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Comparative Analysis of Use of Hashtags in Tumblr and Twitter Posts

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Application

This chapter is a summary of the results of the practical application of the theories and literature presented in chapters 2 and 3. The main research question of this work is, as the title suggests: In what way do linguistic strategies used by users of both platforms differ from one another? Which of characteristics proposed in the hypotheses distinguish them from one another, if at all?

In order to reply to these research questions, specific features of each platform needed to be identified first. That was achieved through the procedure described in the methods section. Then said features were compared against each other based on the theoretical framework of the three theories of Pragmatics chosen for this purpose.

Each section of this chapter seeks to test a different hypothesis and focuses on different aspects since each hypothesis is considered to be a possible constituent of the linguistic strategies that were sought.

  • H1: “The use of hashtags varies significantly between both platforms” If yes: in what way?
  • H2: “Are there differences in how speech acts, especially directives, are used in both platforms?”
  • H3: Is double-voicing present in both platforms’ samples? If yes, are there are differences in its manifestation?
  • H4: “In all humorous posts of the corpus communicative clues or semantic script-switch triggers are present and contrast two distinctly different scripts.”
  • H4a: “Both distinctly different scripts are always essentially the same”
  • H5: “Humor is used mainly by anti-anti-vaxxers to ridicule anti-vaxxers’ logic”

Due to space restrictions, not every detail from every sample will be analyzed. Short analyses of different samples grouped in different categories are provided with references to the appendix for each section of this chapter. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind the limitations of this study, qualitative in nature, and all the following conclusion apply only to samples of the corpus. It has not been researched to a scale which enables scaling of the results leading to a bigger generalization for both platforms regarding the topic.

Hashtags

This section deals with the use of hashtags in both platforms. The hypothesis is “the use of hashtags varies significantly between both platforms” If yes: in what way? In order to test this hypothesis, the following table was compiled to provide an overview of all 32 samples, the majority of the hashtags which appear on each sample, and whether the nature of the post is advocating against anti-anti-vaxxers or if it was posted by an anti-vaxxer.

In this section, it will be proved whether the same criteria applied for the samples of this corpus, as the ones detected by the two following authors. Wilkström’s (2014) original publication studied hashtag use in Twitter and he regarded them as sources of metacommentary. The categories are the following and are not meant to be “understood as mutually exclusive” (Wilkström 2014: 130): topic tags, hashtag games, metacommentary, parenthetical explanations/additions, emotive usage, emphatic usage, humorous or playful usage, or even memes popular culture references (cf. Wilkström 2014: 133–148). Daer’s (2014) criteria for hashtags as metacommunicative will also be applied. She classified the metacommunicative function of hashtags in social media into 5 rhetorical genres, namely emphasizing, critiquing, identifying, iterating, and rallying (cf. Daer 2014: 13–14) because hashtags are a “dynamic, interactive function of designed software being appropriated by users for tacit, recurring purposes of meaning-making within and across social technologies” (Daer 2014: 14)

Just from comparing both platforms on the table the following observations are possible: Users in Tumblr used more hashtags than users on Twitter. In Twitter Anti-anti-vaxxers address anti-vaxxers in their post using the hashtag #anti-vaxxers (cf. Twitter 1, 2, 4, 9, 10 and 15, see Appendix), whereas anti-vaxxers show a tendency towards using the hashtag #vaccines (cf. Twitter 7, 9, 16).

This is interesting because is the opposite of what was expected. If anti-vaxxers are against vaccination, it could be expected for them to spread the #antivaxx tag, but instead it is being used as a way for anti-anti-vaxxers to counter anti-vaxxers’ discourse. On the other hand, anti-vaxxers using the hashtag #vaccines are not advocating in favor of vaccines, therefore users searching for this hashtag end up finding misinformed assertions about vaccination. In order to illustrate this further, a small analysis will be provided next.

The most notorious contrast of these strategies can be seen comparing Twitter samples number 9 and 16, where the hashtag #VaccinesWork (an assertive on itself) is used in the former by an anti-anti-vaxxer to reinforce his representative speech act and in the latter it is used by an anti-vaxxer to question the message this hashtag is trying to convey. According to Wilkström’s classification, the first use of the hashtag could be attributed an emphatic usage, while at the same time falling into the category of rallying as defined by Daer; whereas the second use of the hashtag could be classified as critique according to Daer and as having a parenthetical function according to Wilkström (2014: 138), since it does not “supply additional information to help readers lacking relevant background knowledge make sense of the tweet”.

