Twitter was launched in July of 2006 and since, has changed the way we communicate. It's become an actual real time news platform -- unfiltered, often unreliable and unrivaled in speed. 

Many a think-piece has been written about the political power or lack thereof when it comes to social media. It's difficult to pindown exactly how much influence a platform like Twitter has on big, world changing events. But when you look over the history of the most prevelant #'s over the last eight years, it's at least clear that there are a number of common preoccupations and what would seem to be a cause-and-effect relationship of one event leading to another. 

#HopeyChangeyStuff:
A brief history of political hashtags. Image 1.

Rhett Jones

Author

Pushing a political cause on Twitter has come to be known as "hashtivism" which is sometimes used as a derogatory term to indicate a sort of superficial way of supporting a cause with minimal effort. Indeed, many of the political causes listed below are still far from being resolved and just how much influence any related tweets have had is impossible to measure. One thing that's certain is all of the events below have been important and ripple effects on the future will continue. It could also be argued that the world has remained fairly stagnant on many big issues over the last eight years. As Stephen Colbert said in his final "The Word" segment, “Technically, one revolution is 360 degrees right back to where we were.”

Using the Twitter archive Topsy as well as numerous other reference materials, we've attempted to find the first instance of the more iconic hashtags and put them into context. A definitive history is difficult because Twitter has gone through development growing pains, tweets or accounts get deleted and in general the platform is designed to be a waterfall of what's happening now, rather than a reference point to the past. As the social media site's influence grows, having a reliable record of what occured will only become more important for history.

#1

THE FIRST USE OF A HASHTAG was in August 23, 2007 by Chris Messina,
a social technology expert, who proposed the # as a way to group messages together.

Specifically, Messina wanted to compile messages related to Barcamp,
a loose conference dedicated to technology. From the beginning, the hashtag was being used as an organizational tool for text as well as real world interaction, so its use for politics was inevitable.

 

 

 

2008

#YesWeCan

FIRST TWEETED BY: @Jay16K

WHEN THEY TWEETED IT: August 9, 2008

WHAT THEY SAID:

Wieso habe ich den Subwoofer funktionierend in den Tresor eingeschlossen? Weil ich kann! #YesWeCan! #WeCan / Why have I working the subwoofer enclosed in the vault? Because I can! #YesWeCan! #WeCan

WHAT COUNTRY’S POLITICS DID IT RELATE TO: United States

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT: Barack Obama’s campaign for President in 2008 is generally considered to be the first to fully take advantage of social media tools for grassroots organization. It might seem strange that the first few occurrences of the hashtag on Twitter were from Germany, but it makes sense because Obama had just been to Berlin and made quite a splash.

Obama was subsequently elected as POTUS in November of 2008 and dubbed the "High-Tech President."

 

 

#tcot

FIRST TWEETED BY: @hbeeinc

WHEN THEY TWEETED IT: October 25, 2008

WHAT THEY SAID: 

Billy bob neck - Briefly Patriotic - Barney Frank: Life In Uranus http://is.gd/2qqya #tcot #ocra #fucktard #912 #hc09 #underobamacare

WHAT COUNTRY’S POLITICS DID IT RELATE TO: United States

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT: This is an acronym for Top Conservatives On Twitter. Its purpose is to allow Twitter users with conservative values to find like-minded people on the social network. The hashtag remains in use today and has been considered important for increasing new media activity among a political contingent that is historically believed to be behind the times when it comes to using technology.

 

 

2009

#pman

FIRST TWEETED BY: @evisoft

WHEN THEY TWEETED IT: April 6, 2009

WHAT THEY SAID:

Neata, propun sa utilizam tag-ul #pman pentru mesajele din piata marii adunari nationale / translation: morning, I propose to use #pman to tag messages from piata marii adunari nationale

WHAT COUNTRY’S POLITICS DID IT RELATE TO: Moldova

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT: It was considered important to the organizing activities of Moldova’s Grape Revolution. Protesters ransacked government buildings and demonstrated through the streets when election results suspiciously kept the incumbent party in power. Whether or not Twitter truly had a political influence has been disputed but the protest is still called the “Twitter Revolution” in some circles and the President of Moldova subsequently resigned in 2009 due to popular pressure.

 

 

#IranElection

FIRST TWEETED BY: @JoseManuelR

WHEN THEY TWEETED IT: June 12, 2009

WHAT THEY SAID:

RT @keyvan Mousavi has a very important speech in 15 minutes in Tehran. He wants to talk about wide frauds. #IranElection [Bad News]

WHAT COUNTRY’S POLITICS DID IT RELATE TO: Iran

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT: Elections were held in Iran on June 12, 2009 and almost immediately Twitter was full of speculation that voter fraud had occured. According to Iran's official news agency Mir-Hossein Mousavi received 34% of the vote versus the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's 62% of the vote. Various irregularities in the voting process caused a lack of faith in the election for many Iranians and deadly protests occured in the months that followed. The death of Neda Agha-Soltan was particularly important in getting the world to pay attention to Tehran. Ahmadinejad was officially recognized on August 3rd, 2009.

