Weird Twitter: The Symbolic Construction of Community through Iterative Reification

by Sebastian Benthall

Is there such a thing as Weird Twitter?

Earlier I wrote a blog post based on my (non-participant) observations of a Twitter subculture. Recently, there’s been some activity around it in the tweetosphere itself, which sheds light on how reification affects community development in social media.

This guy has almost 10,000 followers. Conversation analysis techniques indicate that he is upset at the reification of ‘weird twitter’ by an Other, ‘nerds’.

I have not yet been able to trace the reaction to these observations fully within Twitter itself. But preliminary results indicate discomfort within the alleged ‘weird twitter’ community as negotiates with its own boundaries in digital space.

Most of the reaction to the original post was dismissive (though I notice due to a sharp uptake in blog traffic that several people were intrigued enough to google for the post). But it just takes one stoned kid freaking out to escalate an irresponsible exaggeration of the truth into a reality.

This guy then began tweeting indignantly, apparently offended that I would refer to ‘weird twitter’ without being part of his social circle.

Twitter user @hell_homer (whose avatar depicts the popular Simpsons character, Homer, in hell) 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.

Psychoanalytically, we might infer that @hell_homer’s suffers severe cognitive dissonance over his identification with “weird twitter”. Perhaps he identifies so strongly with weird twitter that he is offended by having the term appropriated by an outsider. Or perhaps he is concerned about his centrality with said ‘weird twitter’ community, and so seeks to embed himself further in it by taking responsibility for negotiation of its boundaries.

He persists in denial, weaving himself a cocoon of spite.

Other members of this community are willing to volunteer contact information about its central figures.

This suggests that ‘weird twitter’, rather than being a distributed social network, is rather more like a cult of personality, or personalities. Given the heavy-tail distribution of followers within Twitter and the immediacy of communication (no distance perceived by audience from “speaker”, even when the speaker has thousands of followers), this seems likely prima facie.

Others within ‘weird twitter’ react more violently to the application of the label:

Others became depressed:

…but also recognized, at least subliminally, the “threat” of having ones publicly facing community whose members have tens of thousands of followers “discovered” by internet media:

Is it the threat of exposure that is threatening? Or is it reifying gaze that comes with it? And how is that gaze constructed within the community as it is observed?

Here we see a single act of observation abstracted into “people” who want to categorize “every” community on the internet. The initially dismissed ‘hogwash’ has become, through the symbolic construction of ‘weird twitter’ itself, a surveilling conspiracy, placed firmly in opposition.

This user then proceeded to tweet a piece of microfiction prophesying the future of his community.

Speculation: as an earlier and more persistent mode of internet discourse, blogs are viewed by digital natives who primarily use Twitter as a social networking platform as a matured, out-of-touch, and marginally more socially powerful force. Moreover, academic language’s distinction from the vernacular echos the power dynamics of meatspace into the digitally dual virtual world. These power dynamics problematize organic community growth.