The biggest tech Twitter trends of 2021

Spoiler alert: Elon Musk was big on Twitter, and people love tweeting the crying-laughing emoji.

Tweet logos with speech bubbles of trend topics

What were the most popular tech topics of the year?

Illustration: Getty Images; Protocol

Click banner image for more holiday coverage for 2021

Twitter doesn’t put out a personalized recap of the year, but it does offer something arguably better: a summary of what everyone else was tweeting about.

In the tech world, that includes quite a few Elon Musk tweets and lots of crypto banter. Protocol compiled some of the most talked-about Twitter trends in tech from 2021, using data from the platform and other analytics tools.

Top tech personalities: Elon Musk and Bill Gates

Brandwatch, which tracks analytics across social media platforms, released its list of 2021’s 50 most influential people on Twitter based on their followers, retweets and engagement. Aside from the obvious celebrities like Taylor Swift and Jimmy Fallon, two notable tech leaders were included: Elon Musk and Bill Gates.

Musk is unsurprisingly listed at No. 4 for the second year in a row, this time between Katy Perry and Barack Obama. The Tesla CEO has a tendency to move markets, even if it’s unintended. When he tweets about Tesla, shares rise and fall. When he tweets about dogecoin, it soars. When Time chose him as Person of the Year, he got yet another chance to engage on the platform: by trading barbs at Elizabeth Warren.

Gates came in at No. 11, just behind Kim Kardashian and ahead of Jennifer Lopez. His Twitter account isn’t as — let’s say, fiery — as Musk’s: He usually tweets out health information and generally talks about issues related to his foundation. He also tweets about books he’s read and his outlook for the future to his millions of followers.

Top tech tweet: Twitter’s own tweet

Twitter can pat itself on the back for one of the most popular tweets of 2021. The tweet from early October, “hello literally everyone,” was ranked the third most-liked tweet and fourth most-retweeted post. (It was poking fun: At the time, Meta and all of its apps were down, an outage that lasted around six hours.)

@Twitter has a good idea what kinds of tweets people will like. Most tweets are in all lowercase letters, a nod to Gen Z, and have a tendency to talk about Twitter ironically. And that’s by design: The small team that’s responsible for crafting these tweets is always on the lookout for opportunities to engage with the 10 million to 20 million people who see the posts every day.

Top emoji: The crying face

The cry-laughing emoji might be the most-used emoji of the year worldwide, but on Twitter, the crying face 😭took first place and 😂 came in at No. 2.

Other emojis that came in the top 10 on Twitter include the pleading face 🥺, the rolling on the floor laughing 🤣emoji, the smiling face with heart-shaped eyes 😍, the smiling face with hearts 🥰, the pensive face 😔, the folded hands 🙏, the grinning face with sweat 😅and, our personal favorite, the 👀.

Like the most-used emojis worldwide, the icons used on Twitter show a need for positivity and connection online. Even though the crying face indicates, well, crying, it’s also not uncommon for it to be used to show someone is laughing to the point of tears. That cry-laughing emoji accomplishes the same, but the laugh is less intense.

Top hashtag: #bitcoin

The word on everybody’s lips this year was crypto, and lots of people turned to Twitter to learn all about digital assets. Tech-related hashtags weren’t the highest-ranked on Twitter worldwide, but in India, everyone was talking about crypto.

The hashtag #bitcoin was the ninth-most tweeted hashtag in India this year. People on Twitter in India weren’t only talking about bitcoin; #BSC, #crypto, #NFT and #DeFi were also some of the most tweeted-about digital assets in the country — a pretty good sign that crypto will remain on people’s minds in 2022 and beyond.

Top workplace conversation: The back-to-office chat

Nothing sums up thoughts on going back to the office quite like this tweet. But everyone who once had an office to report to in early 2020 was thinking about their company's back-to-work plans this past year. This summer, tweets about returning to work surged 76% compared to the year before.

Just as everyone was gearing up to sit in a conference room again, omicron hit, sending everyone back into their work-from-home sweatpants and dress shirts. No one can quite settle on a vaccine protocol, and employees seem to have more of a say over work plans than their bosses. The back-to-office tweets may start to feel like a joke, and many already have.

Top media conversation: ‘Squid Game’

Twitter is popular for all the latest TV show buzz, which only helped Netflix when it released “Squid Game” in September.

It was ranked the third most talked-about show on the platform, just behind “Jujutsu Kaisen” and “Big Brother Brasil.” Shows and movies have a tendency to land well on Twitter; all people need to do is write a top-of-mind thought then continue watching.

