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Hashtag Publics

The Power and Politics of Discursive Networks


Edited By Nathan Rambukkana

This collection investigates the publics of the hashtag. Taking cues from critical public sphere theory, contributors are interested in publics that break beyond the mainstream – in other publics. They are interested in the kinds of publics that do politics in a way that is rough and emergent, flawed and messy, and ones in which new forms of collective power are being forged on the fly and in the shadow of loftier mainstream spheres.
Hashtags are deictic, indexical – yet what they point to is themselves, their own dual role in ongoing discourse. Focusing on hashtags used for topics from Ferguson, Missouri, to Australian politics, from online quilting communities to labour protests, from feminist outrage to drag pop culture, this collection follows hashtag publics as they trend beyond Twitter into other spaces of social networking such as Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr as well as other media spaces such as television, print, and graffiti.
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Chapter Five: #Time


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Perhaps the most important distinction between Twitter and other social network sites has been the claim that Twitter offers access to real time. But what is real time? There is nothing real about the construction of time on Twitter. As time seemingly moves forward, old tweets are displaced by new tweets at the top of the screen. Depending on how many people one follows, time passes at dramatically different rates. To say something is trending now is a misnomer: there is no unified now, only a collection of page alignments linked by gossamer tissues of calls and writes to an SQL database. Acronyms are the building blocks of the social now, and that now is created only when hailed into existence by a call to the database. If anything, the procession of signifiers on Twitter and through a hashtag public is neither real nor time, which is not to say that it is unreal or unimportant, but that the investment of a machine process with the creation of real time is a powerful affective move.

Analysis of the formation of publics at the level of the tweet is difficult if not impossible because of this tenuous machine logic. The relations between these writers and readers are distinguished not spatially but temporally. Aside from the isolation of locally trending tweets (this can also be changed), Twitter is spatially ambivalent. After a short time, tweets...

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