This week, Facebook added searchable hashtags to all status updates and user comments. As with Twitter, whenever a Facebook user posts an status with a #hashtag, that hashtag becomes clickable and leads to a News Feed of all other publically-visible posts with that hashtag.

The implementation of hashtags in Facebook is an obvious move. Advertisements and television shows display hashtags all the time to encourage users to Tweet about them: it’s free marketing, after all. Facebook can piggy-back off those already-existing hashtags and grow user adoption very quickly, especially with Facebook-owned Instagram already supporting hashtags.

However, Facebook is a fundamentally different social network than Twitter. While Twitter uses hashtags to quickly categorize a feed of 140-character thoughts, Facebook’s content feeds typically consist of long posts and large images. Additionally, while posts on Twitter are explicitly public or private, Facebook’s privacy settings are more granular: if users don’t make their posts Public, the hashtag is essentially useless. And the brands are going to love hashtags. Maybe too much.

The magic of Facebook is flat-out incompatible with the magic of hashtags.

Too Long; Didn’t Read

Since Twitter posts have a length limit, they’re short and occupy a consistent amount of space on the webpage. Facebook posts can be near-unlimited length, utilize a large amount of a white space between posts, and also potentially contain an equally-long comment section. As a result, 5 Twitter posts can use the same amount of screen real-estate as 2 Facebook posts. Given the already incredibly low signal-to-noise quality ratio of #hashtag feeds (as evident above), this makes reading hashtag feeds on Facebook a chore.

A Thousand Words Takes A Lot Of Space

Facebook displays pictures embedded in posts natively in the feed, while Twitter requires the user to click the Tweet to see the photo. In this case, the ratio of Twitter:Facebook posts can be even worse, in this case 6 Twitter posts for 1 Facebook post.

If A Hashtag Isn’t Seen, Was It Posted?

Twitter is opt-in private posting. Facebook is opt-out private posting. That’s a big usability problem.

The Facebook hashtag feeds only show posts that are explicitly made Public (or posts from your Friends which are set to a privacy of Friends Only). If the user is unaware that their posts are not Public by default, then their posts containing the hashtag will never be seen and the user won’t be able to participate in social hashtag feeds. Although Facebook has made improvements in helping users set the intended privacy level of a post, it makes the process of posting much more deliberate and much less impulsive than Twitter.

#brand #branding #marketing #yolo #swag

Brands love hashtags. The more hashtags included in a Tweet, the more exposure the Tweet receives, right?

With Twitter, there’s a limit on the number of hashtags in a Tweet due to the delicate balance between the number of hashtags, the length of the hashtags, and the length of the Tweet itself. On Facebook, you can include 25 hashtags in any post!

Since there’s no consequence for abusing hashtags, expect to see more Facebook brands taking advantage this new free source of marketing. Expect to see Facebook get much more cluttered.

Explicit Image Bombing

A malicious user could theoretically insert shock images into popular hashtag feeds. During my testing of Facebook hashtags, there was a surprising amount of nudity in the seemingly-innocuous #many hashtag.

On Twitter, the volume of Tweets is much higher and the images are hidden by default, so the odds of such an attack working on Facebook are much higher than on Twitter.

Comment Hashtags Different From Post Hashtags

You can hashtag comments on Facebook posts like you can hashtag Facebook posts themselves. But hashtagged comments won’t appear in the hashtag News Feed. Whereas on Twitter, Replies are also Tweets and can be hashtagged accordingly. This behavior isn’t surprising, but it’s still a big inconsistency.

Will Facebook Hashtags fail due to the massive differences between Facebook and Twitter? It’s hard to say, but I’m skeptical that Facebook will be able to capture the hashtag magic.


Max Woolf (@minimaxir) is a Data Scientist at BuzzFeed in San Francisco. He is also an ex-Apple employee and Carnegie Mellon University graduate.

In his spare time, Max uses Python to gather data from public APIs and ggplot2 to plot plenty of pretty charts from that data. On special occasions, he uses Keras for fancy deep learning projects.

You can learn more about Max here, view his data analysis portfolio here, or view his coding portfolio here.