Protests continued through February 14, 2011 and this period of activism was called the Green Revolution (#GreenRevolution), after the candidate Mousavi's political party The Green Movement. While there was no direct political change at the time, oppressed countries of the world took notice and the Green Revolution is often cited as a forerunner to the Arab Spring.

Locating the first instance of this hashtag in relationship to its political impact is difficult because of its generic nature. The tweet cited is a retweet of a tweet that no longer exists but was RT'd often on the morning of the election. It appears to be the first to express the sentiments of the Green Revolution.

 

 

2010

#SidiBouzid

FIRST TWEETED BY: @zaafouri

WHEN THEY TWEETED IT: November 13, 2010

WHAT THEY SAID:

Tremblement de terre a #SidiBouzid a 19h26 / translation: Earthquake has #SidiBouzid a 7: 26 pm

WHAT COUNTRY’S POLITICS DID IT RELATE TO: Tunisia

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT: Following the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor in the city of Sidi Bouzid who claimed he had been humiliated by municipal authorities, protests rocked the country and the hashtag was used as an organizational tool. Citizens of Tunisia saw Bouazizi as a catalyst for their own anger and frustration with perceived government corruption and harrasment. Then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stepped down on 14 January 2011. This has often been credited as the beginning of the “Arab Spring.”

 

 

2011

#arabspring

FIRST TWEETED BY: @newintelect

WHEN THEY TWEETED IT: January 8, 2011

WHAT THEY SAID:

#NorthAfrican #ArabSpring? Sole sig. var. is strength/coordination. Are we talking #protest or #uprising? http://t.co/xAZkRMd 

WHAT COUNTRY’S POLITICS DID IT RELATE TO: The Arab regions of the Middle East

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT: The Arab Spring was considered a moment in which citizens of numerous countries in the Middle East would take control of their government from oppressive governments. The short term results have been mixed, while a transfer of power has occurred in places like Tunisia and Egypt, initially peaceful demonstrations in Syria have escalated into a bloody civil war.

 

 

#Jan25 

FIRST TWEETED BY: @eacusa

WHEN THEY TWEETED IT: January 18, 2011

WHAT THEY SAID:

Opposition Groups call on Egyptians to Revolt on January 25th http://bit.ly/fy7BF8 #egypt #Jan25

WHAT COUNTRY’S POLITICS DID IT RELATE TO: Egypt

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT: It was used to gather protesters in Tahrir Square as well as solidarity demonstrations in other cities on January 25, 2011. Millions of Egyptians called for then-President Hosni Mubarak to leave office. Over a period of two weeks and three days, violence and unrest rocked the country and on February 11, 2011 Mubarak resigned. Because Egypt is the largest country in the Arab world, the protesters victory was seen as the most significant example yet of social media’s ability to help facilitate revolution.

 

 

#OccupyWallStreet

FIRST TWEETED BY: @Adbusters

WHEN THEY TWEETED IT: July 4th, 2011

WHAT THEY SAID:

Dear Americans, this July 4th dream of insurrection against corporate rule http://bit.ly/kejAUy

#occupywallstreet

WHAT COUNTRY’S POLITICS DID IT RELATE TO: International

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT: Inspired by Spanish protests that organized on social media with #spanishrevolution, Occupy Wall Street began as a protest in New York City with a wide range of grievances. The Canadian magazine Adbusters conceived the movement and called for people to gather on Wall Street to protest the global rise of inequality. This became known as the “Occupy Movement” with many groups around the world adopting the name. The group was often criticized for lacking focus, leadership or demands. On September 17, 2011, demonstrators set up a camp in Zuccotti Park, close to Wall Street, which became their rallying point.

The protests and camp were the subject of global fascination for two months and on November 15, 2011 the camp was raided and dismantled by police. While protests continued, the momentum of the movement slowed. Today, many splinter groups still operate.

 

 

 

#kony2012

FIRST TWEETED BY: @SuckMyBaroner

WHEN THEY TWEETED IT: November 5th, 2011

WHAT THEY SAID:

Craziness!!! #kony2012

WHAT COUNTRY’S POLITICS DID IT RELATE TO: Uganda

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT: It is unclear whether the first use of this hashtag was even connected to the human rights campaign to stop Joseph Kony, a militia leader who has been indicted for war crimes. The hashtag refers to a short documentary that is titled Kony 2012, it was released on March 5th and the hashtag went viral two days later on March 7, 2012. Additionally, the video (which Time Magazine called “the most viral video Of The Last 30 Seconds”) became the poster child for what is called “slacktivism.” That term refers to a form of ineffective activism in which people exert minimal effort to help a cause.

