Have you ever found yourself wondering when Facebook would finally get with the hashtag program? When it would join the likes of Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, and…well, just about every other social network? If so, then last week was your lucky week.
Facebook has just introduced the ability to include clickable “hashtags” (they look like #this) into status updates, comments, and posts. A #hashtag is like a social networking keyword that allows your posts to be grouped with other users. What does this mean for you? It entirely depends upon how you want to use the new hashtag system.
If hashtags are something that you’re going to want to enjoy, we’ll talk about how you can use them most wisely. Otherwise, they’re pretty easy to avoid using altogether.
Facebook Gets with the #Program
If the whole hashtag “controversy” seems oddly dated to you, that’s because hashtags aren’t new. They were invented for Twitter and quickly adopted by other social networking services, like Instagram, but Facebook has been slow to join the party.
Back in 2007 when Twitter was in development, the designers were struggling to find a way to enable user conversations with their minimal interface. One of the solutions was the hashtag, which makes a keyword clickable when posted in a message.
Essentially, the hashtag designed to enable digital eavesdropping. Developer Chris Messina thought of it as a way for Twitter users to listen in on relevant conversations that might be happening elsewhere on the web.
Facebook, as Naked Security suggests, is trying to do the same thing, but for its own reasons:
“With hashtags, Facebook is also interested in eavesdropping, aka encouraging users to open up conversations to strangers. Likely, as pointed out by The Register’s Kelly Fiveash, the aim is to ‘juice up more ad revenue.'”
The Hashtag and You
So what does this all mean for you, the average Facebook user? The good news is that it means only what you want it to mean.
When you use a hashtags on Facebook, it makes your post visible to anyone who clicks on that hashtag from any other post. This is where it gets a little tricky: your privacy settings can still control who sees posts that have hashtags in them.
Unfortunately, as Consumer Reports estimates, nearly 13 million people aren’t using or aren’t aware of Facebook’s privacy controls. These controls (located in the top right of the screen, with an icon shaped like a padlock) will let you control who sees your posts and who can’t. These controls apply even to posts with hashtags.
Clicking on a hashtag will open up a new feed with all of the posts containing that hashtag, from a multitude of pages and users. This way, you can discover new conversations happening about your favorite topics, like #Football or #GameOfThrones.
Don’t want people peeking at your posts? Just don’t use any hashtags. It’s that simple.
If you do want to use a hashtag, but don’t want your post to be seen by the entire universe, make sure that your privacy settings aren’t allowing all your posts to be completely public.
Do you have any Facebook privacy tips? Let us know in the comments!