Young People And Social Media: 'Kiss My Hash(tag)!'

About the authors: Jimmy is a senior at Maine South High School and Omar is a junior at Pritzker Colelge Prep. Both are student reporters for The Mash, a weekly teen publication distributed to Chicagoland high schools.

It seemed like hashtags reached their full-blown popularity when actor Charlie Sheen tweeted “#winning” earlier this year, but hashtags are now making their way into Facebook statuses, Tumblr, text messages and even in-person conversations.

But what’s a hashtag’s purpose anyway? If a user clicks on a hashtag—a word or phrase set off by a “#” symbol in a tweet—the user will be shown all tweets that use the same hashtag. Hashtags can be used at any point—beginning, middle or end—of a tweet. The hashtags that become very popular often become trending topics on Twitter.

But some teens post hashtags on their Facebook statuses even though many of the benefits of hashtagged words—especially the fact that the word turns into a link—doesn’t apply on Facebook. Even so, Alex Unzueta, a junior from St. Laurence, said this doesn’t discourage him.

“I personally use hashtags occasionally on my statuses,” he said. “It’s a way to basically sum up your status and show how you’re feeling in one word.”

Whether it’s emphasizing a status or serving as commentary about a subject or situation, the trend has become more of an annoyance than a comical fad to some.

Veronica Lezama, a junior at Pritzker, said she doesn’t understand how such a trend has spread to different social networking sites. “It’s annoying because I don’t see why [students] use something that is a trend in Twitter outside of it,” she said.

Dave Coustan, author of “Why I Unfollow People Who Use Hashtags on Twitter,” wrote on his blog,, that hashtags have a limited place in the digital world.

“Outside of Twitter, where the benefits of hashtags aren’t necessarily felt in other platforms, [hashtags] have become more of a convention of online speech than a mechanism for connecting people or groups by topic,” Coustan said.

“I frequently see people using them as a way to set off a meta-comment or stage whisper about the comment they’re making. When done cleverly, I think that can be effective and humorous. When overused or used as a topic marker in a place that doesn’t support topic markers, I think that’s less useful.”

Clayton Davis, a junior at St. Charles East, agrees that hashtags are overused. “Hashtags were created for Twitter, and that’s where they should stay,” Davis said. “It was created so people talking about similar topics on Twitter could connect with one another. Now, it’s just an arbitrary thing that people tack on to the end of statuses or texts.”

Some teens don’t like hashtags because they’ve become more mainstream. “I think it’s annoying when people use them incorrectly, like ‘#ILoveYou,’ or add extra symbols,” said Royd Guzman, a junior at Cristo Rey.

But hashtag advocates insist that hashtagging is just like an art form. “I think people should be free to hashtag at their leisure,” said Maine South senior Meredith Machon. “People who criticize [hashtagging] just aren’t original enough to come up with their own.”

But Emma Kaplan, a senior at Glenbrook North, takes hashtagging to a whole new level: She speaks in hashtags.

“I tend to use hashtags in verbal conversations with friends at school,” she said. “I use them jokingly or sarcastically. I use them when I’m making a complaint, when I’m tired or not wanting to be in school. One I commonly use is ‘hashtag sorrynotsorry.’ I also use them occasionally in texts.”

During its early stages, Twitter didn’t appeal to teens as much as Facebook and other social networking sites. But suddenly hashtagging became a common oddity among teenagers. Why? Machon credits this to a teen’s desire to fit in. “Why has anything become popular?” she said. “Because one person did it so everyone had to.”