Using Hashtags to Learn and Listen

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 7.43.03 PMI had enough data to analyze for hours.  Coding memos to write and even four additional books to include in my literature review.  I had a full to-do list on Monday November 24th.

But I could not look away.  This was more important than my dissertation.  The decision in Missouri was out and #Ferguson was trending both online and in-person.   

As I followed the live coverage I discovered my jaw began to throb.  I realized I had not closed my mouth; jaw dropped for what could have been an hour.  I watched CNN, attempted to follow Twitter and even checked into a live stream being taken from a local resident’s phone.

Even as I write this, Ferguson continues to be the number one trending topic on Twitter as protests build nationwide.  CNN is back on and Twitter streaming #Ferguson. 

As I currently watch the events unfold real time, I wonder if others are hearing the voices online.  Much is being said and experienced on Twitter.  We can learn by listening and participating through hashtags.

Participating in #Ferguson

Early on I tweeted: 

I made this call to action because many still do not realize what a powerful tool Twitter is for local and global action, conversation, education and community building.  We can participate, listen and learn.  But it is a tool, not the answer.  As with any tool, it can be used for good or for bad.  I believe Twitter can teach us. It can even teach those who do not choose to actively engage with it.  It is a much as a listening tool as it is an opportunity to exercise speech.

What are you Tweeting?

In addition to listening and learning from the hashtag, I posted:

During the president’s address:

As the protests began:

Have you joined the online conversation?  Are you adding reflection, updates, challenges or support?

If you have not already done so while reading this, open a new browser and head to  You don’t need to have a twitter account or even log in.

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 7.58.14 PMIn the upper right corner type in #Ferguson, or click (here).  You can also read other related hashtags, rooted in this event including #BlackLivesMatter#MikeBrown and #MichaelBrown.

Other Ways to Participate in a Hashtag

If you are new to Twitter or to the topic trending, you may be a little intimidated to initially join the online conversation.  Another way to participate in a hashtag is by favoriting and/or re-tweeting.  You can do this to recognize other Tweets that you want to digitally “applaud” or share.  Here are a few that I shared last night.  

Hashtags are not Perfect

There are the trolls.  There is racism.  There are personal attacks.  There is spam.  There is self promotion. 

But there is also community.  There are human being.  There are relationships to be made.  There is hope.  There are calls for action.

29319246_mlTo learn from hashtags you have to participate and have some patience.  Whether you lurk, actively contribute, or debate you will see it all.  The hate.  The love.  It will also go by very very fast, especially if it’s trending. 

Many blame social media for incorrect information, heightening emotions and only offering surface level conversation around topics that matter.  I can’t completely disagree.

If you only use Twitter for your news.  If you believe everything you read.  If you destructively fuel the hate.   If you only tweet about these topics and do nothing in person.  Then yes, Twitter is not a fully realized tool.

But it can be the spark.  

Learning through Hashtags

Being part of a trending hashtag is an experience.  Social media gives us access to this very big world, but we have to listen.

No matter if you live in a small town or a massive city, Twitter provides access to events, education and networks.  But not in isolation.

9931421_mlLearning and community can happen through hashtags.  Whether it is trending from a recent event or an ongoing dialogue around a social justice issue, learn from others tweeting.  Take this information to then actively contribute and support others.  And most importantly make Twitter really go viral with in-person conversations and action.  

Find a group of friends, a team or a group of colleagues, staff members or professional you work with.   Have each person come with one hashtag they have observed and learned from that week.  Educate the team with what was learned and why this hashtag is influencing the digital environment, as well as impacting higher education/college students.

How are you using hashtags to learn as an educator?  How can we use social media to bridge conversation with action in-person?

Twitter can teach if you are willing listen, even if it is hard to hear.  #ferguson #blacklivesmatter  #MikeBrown

#Participate #Listen #Learn

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