Now Tumblr users’ use of hashtags in the samples will be analyzed. It is noticeable, that Tumblr allows spaces between words in a way that Twitter does not. This lacking was the central point to Wilkström’s work (2014: 148) where he states that some users “appear to be appropriating Twitter’s hashtag format as a substitute for features that Twitter lacks, e.g. tagging instead of bolding or italicizing. Other posters appear to be using tagging as an alternative to conventional options that Twitter does not afford”. Apparently, this is a feature Tumblr has that Twitter does not, and which is also exploited by the users, as it becomes clearer further on in chapter 4.

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A peculiar trend was the presence of the hashtag #actuallyautistic, which indeed serves to identify, –following Daer’s criteria–, those users self-disclosing their personal experience in relation to vaccine hesitancy. This is the case for samples 1, 10, and 15. In sample 7, identity is implied through the rallying hashtag #autistic revolution, but the user’s definite identity remains ambiguous. Samples 11 and 13 relate to autism content-wise, and the latter is even directly aimed at autistics, but this cannot be distinguished from hashtags only. So, this also serves as an example for hashtags not always necessarily acting as topic markers, related 1:1 to the content of the post. It is in a different way than the Twitter example of #VaccinesWork but it follows a similar principle of non-correspondence between the form and the function of a hashtag. A more radical case of this is Tumblr sample 5, where the poster links the post to absolutely no vaccine-related hashtags, but to politics. This will be analyzed further in 4.7. Another interesting fact is that autistics take an active part of the discussion and fight against misinformation too, in different ways. Through childhood stories like in sample 15, or by addressing their posts to educate or support fellow autistics and other readers, like in sample 1 and 10. This shows signs which tend to confirm Kashian et al. (2017: 275) argument that CMC “promotes self-disclosure”, and Mccracken’s (2017: 151) thesis that Tumblr is a site where “popular culture, socially critical discourse, and peer education collide”.

Regarding posts which were humorous in nature (Tumblr samples 3, 4, 5, 11, and 14). Sample 3 does not indicate humor through hashtag use, whereas sample 4 uses metacommentary hashtags such as #LOL and #funny to emphasize the ironic tone of the joke being reposted. Sample 11 is clearly a critique according to Daer’s criteria, which is also peculiar since one would expect the critique to be in the post itself or implied in a certain way. Nevertheless, as it is blatantly clear on sample 6, too, some users in Tumblr tend to express their views through the hashtags.

The conclusion that can be drawn from this very limited approach to hashtag use on both platforms, which is merely meant to provide an overview, shows that use of hashtags does indeed vary significantly between Tumblr and Twitter posts. In quantity, which is the attribute that strikes the eye the fastest, Tumblr posters used more hashtags. Regarding form and function relation, both occasionally show discrepancies between both, but in different ways given that in Tumblr not all hashtags refer back to the content, they usually fall under different categories –as mentioned before– than the Twitter samples of the corpus, in which the position posters advocate for is usually the complete opposite of the hashtags they employ. Hashtag analysis of Tumblr also showed that some hashtags mark humor as well as the true meaning of the post and that they even serve to identify the users if they wish to disclose personal information, despite using anonymous pseudonyms. As proposed by Renninger (2014: 1521) and Maccracken (2017: 154–155), users in the platform value the privacy this feature grants them, so by disclosing it voluntarily and explicitly, one possibility is that they seek to be trusted on their assertions and personal experiences, as to ascribe more value to their words. On the other hand, it could also help in showing visibility, since it also represents a relatively small fraction of users and creates a higher degree of relatability as Vásquez and Creel (2017: 62-63) propose that “relatability and intertextuality appear to be the dominant principles that characterize highly reblogged Chats.” (Vásquez and Creel 2017: 63).

In this case it could be different, following the assumption that the post should ideally reach as many members of the audience as possible, given that the posters address the subject as of having such a high relevance that they leave that aside and are willing to self-disclose their identity for the sake of being more credible and reaching broader target audiences. This could be one interpretation for this strategy adopted by users.

Some hashtags were also directives, with users compelling members of the public to vaccinate their kids. How they are used in the content of posts will be discussed in the following section.

