The latest change that Facebook is considering will probably not be appreciated by people in the Spokane area who are concerned about their privacy.
Online news sites such as Techcrunch and PCMag have been posting reports since Thursday, March 14 that Facebook is planning to adopt hashtags as a way of helping users find conversations about trending topics.
People in the greater Spokane area who use Google+ or Twitter are probably already familiar with the concept of hashtags. In an article published on Friday, March 15, Stephanie Mlot of PCMag explained how they are commonly used.
According to Mlot, "The hashtag — one or more words strung together with no spaces behind a pound sign — gained in popularity in 2009, when Twitter began hyperlinking them to search results.
"Hashtags are often used as a manner of clarifying a tweet or adding context (i.e. #sarcasm, #Samsung, #iPhone), or can be applied to ensure professions of love for Justin Timberlake are seen by others who share the same passion (#JT4Eva).
"The use of hashtags has extended beyond Twitter to sites like Google+ and even Facebook-owned Instagram. Some have search-related components, while others are just used informally; you might see your Facebook friends already using hashtags in updates."
Some experts, such as Wired Business Senior Writer Ryan Tate, have suggested that hashtags could have benefits for people and companies who use Facebook for advertising purposes.
According to Tate, "Facebook is surely interested in the additional vector they provide for advertisers. On Twitter, advertisers can pay to promote their own hashtags alongside Twitter’s list of most common hashtags. The aggregation pages showing posts associated with a hashtag is another natural point for advertising.
"On Facebook, advertisers could hypothetically 'promote' user posts that contain particular hashtags just as they now promote 'likes' of their business pages. Such promoted posts could get more prominent and longer-lasting placement on Facebook’s News Feed, where non-promoted items are sorted by relevance."
The mixed blessing of this proposed new feature is that hashtags would make people's posts much more visible to other Facebook users. This could be a good thing for people who want to share posts publicly, and a bad thing for users who try to limit who can see their updates.
According to Constine, "There’s a big issue with hashtags on Facebook, though. Unlike Twitter where most posts are public, on Facebook most have some level of privacy. Clicking a hashtag would therefore only be able to show you public posts and those set to be visible to you that mention the tag. One option would be showing the content of private posts but not their authors, though this would likely be met with backlash.
"Figuring out how to operate hashtags and trending topics will be a sociological challenge for the world’s most popular social network. Done right, they could reveal the zeitgeist of opinion on Facebook. Done wrong they could make people wary of adding that little pound sign to posts."
If Constine is right, many people may avoid using hashtags in their Facebook posts because they won't want their content to be easier for strangers to find.
A lot of people are already uncomfortable with how much frictionless sharing and other changes to Facebook have made it easier for others to see their posts and their photos. Unless there is an easy way for people to change their settings to keep posts with hashtags private, they probably won't catch on in the greater Spokane area.