Top tech craze: The GameStop short-squeeze

Sure, it was originally a Reddit conversation. But it wasn’t long before the GameStop-Robinhood fiasco played out all over Twitter.

When the saga began on Jan. 28, Robinhood was the top trending topic of the day, Wall Street was the third most-popular topic, and GameStop came in at No. 11, according to ExportData. In late September, when retail traders and Citadel Securities brawled over the meme-stock fiasco, #CitadelScandal soared to one of the top Twitter trends of the day.

Twitter seems to be the place that tries to make sense of issues happening in other corners of the internet. Whether the platform can catch onto trends before they shake up Wall Street is a different story.


The minerals we need to save the planet are getting way too expensive

Supply chain problems and rising demand have sent prices spiraling upward for the minerals and metals essential for the clean energy transition.

Critical mineral prices have exploded over the past year.

Photo: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The newest source of the alarm bells echoing throughout the renewables industry? Spiking critical mineral and metal prices.

According to a new report from the International Energy Agency, a maelstrom of rising demand and tattered supply chains have caused prices for the materials needed for clean energy technologies to soar in the last year. And this increase has only accelerated since 2022 began.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (

Sponsored Content

Why the digital transformation of industries is creating a more sustainable future

Qualcomm’s chief sustainability officer Angela Baker on how companies can view going “digital” as a way not only toward growth, as laid out in a recent report, but also toward establishing and meeting environmental, social and governance goals.

Three letters dominate business practice at present: ESG, or environmental, social and governance goals. The number of mentions of the environment in financial earnings has doubled in the last five years, according to GlobalData: 600,000 companies mentioned the term in their annual or quarterly results last year.

But meeting those ESG goals can be a challenge — one that businesses can’t and shouldn’t take lightly. Ahead of an exclusive fireside chat at Davos, Angela Baker, chief sustainability officer at Qualcomm, sat down with Protocol to speak about how best to achieve those targets and how Qualcomm thinks about its own sustainability strategy, net zero commitment, other ESG targets and more.

Keep Reading Show less
Chris Stokel-Walker

Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance technology and culture journalist and author of "YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars." His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian and Wired.


The 911 system is outdated. Updating it to the cloud is risky.

Unlike tech companies, emergency services departments can’t afford to make mistakes when migrating to the cloud. Integrating new software in an industry where there’s no margin for error is risky, and sometimes deadly.

In an industry where seconds can mean the difference between life and death, many public safety departments are hesitant to take risks on new cloud-based technologies.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Dialing 911 could be the most important phone call you will ever make. But what happens when the software that’s supposed to deliver that call fails you? It may seem simple, but the technology behind a call for help is complicated, and when it fails, deadly.

The infrastructure supporting emergency contact centers is one of the most critical assets for any city, town or local government. But just as the pandemic exposed the creaky tech infrastructure that runs local governments, in many cases the technology in those call centers is outdated and hasn’t been touched for decades.

Keep Reading Show less
Aisha Counts

Aisha Counts (@aishacounts) is a reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software. Formerly, she was a management consultant for EY. She's based in Los Angeles and can be reached at


'The Wilds' is a must-watch guilty pleasure and more weekend recs

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Our favorite things this week.

Illustration: Protocol

The East Coast is getting a little preview of summer this weekend. If you want to stay indoors and beat the heat, we have a few suggestions this week to keep you entertained, like a new season of Amazon Prime’s guilty-pleasure show, “The Wilds,” a new game from Horizon Worlds that’s fun for everyone and a sneak peek from Adam Mosseri into what Instagram is thinking about Web3.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.


Work expands to fill the time – but only if you let it

The former Todoist productivity expert drops time-blocking tips, lofi beats playlists for concentrating and other knowledge bombs.

“I do hope the productivity space as a whole is more intentional about pushing narratives that are about life versus just work.”

Photo: Courtesy of Fadeke Adegbuyi

Fadeke Adegbuyi knows how to dole out productivity advice. When she was a marketing manager at Doist, she taught users via blogs and newsletters about how to better organize their lives. Doist, the company behind to-do-list app Todoist and messaging app Twist, has pushed remote and asynchronous work for years. Adegbuyi’s job was to translate these ideas to the masses.

“We were thinking about asynchronous communication from a work point of view, of like: What is most effective for doing ambitious and awesome work, and also, what is most advantageous for living a life that feels balanced?” Adegbuyi said.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at

Latest Stories