Beef Twitter

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Why do we allow ourselves to be dragged into pointless, likely fruitless, micro-arguments on Twitter?

Is it because the pithy length lends itself to misunderstanding? Perhaps the ego has a hand — no one likes to be called out publicly by peers in the same network, especially when you know everyone you both know can see. Then there’s good old fashioned obstinance.

Recent examples include a polite misunderstanding between megastar Kanye West and rapper Wiz Khalifa. Or this gentlemanly disagreement about the merits of Shark Tank between Paul Graham and billionaire Mark Cuban.

The primary answer is likely much simpler, and ties into something that I feel has been a major failure of Twitter to capitalize on. Simply put, for a certain type of individual, Twitter is their identity online. Twitter has replaced the email address, the personal website, the AIM (or ICQ) handle and dozens of other identifying markers for a significant portion of its couple hundred million users.

When your tweet is “attacked,” it is not just a random post with a troll comment, it is someone taking a 140-character crap directly on your mental front porch.

When someone wants to know who you are, they might Google you. What comes up prominently for any Twitter user? Their Twitter handle. If someone clicks on that, they’re not seeing a stale personal website, or a dry, professional Linkedin profile. They’re seeing your stream of interests and exhalations. What you say, what you read, where you’ve been, who you argue with (and how you do it).

If you don’t use Twitter, you may still very well feel that your Instagram, blog or Tumblr feed is more ‘you’. But if you’re on Twitter (and you have to be on Twitter to Twitter Beef (I don’t make the rules), then your identity is tied up with the things that you put there. Whether that’s tweets about culture, fashion, micro/macroeconomics or whatever — these are your views.

One of the most common Twitter bios? “Tweets do not reflect the opinion of my employer.”

But they do reflect your opinion. Your brain, your stream of public consciousness, is on display in your Twitter feed. This means that when your tweet is “attacked,” it is not just a random post with a troll comment, it is someone taking a 140-character crap directly on your mental front porch. Is this rational? Nope. But humans are fun that way.

No other platform engenders the kind of back and forth, heated mini-mind competitions that Twitter does. Whether the argument is nonsensical, or grounded in very solidly held but oppositional backgrounds or schools of thought — you don’t take to tumblr or YouTube comments or Facebook to have it out.

No other platform engenders the kind of back and forth, heated mini-mind competitions that Twitter does.

This powerful association with personal identity sets Twitter apart. It is an incredibly low-hanging piece of fruit that has never been plucked. It’s even a really great way to explain Twitter, something that Twitter itself continues to have difficulty doing.

If you tell someone ‘Twitter is a blah blah…’, sorry, I can’t even bother to look up the current Twitter mission statement it’s so dumb. But if you tell them ‘Twitter is your online identity, it’s who you are to the Internet’? That’s a much more powerful signal. And it’s the reason that beefs live on Twitter.