A community project hosted at Northeastern University

"The Power of #Hashtags During a Time of Crisis"


This content was created by a student in Victoria Papa's Advanced Writing for the Social Sciences course at Northeastern University in Fall 2013. The students in the course each created two exhibits, the first directed toward a public audience and the second directed toward researchers in their various academic fields (economics, international affairs, political science, etc.). The students publicly presented their exhibits on December 5th at Forum Restaurant, which was heavily damaged by the second bomb during the Boston Marathon

Text from a digital exhibit by Potoula Tournas titled "The Power of #Hashtags During a Time of Crisis." The exhibit originally appeared on Our Marathon's Omeka project site.

his exhibit explores the power of hashtags among college students in Boston during a tragic event like the Boston bombings. It proves that the language of hashtags during these events ultimately contributed to the value of youthful solidarity among college students.


Power of Hashtags

Image found here: http://www.success.com/article/hashtags-pack-serious-social-media-marketing-power

Although all colleges in Boston are somewhat “rivals,” all college students in Boston share similar values. They recognize Boston’s historical value, social ambience, college life, and the city's diverse urban environment. Being a college student in Boston is being part of a community, one that values its youthful solidarity. Besides appreciating the shared values of Boston college life, students in Boston also have a common language, the language of hashtags. They hashtag words such as,

#Wicked #Beantown, #Beanpot, #Southie, #CityLife, #GreenLine, #Tproblems,

and more on a regular basis. They rely on social media and this language of hashtags as a new way to express themselves in real time. Hashtags have found their way to multiple social media forums, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., and have become indicative of this younger generation. They allow college students to be time efficient by uploading their thoughts into social media in very few words. And they act as an organizational tool that forms user’s thoughts in a clear and concise way. By a simple click on a hashtag, all ideas and images related to the key words used are instantaneously brought up as a collection. The power of hashtags lies in their capacity to connect the individual to the collective in a simple but profound way. What a college student may share personally on their own time, ends up being part of a greater collection of thoughts and ideas. This instant collection of the personal and collective contributes to the youthful solidarity among college students in Boston. Whether they attend Northeastern, Boston University, Harvard, MIT, Berklee, etc., the understanding of this common language intertwines them and ultimately strengthens their youthful solidarity.

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Happy Marathon Monday
Instagram photo uploaded near the finish line an hour before the bombs went off.
On April 15th, 2013, many college students took advantage of their bragging rights and began hashtagging,

#HappyMarathonMonday, #NoSchool, #Beantown,

etc. while uploading pictures of the runners and people on the sidelines. By reading the hashtags that were posted the morning of the Boston Marathon, one could sense the excitement and enthusiasm amongst college students. Pictures and tweets hashtagging words related to Marathon Monday were being uploaded left and right onto all forms of social media. However, all college students who were at the Marathon left the event in fear and silence. The short period of happiness and excitement soon turned into a widespread panic throughout the city of Boston.

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The hashtags of college students later that day and week became,

#PrayForBoston and #StayStrong,

as a way for them to try to understand and cope with what had just happened. Although these hashtags became ones of fear and hope, the power of the hashtag to collect the personal and collective kept the solidarity of Boston college students together during a time of crisis. As the week went on, it was as if this tragic event heightened the sense of unity among students in Boston. College students, together, wanted to find out who messed with their city. Hashtags on Twitter and Instagram instantly turned into #FindBostonBombers as the #ManHunt took place and Boston was on #LockDown.College students were united in the want to find whoever was responsible for these events that caused their city so much pain and terror; they created a united front and were not giving up.

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When the Boston Bombers were found, college students gathered up on the streets of Boston, holding American flags, singing the national anthem, and began uploading pictures and tweets that hashtagged,


This hashtag soon exploded throughout all forms of social media and is still used and examined today. For college students in Boston, this empowering moment and simple hashtag of #BostonStrong demonstrated their unity and youthful solidarity throughout the entire course of events surrounding the attacks. They were united by experiencing such a traumatic event together, and were able to celebrate when the bombers were found and their city was restored.

The Boston Marathon and the tragic event of the Boston bombings are events that all college students in Boston have in common; students may have been affected directly, indirectly, physically, and/or emotionally. Therefore, hashtags in an event like this were used as a powerful way to express oneself in real time, using very few words. Through the use of hashtags, one can see what eventually became this consolidated effort amongst college students to ensure a traumatic event like the Boston bombings did not take away their city and their youthful solidarity. This function of the hashtag acted as more than just a symbol before a keyword; in the instance of the Boston Bombings, college students turned to hashtags as a way to react, cope, and express themselves in regards to an event that may have affected their everyday lives. These hashtags kept the college community of Boston alive, together, and complete. Now, these hashtags that were created during the time of the Boston attacks serve as archives that are individually unique, but together complete. Individually, they demonstrate one’s personal response to the event but, together, they comprise a greater collection of personal thoughts and reactions that ultimately commemorate the events surrounding the Boston Marathon.

Celebration On Hemenway


Potoula Tournas


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