The hashtag turns 10: How it went from random symbol to digital essential

The hashtag was first used in its modern sense 10 years ago on Twitter, when an early adopter wondered if it could be used to categorise group messages.

Former Uber and Google engineer Chris Messina tweeted on August 23 2007 to ask the wider Twitter universe if using the “pound” symbol at the start of a key phrase could be a logical way to organise conversation and categorise tweets.

The idea took off and by the end of that year, the most popular hashtag, #noticias – which means news in Spanish – had been used around 9,000 times.

As Twitter and social media in general grew, so did the impact of the symbol as a mechanism for focusing discussion and offering a place for users to discuss a single topic.

Today, an average of 125 million hashtags are shared on Twitter every day, and the most popular hashtag of the year so far has been used more than 300 million times.

That hashtag is #BTSBBMAS, and refers to K-Pop band BTS and their victory at this year’s Billboard Music Awards, further demonstrating the far-reaching ability of the tool.

As well as reacting to news, entire social movements have gained momentum, followers and a platform for wider conversation through hashtags.

Topics such as #BlackLivesMatter and #IceBucketChallenge have been two of the biggest campaigns that have seen their place in the public consciousness increased because of social media and their associated hashtags.

In terms of tributes too, #PutYourBatsOut in honour of the late Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes offered another poignant example of the symbol reaching a global audience.

On the lighter side, former MP Ed Balls’ Twitter mishap, when he accidentally tweeted his own name on April 28 2011, quickly became an online sensation and an annual event, complete with its own hashtag – #EdBallsDay.

The debate around #TheDress in 2015 also sparked input from social media from around the world, as well as celebrities with Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift among those who responded with their thoughts on what colour the dress was.

Interaction and conversation has changed since the emergence of social media, but the evolution of the hashtag into a facet of everyday speech has been one of the key components of that rise.

The conversations a single hashtag has provoked have made headline news around the world, changed political landscapes and shaped lives in many cases – amazing power for a single character of the digital age.


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