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If You’re Gonna Subtweet, Do It Right

‘Better Internetting’ is our etiquette column for a better (digital) you

It doesn’t matter how solid your follower-to-following ratio is or how many times this week someone’s slid into your DMs to say, “Good tweet!”: We all could be doing better on the internet. So before any of us sets another ‘thirst trap’ (see below for a definition) or workshops another high-concept Vine, let’s take a moment and try to be a little better. This is Better Internetting!

So you’ve just had a shitty day and you’re thinking of firing off a tweet about it. Maybe someone missed a deadline at work, and that threw your schedule off course, and now you’re getting home late. You’re probably considering a subtweet — the rich pastime of posting something that’s meant to be read by one specific person in a public forum without specifically calling them out by name. It’s typically shady or angry in nature, and usually makes the tweeter look more like a trainwreck than the intended subject. And, despite its name, the subtweet isn’t exclusive to Twitter. What I’m talking about here is passive aggressive posting in general; could be a Facebook status, could be a Snapchat caption.

For reference, here is Drake subtweeting his lil heart out at 6 a.m. in 2012:

Right off the bat, even though we’re not privy to the ins and outs of Drake’s fuck rotation, from this single tweet we can deduce that:

  1. He had been recently dumped.
  2. The person had started tweeting a lot, a thing that Drake does, post-split.
  3. Drake felt it was a form of revenge and handled it … not well.

No one needs to be that Drake in 2016.

One good celeb role model is recently-reformed subtweet monster Khloe Kardashian. All you have to do is search her tweets for the phrase “some people” to see the kind of garbage she was firing off as recently as last winter. But this January, when news broke of Rob Kardashian shacking up with their sister Kylie’s boyfriend’s ex-fiancée (lol), Khloe played it cool. Godfather cool.

Flex your tact. The goal here is to be a reformed Khloe, not a Drake.

Here are some guidelines:

It. Can’t. Be. Live.

This is the best rule, and I need you to really sit with it and check yourself on it all the goddamn time: Are you reporting live from the eye of an emotional event? Wait before you post. This doesn’t mean that you can’t subtweet someone five minutes after you’ve been offended, it means that you can’t subtweet someone well through the haze of a rage storm. Make sure you have a grip on your own shit before you open a tab to complain about someone else’s.

Believe me, I get it. After an especially crappy interaction, the validation of a few choice favs is exactly what most of us are in the mood for, but nine times out of ten that tweet is gonna be unfunny, un-favable or just sloppy. Drake’s subtweet was written for the girl in question instead of about her, so reading it felt like getting looped into a stranger’s bad text thread. And that guy’s one of the funnest lyricists in Top 40 radio. You’re not immune.

Think about the times you’ve encountered subtweets in the wild. If that person had given their impulse 10 minutes to marinate, do you think they would’ve worded things differently? Switched up the tone a little bit? Of course they would have. Because they live on earth and know what social cues are. The subtweet needs a little perspective before it’s valuable to anyone but the people lowkey grabbing popcorn to enjoy your meltdown, which brings me to point two.

This is a game.

Because the subtweet is a puzzle, people are gonna jump on it like a sexy Rubik’s cube when they see it land in their feeds. The effective subtweet has three major components: your specific experience, your followers sitting on the sidelines trying to figure out who you’re talking about, and some Greater Truth About Being Alive. A subtweet gets bad when it ignores one or more of those components.

If your tweet says, “The thing about guys who live with me and wear green shirts is that they have terrible BO and never pay their rent on time,” you should really get off Twitter and text your gross roommate. There is no universal truth you’re sharing there, you’re just too lame to let someone know how you feel. Don’t pee in the wind and hope people figure out what you’re getting at. Communicate, dog.

A good subtweet from this scenario probably happens after you’ve already addressed your roommate head-on, and goes something like, “nothing gets the netflix bill paid faster than threatening to change the password.” You know why? Because it acknowledges your role in the ecosystem where the stressful situation took place.

I’m not telling you to take responsibility for every crappy thing that comes your way, I’m just reminding you that feeling wronged by somebody doesn’t immediately make them a villain you get to punish. You’re having a reaction. Congratulations. Dig deeper.

Be cruelty-free.

You should know in the back of your head that — even if someone figures out who you’re talking about — you’re not harming the subtweetee. It’s good to get pissed off when the occasion arises, but it’s gross to swing back by sharing cryptic riddles with the people in your social circles. This is Twitter, not Taylor Swift’s career.

Make it worth our time.

I imagine you operate by some kind of quality barometer when you post normal stuff, so let’s hold the subtweet to the same standards. Maybe it’s “is this funny?” or “would I fav this?” Whatever your rule of thumb is, apply it.

Because you’re not walking around revved up and venting all of the time*, your subtweet probably has a different tone than your other posts, but that’s not an excuse for it to be bad. Maintain your voice, keep your cool, and write shit that’s fun to read. That’s why we’re here.

*If you are, talk to a doctor and/or learn a new skill! The SimCity app and IRL pet ownership can both be soothing af!