In an article called The Short and Illustrious History of Twitter #Hashtag, Liz
Gannes explains that the hashtag was created on Twitter when Chris Messina tweeted the suggestion, “how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups.” Twitter now uses hashtags to make ideas and topics easier to find by grouping them together; people simply place a hashtag in their post and it groups it with other, related posts. Hashtags were replicated on Twitter by other members and quickly gained popularity. I believe hashtags have been widely replicated because they serve a practical purpose, creating an easily searchable archive of different concepts.
It is harder to say why hashtags have replicated past the confines of Twitter. Hashtags are now used on Facebook ,where they serve no practical purpose, and are even in verbal conversations. Perhaps people like using a concise, hashtag statement as a summary of their main point. Hashtags may also be used outside of Twitter in a sarcastic manner that pokes fun at hashtags. These are merely a few speculations as to why hashtags have replicated past their original function.
There is a behavioral component to hashtags, they require individuals to either type a hashtag into their post or to say hashtag out loud. They also require some level of thought as individuals must determine what an appropriate hashtag is based on the context. Hashtags are therefore not a passive meme nor simply an idea, they require action and thought by the replicator.
In the book The Meme Machine, Susan Blackmore claims that the “essence of any memeplex is that the memes inside it can replicate better as a part of the group than they can on their own.” In this context, the success of hashtags is largely due to the social networking memeplex. Without the meme complex of social networking, more specifically twitter, hashtags would not have replicated so successfully. Social networking gives hashtags context, and although people sometimes mention hashtags in real life conversation it is merely a side effect of the memes’ success in social networking. Another similar meme within the social networking memeplex is tagging other individuals in order to direct their attention to, or to mention them in, a post. Hashtags themselves are also somewhat of a meme complex containing specific hashtag memes within it.
The idea that memes go through their own process of natural selection is intellectually exciting. It suggests that humans are advanced to the point where information we share, how we share it, and even our ideas are weeded out and evolve. Just as natural selection serves to better species, the natural selection of memes will better ideas and information. However, it should be considered that natural selection of humans tapered off with modern medicine and that, similarly, there may be conditions that allow weak memes to survive (like the ease with which lots of information is accessible). One potential criticism of meme theory is that it portrays humans as mindless imitators who simply copy others without much thought. I believe that, while people do replicate popular memes, they put some personal thought and decision making into the process.