The Instagram Hashtag War: Who’s Right in This Situation?

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Instagram hashtags are a big deal. For photographers and influencers, they’re the portal to their creative world. Some Instagram hashtags are very popular, and the consequence of that is that there are millions of images all fighting to be seen. Most people online use generic tags, but some creators like to think outside the box. Creating their own, personalized tag, they really try to zone in on specific niche and audience. People become very protective of their hashtag, and when other people use it, they don’t like it – as we will see in the example below.

Stop Using My Instagram Hashtag

In a recent post on Reddit, one user shared their story of an Instagram hashtag war. In a section of the post, they wrote, “I find this extremely bizarre, but a woman messaged me on Instagram asking that I stop using the hashtag she uses for her business.” Explaining why the woman made the request, they added, “She said she wants me to stop because she categorizes her photos with that hashtag and asked if I could [use] other ones.” The female photographer didn’t stop there. She was also contacting people in photography groups requesting that they too stop using the hashtag, telling them it was impacting her business. In closing the post, the Reddit user asked, “…can she sue me if I don’t? [stop using the hashtag.]”

To answer the question, the answer is no. No one user on Instagram (or any other social platform) has any legal ownership of a hashtag. So if someone else wants to use it, they’re free to do so when they want and as often as they wish. But it raises the question: should there be an Instagram hashtag code of ethics?

Instagram Hashtag Code of Ethics

One of my personal gripes with Instagram is how people use hashtags. If I’m ever searching for new work, I’ll search for hashtags so I can target a specific genre. Let’s take #streetphotography for example. At present, the tag includes almost 86 million images. That’s a lot! But you only have to spend a few moments to realize a lot of those images have no relationship to the street photography genre. People misuse popular hashtags because they think their work will be seen, and because they’re not educated on a specific genre in which category their photo belongs.

It’s frustrating, but there’s little anyone can do about it. Instagram has 854 million users. “Policing the use of hashtags” is very hard to do. The only possible option would be to develop and implement the use of AI. The technology could scan an image and determine if it was suitable for the hashtag it was tagged with. But there are a few problems. Firstly, Instagram doesn’t care how people use hashtags. And secondly, AI isn’t at that stage yet: implementing it into the app would cost a lot. In other words, this is never going to happen.

But when we think of more targeted hashtags – ones that are related to a specific location or business, we can have more control. And we, as individuals, should take the time to think about the impact a hashtag may have on other users – and also think about how beneficial that hashtag is for us.

Final Thought

Clearly, the creator of the hashtag referenced in the Reddit post takes it very seriously. I can understand her concerns. Sure it may seem a little arrogant to claim ownership of something that is free to use by anyone. But if people are just using it for the fun of it, and it’s actually impacting her business, I think she’s right to try and protect what she’s built and worked for.

If it were me she were contacting, and I had no specific reason to use the hashtag (for promotion or financial benefit), then I would stop using it. But maybe I’m one of a small few?

What do you think? Would you stop using an Instagram hashtag if someone asked you to? Let us know in the comments below.

Dan Ginn

Dan Ginn is a content writer and journalist. He brings with him five years' experience writing in the photographic niche. During that time he has worked with a range of leading brands, as well as a host of professional photographers within the industry.