is the concept of public spaces – how a hashtag can create them. And, as a result of that I’d started thinking about public and private spaces, and conversations I’d had in the past about how, though Twitter is public, sometimes one does not like to join in a conversation one sees as it’s not clear whether those speaking would welcome the intervention, or see it as an intrusion. (For the record, if I am tweeting to some people and others want to chip in, that’s great – that’s one of the reasons I’ll be tweeting and not using email, Facebook, or any of the other more “private” spaces I have.)

But, as I say, the MOOC has got me thinking – and one of the things it’s got thinking about is this: who owns a hashtag? This post has been brewing for a couple of days now – and at the back of my mind was the idea that I’d introduce it by telling a funny story, then something happened that gave me pause. Well, I’ll tell you both stories …

Ages ago, probably when something like a rhizo or a pop up CLMOOC was happening, maybe this post was inspired by it, some of us happened upon a hashtag. You know how it is – you’re chatting, you hashtag your tweet with #SomethingYouThinkAmusingOrApt and think no more about it. Maybe your friends also use the hashtag. Tweets and Tweeps can do that. But not this time. Oh, no. This time was different. As we carried on conversing (without the #AmusingOrApt hashtag), a very angry person replied to us all. Apparently we were USING HER HASHTAG. Hers, just hers. Her hashtag for her personal use. She had bagsied it and that meant that nobody else could use it. NEVER. NOT EVER. Well, as I recall, we ignored her and left her to her solitary tweeting (honestly – she was tweeting onto a void using the hashtag – nobody was replying to her or “liking” her tweets), but it made me think: can somebody really own a hashtag? Can one person, or a group of people, dictate to others how they can and can’t use it? Surely not – that’s just not how Twitter works. But then this happened …

I noticed a Tweet this morning that interested me. It was hashtagged #LTHEChat, and hence came up in one of my columns in TweetDeck. It was about learning and teaching in HE, the person tweeting was an #LTHEChat “regular” as were the others in the conversation. It seemed relevant. I replied, also with the hashtag. That’s how Twitter works. But, then, I got a notification of a reply to us and saw this:

Hmmm. Well, I am not sure. Is that how it works? Do the volunteers behind the “official” Twitter account get to be hashtag monitors? Maybe. The chat happens on Wednesday evenings from 8-9pm, and I can see that part of a facilitator’s role might be to keep conversations roughly on track. Maybe. But does that mean that nobody can use the hashtag for other conversations, at other times? Surely not. So if we, as a community (I think that #LTHEChat is a community now, by the way), want to use the hashtag outwith the regular chat times, should we be policed? Of course, in a sense, nobody can STOP me using any hashtag I want, but if we’re talking about social niceties (which I think I am), then what sort of conventions would we like to see in place, or follow ourselves?

I don’t have hard and fast answers to this. I do think it’s worth talking about. So I am going to publish this now and tweet it. And I am going to hashtag it #LTHEChat. You can tell me if you think I am out of order for doing this.

Got Hash Tag?” flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

This entry was posted in Learning, MOOC, Online learning, PhD, Rhizomes, Social Media and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Who owns a hashtag?

  1. As the exchange happened today, a Wednesday, the day of the #LTHEChat discussion, perhaps the moderator was trying to focus potential participants’ attention on the topic of the day. That said, I think we can continue to use that hashtag anytime insofar as what we discuss is potentially relevant to other users of the hashtag, i.e. participants of the #LTHEChat group.

    • NomadWarMachine says:

      Yes, that’s my feeling. I find all of this so interesting to think through, though, and really interested to hear what you all think 🙂

  2. Getting all Bagsied on it? (didn’t know that term so appreciated the high jump to the definition page). I appreciate this post, Sarah, as it brings up some important understanding about hashtags as The Publics … As you note, in FutureLearn, we are grappling together with many aspects of this concept of when digital realms become public spaces.
    I wondered at the story of someone claiming a hashtag as their own (and the fact that they were alone in it, at least at the time you were looking) and becoming offended (and think, someday, Twitter will make &&& by auctioning off hashtags … right?)
    Your piece reminded me of work with Write Out and our internal discussions about the #writeout hashtag, as we realized after we had started things in motion that it was also used by a summer writing camp not affiliated with our project.
    We were actual thoughtful in trying not to share via the #writeout hashtag during what we found was their most active time period — purposefully trying to go silent so they could have it to themselves – but we also agreed not to move to another hashtag for our project. Instead, #writeout has become a shared space — over time — even if we never asked permission from others using it, either. We never thought we would need to.

  3. Sarah, this is an interesting topic. I wonder if someone will figure a way to copywrite a hashtag, then make money by leasing it. Not sure how Twitter would enforce that. I think it would make Twitter a less valuable platform for myself and probably many others.

    I am one who often enters into conversations of others if the topic interests me. That’s how I joined #clmooc in 2013. It’s part of the network-building that I do on an on-going basis. Thus, I hope the openness of hashtags does not change.

    I think you know that I’ve created a concept map where I archive a wide range of hashtag conversations that I’ve found relevant to my work, including #clmooc. It serves as a different type of TweetDeck for me. I visit it regularly and click into the various tags to update myself on what’s being shared. Some were conversations from a few years ago and have not had new Tweets since then. Others keep adding new Tweets due to new conversations, new visitors, or both.

    What I find is that there are constant interjections of unrelated topics, or even negative posts, in some of the conversations, usually those with higher visibility.For instance the #ObamaSummit or #DemDebate tags attract all sorts of comments.

    I actually blocked a few posters from my feed last week during the DemDebate, due to the content being posted. Thus, instead of moderators controlling who posts, individual participants can decide what posters they choose to see on their feed.

    In other cases the hashtag is being used by others for a different conversation. Unless this new conversation has become dominate in the thread I don’t let it bother me. If it has drowned out the original conversation, then I stop visiting it and delete it from those I follow.

    I’ll look forward to learning what others have to say about this.

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