 

 

2012

#BlackLivesMatter

FIRST TWEETED BY: @NeenoBrowne

WHEN THEY TWEETED IT: April 11, 2012

WHAT THEY SAID:

2nd degree murder! One step closer..this man MUST be sentenced #RIPTrayvonMartin #blacklivesmatter

WHAT COUNTRY’S POLITICS DID IT RELATE TO: United States

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT: The hashtags’ meaning speaks for itself but the impetus at the time of its first use was the shooting of Trayvon Martin, 17, by a neighborhood watch coordinator named George Zimmerman. Martin was visiting his father’s fiancee in a gated-community in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman was on alert at the time because there had been burglaries in the neighborhood, when he saw Martin leaving the house he considered the young boy to be suspicious. After calling 9/11 Zimmerman said that Martin attacked him and he shot the teenager in self-defense.

Florida has a law called “Stand Your Ground” that essentially allows anyone to walk free if they kill someone in self-defense and mass outrage swept across the United States. Many believe that Martin was targeted because he was black and that Zimmerman’s story was untrue. Six weeks after the incident Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder, primarily due to public pressure on the local law enforcement.

When Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in July of 2013, Patrisse Cullors founded the group Black Lives Matter and popularized (but did not originate) the hashtag which is still being used in cases of racially motivated violence.

 

 

2013

#standwithrand

FIRST TWEETED BY: @rdickerhoof

WHEN THEY TWEETED IT: May 20, 2010

WHAT THEY SAID:

Every time #p2 plays the race card, I make another avatar. Busy busy. #ocra #tcot #tlot #teaparty #standwithrand

WHAT COUNTRY’S POLITICS DID IT RELATE TO: United States

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT: On March 5th, 2013 Kentucky Senator Rand Paul held a 13-hour filibuster on the floor of the Senate to take a stand against the domestic use of drones by the federal government. Paul is a Libertarian-leaning Republican and feels that increased usage of drones on American soil for surveillance and other purposes is setting a dangerous precedent and violating citizens rights to privacy.

Though the hashtag had been in use for years as a way of showing support for the Senator, on this particular day it began trending because Paul was reading the tweets on the Senate floor. Because anyone in the Senate who wants to filibuster is required to stand and speak at all times, they often read random things like the phone book. In this case, those who agreed with Paul were able to have their voice heard on the floor of the Senate in real time.

 

 

 

#euroMaidan

First tweeted by: @ZiemowitJozwik

When they tweeted it: November 21, 2013

What they said:

#euroMaidan #Maidan2 #Євромайдан  in Kyiv. once again the heart of #Europe beats in #Ukraine. Don't stay indifferent #EU #EaP

What country’s politics did it relate to: Ukraine

Why was it important:

On November 21, 2013 demonstrations began in Kiev, Ukraine eventually led to the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and the ouster of then-President Viktor Yanukovych and his government. The protests were initially provoked by the government’s decision to withdraw from talks with the European Union that would have led to a stronger trading relationship. The protests gathered steam after November 30, 2013 when authorities responded with violence against the demonstrators. As more citizens of Ukraine joined in, the grievances broadened to focus on corruption and the impeachment of Yanukovych. On February 21, 2014 Yanukovych fled the country along with many members of his government and the Ukrainian parliament replaced the government. In the aftermath, a battle between Ukraine and Russia over ownership of the oil-rich Crimea region began and protests continue in order to keep pressure on the new government.

 

 

2014

#BringBackOurGirls

FIRST TWEETED BY: @Abu_Aaid

WHEN THEY TWEETED IT: April 23, 2014

WHAT THEY SAID:

Yes #BringBackOurDaughters #BringBackOurGirls declared by @obyezeks and all people at Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014.

WHAT COUNTRY’S POLITICS DID IT RELATE TO: Nigeria

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT: The kidnapping of 276 female students at a school in Nigeria on April 14, 2014 inspired this hashtag. The Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram took responsibility for the act and to this day 219 girls are still missing. On May 3rd, 2014 protests began in major Western cities to raise awareness about the kidnapping and the hashtag began to trend. High-profile celebrities and politicians tweeted the hashtag including the First Lady of the United States.

Some of the abducted girls have managed to escape and some have been killed. Much of the blame for the students continued captivity has been placed on the Nigerian government which prefers to keep public acknowledgement of Boko Haram to a minimum out of fear that the terrorist group’s advances make the government look weak.

