Trendspotting: #HashtagHoopla

By , Wednesday, January 4, 2012, at 11:01 am.

Researchers are now looking to Twitter, 175 million users strong, to predict global mood, inform scientific research, make investment predictions, even spawn mighty protests—the Occupy movement can be traced back to a single tweet on July 13 urging people to #OccupyWallStreet. Thank not just Twitter but also the all-mighty hashtag for that one. The hashtag, too, is a gold mine for researchers scoping out trends and moods; in fact, the once perfunctory tag is serving even more purpose than to neatly categorize information. Chockful of snipes and snarky puns, today’s hashtag has ulterior motives. In Russia, a hashtag has been associated with a bot that’s Twitter bombing citizen protestors, while in the U.K., the House of Commons went on a search for its “official hashtag,” and a run of bad weather in Scotland inspired a hashtag that meant “scrotum” in the Scottish vernacular (#HurricaneBawbag, if you must know). On the other side of the pond, The Atlantic proclaimed the hashtag a “campaign battleground” in the U.S., pointing to the Twitter backlash after President Obama recently announced that he “couldn’t wait” to make policy by executive order. Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus promptly tweeted, “#WeCantWait to make @BarackObama a one-term president,” to which Nancy Pelosi fired back, “#WeCantWait for GOP to stop blocking #AmericanJobsAct & #ChinaCurrency jobs bill. PS to GOP: #HashtagsArentAJobsBill.” Sarcasm reigned when, 48 hours later, #WeCantWait had been used in nearly 15,000 tweets. Likewise, when Kim Kardashian’s marriage went kaput after 72 days, #ThingsLongerThanKimsMarriage went viral. And after the parenting site Babble launched its Top 50 Twitter Moms list, some miffed daddy bloggers saw to it that #occupybabble began trending. That’s what we call hashing it out.

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