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For 10 years, the Twitter hashtag has fueled both social activism and dad jokes

About 125 million hashtags are shared every day on Twitter.

The word “twitter” is graffitied on a green roll-down door.
A shop in Tahrir Square is spray painted with the word Twitter after the government shut off internet access on February 4, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. 
Peter Macdiarmid / Getty

Ten years ago today, the Twitter hashtag was born with a very simple tweet.

Organizing tweets around topics was nearly impossible when Twitter first launched in March 2006. Twitter was merely a stream of thoughts and random musings. The suggestion to actually have group conversations using the # symbol came from Chris Messina, a Silicon Valley product and design guy who created the hashtag idea while working at a startup before going on to stints at both Google and Uber. And while the hashtag had been used before — like for IRC chat room names — using it on Twitter finally allowed people who wanted to talk about the same thing to actually find each other. What made it even more perfect was that Messina was just a user of Twitter, not an employee. So the fact that Twitter took the idea of the hashtag and ran with it says a lot about the platform and how it can embrace ideas from its community.

Fast-forward 10 years, and 125 million hashtags are now shared every day on Twitter. The hashtag has been adopted by Facebook and Instagram, and has rooted itself into American popular culture. (“Hashtag blessed.”)

And while Twitter is celebrating today by promoting the rise of popular, non-political hashtags like #FollowFriday, #NowPlaying and #ThrowbackThursday (please, no more old photos), the hashtag’s most meaningful contribution in the U.S. and abroad has been its ability to rally the internet around more serious ideas and issues.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement started, developed and organized on Twitter. After the shootings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the hashtags #HandsupDontShoot and #ICantBreathe spread far and wide, arguably bringing more media attention to the shootings than when they first happened.

But it was actually during the Arab Spring of 2011 that Twitter’s hashtag was really launched on the international stage. Users on the ground put hashtags in their tweets, giving valuable information and contacts to journalists and citizens watching the conflict around the world.

President Donald Trump, who has probably used the hashtag more prolifically than any politician before him, has used tags like #MAGA, #FakeNews and even #FraudNewsCNN to rally his base and attack the media.

Hashtag activism seems to be on the rise. While some movements may start on Twitter and eventually manifest in the “real world,” users are also responding to real-world events by taking to Twitter to stand with others during a tragedy, or help brands promote a fundraiser. #YesAllWomen, #JeSuisCharlie, #BringBackOurGirls, and #IceBucketChallenge (which was also big on Facebook) were all hugely popular social activism tags.

All that is to say, with every invention comes the good, the bad and the meh. So, regardless of whether you’re tweeting #StupidQuestionsForTheJudge, #TheWalkingDead or #ootd, you’re part of a Twitter movement.

So #happybirthdaytwitterhashtag. We don’t know what we’d do without you.

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