Visit the Twitter hashtag channel #CCS2016 for information on the 2016 Conference on Complex Systems taking place in Amsterdam this upcoming September. Well actually, isn’t #CCS2016 the hashtag covering the 2016 Canadian Crowdfunding Summit? Or, wait, does #CCS2016 refer to the 2016 Content and Commerce Summit meeting in Orlando, Florida? Or is #CCS2016 the hashtag for announcements regarding 2016 Comic Con Spain? Could #CCS2016 be a hashtag for a cinematography conference in Caracas, Venezuela?
The answer is yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. The Twitter hashtag channel #CCS2016 has been used to promote all of these, a simultaneous indication of the popularity, bottom-up flexibility, and strategic difficulty involved in using the social media platform. #CCS2016 has been used beyond this, within the past year referring to events as diverse as a Brazilian country music festival, a high school spirit effort, a “Corporate Community Summit” and an academic conference on “Cities as Community Spaces.”
The graph below features all participants in the #CCS2016 hashtag channel from April 1 to 11, 2016. Every dot (called a node) represents a Twitter account that has made a post including the #CCS2016 hashtag. Every line (called a tie) represents an instance in which one Twitter account has mentioned or replied to another Twitter account. Together, these nodes and ties make up a springtime social network for CCS2016.
As you can see, this is a disconnected network. The large dark blue network at the top of the graph consists of Twitter users discussing Comic Con Spain. The smaller light blue network below it is beginning to grow after the announcement of an annual Conference on Complex Systems. To its left are participants in the upcoming Canadian Crowdfunding Summit. To the lower right are a handful of remaining nodes discussing less popular or timely representations of the title “CCS2016.”
Separate conversations are put in separate areas of this two-dimensional graph. On Twitter itself, no such separation is afforded. The purpose of a hashtag is to provide a space that community members can visit when they have something to say, or have a desire to listen. In this busy, muddied virtual room called “#CCS2016,” multiple conversations are taking place on top of one another.
Why don’t all these different groups use a different hashtag? A social media marketer would advise always reviewing past use of a phrase before adopting it as a hashtag of one’s own, lest one be accused of acting as a hashtag crasher. But regardless, lines of distinction in Twitter can help keep the conversation coherent. Different users are speaking different languages: English, Portugese, Spanish. This is a sorting mechanism. A second sorting mechanism comes from the ties charted in the graph above: people with a particular interest in a hashtag are most likely to find out about that hashtag because they follow other people with the same particular interest. This means relevant hashtag posts are most likely to appear in a user’s Twitter timeline. Finally, popularity of particular uses for a hashtag may shift over time, as one event comes to a head and another recedes into the past.
At times, it’s a mess, but this is what civic democracy looks like.