Use of Directives and Searle’s Taxonomy Applied

In this section, one sample of each platform will be compared in detail and analyzed using Searle’s classification of Speech Acts in order to test H2, which is about whether directives are used differently in both platforms. This aims to provide a window into different types of strategies taken by users. If not directives, then the different kinds of speech acts employed should be listed to be able to provide a partial explanation.

Twitter sample 1 is humorous in essence, displaying irony. The directives used such in sample 1 such as “Please DO NOT”, with the capitalization of the negative form of the auxiliary only reinforce the implicatum, in which with this directive the exact opposite is implied. By formulating this using such marked directives, it only helps in uncovering the ironic tone underlying the statement. This shows one example of how directives can aid in unveiling irony. Assertives are used here in a similar way, granting an almost mocking tone to the arguments cited, which echo those frequently quoted by anti-vaxxers. Directives used humorously in Twitter can also be seen in sample 15 regarding the use of #ProPlague as an alternative, mocking the other user’s clear ignorance about what happened in Europe in times of pest.

In Tumblr’s samples 6, 8, 14, and 16, directives are seen in hashtags, too, such as #vaccinateyourchildren. This hashtag echoes through several samples such as Tumblr 2, where the post begins with a directive, which turns out to be a part of the implicature arising from the flouting of the maxim of Manner in the post due to verbosity and heavy use of hypotaxis. It is at the same time a complaint and a directive. In Tumblr Sample 6, the user resorts to flaring and colorful language to enrich the directives at the end of the post, which only emphasize the user’s infuriation with the topic.

A few interesting observations which resulted from the analysis were the recurrence of representatives on both platforms, but in anti-vaxxers’ posts such as number 6, rhetorical questions marked as expressives and directives as the same time, acting as accusations for the line of argumentation were present. This was to be expected, since anti-vaccination is a very emotionally-charged topic. A similar strategy of asking rhetorical questions is seen in sample 7 and 14, which seems to be a strategy to gain attention and provoke thought without substantiating that claim without any fact. Furthermore, more expressive and representatives mixed were used by an anti-vaxxer to contradict and try and ridicule an anti-anti-vaxxer’s contribution, in this way the user is able to share her opinion while at the same time discouraging others to contradict her given the blatant statement followed by “Biology 101”, as if when questioned one would be the one that is ignorant about the subject. Then the original anti-vaxxer poster accommodates to her style and manages to backhandedly insult her, which is only softened by the hedge “maybe” at the beginning of the sentence.

No declarations were found in the samples chosen, but there were some occurrences of distinct expressives. Tumblr sample 8 and Twitter sample 12 will be compared now to provide some insight regarding the alternative uses of this type of speech act: In Tumblr sample 8 the user transcends humorous discourse and confrontational argumentation lines typical of both groups being studied in this work and decides to express sympathy for unvaccinated children. It is a different reaction than that in all other samples, followed by directives in the hashtag section. In sample 12, user congratulates anti-vaxxers and tells them “good job”. In case that until then the irony had not been explicit through the verbal cues as well as the ellipsis after the combination of a hedge (ya) and a marker of uncertainty (well), which together could be regarded as a colloquial marker of proximity, the contrast of the positive tone this type of expressive should have with the sad face smiley end up clarifying that, again, the dictum is the opposite of the implicatum.

To summarize, apart from declarations, all kinds of speech acts were found, but depending on the context not all of them had the same meaning as the one Searle usually ascribed them. They gain a new meaning without quite being indirect speech acts either. So, users frequently employed combinations of speech acts to convey or support humor and commands, mostly, or to reinforce their authority as speakers.

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Comparative Analysis of Use of Hashtags in Tumblr and Twitter Posts. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/comparative-analysis-of-use-of-hashtags-in-tumblr-and-twitter-posts/
“Comparative Analysis of Use of Hashtags in Tumblr and Twitter Posts.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/comparative-analysis-of-use-of-hashtags-in-tumblr-and-twitter-posts/
Comparative Analysis of Use of Hashtags in Tumblr and Twitter Posts. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/comparative-analysis-of-use-of-hashtags-in-tumblr-and-twitter-posts/> [Accessed 8 Feb. 2023].
Comparative Analysis of Use of Hashtags in Tumblr and Twitter Posts [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Feb 8]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/comparative-analysis-of-use-of-hashtags-in-tumblr-and-twitter-posts/
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