Hyperlinks are links from one hypertext document to another and usually consist of a highlighted word, phrase of image (De Maeyer, 2012). They’re commonly found across nearly all pages on the internet, especially in online articles.

What are hyperlinks?

Hyperlinks allow for online users to navigate from page to page, or to quickly access a new section within the same document. Typically, hyperlinks are blue and underlined, so they stand out from the rest of the paragraph one might be reading. This linked text is referred to as an anchor text and it’s usually different to the texts around it. While blue may be a common colour, purple or darker versions of blue is common too. The colour changes are important to note because the colours are useful to differentiate texts from one another, as well as for individuals to see whether or not they may already have visited the page before.

Although the colour changes are made by the users browser based on the individual’s browsing history (Braggio, 2020), it is also necessary to note that the website itself doesn’t know which pages the individual has visited prior to clicking on the hyperlink (ibid) the reader has already differentiated them. As aforementioned, hyperlinks can be identified by colour, but they may also move or become even more underlined when hovered over. 

The functions of hyperlinks

Hyperlinks serve various functions. They are an important web feature, because the links have the ability to further share and support a message that an author may want a reader to see (ibid). Attaching hyperlinks in an article is a common research and journalistic practice (De Maeyer, 2014). Hyperlinks tell a story, and if you have a limited word capacity then they’re great for linking previous articles to support your evidence.

In addition, they are a useful marketing and search optimization strategy for driving traffic over to other content that has been produced. Hyperlinks are also often a sign of collaboration (Baggio, 2020), which further advances research and journalistic practices. They are also useful for keeping an audience informed as they can also contain various reference mechanisms. These commonly include footnotes, glossaries or even a table of contents but bibliographies are often used too (ibid). 

Although they are commonly used in academia, hyperlinks can also be found across social networking sites and platforms (De Maeyer, 2014). For example, Youtubers often link previous videos that they have uploaded into the current video their audience may be watching. As a result, hyperlinks hold a massive amount of social power; it is a communication strategy (De Maeyer, 2012).

Many (political) organizations tend to do this too, as a way to exercise their power and to further convey a message they believe to be important and it is commonly seen on websites where website owners may link their social media, such as Twitter or Instagram,  so that you can find out more about what they do and stand for on other platforms. It’s an easy way to stay updated with the lives of content creators, and for audiences to build a community online. 

The role of Hyperlinks for climate change

Hyperlinks can be the glue of online communities, forming digital footprints of the way individuals make connections (Schulman, 2008). Hyperlinks has multiple functions, and among the many functions it has, there is the basic assumption that hyperlinks help reinforce a report’s facticity by connecting readers directly with sources and showing readers how journalists know what they know (De Maeyer, Citation Needed, 2014). In a study by De Maeyer (2014), it is shown that less than half of the external links achieve the function of directly allowing readers ‘to see for themselves’. Other links mostly supply more information, but do not account for the truth of the written text. The study has shown that hyperlinks do enhance the facticity of news reports, but it is not their sole function, and readers should be cautious of that. (De Maeyer, Citation Needed, 2014). Studies have found that the inclusion, exclusion or deleting of a hyperlink may be viewed as acts of association, non-association or disassociation respectively (De Maeyer, 2012). Hyperlinks also have the ability to function as indicators of authority, as the assumption exists that hyperlinks in content are compared to citations in the academic context (De Maeyer, 2012). Nevertheless, according to De Maeyer (2014), as not all links refer to other sites that account for the truth of the content, hyperlinks should only be seen as indicators of authority, but not the sole truth. Links also are used for research to monitor some aspects of academic performance (De Maeyer, 2012), but studies have found that ‘those who only rely on link counts to judge academic performance, risk serious errors’ (De Maeyer, 2012). Furthermore, links can also signal political affiliations, including the problem of political homophily and cyberbalkanization. This means that people will isolate their information and only perceive content that is closely related to their own ideologies. This phenomenon is related to the next function of hyperlinks. Hyperlinks help to make sense of sets of interconnected blogs. Links significantly help in detecting groups of blogs that show similar linking behaviour and that link to the same sources (De Maeyer, 2012). Links do tend to remain relatively closed, and most links are restrained within national borders. ‘The social structures found in the “real” world are inscribed in online networks’ (Halavais, 2000). Additionally, it is essential to note that the interpretation of links is not an easy task. To somewhat ease the task of link interpretation, several tools have been created (De Maeyer, 2012). Also, when gathering links, one should be very cautious of the obstructiveness of it. Study has found that search algorithms create bias, as search engine optimization become more and more common. De Maeyer describes this phenomenon as ‘the observer, who thought he was invisible, influences what he observes’ (De Maeyer, 2012). When studying links, the context in which the links are created should also be taken into account. The authors indication cannot be found in the links, and one can easily interpret what the intentions are of the author with the links. Given all the functions of links as given above, and the difficulties of link interpretation, it is important to approach the study of hyperlinks with cautious. Especially when it comes to climate change. In an online world where fake news is on the rise and hyperlinks are relatively new phenomenon, it’s vital to approach the issue with attention an delicately. Climate change issues are often subjected to much scientifically loaded information, and the topic of climate change is a trend in many nations. Therefore should the use of hyperlinks in interaction between actors of climate change issues be studied carefully and exhaustively.

Also see our entry on Digital Culture.


Halavais, A. (2000). National Borders on the World Wide Web. New Media & Society, 7-28.

De Maeyer, Juliette 2012. Towards a hyperlinked society: A critical review of link studies. New Media & Society 15 (5), 737-751.

De Maeyer, Juliette 2014. Citation needed. Journalism Practice 8 (5), 532-541.

Baggio, R., & Corigliano, M. A. (2020, January 01). On the Importance of Hyperlinks: A Network Science Approach. 

Schulman, S. L. (2008). Hyperlinks and Marketing Insight. In J. Turow, & L. Tsui, The Hyperlinked Society: Questioning Connections in the Digital Age (pp. 145-158). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com