To be clear, there was nothing stopping you from including hashtags in your Facebook content before — it’s just that they didn’t have any real functionality. In its blog post announcing the new feature, the company acknowledges that this isn’t exactly a new idea, noting that it will be “similar to other services like Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, or Pinterest” — when you click on a hashtag, you’ll get a feed of comments using the hashtag. Facebook says its capabilities will include searching for hashtags, clicking on hashtags that come from other services, and writing posts directly from the hashtag feed.
Here’s how Facebook explains the reasoning behind the addition:
Every day, hundreds of millions of people use Facebook to share their thoughts on big moments happening all around them. Whether it’s talking about a favorite television show, cheering on a hometown sports team or engaging with friends during a breaking news event—people on Facebook connect with their friends about what’s taking place all over the world. …
To bring these conversations more to the forefront, we will be rolling out a series of features that surface some of the interesting discussions people are having about public events, people, and topics. As a first step, we are beginning to roll out hashtags on Facebook.
Note that Facebook says it’s only “beginning to roll out” the feature, so you might not see it right away. (The company generally doesn’t turn on features for its entire user base at once, but instead rolls them out gradually.) Note also that the company says it’s going to be introducing more features in this vein.
To illustrate the scale of the conversation on Facebook, the company notes that between 88 million and 100 million Americans are using the service during primetime television hours. Game of Thrones‘ Red Wedding last week was mentioned 1.5 million times, while there were 66.5 million interactions (which include likes, comments and posts) around this year’s Oscars.
The blog post doesn’t go into something we wondered about when we started hearing about the feature in March — privacy. The idea of a “public conversation” works differently on Facebook than it does on a service like Twitter, since many Facebook posts have some degree of privacy restriction.
A company spokesperson told me that from a privacy perspective, hashtags will work similarly to Facebook Graph Search. In other words, you’ll only see the comments that you’re authorized to see. So if I include a hashtag in a friends-only post, then my friends will still be the only ones who can see it in a hashtag search.