 

 

 

#HandsUpDontShoot

FIRST TWEETED BY: @Neuniii

WHEN THEY TWEETED IT: 10 August 10, 2014

WHAT THEY SAID:

#HandsUpDontShoot thats sad

WHAT COUNTRY’S POLITICS DID IT RELATE TO: United States

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT: Michael Brown was a resident of Ferguson, Missouri who was shot at least six times by police officer Darren Wilson. Evidence and witness accounts have conflicted over exactly what happened at the scene of the shooting. Officer Wilson claimed that Brown was assaulting him and photos taken of Wilson later that day show that he had a slight bruise on his face. Witnesses, that included a companion who was with Brown at the time, say that his hands were raised and he was quite far from Wilson when he was shot at least six times.

Violent protests and rioting turned the small town of Ferguson into an international story. The shooting became a symbol of racist authorities and the militarization of the United States police force when images of police in military vehicles pointing assault rifles at protestors spread around the world.

After reviewing the bruise on Wilson and the at least six gunshot wounds on Michael Brown, a grand jury decided to not file any criminal charges against Wilson on November 24th, 2014. Protests continue to this day and the motto “Hands Up Don’t Shoot,” is used at demonstrations and high profile events often.

 

 

 

#ICantBreathe

FIRST TWEETED BY: @omgsaywhat

WHEN THEY TWEETED IT: July 19, 2014

WHAT THEY SAID: 

TODAY WE MARCHED FOR JUSTICE RIP  ERIC GARNER BECAUSE UNTIL JUSTICE IS SERVED #ICANTBREATHE #JusticeforEricGarner

WHAT COUNTRY’S POLITICS DID IT RELATE TO: United States

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT: Staten Island, New York resident Eric Garner was arrested by police on July 17, 2014 for the minor offense of selling cigarettes on the street. One of the arresting officers used a prohibited chokehold on Garner when placing him into custody and Garner began having issues breathing. He said “I can’t breathe,” 11 times as he was laid out on the sidewalk and waited for an ambulance. Garner was dead by the time he arrived at a hospital and a subsequent autopsy ruled the incident a homicide due to "compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police."

The hashtag began being used two days after Garner’s death but became widespread on December 3rd, 2013 when a grand jury decided to not indict any of the arresting officers on criminal charges. Nationwide protests erupted throughout the United States with demonstrators using the event as an example of a systemic lack of justice for black males.

 

 

 

#hkclassboycott

FIRST TWEETED BY: @varsitycuhk

WHEN THEY TWEETED IT: September 18th, 2014

WHAT THEY SAID:

HKFS week-long class boycott schedule #hkclassboycott:
https://t.co/ACOvI9XgMY

WHAT COUNTRY’S POLITICS DID IT RELATE TO: China

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT: This hashtag was used to organize a week-long student walkout in protest of Chinese authorities changing election guidelines for Hong Kong. China took over control of the city in 1997 and agreed to give the city a certain level of judicial independence. Under the new election guidelines a 1200-member nominating committee would be allowed to choose two of the three candidates running for the Hong Kong Legislative Council. The student demonstrations snowballed and thousands more organizers and average citizens gathered in Hong Kong’s civic square. When police used tear gas against the protesters, they used umbrellas to shield themselves, which led to the movement being deemed the “Umbrella Revolution” with it’s own hashtag: #UmbrellaRevolution. Though protest camps were cleared on December 15th, demonstrations still continue and #OccupyHK is being used. 

 

 

2015

#JeSuisCharlie

FIRST TWEETED BY: @titi1960

WHEN THEY TWEETED IT: January 7, 2015

WHAT THEY SAID:

#JESUISCHARLIE

WHAT COUNTRY’S POLITICS DID IT RELATE TO: France

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT: The hashtag and phrase Je Suis Charlie means “I am Charlie” in French. It is a reference to the massacre that occurred at the headquarters of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Muslim extremists killed 12 people and injured 11 others after entering the magazine’s office with machine guns and opening fire. The attackers claimed that they were motivated to kill employees of the magazine because of a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed that was featured on the cover of an issue. The phrase Je Suis Charlie went viral as a show of solidarity with the victims of the attack as well as message against the censorship of free speech.

 

 

#MuslimLivesMatter

FIRST TWEETED BY:@Ironyisfunny8

WHEN THEY TWEETED ITOctober 7, 2014

WHAT THEY SAID:

Using #Kurds to bash #Islam. Completely ignoring the fact that Kurds happen to be #Muslims - OOPSY! #MuslimLivesMatter #ISIL kills Muslims2

WHAT COUNTRY’S POLITICS DID IT RELATE TO: The world

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT: Many Muslims began to feel under threat in countries around the world for a variety of reasons. The tag picked up steam over a period of months and went viral on February 11th, 2015 when three Muslims were murdered in Chapel Hill, NC. Some Twitter users perceived the mainstream media’s coverage of the incident to be lacking and claimed if the religions of the victims and the killer were reversed that it would be considered a much larger story.