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Twitter Hashtags: The Case of #agchatoz

The next ASMC14 session is by the QUT Social Media Research Group, and starts with my colleague Jean Burgess, whose focus is on the use of Twitter hashtags as a public forum. Hashtag studies tend to focus variously on specific events and issues (enabling the emergence of hashtag publics), develop hashtag typologies (praeter, ad, and post hoc hashtags, for example), or consider hashtags as agents in their own right. Hashtags, then, serve as hybrid fora, and are remarkably hybrid because they take place in such a complex, volatile media environment.

Jean's focus here is on #agchatoz, an established Australian hashtag which brings together farmers, agriculturalists, and other related stakeholders in order to address issues from personal problems to public debates. Especially in the latter context, it is also open to outsiders with sometimes very different interests participating in the hashtag – it can even generate temporary alliances between the rural right and the urban left in Australian politics.

The hashtag is a generative site of communicative examples, and also interesting as representing a little-studied environment. Jean has also explored the follower/followee relationships of participants, which run through clusters of agricultural organisations and farmers, international organisations, foodies, politicians and journalists, right-wing #auspol participants, and the left-wing Twittertariat. Core participants (by volume) are largely located in the farmers' clusters, though the left-wing post far more tweets, and the journalists and politicians have far more followers.

Activity volumes spike weekly around participants' regular Twitter get-togethers, each with specific chosen topics, and different topics generate different volumes of activity. Other hashtags also appear in #agchatoz tweets, including #felfies (farmer selfies). These differ depending on the weekly topic, too.