Facebook rolls out hashtags for ‘public conversations’

June 12, 2013

Facebook is looking to become more of a public forum, the company said Wednesday, by introducing hashtags to the site.

Following the lead of rival social network Twitter, Facebook is adding the ability to tag your posts with phrases noting that it’s part of a larger conversation.

“To date, there has not been a simple way to see the larger view of what’s happening or what people are talking about,” wrote Facebook product manager Greg Lindley in a company blog post. Facebook hashtags, like those on just about every other social site, will be denoted with a “#” sign.

He added that hashtags are the first in a “series” of features to highlight interesting discussions users are having on the site.

While Facebook has more users than Twitter — about 655 million active daily users when compared with Twitter’s 200 million — the company hasn’t been as successful as Twitter at marketing itself as a place for online discussion. But the content, Lindley noted, is there.

For example, he said, between 88 and 100 million Americans post on Facebook during prime-time television hours each night and comment actively on what they watch.

Anyone who’s ever had to cut themselves off from social networks to avoid spoilers knows that all too well. In fact, the company said, there were around 1.5 million posts referencing the now-infamous “Game of Thrones’s” ‘Red Wedding’ episode on HBO (Note: link definitely contains spoilers) — a particularly impressive number when compared with the audience of 5.2 million who tuned into the episode.

Hashtags on Facebook will work in much the same way they do on Twitter. When you see a hashtag in a post, you can click on it and see a feed of other posts from people’s profile and pages that use the same conversation marker.

Users can also search for specific hashtags if they’re interested in finding out more information about a certain trending topic and can click on hashtags that originate on other services, such as Facebook’s photo site, Instagram.

Posts that have been hashtagged, however, do follow the same sharing and privacy rules as normal posts. So even if you litter your posts with pound signs, no one will see it unless you say they can.

Related stories:

Google, Facebook call for leeway on sharing government requests for data

RNC installs Facebook engineer as first-ever chief technology officer

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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