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Book Review Theory of the Has#tag by Andreas Bernard

Intriguing exploration of an ubiquitous symbol

IN THIS slim but weighty book on the hashtag, Andreas Bernard examines a symbol that has become so immersed in our culture that it has broken away from the computer screen into areas such as fiction, fashion and graffiti.

He charts its remarkable rise from its beginnings in the analogue world cataloguing books to the early days of the internet, where blogs and websites used social tagging to organise subjects.

Social tagging on websites and blogs and hashtags on Twitter and Instagram reflects the desire to connect a post with others designated with the same hashtag and with the organisation of statements and documents focused on a desire to trend.

“The signature of this desire # embodies the hope for maximum dissemination,” he writes.

Bernard sees the two main uses of hashtags as being in marketing and political activism, in particular the expression of marginalised voices such as police brutality against African-Americans in the US.  

In both, what counts is the greatest possible accumulation of posts and he explores the significance of #MeToo in this context.

Although it gave voice to many women, Bernard contends that the use of the hashtag and the accumulation of posts seemed to suppress unique voices, levelling out individual experiences into one large group.

The two-sided nature of the hashtag is that while it allows scattered voices to be heard, it simultaneously supresses their unique and non-exchangeable qualities.

Published by Polity, price £9.99.

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