Ten hashtags that defined the decade

From #MAGA to #Maythe4th, here are some of the biggest hashtags of the first 10 years of the hashtag.

It’s been ten years since Chris Messina tweeted the first hashtag. In that time, hashtags have come to define not only social media, but also a generation of internet culture.

Every news item, product release, marketing campaign, movie premiere… anything and everything really, has been collated around the hash symbol. As such, ten people can come up with ten different answers as to which ten hashtags have defined the last ten years on social media.

Here’s that selection in no particular order:

One of the defining moments in modern international politics — the uprising in Egypt in 2011 that eventually resulted in the resignation of the country’s former dictator, Hosni Mubarak — was also a defining moment for social media. It showed that Twitter had real applications outside of cat memes and trolls.

An ugly moment for gamers, gamergate began as a statement against corruption in games journalism, and ended up as a rallying point for misogynists and trolls. Still, it was a moment that won’t soon fade from memory.

Not much to be said about this one, really. It was (and is) as much a viral hashtag as a symbol of the right-wing zeitgeist. If nothing else, it’s been effective.

The chant that propelled President Barack Obama to the oval office during the campaign, and the ethos that defined much of his two terms. This hashtag defined not only Obama's brand, but a new generation of American voters.

BLM seems more like a political party here in the waning weeks of 2017, but the movement began as social rally cry against police brutality; specifically, the killing of Trayvon Martin. Now it is one of the most prolific political chants in history.

The magnitude of the virility of the ice bucket challenge is difficult to understate. Look at all the various "challenges" it left in its wake, with more cropping up all the time. The ice bucket challenge was a true gem as far as viral social media moments go, and it was one of the few that brands were able to effectively and organically co-opt.

It’s entirely possible to fill a list like this with Kim Kardashian content. But if one hashtag defines her reign, it’s #BreakTheInternet; a social media event where the semi-nude Kardashian literally broke Twitter.

Hillary Clinton remains a divisive figure, even nine months since her defeat in last year’s presidential election. But the hashtag that followed her continues to be a call to action for women and women’s rights groups.

Hollywood has a long and documented history of racism and exclusion, but the industry has been doing a bit of course correction in the wake of 2015’s #OscarsSoWhite; a viral response to the Academy Awards that year (and many other years), which didn’t include a single actor of colour.

Entertainment media inherently generates a ton of social buzz, but the viral fervour around 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens was an anomaly, even for a blockbuster film. It remains one of the most viewed online trailers in the first 24 hours to this day, and was one of the biggest cinematic events of this generation. Whatever the subjective quality of the film itself, its commercial success pushed 4 May as close as one can go to becoming an official holiday.

A version of this article was first published by PRWeek.


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