Towards a Taxonomy of Twitter Tropes

If you hang around on a social network long enough, you'll find the same tropes being repeated again and again. So, I thought I'd document some of the ones that I personally find annoying. This blog post is an extension of my moderately popular Twitter thread - with a bit more detail about why they are irritating.

The Thief of Words

Twitter is an Alternate Reality Game where players get points based on how many likes, retweets, and comments they get. Thankfully, there's no monetary reward (yet) for "doing numbers". Remember when you were a teenager and you heard a stand-up comedian telling jokes, and then you passed off their words as your own in the playground? Yeah, that's all that's happening here.

The Quote Grabber

Similar to the above. Twitter gives users the ability to "quote tweet" - which embeds the original text in your comment. The above person wants to give credit to the author - which is nice - but doesn't actually want the author to see or receive any of that interaction. Sometimes that's sensible - if you don't want to encourage abuse. But all it does is add a little friction to people who do want to engage.

The Obscurer

There are loads of "big" accounts which gained their following by ripping off others. It's usually easy to find the originator of a funny photo, video, or meme. All this person is doing is (obliquely) claiming the prize for someone else's hard work.

The Troll

Back in the day, the saying was "don't feed the trolls". Sadly, Twitter rewards any engagement - be it positive or negative. So people write deliberately incendiary messages in the hope that you'll spread their poison. And people fall for it every time.

The Ghost Writer

It is public knowledge that some accounts hire funny people to post on their behalf. Perhaps that's acceptable when it is obviously a marketing account. But there's an unwritten expectation that people post for themselves on their personal account. That dude you think is funny is just using a bunch of writers who are tasked with increasing engagement. There's no authenticity. It's just turning Twitter in to pay-to-win ARG.

The Branter

Ugh! Quirky brands can piss right off. Perhaps it was funny, once, when a couple of brands spontaneously started shit-talking each other. But now it is about as innovative and entertaining as any "word from our sponsors".

The Lack of Due Diligence

This is becoming more unbearable during the war in Ukraine. A seemingly sensible and sober journalist will find an outrageous Tweet claiming to be a "deep source" and treat it as though it were gospel. All notion of critically investigating sources goes out of the window in the race to be "first" with breaking news.

The "Journalist"

News aggregator accounts are nothing new. But there's a pernicious type of Tweeter who screams "THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA AREN'T COVERING THIS!" while linking to a two-day old story. These sort of accounts add no real value to your experience - but they give you a fake sense of urgency and they tickle that part of your brain which craves new and/or secret information. Just follow a news outlet directly.

The Bias Confirmation Engine

This is one of the few Tweets where I had a specific person in mind! There's a type of account which posts fan fiction about current events. Utterly made-up stories about people from "the other side" of a debate. All it does is make you feel smug and secure that the people with a different viewpoint are bad. No proof is ever offered, just a long stream of unverifiable annecdata.

The "helper"

Lots of people disagree with me on this one! Personally, I see it as a form of pollution, at worst, and virtue hunting at best. Every time you share something false, outdated, or irrelevant you are decreasing the signal-to-noise ratio of useful information.

The Holier-Than-Thou User

It me! Using a social network effectively is a skill. Understanding complex media is a skill. These skills take time to learn, and there are very few teachers. Media literacy is a critical part of interacting with the world and there are very few resources to help people.

That was the end of the original thread - but I couldn't resist adding a few more.

The Desperate For Attention

As I've said, Twitter is an ARG where the score is based on interactions. Posting "Cats are better than dogs. RT if you agree!!!" or "Who thinks sports stars should set a good example to kids?" is a cheap and lazy way to gain interaction. Shortly after your 30th birthday, you'll find yourself in a pub saying "who remembers <random childhood TV show>?" as a quick way to get a conversation started. Happens to us all!

The Mansplainer

I've moaned about this guy before! Men - and it is usually men - seem to think any question is directed to them. They are physically incapable of seeing a question-mark without taking it personally. It is downright disrespectful to assume the person asking the question hasn't done a cursory Google. And it's even more infuriating when you blunder in with your unfounded speculation. If you don't know the answer - don't engage.

And on and on…

In truth, I could have added a dozen more of these. And, also in the spirit of truth, I'm sure I'm guilty of most of them.

I'll reiterate - social media is a game and that means there will be people who will use all sorts of tricks to get the highest score. Part of your role in this game is to ensure that you don't reward the grifters, scammers, cheaters, and grinders.

Spend your attention wisely and - as ever - play nicely.

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4 thoughts on “Towards a Taxonomy of Twitter Tropes”

  1. Oh yeah ‘scripted banter between brands’ is bad. Even worse I think is scripted banter between Sub-brand/regional SM accounts of the same company.

    A certain American games console brand does this a lot and a little piece of me dies every time I see it. It’s so awkward.


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