Twitter, the micro-blogging sensation, celebrated its seventh birthday earlier this year. The site, which allows you to shout 140 characters into the ears of anyone who cares to listen has been nothing short of miraculous in its success. Indeed the presence that Twitter now has on the world is such a far cry from the Stephen Fry-endorsed infancy that the early doubts about it seem almost unfathomable.
Global political leaders are on it. Multinational companies are on it. Consumer products are on it. Everything is on it. Twitter provides an amusingly level playing field where people can unashamedly choose who they want to hear more about, rather than letting newspaper editors make those decisions for them. This explains (if indeed there is any rational explanation) why Barack Obama perches between Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift on the coattails of Justin Bieber in the list of most followed accounts. As much as Mr Obama would like to think of himself as a rock star, there is simply no other place on earth where these names would crop up next to each other, except perhaps the demented landscape of the Mail Online.
The fallout of this success (the site has over 500m users, of which around 220m are ‘active’) has been that the lingo has invaded all facets of modern life. On one level it is a marketing man’s dream. To these ends, it may not be too much of a stretch to suggest that the impact of Twitter these days is as ground-breaking as the introduction of websites themselves. For a start, once followed, you have a degree of intrusion that companies have sought for generations. The difference between a tweet and sending a spam email is marked as the recipient will invariably not open the latter, but will probably have read half the former by the time their brain even registers it as shameless whoring.
Anyhow, this realization that Twitter is the way to your audience’s heart has led to the curious scenario where advertisements no longer plead for us to buy their product so much as follow @GenericShitCompany on Twitter or to use their company slogan in a hashtag.
Indeed, so littered with @’s and #’s are they, that were Don Draper to emerge, bleary eyed, from a time machine he would probably conclude that most modern billboards derive from a combination of tourettes and a rather sloppy attitude towards syntax errors.
Despite all this, I have to say that Twitter is a good thing. It’s a trivial distraction that is occasionally amusing, very occasionally useful and generally beneficial. It is largely what you make of it. You have the power to block, unfollow and effectively silence noises that you don’t want to hear. Or so we think…
The trouble comes, as is so often the case in today’s society, when the digital world starts to encroach on the lovely analogue one in which we actually live.
There is no doubt, for example, that Twitter has increased the speed with which news is made public. However this is not necessarily a good thing. Speed has overtaken accuracy as the essence of news, stories break before many of the facts have been verified and quite often hate campaigns have started against people who are later proven to be innocent. Twitter has little in the way of accountability, a right that abused left, right and centre.
This speed of opinion and the ability to gauge public reactions (albeit often the most rabid ones) to almost anything at the click of a mouse has led to a considerable rise in short-termism. Whether it’s politics, football, culture, etc the often ill-informed public are able to make their opinions heard now, generally without the slightest thought as to what the longer implications of the subject of their bile is.
It is difficult not to think that this has had a profound effect on the world of politics. Politicians used to fritter away a few months pre-election concentrating on popularity and spin, but on the whole would spend the remainder of their terms in office actually doing their job. When you get situations where George Osborne is tweeting pictures of him eating a burger to show how “down to earth” he is, while David Cameron’s “WebCameron” in his kitchen causes more of a stir than his policies, it makes you wonder whether Twitter has turned the whole system into a five year version of the X Factor. It’s enough to make Tony Blair look like a man of substance.
In sport now everything has to be polarized. You’re either the best thing since sliced bread or utterly useless. A year ago, young Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey was in a run of bad form and a section of moronic Arsenal fans went as far as to send him death threats on Twitter. This was a young man who was struggling to get back into a sport after having had his leg snapped in half. While it was hard to argue with a sentiment that he didn’t merit a place in the starting XI at the time, the ‘Twittersphere’ exaggerated this to the extent that many proclaimed that they never wanted to see him anywhere near the club again.
Two weeks ago, Ramsey won the Premiership player of the month and has been widely lauded as the man behind the Arsenal ‘revival’.
However all this pales into insignificance next to the most nauseating impact that Twitter has had on our lives and language… Hashtags.
Hashtags were invented to group people’s opinions or comments on certain subjects, so that certain people can trawl through pig-ignorant interjections on a TV show or whatever they choose. As such, I can loosely understand them. Should you really give a fish’s tit about what the thickest 10% of the population are thinking on a Saturday night, you can search for #xfactor. Or the following night for #Downton. That’s fine, it’s sort of how Twitter works and I can just about accept it.
Where I draw the line is the totally pointless things people add to their asinine posts, for example:
“OMG, just had the best muffin from @MuffinBandits! #yummy #fulltummy #gymtomorrow #probablynot #nowillpower #totalfuckingidiot #whogivesaducksdick”
As if someone, somewhere is going to be thinking to themselves:
“I wonder who had something yummy today. I know, I’ll look up #yummy on Twitter and maybe canvas some stimulating opinions.”
Sadly, this is not why people do it. People do it because the word hashtag has actually invaded the English language. Yes, it would seem that the same sort of sad individuals who used to say things like “embarrassing.com!” have evolved and upgraded.
I can’t actually think of anything that anyone could say conversationally that is more offensive than the word hashtag. How does it possibly add to anything? The worst offender, in terms of those who spring to mind, is the astronomically inane Scotty T on MTV’s braincell-zapping reality series Geordie Shore. It speaks volumes that, in a show where the vast majority of dialect involves a porcine slapper shouting about how much cock she’s had, the part that makes me curl up and wish for the extinction of mankind most is this musclebound oaf gesticulating at the camera and stating such sweet prose as:
“That’s not the way that Scotty T rolls. HASHTAG LEGEND.”
What have the last two words added to his statement? Are people wracking their brains to try and process the sentence, until he helpfully sorts it like a verbal mailman and allows us to merely conclude that he is a legend? It is totally and utterly pointless.
The fact that it is in the OED is neither here nor there. It is bastardised techspeak and is essentially no different to someone saying “Ctrl, Alt, Hero”. Indeed next time someone says the word hashtag, I implore you to reply in sort and call them an “http://www.arsehole.net” or simply address them as their Twitter account name all evening (“Excuse me, @DickCheese, please can you pass the pepper?”).
Remember, every time you gratuitously use the word hashtag, you are slowly becoming this man.
And is that what you really want from life?
By Harry Harland