Hashtags have become such an ingrained part of our culture that we use them in our spoken conversation. In 2014, Merriam-Webster added the term to its dictionary. But what’s behind all the hashtags we see on social media, other than collecting all our thoughts on a particular subject into one stream?
English major Liz Krotulis ’17 is spending her summer researching just that. As part of a Summer Scholars project, Krotulis is studying the communities behind certain social justice hashtags — including #climatechange, #globalwarming, #sustainability and #keepphillybeautiful — on Twitter and Instagram.
“The goal for the study is to learn more about these communities by examining how and why members tweet and post the way they do,” Krotulis explains. She will use mixed research methods to gather information, including data collecting, interviews and “netnography,” a branch of anthropology in which a researcher observes life from the point of view of the subject to better understand their thinking.
Her mentor, Bill Wolff, Ph.D., assistant professor of communications studies, has performed similar research on how fans of Bruce Springsteen form a community through hashtags.
“The thing that I’ve learned studying hashtags is that there is no one-size-fits all model,” Wolff says. “Each hashtag is used in unique ways depending on the people using it. That’s why it is so important to look at the content of the tweets and posts themselves and not just focus on the fact that the hashtag exists.”
Krotulis says that she chose to participate in Summer Scholars because it gives her a chance to conduct in-depth research for the first time.
“I’m excited to experience conducting an academic study, because I’ve never done anything on this scale before,” she says. “The process itself is something I want to learn and understand. It sometimes feels intimidating, but [Wolff’s] guidance is extremely helpful and gives me confidence to complete all steps of the project well.”
During the academic year, Krotulis is a tutor at SJU’s Writing Center, a copyeditor for The Hawk student newspaper, a weekly service volunteer and an intern for the Office of University Communications. She has made the dean’s list in all but one semester during her college career and is a member of the Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society.
— Jeffrey Martin ’04, ’05 (M.A.)
Office of University Communications
Summer Scholars Project Title: “Social Justice and Social Media: The Use of Climate Change Hashtags on Twitter and Instagram and the Communities behind Them”
Mentor: Bill Wolff, Ph.D., assistant professor of communications studies