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“Weird Twitter” explained

Slacktory helps map out the wonderfully weird outer limits of Twitter. 


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This is a response to a recent blowup over a grad student discovering and examining a group of Twitter users.

The mere existence of this post will piss someone off. I think. Maybe they’re just joking. Whatevs.

What is Weird Twitter?

“Weird Twitter” is, simply, a loose group of Twitter users who write in a less-accessible form, using sloppy punctuation/spelling/capitalization, poetic experimentation with sentence format, first-person throwaway characters, and other techniques little known to the vast majority of “serious” Twitter users.

These users are sometimes hard to distinguish from “low-quality” users like teens with textspeak or actual bots. Several of them regularly retweet, quote, or riff on @horse_ebooks tweets.

Their tweets lean toward comedy, but maybe I just think that because that’s the part I like most. There could be some big crossover with Homestuck fanfic and I wouldn’t know. What gets me is that these users are actually innovating in the form of Twitter, rather than squeezing earlier forms into it. Their jokes seem, in some way that’s embarrassing to define (more on that later), written-for-Twitter in a way that, say, a Paula Poundstone tweet does not — in a way even a Rob Delaney tweet does not, though Delaney is a fan of several Weird Twitter users.

Examples of Weird Twitter:


Do you see the thread here? Do you see how these tweets can take a little more time to process than the usual? Contrast them with this funny but non-weird account. To me, that’s the essence here. Weird Twitter is just more-complexly, more-interestingly, or more-experimentally written tweets.

Who is Weird Twitter?

I count the quoted users above as part of it. We’ve featured all of them in Slacktory’s Follow Fridays. But this isn’t a defined group. Some of those above might insist they’re not “Weird Twitter”. And anyone could be “Weird Twitter” if they wanted. It’s a convenient term, not an actual organization.

On the other hand, there really are certain users who frequently retweet, @, and otherwise interact with each other. Several also hang out together on other forums,blogs, and even in person. I’ve listened to several of them talk about others, describe their personalities and styles. It’s ridiculous to deny that there’s somerelevant social aspect here.

Several of these people write outside Twitter.  I’m currently talking to a few about writing for Slacktory. My interest here stems from a deep appreciation for their work — and hopefully that will keep certain people from dismissing me as much as they dismissed the last guy who wrote about them.

Why does anyone have a strong opinion about defining some Twitter people?

Because social phenomena are enormously fun to investigate, but the subjects often resent the perceptions of outsiders.

I don’t know who coined the term “weird Twitter”, but I think Sebastian Benthall was the first guy to try clearly defining it. Benthall is a PhD student who seems sincere in his exploration. His stilted academic phrasing annoyed, scared, or amused a lot of the people he was describing.

He wrote about most of the reactions himself, and it’s a very good read. The user@hell_homer got particularly offended, saying that Benthall was “unqualified” because he was hardly following any of the Weird Twitter users that hellhomer followed. (Note that hell_homer was implicitly accepting that there was a somewhat canonical definition of which people were “Weird Twitter”, and claiming that he was deeply embedded in that group.) Benthall’s writeup covered this with some beautiful bathos:

@hell_homer… appears to not appreciate the irony that by reaching out to the people who might be concerned about the ‘weird twitter’ label, he is symbolically constructing the weird twitter community within the digital social space. @hell_homer autoreifies ‘weird twitter’ through his very acts of resistance.

He’s been going on like this now for like four hours.

After further reaction, Benthall wrote up another analysis and reaction piece. He slightly backtracked on the first reaction piece, claiming that his first reaction post was intentionally overly academic. I’m always wary of someone who calls “troll” on themselves, but he really did seem to slip into super-academia-speak for just that post. He still made sincere and valid points, though, like the above.

I’m not sure how much actual abuse Benthall got, but he said:

It is a really good thing I have a thick skin, because the amount of abuse I’ve put up with in the past 48 hours has been intense. There has also been a pretty epic amount of disdain and even a little attempted character assassination….

In other words, the experiment was a wild success in terms of generating a significant reaction. However, the results coming in were literally all over the map: random hate, denial that the phenomenon existed, direct confirmation that the phenomenon existed, questioning of the meaning of it. A surprising number of people telling me I had “ruined” something, or “didn’t get” something.

Why? Really, what the fuck did he ruin? Nothing. Only the most self-involved drama queens could possibly feel “ruined” by some outside exploration by a goddamn PhD student.

“Weird Twitter” is not going to become Hot Topic shirts. It will not get sponsored by Gatorade. Its innovative and non-cynical forms keep it too challenging and slippery to safely co-opt, and its commercial appeal is near-zero to any brand big enough to do it harm.

I will say that every time I listed someone’s tweets on Slacktory, or talked to them about writing for us, I only got polite, positive, enthusiastic responses. While I feel my appreciative, collegiate approach is easier to like than Benthall’s clinical one, I still don’t understand how he provoked such rage from his subjects. But maybe if you want these people to like you, just do what they’re doing with them and in time learn not to give all these fucks?

Am I entirely missing some other real reason for anger? Or am I right that some people are just prickly about some shit, and as @cool_pond says, “YO WHO GIVE A FUCK DOE”?

tl;dr: There are some people who are really funny and creative on Twitter. If you like one, you probably like the others. Yay.

If you want more of these people to follow, try this charming map by @tropikoala (click to enlarge):


By Nick Douglas, photo via @tropikoala/Twitter

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