Three ways the internet and social media changed the way we use language.

We’re taking a look at social media’s influence on language and how that’s affected us as a society, starting with a trip back in time to the late ’90s.

The year was 1999, Cher was topping the charts with “Believe,” and I was about to enter middle school. My parents had just gotten us a big, bulky desktop computer, and it wasn’t long until my ears were first introduced to the chaotic, static, sweet sounds of dial-up internet. Once I was connected, it was like having the world at my fingertips. I was transfixed by this new technology and couldn’t imagine anything more infinite and entertaining, until I discovered AIM, otherwise known as AOL Instant Messenger.

AIM became the go-to messaging platform I used to connect with family and friends. Then I even began meet new people who lived on all sides of the country. As I would chat with people who would pop up on my “Buddy List,” I started to notice a shift in the way we communicated. Sentences became shorter. Abbreviations more prominent. And then there were these weird symbols. What did it all mean?

As a budding writer who prided themselves on using proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling, I was taken aback by this adopted shorthand containing misspelled words, lack of punctuation, and horrendous grammar choices. However, within this shorthand, language trends were born.

So what were some of those, what seemed at the time, rebellious language trends that took over the digital world?


  1. Abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms

We all occasionally use abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms to save us time, especially when communicating on social media. However, how many of us know the difference between them?

An acronym is a type of abbreviation, but an abbreviation isn’t always an acronym. Some examples of regular abbreviations, which are just shortened forms of words or phrases, would be “vs.” instead of “versus” or “appt.” instead of “appointment.”  As for an acronym, this type of abbreviation uses the first letters of words in a phrase to make a whole new word, such as “NASA,” which comes from “National Aeronautics and Space Administration,” or “FOMO,” which comes from “fear of missing out.”

Another type of abbreviation, which was birthed straight from social media (or apparently, this guy right here), is an initialism. This is an abbreviation that’s pronounced one letter at a time, like “FBI” for Federal Bureau of Investigation and “DVD” for “digital versatile disc.” I believe the first time I witnessed someone use one was when I read LOL for the first time in a conversation with a friend on AIM. Next came BRB, OMG, IDK, BTW, OMW, TTYL, ROFL (which I must admit, stumped me at first),  and more.

Here was an entirely new vernacular being popularized by teenagers to communicate in a quicker, dare I say more efficient, manner. While some may have initially knocked the trend and usage of abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms in online speak, there’s no denying it has contributed to the evolution of how we digitally communicate today, while it also set the stage for the language that would be used on social media platforms that were to follow.


  1. Emojis

As the internet evolved into the early 2000s, so did its social media platforms. Suddenly, Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter exploded. These platforms not only allowed us to communicate with words but also visuals. While we were now all used to the brevity abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms provided, the next succinct form of communication that emerged was emojis, or small digital images or icons, which impressively could be used to express an idea or emotion with just one character.

A primitive form of emoji was used back in the age of AIM and chat rooms in the early ’90s, but they mostly appeared sideways, for example,  🙂 to signal a smile. As time went on, they began to be displayed upright and looked more like this: J.

Designer Shigetaka Kurita, who is credited as the creator of the emoji, used Japanese graphic novels, the Zapf Dingbats typeface, illustrations, and pictograms to develop the first emoji library, consisting of 176 emojis, which first appeared on Japanese mobile phones in the late ’90s. This early emoji library, which inspired the first visual language born out of the digital world, is now on display at the Museum of Modern Art.

In Adobe’s 2022 U.S. Emoji Trend Report, 91% of the people surveyed said using emojis makes it easier to express themselves. Using emojis as a form of language has helped people with self-expression, identity, diversity, inclusivity, dating and relationships, workplace communications, and more. However, there are certain emojis when used that can cause misunderstandings or confusion, especially among different generations. For example, millennials tend to use emojis more literally to communicate, while Gen Z uses them more sarcastically. This just shows while social media and language evolve, the generations of people that use these forms of media and languages also evolve with it and use it in different ways.


  1. Hashtags

Last, but not least, is the language trend unearthed by blogger Chris Messina back in 2007. He posted a tweet proposing the idea of developing some kind of grouping functionality to use on Twitter (now known as X). Then he decided “groups” might not be the best fit for this social media platform due to the constant upkeep usually mandatory with the maintenance of groups. He was more “interested in simply having a better eavesdropping experience on Twitter,” he wrote in a blog post for his proposal for the usage of what later became known as hashtags. A hashtag simply put (for those of you living under a rock) is a word or phrase preceded by a hash, pound, or number sign that looks like this: #.

Once Instagram launched in 2010, hashtags exploded onto the social media scene. It turns out hashtags were a great way for users to search for specific topics and also helped to increase the reach of a post. At first, not everyone was a fan of hashtags, especially when it came to their appearance when used in a sentence. However, once people began to see the functional benefits from using hashtags, the whole game changed. People got on board and even started having fun with them.

While some of these language trends popularized by the internet and social media were jarring at first, especially for grammar nerds like me, most of us have adapted and benefitted from their usage, and dare I say, have even found enjoyment in using them!


And now to continue the grammar fun, we’ve got some grammar tips for you too!