A lot of us just use Twitter to test out dumb jokes, pester Time Warner Cable, and tweet weird requests at toilet-paper brands to try to elicit a reaction. But in 2013, we learned the microblogging service can be a lot more than that. Twitter is already well known as a great resource for following breaking news (accuracy be damned), but this year, the crap we tweeted actually became news itself. Here are the users who mattered, for better or for worse.
Remember that time a Bachelor producer united the Internet in ridiculing a woman who didn’t exist? Over Thanksgiving, a dude named Elan Gale invented a fictional lady named Diane who sat near him on a fictional flight and said annoying fictional things. He wrote “Diane” some letters that verged on sexual harassment; people called it “hilarious.” News sources reported the exchange as fact. Comedians parodied it. Rumors spread about Diane’s identity—did she have cancer? Later, of course, Gale revealed that Diane was really an empty chair.
It was all a prank, and everyone, from reporters to editors to Gale himself, came out of it looking pretty bad. We should’ve seen it coming: 2013 was a year filled with pranks and hoaxes, from Manti Te’o to @Horse_ebooks. But Diane in 7A was a turning point in how the news reported viral content. In 2014 you'll likely see a healthy dose of skepticism (and, God willing, fact checking) the next time someone capitalizes on a boring holiday weekend to pull a Twitter stunt like this.
Chris Kluwe, former Minnesota Vikings punter and multitalented Twitter celebrity, has a lot to say—about football, Sim City, LGBT rights, campaign finance reform… the list goes on. He knows there are plenty of topics he shouldn’t be speaking so freely about, but that hasn’t stopped him.
Who's the second string Pope? Do they look at stats, like "least children molested", or "most gays discriminated" when choosing? #socurious— Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) February 11, 2013
The celebrated author and Oprah’s Book Club favorite is always entertaining in 140 characters. But this burn on Truman Capote, decades in the making, set the bar high for grand retorts. It’s also a master class in snarky subtweeting—tweeting about someone behind his or her back. (Of course, all tweets are subtweets when your subject is dead.)
Ironic that I am a judge for the Truman Capote award when Capote in a druggy interview said he hated me & that I should be executed. LOL.— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) October 14, 2013
LOL indeed. Don’t quit, Joyce.
7) @paxdickinson and @JustineSacco
Jeez, Twitter is terrifying, isn’t it? This year brought two harsh reminders that anything you put on the Internet, no matter how succinct, can come back to haunt you. For Dickinson, Business Insider’s former chief technology officer, and Sacco, former PR exec at media company IAC, racially insensitive one-off comments spread on Twitter, were met with widespread criticism, and eventually cost them their jobs. Tweeting often seems like spitting in the shower, but every off-the-cuff joke is still there, waiting to be rediscovered by a bloodthirsty mob hell-bent on Internet justice.
2013 was the year of the selfie, and this Bay Area rapper was the king of them all. Lil B, real name Brandon McCartney, is the leader and social curator of a Twitter-selfie cult called #GirlTime. As soon as he puts out the call, an army of teenage girls respond—posing in bathrooms, classrooms, even hospital rooms.
Official @GirlTimeUSA starts at 3pm today!!!!! We have 5 min left!! Ladies if you have preGT submit those pics before! - Lil B— Lil B From The Pack (@LILBTHEBASEDGOD) October 1, 2013
No trip to see the movie Gravity was complete without someone in the group—admit it, it was probably you—bringing up the factual inaccuracies of Alfonso Cuarón’s Sandra Bullock–led space drama. Why did her hair float freely on her head? Why are the ISS and Hubble in sight lines of each other? Why did Clooney just float away when he released the tether? The reason you know all this is because the Internet’s favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, tweeted it all.
Mysteries of #Gravity: When Clooney releases Bullock's tether, he drifts away. In zero-G a single tug brings them together.— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) October 6, 2013
The former host of PBS’s NOVA ScienceNow further cemented his cult-hero status when a bit of advice he gave to an 8-year-old girl went viral in October. “The great thing about being a scientist,” he told her, “is you never have to give up.”
You’re about to see a lot more of Farrow in 2014: The 26-year-old activism wunderkind—he’s a Rhodes scholar, diplomat, lawyer, and former State Department aide, and no stranger to Forbes’s annual 30 Under 30 list—is joining MSNBC as a weekday host. Farrow is also well known for his family: He’s the biological son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, and he’s denounced Allen for his relationship with Ronan’s sister, Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn.
All that drama tilled the soil for some irresistible gossip when numerous publications speculated that Ronan was the product of an affair between Mia Farrow and—wait for it—her first husband, Frank Sinatra. (You gotta admit there’s a resemblance, and it’s more than just the blue eyes.) If it’s possible to “win Twitter,” Ronan did it with this response to the rumor:
Listen, we're all *possibly* Frank Sinatra's son.— Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) October 2, 2013
Even if you didn’t follow her on Twitter, you heard about every single thing she did, and it was usually twerk-related. But there were plenty of other memorable moments, too—throwing barbs at Sinéad O’Connor over that weirdly protective open letter; flashing the camera for the anti-censorship campaign Free the Nipple; sporting the perfect Lil Kim halloween costume.
Sinead. I don't have time to write you an open letter cause Im hosting & performing on SNL this week.— Miley Ray Cyrus (@MileyCyrus) October 3, 2013
The 21-year-old had the song of the summer and the song of the fall with “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball.” Her twerk-heavy VMA performance first prompted backlash, then backlash to the backlash, until twerk officially entered the lexicon. The tongue, the twerk, and the naked wrecking ball ride became parody-driving übermemes. Hackers hijacked Time’s end-of-year poll to vote Cyrus to the top spot. Admit it, this was Miley’s year.
But still… can anyone explain this?
Depending on whom you ask, the Web’s favorite pseudonymous red panda is “the CEO of @Oreo,” “some high-powered marketing exec,” “a teenager with Photoshop and a lot of free time,” or possibly even you. What everyone agrees on is that not only is Darth the most generous, friendly, and enigmatic character on Twitter—he gave hundreds of Twitter followers personalized Santa-hat avatars this month—but one of the most clever and talented Photoshop artists and Internet-age satirists to boot. For proof, browse his series of NSA-themed children’s books (Charlotte’s Webcam; Everybody Snoops) and Christmas stories (How the Grinch Stole Your Metadata).
But the fun all hinges on his anonymity. When rumors began to circulate in December that someone in media was working on “doxing” Darth—that is, spilling his personal info—he took a temporary hiatus. Where is Darth now? At dance class, reads his Twitter bio, along with “be nice, no one is to blame.”
“i am taking a break from @darth,” Darth told me via Twitter DM, “but wanted to send you a hat and OMFG THAT’S A HUGE CANDY CANE.” My very own holiday Twitter photo (see above) was attached.
Illustration by Jason Reed