It’s a pound sign … It’s a number sign … No. It’s a hashtag!
In 2007, one man revolutionized social media by using what he called a hashtag. He sought to create groups within Twitter where those with common interests or hashtags could utilize the search function and find a community they could relate to.
Here we are, more than 10 years later, and hashtags have evolved a bit, but have mainly held to their original purpose. Television shows often use hashtags to make an interactive experience for their watchers while organizations may use hashtags to gain a following – think ABC’s The Bachelor vs. your local non-profit.
As humans beings, we crave companionship, we search out similarities, and we reject the unfamiliar. Hashtags facilitate an environment where those interested in the same events, clothing lines, expressions, shows, phrases, posts, pictures, etc. can enjoy their commonalities. Most millennials and digital natives are familiar with hashtag trends and the ability to search and follow them. What I want to explore in this blog post is what I’ve deemed “hashtag helpfulness”.
“Hashtag Helpfulness” Testimony
Just a few weeks ago, a dear friend of mine admitted to me she had struggled with an eating disorder for several years. Everytime she looked in the mirror she saw a lesser version of herself. She sought out help from counselors, friends and her parents, but what I found most notable was the help she sought from social media.
It seems that society has placed a great deal of blame on social media for female eating disorders and body dysmorphia. There is much truth and validity in this argument, but social media seems to be doing more good than previously thought.
My friend vulnerably stated that night time was the hardest. She would lay in bed thinking about her body, what she had eaten throughout the day, and how many steps her fitbit counted. This constant stream of thoughts was hard to silence, but hashtags played an important role. At night, she would search hashtags such as #eatingdisorderrecovery #EDrecovery and similar alternatives.
In these hashtags, she found a community of other women walking through the same struggles as her. These women of different races, ages, religions and nationalities served as her inspiration to keep fighting. If that isn’t incredible enough, think of how incredible it is that the use of a single hashtag can unite people facing trials and encourage them to get help!
My friend attributes her healing to God, her family, friends and her hashtag community.
Instagram’s Hashtag Precautions
In conducting some research, I found that Instagram has their eye out to help those struggling in the social media community. I typed in #eatingdisorder and before any photos showed up, I was prompted with a message that stated,
“Can we help? Posts with words or tags you’re searching for often encourage behavior that can cause harm and even lead to death. If you’re going through something difficult, we’d like to help.”
It is encouraging to see a social media outlet taking responsibility for the content their users post and ensuring those struggling are offered help.