Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hashtag Chaos: #AAA2016 vs. #amanth2016

As I've done over the past 3 years, I ran Twitter searches for the American Anthropological Association Annual meeting this evening.  Unlike previous years, though, the #AAA2016 hashtag seems to be popular with a number of different groups, effectively obfuscating the anthropological voice behind other causes.  My colleague Matthew Durington (@mdurington) noticed that and tweeted yesterday:

But, really, much of the damage had been done.  Here's a graph of my search results for #AAA2016:

This dense graph (over 10000 edges) is made up of tweets from several events, but it's dominated by one, the "Asian Artists Awards" held in Seoul.  Here's the top tweet by betweenness centrality:

1. "คนอะไรเก่งตั้งแต่เด็ก และเก่งขึ้นเรื่อยๆ แถมสวยน่ารักขึ้นทุกปี

#kimyoojung #AAA2016"

Indeed, all of the connected components are tweets from the Asian Artist Awards, with the twitterverse dominated by Thai fans.  The American Anthropological Association, on the other hand, is relegated to the violet component on the far, middle-right of the graph.

Changing my search to the new hashtag, "#amanth2016", we get a much smaller graph with a few hundred edges:  

Here, the top tweets are from @AmericanAnthro, @JasonAntrosio, @culanth and @mdurington, and they revolve around the Melissa Harris Parry address on Wednesday night, the usual announcements of book vendors and paper presentations, and some self-referential discussion of the hashtag confusion itself.  

So, what's the lesson?  There's a lesson for marketing in here, certainly, but also a broader and more obvious one for the American Anthropological Association: know what's happening in the world you purport to study.  After all, there was the same collision of hashtags last year (the Asian Achievement Awards and the Act Against AIDS concert in Japan), albeit not the complete eclipse the music awards has meant for anthropological twitter content.  More than anyone else, we should know that we join a crowded field of representation, and that the digital content we produce may flow into networked connections we never intended.  If we fail to attend to these other sources of digital content and meaning, then anthropological voices are effectively silenced. 

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