Twitter is experimenting with a classic functionality that has come to define how people use the platform – clickable hashtags. Twitter wants to make most hashtags non-clickable and only allow branded hashtags, or specially generated tags that brands and businesses pay for, to be clickable.
Clickable hashtags are kind of important to how people experience Twitter. Clicking through hashtag links is a convenient way to find more tweets related to specific and niche topics. And they’re so helpful for browsing content.
Jane Manchun Wong, a notable security researcher, recently tweeted a screenshot of what appears to be an experimental change to how hashtags work on the bird app: In this case, as Wong notes, that change involves having hashtags without clickable links.
Wong’s screenshot shows a single tweet with a single hashtag and nothing else. And since the hashtag featured in Wong’s screenshot is just a simple word and not affiliated with a brand, the hashtag only appears as plain text, not a clickable link as it usually would be.
Reducing the functionality of hashtags and only allowing them to be clickable if they’re a form of paid promotion could be another way to monetize Twitter. But if that’s what Twitter’s experimenting with here, it seems to be an odd move.
Hashtags are part of what makes Twitter a place for cultivating community, building movements, and keeping up with the messiness of our fellow humans. It seems like a mistake to limit part of the usefulness of hashtags to just brands and their promotional tweets.
Chris Messina, the hashtag inventor, has shared a meme succinctly sums up his thoughts on Twitter’s latest experiment.
Hashtags, or clickable hashtags on Twitter, have been crucial not just for the platform but for internet culture. There is an excellent reason why almost all social media platforms have this functionality. Hashtags have also been critical in several social justice movements to go from online into the real world.
Sure, there have been issues with how hashtags have been co-opted in the past for nefarious purposes, but getting rid of them cannot possibly be a solution. Seeing a feature as rudimentary as this one behind a paywall will certainly not sit well with Twitter’s most avid users.