Downfall of the ubiquitous hashtag

c: | f: /

The hashtag: the cornerstone of social media. Trends. Analytics. Fun. But I sometimes wonder if certain entities understand what it’s actually for.

There’s no denying that the humble # symbol – hash, pound, call it what you like – took on a new purpose when social media blossomed. Until then it had no real sense of purpose beyond:

  • demarquing strings of telephone service codes.
  • bypassing automated press 3 for the who-cares department.
  • indicating a line of scripting code is a comment.

Since then, it’s allowed people to not only express their feelings in humorous ways without resorting to terrible emoji, but corporations and search engines use the prevalence of particular tags to recognise and report what’s trending in the Zeitgeist.

Clever corporations and marketing departments brainstorm to try and get their brand to trend. To try and encourage people to use a corporate hashtag instead of freely making their own. It’s only natural that companies muscle in on what began as a geeky means to help people organise or find tweets. Some are successful, some aren’t.

But when Chris Messina floated the idea of using the hashtag to denote groups in Twitter, I bet he never considered that one day someone in some council department would completely miss the point.

#*?!@%^& roadworks

The motorway that circuits the lower part of Leeds has recently had its speed limit chopped and enforced to 30mph while some roadworks take place. It’s annoying and seems frivolous. Presumably some stuffy councillor in some dingy office or a road planner with dollar-signs for eyes figured that the speed reduction was going to eventually piss people off.

The meeting probably went a little something like this:

  • ONE: Let’s set the speed limit to 30mph for the duration of the works.
  • TWO: Great idea. Then we can assure the safety of the invisible construction staff.
  • ONE: Wonderful.
  • TWO: We’re only putting up a safety barrier and adding a bit of drainage now though. We’ll need to do more than that in future, so the road’s going to be a mess for three or four years.
  • ONE: Good point. How to we gauge feedback? People need a voice.
  • TWO: Hmmmm. Can’t think of anything.
  • ONE: Ummm, me neither.
  • TWO: Wait, my daughter uses this thing called a “hashtag” on Facebook.
  • ONE: Sounds brilliant! Let’s use one of those. Shows how hip and progressive we are.

*high fives all round*

And so it came to be:


Yes, seriously. It’s emblazoned on signs throughout the work zone. The trouble with that is simple: at what point will someone feel compelled to use it, and for what possible gain on their social media platform of choice? Here’s a few possible examples:

  • Doing 30mp around Leeds on the motorway. Fucking #M621Works
  • Stuck in traffic. Glad the #M621Works are going ahead, said nobody ever
  • Looking forward to when these bloody #M621Works are going to end

No matter which way you slice it, nobody – nobody – is going to use that tag for positive feedback. Nobody is going to want to be associated with such a moronic use of the hashtag and big-up the roadworks. Nobody (besides me just now) is going to even use such a tag in their posts, because it’s stupid.

It merely demonstrates the short-sightedness and brain-deadiness of those in charge. People so rabidly out of touch with anything purporting to modern life that they not only consider such an inane use of a popular communication media, but go to the lengths to use some of the fifty-million pound budget to have signs made that advertise it.

Maybe after some coke-fuelled party they thought it was a clever play on words. “Hahaha, when we’re finished, the M621 is going to be better… so it works, haha”. Maybe they had lofty aims of increasing visibility of the project through the myriad people tweeting about how their journey times are going to improve from 2022 when the road is made fit for purpose. It’s taken the council forty years to acknowledge that squeezing three lanes of traffic into one for a hundred yards, then opening out to three lanes again creates a daily bottleneck. Who’d have thought.

As for the hashtag, I can’t figure it out. Can anyone think of a worthwhile use for it? Or why someone even dreamed it up? It’s beyond me.


Now there’s a tag I could get behind!

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