On Twitter and Instagram, it is used too often: the hashtag. Today, the # sign on social media is exactly 15 years old. Journalist Jan Meijroos dives into the history of the punctuation mark.
Anyone who is a regular on Twitter knows the hashtag (#) like no one else. It’s the best way to categorize your tweet, make it part of something, or quickly find information on specific topics. Or you can use it to give your tweet an extra statement or charge. It wasn’t long before Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media platforms adopted the hashtag, and the famous “hook” has been a fixture on our timelines for years now.
The # sign itself is of course much older than 15 years, but it was Twitter programmer Chris Messina who had the idea on August 23, 2007 to use the famous # sign to group topics. This would make them easier to find. The feature was used sparingly at first, but during the Iranian uprising in 2009, people from all over the world could follow developments via a hashtag. As a result, Twitter users started using the feature more and more.
But Messina is not the first to use the odd number character to sort messages by topic: he learned it from old forms of Internet communication such as Internet Relay Chat (IRC). On IRC, a protocol for a sort of primitive chat box, # was used to indicate different chat channels.
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Twitter decided in July 2009 to place hyperlinks with hashtags. From that moment on, users could easily search for specific topics. A year later, the social media also showed ‘trending topics’. These are hashtags that people are currently searching for a lot and this feature is still very popular.
If you use the search function in Twitter on 23 August 2022, you will find #Dragens Hus, #KABINETKRISE, #debat and #Sigrid Kaag as trending topics. Companies therefore make smart use of the hashtag by creating unique copies, after which an extra attractive icon appears. But opinion leaders, columnists and populists also often slyly jump on the bandwagon of trending topics.
Guides, Units, Sections and Notation
The port itself is of course much older and we have known for decades from the keyboards of our computers and phones. Call a helpline and there’s a good chance a voice recording will ask for our message to be ‘closed with a hash’. In English, # is also used to indicate a number or number, in medicine it is the abbreviation for a fraction, and computer scientists use the character for hexadecimal numbers such as #FF0000, as the color code for red. In literature or writing, the hashtag is sometimes used to indicate a paragraph and in music to raise a note by a semitone using a ‘cross’ alias #. So in short, the hashtag is versatile.
We are now seeing # massively on all social media platforms. Some hashtags have become classic statements and are reused over and over again. For example, think of #BlackLivesMatter (or #BLM) or #MeToo. Others have since become commonplace, because it ensures that they are well found on social media. For example, think of #love or #fashion, which do particularly well on Facebook and Instagram.
Lots of #complaining and #grumbling
In recent years, Twitter in particular has dealt with hashtags that mainly have a negative connotation. Consider, for example, the nitrogen debate: You will find loud opinions under hashtags such as #trekkertuig, #boereninopstand and #farmersprotest. Or look at politicians, athletes, actors and other celebrities. One unwelcome quote in an interview, a bad football match or potential scandal and you’re reduced to a hashtag and then go viral: #TenHagOut, #KaagHeks or #Tribunals are the rule rather than the exception these days. And the Dutch complain about something on Twitter, for example about the queues at Schiphol (#schipholchaos, #kofferchaos), the hot summer weather (#heatwave) or just about anything (#annoying).
That’s perhaps the hashtag’s biggest win on social media; it’s a huge outlet for anyone to cheeky virtual grumble.
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