RIP My Menchies: Thoughts on Going Viral

At 9:25 PM on 11/9, I posted a tweet that proceeded to Go Viral. Here it is below, with a running total under it. It’s got about 7K each retweets and favs as I write this:

Here’s some other, more static numbers that I’m sure tell something useful to those of you who depend on Twitter for your livelihood:

Over the last ~72 hours, my entire Twitter experience has been turned upside down because a bunch of people decided I had revealed something profound and decided to include me in their opinion of it. Before we talk about anything else, I’d just like to right here and now apologize to anyone who had a tweet blow up and I left them tagged in when replying to my friend who RT’d it. Unless you’re used to it, in which case I literally have no idea how you use Twitter at all. Is this what being Verified is for? They denied me for verification claiming that they didn’t know “who I was” or “why I was calling” or “how I got this number.”

My Twitter [squints at notepad] “Use Case”

I signed up for Twitter in August of 2007 in the basement of an adult novelty store in the West Village. The manager and I had conned one another into letting me work there: I knew next to nothing about the web development, eCommerce or SEO they needed me to do, and he was paying me seven dollars an hour to stumble my way through it while he took bong hits across the office at 9 in the morning.

Where was I.

For the last decade or so I’ve been using Twitter in roughly the same way: talking to friends and puking dumb little thoughts out of my brain so I wouldn’t have to think them anymore. Twitter gained features, the community grew, a lot of people from MetaFilter (where I spend a lot of my Internet Time) showed up, communities sprouted, but save for unlocking my account to yell at celebrities and politicians, nothing significantly changed about how I actually used the website. Then this dumb shit happened.

The Dumb Shit That Happened

I’m going to try my best to keep Actual Politics out of this because I’m writing and you’re probably reading it on a brief break from piping horror directly into our brains. Anyhoo, labor automation is an interest of mine and by “interest” I mean the thought of millions of unemployed manual laborers keeps me up at night. So as I was reeling from the election results, I remembered that Planet Money recently put together a map based on the most common job in each state, which was, overwhelmingly, “truck driver.” The electoral map had recently become available as well, I pulled both up, and hey there was some interesting overlap. I cropped the pictures and knocked out a tweet, thinking not much of it at all.

Now let me make something clear: I am not a statistician, I am not a data scientist, I am not particularly educated or authoritative in any of this. The closest I’ve come was flunking out of engineering school and being a handful of credits short of a Political Science minor when I finally got my undergraduate English degree at the age of 28. I assumed the electoral map was the right one after googling “electoral map 2016.” I assumed the map Planet Money made was accurate because they said it was based on census data and NPR has a reputation to maintain. Mostly I assumed no one would give a shit if I was wrong. Then I got about 200 RTs in a half hour and I realized this was going to be different than the time I posted some pictures of Captain America that favstar says was my most appreciated tweet to that point, with about 500 each favs and RTs.

co. The Nib & Matt Lubchansky

At the risk of explaining a joke, “RIP My Mentions” is a phrase used when a tweet blows up and your mentions — replies to your tweet or tweets that have you tagged in somehow — become unusable. With the mentions goes the social aspect of Twitter as the conversations you want to have become buried in a sea of arguably unsolicited garbage. I’d only heard about this from others and I generally assumed that the problem was all the people replying to the Hot Take directly. That was the case, sure, but it was also hundreds of people deciding to have Discourse with whomever retweeted my tweet, and leaving me tagged in. This is the default behavior for replying to RTs: the site itself and many clients tag the original tweeter in with any reply. So to not include me in their conversation, they’d have to manually remove my name, which is far more commitment to the medium than most people care to have. God knows I rarely bothered.

On desktop and tablet I use Tweetdeck a first-party web-based client that gives you more options than the standard Twitter interface. If you’re logged into Twitter right now, you can just click above and experience it for yourself. Most important, for me: you can mute keywords and phrases because standard Twitter only lets you mute usernames. So any time a tweet I make gets a little too popular and messes up my notifications (the notices Twitter gives you to tell you someone fav’d, RT’d, followed, etc.) I would just mute it and all I saw was the mentions, which were mildly annoying. On mobile I use the web interface because the Twitter app sucks up too much battery, and the good third-party apps cost money. The mobile web interface compresses chunks of related notifications based on some algorithm I don’t actually grasp. It works okay.

