May 15, 2015

Using the #FtBullies Hashtag Unironically

Kate bullies Alice
Photo by Richard Leeming
For those of you who use Twitter, how would you describe the purpose of hashtags? If I'm not mistaken, the primary point of adding a hashtag to one's tweet is that doing so indicates the topic being addressed. This, in turn, makes it easier for others to find.

If I were to tweet a post in which I had written about the meaning of atheism and added #atheism to it, I'd be indicating to those who saw it that it was about atheism. Since many people use hashtags to search Twitter, this might make the post easier to find by those searching the #atheism hashtag.

If I were to tweet a link to a story another blogger wrote about a new humanist group in Oklahoma, I might tag it with both #humanism and #Oklahoma in order to make it easier for others to find it who might be searching those hashtags. The point of hashtags seems fairly clear: we use them to identify the topics we are talking about and make it easier for others to find them.

I am not certain about the origins of the #FtBullies hashtag. Was it first used by critics of how some bloggers on the Freethought Blogs and Skepchick networks behave or by Ophelia Benson herself? Today, it seems to be used mostly by two different groups of people:
  1. Some use the hashtag for the reason I mentioned above (i.e., to indicate that the content of their tweet has something to do with the behavior of some bloggers who write for the Freethought Blogs and/or Skepchick networks, as well as their most ardent fans). They use it as a label to indicate what their tweet is about and make it easier to find by those searching hashtags. That is, they use it the same way most of us use any hashtags.
  2. Some use the hashtag primarily to mock those described in #1 or to complain that anyone uses the hashtag unironically.
I think it could be claimed that both groups are actually using the hashtag for the same purpose in that they are using it to indicate that their content has something to do with the general subject. Both groups are making it easier for those searching the hashtag to find their content.

Where things get interesting is that many in the second group seem to be fond of announcing that they will unfollow anyone who uses the #FtBullies hashtag unironically. That is to say, they will unfollow anyone they decide is using the hashtag for anything other than mocking those who criticize the behavior of some of the bloggers on the Freethought Blogs and/or Skepchick networks and their fans. Fair enough. Many take the additional step of announcing that others should also unfollow anyone suspected of using the hashtag unironically. This is sometimes referred on Twitter as "followcrime" (not to be confused with thoughtcrime).

I don't know about you, but I don't consider being unfollowed by someone because I used a hashtag they don't like to be much of a loss. If they want to unfollow me for any reason, they have every right to do so. If they want to encourage others to unfollow me or threaten others who follow me that they might unfollow them for the "crime" of following me, I might point out that such statements seem inconsistent with the pledge to disagree "without trying to destroy each other," but that's about as far as I'd be likely to take it.

Everyone who uses Twitter is free to unfollow anyone they don't want to follow for any reason without having to explain themselves. Those who want to make a public stink about why they are unfollowing someone, encourage others to unfollow someone, or threaten to unfollow others who refuse to unfollow someone, are certainly free to do so. Of course, they should understand that doing so might result in their receiving some criticism.

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