Hashtag Secret Spot
I read the news article through a glaze of indifference, the content being typically dull. The gist of the story went like this: Facebook, the world's largest social media site, have followed Twitter and Instagram by programming the hashtag search function into their website code.
Initially the news held little interest to me, but later, when I began to reflect on the hashtag function, the implications of Facebook's decision became clear. In short, the Facebook hashtag function presents a serious new front in the gradual unpeeling of surf spot secrecy.
Allow me to explain...
Prior to the arrival of Facebook the decision to name a surfspot rested solely with the editor of the magazine or website the photo was featuring in. The editor also had the power to use other measures such as cropping a photo to remove distinguishing features such as a headland or car registration plates. If the wave was so sensitive they could even take the drastic step of not running the photo at all.
These decision were the editors and the editors alone. And as there were very few publications available the power to protect secret spots rested with very few people.
Since the advent of Facebook and other forms of social media there's been a gradual shift in these dynamics. Magazines are no longer the sole source of surf information as people go online to get their surfing fix. Information can come from many different sources now meaning editors are no longer the gatekeepers of sacred knowledge.
Facebook is the go-to site for much of the surf information – how many surf publications don't have an FB page? - and it's also the repository for a huge amount of surfing photos. Again, how many surfing photographers, even your bog standard amateurs, don't have an FB page? Facebook hosts millions upon millions of surfing images.
Just as it slowly dawned on me, the power of the hashtag function may also be dawning upon you right about now. By introducing hashtags, Facebook have created a way to itemise and search for specific images. They are introducing order to that databank of existing surf photographs and the millions (billions?) more to come.
And if just one careless person decides to tag a photo of a secret spot with its real name? Then, privacy settings notwithstanding, everyone on the whole 1.1 billion-strong Facebook network can potentially search for it. Worse still, it's not just their own photos, they can tag other peoples too.
Think about it like this. A photographer can do all the right things: shoot a secret spot, crop the headland, delete the car rego, and then post it to Facebook without identifying it. And then someone else can simply hashtag the location of that photo so it shows up in searches.
For surfers, the promises of social media are finally coming true; it's democratising the game and bypassing the old gatekeepers of information. It's also presenting a dramatic new challenge: never mind us crusty old surfing editors looking to increase our readerships, the responsibility to protect secret spots now rests with everybody.