While the field of writing studies has studied digital writing as a response to multiple calls for more research on digital forms of writing, research on hashtags has yet to build bridges between different disciplines' approaches to studying the uses and effects of hashtags. This dissertation builds that bridge in its interdisciplinary approach to the study of hashtags by focusing on how hashtags can be fully appreciated at the intersection of the fields of information research, linguistics, rhetoric, ethics, writing studies, new media studies, and discourse studies. Hashtags are writing innovations that perform unique digital functions rhetorically while still hearkening back to functions of both print and oral rhetorical traditions. Hashtags function linguistically as indicators of semantic meaning; additionally, hashtags also perform the role of search queries on social media, retrieving texts that include the same hashtag. Information researchers refer to the relationship between a search query and its results using the term "aboutness" (Kehoe and Gee, 2011). By considering how hashtags have an aboutness, the humanities can call upon information research to better understand the digital aspects of the hashtag's search function. Especially when hashtags are used to organize discourse, aboutness has an effect on how a discourse community's agendas and goals are expressed, as well as framing what is relevant and irrelevant to the discourse. As digital activists increasingly use hashtags to organize and circulate the goals of their discourse communities, knowledge of ethical strategies for hashtag use will help to better preserve a relevant aboutness for their discourse while enabling them to better leverage their hashtag for circulation. In this dissertation, through a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the Twitter discourse that used #OrlandoStrong over the five-month period before the first anniversary of the Pulse shooting, I trace how the #OrlandoStrong discourse community used innovative rhetorical strategies to combat irrelevant content from ambiguating their discourse space. In Chapter One, I acknowledge the call from scholars to study digital tools and briefly describe the history of the Pulse shooting, reflecting on non-digital texts that employed #OrlandoStrong as memorials in the Orlando area. In Chapter Two, I focus on the literature surrounding hashtags, discourse, aboutness, intertextuality, hashtag activism, and informational compositions. In Chapter Three, I provide an overview of the stages of grounded theory methodology and the implications of critical discourse analysis before I detail how I approached the collection, coding, and analysis of the #OrlandoStrong Tweets I studied. The results of my study are reported in Chapter Four, offering examples of Tweets that were important to understanding how the discourse space became ambiguous through the use of hashtags. In Chapter Five, I reflect on ethical approaches to understanding the consequences of hashtag use, and then I offer an ethical recommendation for hashtag use by hashtag activists. I conclude Chapter Five with an example of a classroom activity that allows students to use hashtags to better understand the relationship between aboutness, (dis)ambiguation, discourse communities, and ethics. This classroom activity is provided with the hope that instructors from different disciplines will be able to provide ethical recommendations to future activists who may benefit from these rhetorical strategies.
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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
College of Arts and Humanities
Texts and Technology
Length of Campus-only Access
Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)
DeArmas, Nicholas, "Using Hashtags to Disambiguate Aboutness in Social Media Discourse: A Case Study of #OrlandoStrong" (2018). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 6182.