It can sometimes be difficult to realize you’re living in truly historic times when you’re right in the middle of it. Thankfully, we have Twitter, a kind of real-time pulse tracking the events of our world as they happen, and 2015 was packed with epic, historic moments.
We got our hands on this year’s activity data from Twitter and, no matter what lens you view 2015 through, these moments reveal the true face of the past year, from its dramatic highs to its somber lows.
Despite the current tensions around events like mass shootings, terrorism and civil protests, it turns out that the soothing balm of entertainment ruled Twitter in 2015, with tweets about music group One Direction ranking as the top three retweets of the year. The very top tweet, Harry Styles wishing his departing bandmate Zayn Malik goodbye, embodied the positive nature of the social network when it’s at its best.
Trailing right behind that, President Barack Obama’s tweet approving of the Supreme Court’s ruling to legalize same-sex marriage in the U.S. was a huge hit. For many, the president’s opinion on the topic, which has been a divisive issue in some states over the past few years, signaled a beginning of the end to the debate about same-sex marriage rights.
One particularly popular retweet was the final message from actor Leonard Nimoy. “A life is like a garden,” Nimoy wrote, just before passing away on February 27. “Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.” The message served as a kind of reminder that your last tweet may, unexpectedly, become the last important message you send to the world.
Like the top retweets, the top hashtags on Twitter were focused on positive messages. As protests over police brutality disproportionately targeting black people in the U.S. grew, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter continued to carry over from the previous year. Controversial to some as a politically complicated issue, the hashtag nevertheless became the go-to phrase on Twitter when looking to draw attention to the issue of race and law enforcement in the U.S.
Of course, no one will soon forget the hashtags #JeSuisParis (a callback to #JeSuisCharlie) and #PrayForParis, both of which took over Twitter in the wake of the terrorist attacks in November in Paris. The outpouring of support from heads of state, including President Barack Obama, as well as a wide array of celebrities, let the people of Paris know that the world was behind them.
On the much lighter side of things, hashtags like #PlutoFlyBy and #TheDress both played to the Internet’s fascination with the exploration of space and the more mundane, yet no less mysterious, debates over the color of a now famous dress.
Without a doubt, one of the most exciting things on Twitter in 2015 was getting to watch certain people enter the social media platform for the first time, while others used it to transform their image by launching unique new accounts.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, still a fugitive from U.S. authorities and living in asylum in Russia, finally decided that this was the year he needed to join Twitter. Of course, based on his many interviews, it’s likely that he had a secret Twitter account all along, but by attaching his name to a confirmed account he broadened his already considerable reach as a public advocate for privacy versus government surveillance.
Another tech luminary, Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos, also finally went live on Twitter to announce the latest advance in his space ambitions via Blue Origin. That single tweet set off a kind of cold war between Bezos and Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, over who is in the lead in terms of innovative new re-entry rockets. It was all in good fun, but it illustrated that the 140-character platform is so impactful that it can even set off public debates between the biggest tech moguls.
Beyond rich guy bickering, Twitter witnessed a special moment when former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner reintroduced himself to the world as Caitlyn Jenner through her new @Caitlyn_Jenner Twitter account. And even President Barack Obama used the platform to reintroduce himself to the world by launching his @POTUS account.
Many social networks attempt to get users to use their platforms as a means of official identification to the world, and most fail. But in 2015, Twitter proved that it now has the social media cachet to serve as the public record when someone wants to affirm, in no uncertain terms: This is who I am.
“As always, the world united this year in moments of triumph, activism, support, and fascination, and Twitter is where we gathered for all of it,” Alexandra Valasek, director of communications for Twitter, said in a statement given to Mashable. “Whether people were making a hashtag into a global movement or expressing wonder over a photo of a dress, we all used Twitter this year in awe-inspiring ways.”
So while Twitter had its own internal tumult with Dick Costolo departing and co-founder Jack Dorsey taking over as CEO, the platform continues to surprise with its ability to serve as the public bulletin board of the 21st century. Will we continue to use Twitter to utter collective gasps, sighs and words of outrage at the latest world news in 2016? If the aforementioned events are any indication, the answer is a resounding “yes.”