What is a hashtag?
A hashtag is a symbol used to group issues and events together. You can use it to brand the location you are, an occurrence you witnessed, an idea you have and so on. For instance, if there is a group of people involved in a discussion about language, the hashtag can be used to group this discussion together such that it can be easily accessed and searched by those interested.
The hashtag has a history that goes way back as far as 1988 where it was used on IRC rooms (Internet Relay Chat) to brand channels where specific discussions were ongoing. It was then suggested as a means of grouping and organizing content on Twitter by Chris Messina in August 2007. This was, however not adopted as it was felt that users of the platform will have a hard time wrapping their heads around its perceived technicality.
Chris and friends went ahead and incorporated the hashtag onto their discussions online but it never really gained traction until October 2007 when a blogger by the name of Nate Ritter used it to center discussion around a fire in San Diego. Twitter being a microblogging platform, he utilized the app to keep people abreast of developments in the event over several days. Since then, more and more people started using it.
The hashtag made its entrance into pop usage in 2009, however, when more and more people used it to categorize their tweets. Since a lot of users on the platform were already using the symbol as a means to categorizing their conversations, Twitter incorporated it into their code. Developers at the company built a search tool that would automatically allow users of a particular hashtag see the other people using it, and connect with them if they so wish.
The hashtag, due to its popularity among internet users was then adopted by other social media platforms such as Facebook, and Instagram to organize and label content on their own platforms.
The hashtag is an invention of creative genius as it has greatly influenced and impacted how conversations are held online. Apart from this, it has gone a long way towards connecting people with similar interests.
The hashtag is a powerful tool that has been used to achieve many purposes. It has been used to effect both social and political changes and has shaped us as a race. It gives a voice to the youth, helps combat government excesses, helps raise awareness on certain cogent issues; social, political and otherwise, help expose atrocities, simply as a fun tool and so on.
Examples of situations where the hashtag has proven its might are:
The #MeToo campaign where women came out to expose their harassers.
#Ferguson: it was used to raise awareness about the unrest in Ferguson (where a police officer murdered a kid) even before it was reported on cable television. The occurrence was tweeted about over 27 million times.
#BlackLivesMatter: yet another concrete evidence of the power of the hashtag as a tool for effecting societal changes and opening avenues for discussion. The #BlackLivesMatter movement would not be as successful, as inclusive, as engaging and as widespread as it got without the hashtag being involved. The hashtag was used over 12,000,000 times.
#Sandy: still another event that the hashtag helped raise awareness about was Hurricane Sandy which wreaked immeasurable havoc along the East Coast in 2012. Reports suggest even that it was effective for more than just raising awareness as it also helped researchers trace Sandy’s path. This has led to suggestions that activity on social media platforms can be used to assess the damage caused during disasters as well as to provide aid.
The hashtag has come a long way over the years and has definitely proven itself as a powerful social tool which, if well utilized can be used to effect necessary changes and eventually, make the world a better place.