#HappyBirthday! The hashtag turns 10

The practice may still be annoying for some, but after a decade of existence, the hashtag is definitely here to stay. Here's a look back at how hashtags happened and their most popular uses.

It used to be referred to by many as the number, or pound, sign. Nowadays, thanks to its widespread use on social media, the symbol # is undeniably known as the hashtag.

News | 20.05.2014

This function was invented 10 years ago, when technology specialist Chris Messina proposed to use it to create groups on Twitter on August 23, 2007:

It took nearly two years for Twitter to institutionalize the practice, by adding a hyperlink to all hashtags in tweets, on July 2, 2009.

10 Jahre Hashtag

A key that now means so much more than just "number"

Previously existing Twitter practices, such as Follow Fridays, were turned into one word preceded by a hashtag. More tags were created for other days of the week, such as the popular #MotivationMonday.

In 2010, Twitter added Trending Topics on its front page, through which users could easily discover all hashtags rapidly gaining in popularity.

Another hashtag breakthrough came with the photo-sharing application Instagram, launched in October 2010. "It became quickly clear that one couldn't find pictures again without descriptions," Chris Messina told German press agency dpa. 

The term "hashtag" entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, which also named it Word of the Year; it was added to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary in 2014.

Read more: Merriam-Webster goes internet savvy

Hashtags have since been adopted on all social media platforms, including Facebook, Snapchat and Google+.

The rise of hashtag activism

During the 2009-2010 Iranian election protests, social media users widely used the symbol in their posts, turning the practice into an international style of writing.

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Ägypten arabische Frühling und Twitter Symbolbild Flagge

The Egyptian government shut off internet access shortly after the January 25 Revolution

Other political protest campaigns of the early 2010s were organized through hashtags, such as #OccupyWallStreet and #Jan25 for the Egyptian revolution which began on January 25, 2011.

The hashtag became a useful instrument to create awareness for social causes and movements.

Over six million people posted a tweet with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls in support of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Former US First Lady Michelle Obama was among the users who did:

However, "hashtag activism" became criticized by some as a lazy way of taking action, just like signing an online petition. On the other hand, the case of the Nigerian schoolgirls first garnered international attention after supporters massively demanded their safe return through Twitter.

Read more: Can online campaigns bring offline change?

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (Facebook-Gründer Mark Zuckerberg)

Some people avoided social media during the #IceBucketChallenge - Mark Zuckerberg couldn't...

Beyond the numerous "slacktivist" trending hashtags, the popular #BlackLivesMatter demonstrates how a hashtag can also durably unify a community to establish a political movement.

In other cases, hashtags have actually managed to get people who aren't typically activists to leave their computers screens for a good cause.

During the summer of 2014, the hashtag #IceBucketChallenge was an awareness campaign which incited countless people to dump a bucket of icy water over their heads - a fundraising stunt that allowed the ALS Association to raise millions of dollars for research for Lou Gehrig's disease. 

#Sarcasm and live-tweets

Beyond social causes and other unifying slogans that spontaneously appeared after terrorist attacks à la #JeSuisCharlie, hashtags are also widely used to express sarcasm, as a form of humorous meta-commentary.

This sometimes excessive approach was parodied in a hilarious sketch by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake in September 2013.

Beyond the now classic #LOL, Trump's cryptic #covfefe remains popular weeks after he posted a tweet with the typo. 

Read more: COVFEFE Act proposed to preserve President Donald Trump’s tweets

In some cases, the sarcasm becomes brutal - derogatory slogans can be turned into hashtags used to troll individuals or organizations.

Most often, however, hashtags create a sense of community, allowing people with common interests to engage with each other through social media. Late-night show hosts in the US regularly prompt new hashtags that turn into trending topics.

From the Oscars to the Eurovision Song Contest, TV-related live-tweeting is an extremely popular hobby. Those who wish to avoid spoilers should definitely avoid Twitter.

That's especially true if you're behind on the series "The Walking Dead." It was the most popular show on social media for the 2016-2017 season, with two million interactions on Facebook and Twitter for each new episode aired on AMC.

The hashtag's history is directly connected to the development of Twitter, which celebrated it's 10 anniversary last year. Here's a gallery with 10 unforgettable Twitter moments:

It all began 10 years ago

Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, or simply @jack, posted the very first tweet on March 21, 2006: "just setting up my twttr." Many more users on the microblogging platform would start out with a similar message, but his got tens of thousands of retweets.

'Best photo ever'

American television host Ellen DeGeneres posted this snapshot during the Oscars 2014, which she called the "best photo ever," and an incredible number of people agreed. With over 3 million retweets and a bunch of famous actors in the picture, this selfie is the most successful tweet of all time.

'Damn, Daniel!'

This catchphrase became a huge viral hit recently: Some people are even getting "Damn Daniel" tattoos now. Two Californian teens, Daniel Lara (l.) and Josh Holz, posted a 30-second video where Josh praises his best friend's clothes, repeating "Damn Daniel." It earned the young Internet stars a lifetime supply of sneakers - they made headlines again by donating them to young patients in hospitals.

#Egypt

Goofy entertainment works well on Twitter, but countless tweets react to serious current events as well. During the Arab Spring, #Egypt was used on Twitter by locals and journalists reporting about the fall of the Egyptian regime. In 2011, longtime President Hosni Mubarak resigned as a result of the Egyptian revolution. Journalists worldwide also fetched their information on Twitter.

#jesuischarlie

On January 7, 2015, two Islamist militants forced their way into the offices of the French satirical magazine "Charlie Hebdo," killing 11 people and injuring 11 more. The hashtag #jesuischarlie was used on Twitter to express compassion with the victims of the massacre. A few weeks after the attacks, the hashtag had already appeared five million times on Twitter.

Reporting abuse

In the German tweetosphere, the hashtag #aufschrei (which translates as outcry) was picked up by many Twitter users in 2013 to share sexist and misogynist experiences. It has become a symbol for feminism, but is now also used to denounce different forms of injustice.

Live from the field

After winning the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, German star players Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger posted this winning selfie directly from the field. Not only did the dream team win the FIFA World Cup, they also earned 80,000 retweets with this tweet. Which achievement makes them prouder?

Good news for the Royals

The first son of Prince William and his wife Catherine was born on July 22, 2013. Breaking with the tradition of posting the announcement outside Buckingham Palace first, the birth of Royal Baby George was made public via Twitter, stating, "Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge was safely delivered of a son at 4.24pm." A similar tweet was posted when Baby Charlotte came in 2015.

Four more for Barack Obama

The US president posted this picture of him hugging his wife Michelle after being re-elected for his second term of presidency in November 2012. Retweeted nearly 800,000 times, this is one of the most successful tweets ever, reflecting Obama's popularity on social media.

A winner's advice

Some of the most successful tweets are quite simple, fitting Twitter's 140-character limit. In 2011, this even shorter motivational message went viral: "Never be afraid to dream." Certainly contributing to its popularity was the person who wrote it: Stefani Germanotta, aka megastar Lady Gaga.