Oh, the #hashtag. It’s been a whole decade since it was first used on Twitter. Always in-style and never late to the party, it’s the prelude to every important online conversation. 

But who knew that this symbol, so small and unprepossessing, would help change the world?

Londoners like it because it always keeps to the left. Americans love it because it kickstarts every week with more motivation than a Tony Robbins zumba class. And the rest of the world? It literally brings people together 125 million times a day.

Global Citizen campaigns to tackle the very issues that these hashtags have helped raise awareness of: gender inequality, injustice, poverty, civilians suffering in conflict. You can join the fight by taking action here.

On the day that Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba shaved the symbol into the back of his head with the world #EQUAL, we break down the defining moments when hashtag activism really, really worked.

1) #DressLikeAWoman

After a report that alleged President Trump asked his staff to “dress like women”, the internet delivered a scything dressing down.

Like hashtags, gendered clothing is everywhere. Unlike hashtags, it’s only meant to divide.

Some women love dressing their best for work.

Alternatively, everybody knows that black is the new black.

If in doubt, go for the fetching “out of this world” look.

Read more: #DressLikeAWoman: Women React in Style to Reports of Trump’s Dress Code For Female Staff

2) #StopFundingHate

This UK grassroots activism campaign began to take action against the anti-migrant position of many British newspapers.

Since its inception just over a year ago, it’s gone viral several times over — and won some big victories in the process.

Last year Lego pulled its promotional giveaways from the Daily Mail. Several months later, the Body Shop joined the fray as it cut ties with the paper over human rights concerns. Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker has approached Walkers about their partnership with The Sun, too — after they attacked the football pundit’s positive stance towards refugees.

Every tweet is a stand — a protest to power about what world you want to live in. And it works.

3) #YouAintNoMuslimBruv

The British react with both class and honesty in times of tragedy. Remember the punter who retreated calmly from a terror attack without spilling a drop of his pint? Or the #ThingsThatLeaveBritainReeling hashtag that highlighted how a poorly made cup of tea is more likely to get to us than any act of hate?

In the weeks before Christmas 2015, a man with paranoid schizophrenia cut the throat of a stranger at a London tube station. He was given a life sentence in a high-security psychiatric institution, after a judge found him to be motivated by Islamic extremism.

But before Islamophobia gripped the papers, a young man from London beat them to the punch. “You ain’t no muslim, bruv!” was the perfect riposte – delivered at the scene just as the culprit was arrested by a Muslim policeman.

Terror in the name of Islam is not Islamic. Sometimes it takes a Twitter trend to make that point heard.

4) #HeForShe

We all know that gender equality affects everyone, right? And that feminism isn’t just for women? Well, we’ve largely got the He For She campaign to thank for that.

This UN Women campaign, backed by Emma Watson and Justin Trudeau, seeks to actively involve men and boys in a struggle that had previously been thought of as “a woman’s thing.”

Among the leading countries in the world for pledges and commitments to join the cause, are Rwanda, the United States of America, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the UK.

Read more: What Has Emma Watson Been Up To? Just Saving The World

5) #WomensMarch

The 2017 Women’s March was one of the most powerful moments of women uniting together across the world to achieve a greater goal.

Millions of women, fed-up with the status quo and optimistic about the future, walked together to demand an equal footing in society.

It was a euphoric moment that will take its place in history. And, thanks to the uniting power of this hashtag, women were reminded that we’re not alone.

6) #BlackLivesMatter

With its origins in one heartfelt Facebook post, following the 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, this hashtag has spawned a civil rights movement that will change the face of the United States. There are now more than 26 Black Lives Matter chapters across the US.

The movement is fuelled by grief at the seemingly endless stream of unjust deaths; by rage at institutionalised racism; by frustration at the consistent denial of equal rights for all Americans.

More than any civil rights movement in history, the Black Lives Matter movement has been brought together from across the world by the uniting power of social media.

Read more: Why Black Lives Matter is a Global Issue

7) #ASLIceBucketChallenge

Who doesn’t remember that halcyon summer of 2014, when Facebook newsfeeds everywhere were filled with people having ice and water poured over their heads?

In the UK, one in every six people participated in the ice bucket challenge, which encouraged people to nominate their friends to take up the baton and keep the momentum going.

It was the first of the viral charity challenge hashtags, raising money and awareness for the ALS Association, and it set a precedent that many have tried to match in the years since.

A post shared by xoxo, Gaga (@ladygaga) on

The ALS Association received more than $41.8 million from more than 739,000 new donors between July 29 and August 21 2014 — more than double the donations to the charity for the whole of 2012, reported the New York Times.

Read more: The Ice Bucket Challenge Just Secured A Major Scientific Breakthrough

8) #BringBackOurGirls

In April 2014, 276 schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram in the northern Nigerian village of Chibok, in an act that outraged the world. The hashtag was first used on April 23, in Nigeria.

In less than three weeks, the hashtag had been used more than a million times worldwide, with supermodel Cara Delevingne and Michelle Obama adding their high-profile selfies to the mounting social media movement.

The outcomes of the campaign have provoked questions — about whether the “celebrity status” of the Chibok schoolgirls has actually harmed their case rather than helping; whether it would have been better to say nothing.

It’s a difficult and complex question for commentators to answer. But, whatever your opinion on the outcome, this hashtag has brought global attention to the great tragedy of the Boko Haram conflict — a conflict that much of the world would otherwise never have heard of.


Demand Equity

8 Massive Moments When Hashtag Activism Really Worked

By James Hitchings-Hales  and  Imogen Calderwood