As the tweet got bigger it started being RT’d by dozens of interconnected tech people whose profiles say stuff like “Husband|Father|Coder|Runner,” Silicon Valley Entrepreneur types with half their resume and endorsements from Wired in their profiles, hotshots whose location info says “NY✈LA,” network TV journalists with a half-mil followers apiece and, uh, the French ambassador to the U.S. My menchies were, at this point, garbage. Here’s a completely unscientific breakdown of what I had to scroll through to see replies I actually cared about:

from Achewood by Chris Onstad
  • People asking “where is this from,” apparently unaware if you google a phrase in a JPG, you can find the website where that phrase is. I actually answered the first one of these because it was a relevant question, but that reply was lost in the huge barrage of replies sorted by, again, mysterious algorithms.
  • Quote RTs that said “interesting,” and “hmm.”
  • Quote RTs that said “muahahah” and “fuck them.”
  • Dozens of seemingly genuine suggestions that the soon-to-be-out-of-work truck drivers take up programming; a noble idea proposed by dudes who probably did not have anyone over the age of 30 working at their 80-hr minimum workweek startups.
  • Arguments over how long full automation would take, how well it would be adopted, who would mind the trucks, who would unload the trucks, and so on and so forth. Just about any point or “well actually” on this subject that could be made in 140 characters was, over and over and over again.
  • One woman who wrote an academic paper on this, linked me, and I didn’t bookmark it and have no idea how to find it again. This was the one thing I actually wanted to read.
  • One guy who who tweeted an incomprehensible insult and an animated GIF of Hitler. This is Twitter, after all.

Now there’s no way for me not to see all of this bullshit. Twitter does not provide a way to mute an individual tweet or really any amelioration for this at all. You just gotta wait it out and hope to hell no one @’d you about anything important. To that effect: please don’t @ people about anything important, ever. That’s what DMs are for.

Why Didn’t You Just Delete The Stupid Thing?

I like the little dopamine burst from the favs and RTs. Just kidding, that wore off at around an hour after I posted the tweet and began worrying about being doxxed in my sleep. As I mentioned above, this was an important topic to me, and if my observation (however [in]accurate) got people who actually knew about this stuff talking about it, that’s pretty worthwhile.

Also, around last November, a little over eight years into my Twitter career, I hit 500 followers. When I posted this tweet, I had about 720. I’m currently at 1,025 and rising quickly enough that I removed the You’ve Been Followed alert from my notifications because even that was starting to clog them up. Roughly one-third of follows are people who followed in the last 72 hours probably expecting more deep insights into the world of technology and electoral politics. Well, I hope they enjoy my selfies, retrogaming photos, and livetweeting TV shows on Netflix from three seasons ago because I will be goddamned before tweeting about this shit again. I’ll admit, it’s kind of nice for the ego knowing more people are listening to me.

Also maybe someone will have me on their podcast or show to comment on this subject as the internet has decided I made a good point. Sliding scale for my appearance fee; DM for details.

This Little Paypiggy

I change my display name frequently, because it’s fun. After Halloween ended, I had changed it to “xXBongzilla69Xx,” which is hopefully self-explanatory. A few days ago, me and @cat_beltane were dicking around and he dropped this on me:

“Findom De Siècle” was the funniest damn thing and I immediately asked him if I could use it as my display name. The phrase is a combination of Fin De Siècle and “findom,” the abbreviation for the term “Financial Domination.” If you’re not sure what that is, I’ll let you do your own googling. You’ll probably want to not do it at work, but in the spirit of the concept, don’t let me tell you what to do. At least for free.

Would this tweet have blown up if I was still xXBongzilla69Xx? I have no idea. But I hope to god as I have never hoped before that I got prominent RTers of my tweet such as MSNBC journalist Chris Hayes, my teenage idol author William Gibson and the abovementioned French ambassador to look up “findom” and learn a lil’ somethin’ about this world we live in. You’re welcome, gentlemen.

😙👌

I don’t think anything I’ve written here was novel. And as I hope I made clear, the factual veracity of anything I’ve written is not a particularly big concern of mine. I’d say this is a cautionary tale of some kind, but I have no idea what conflux of events led to this blowing up, so I have no idea what to warn you about. Stay off Twitter, I guess.

Special Thanks To

My friends on Twitter who said they’d be interested in reading this. This is their fault.

Gregory Erskine for accepting my offer to waste his time looking this over.

Matt Lubchansky and The Nib for the RIP My Menchies graphic, used with permission and Chris Onstad of Achewood for the joint company panel, used without permission. We’re cool, right Chris?

Medium dot com, that web publisher we know and love, for providing a patina of legitimacy to this bullshit.