The rumored Facebook-approved hashtag has arrived, and instead of complaining about how Facebook will bring Twitter's much loathed, overused punctuation to a News Feed near you, it's about time we all embraced the organizational simplicity and enhanced search options now sticking to your wall. Because Facebook is making the hashtag useful again. "Starting today, hashtags will be clickable on Facebook," reads the official announcement from the social network. But really, Facebook users already employ the hashtag — and all of your complaining won't change that. As the company's own post explains, its clickable tags work pretty much exactly like on Twitter and Instagram, the Facebook-owned service that already has a vibrant # culture:
Similar to other services like Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, or Pinterest, hashtags on Facebook allow you to add context to a post or indicate that it is part of a larger discussion. When you click on a hashtag in Facebook, you'll see a feed of what other people and Pages are saying about that event or topic.
Internet journalists especially should love this development, since it makes searching and participating in conversations a whole lot easier. Plus, Facebook's new Graph Search right now just isn't that great — and a little crowd-sourced tagging might help fix that.
Of course, there remain plenty of reasons to be skeptical of anything Facebook does — like, ever — since it's in the business of selling our data. There are the obvious privacy implications. Facebook users have a hard enough time sifting through the site's public-versus-private post metric. The hashtag makes it easier to surface public events, people, and topics. But what if you thought you shared something privately — except you didn't — and the hashtag gets picked up by some place that makes people on social media look stupid? Well, to be safe, check your sharing settings:
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Or, you know, just don't use hashtags.
But if hashtags catch on, our Facebook habits will undoubtedly change. Right now, we're used to posting things for friends' eyes only. With that little criss-cross, the social network wants us to have much more public conversations on the site. As we saw on Twitter, that might just happen — and fast. But the hashtag, as ever, will almost certainly take on a life of its own.