Scrolling through the average student’s Twitter feed, one finds that the majority of teenage tweeters seem to be talking to someone – but without any names.
Sometimes these tweets are directed to “#oomf,” which is an acronym for ‘one of my followers’ or ‘one of my friends.’ Other times, these tweets are vague jabs that offer no clue as to what or who they are about. In Twitter slang, the name for this type of tweet is a “subtweet,” and it is an indirect way of calling someone out without mentioning names. Although subtweets can be totally harmless, the trend is shifting to a more hurtful style – and can even be considered cyberbullying.
“Once this girl tweeted about getting in trouble for a party, and I tweeted something later on about how if something got you in trouble, you shouldn’t have done it in the first place,” senior Christie Brown said. “It was totally unrelated, but she and her friends blew up at me and subtweeted me, even though I wasn’t involved at all. Subtweeting is just unnecessary drama.”
The vagueness of subtweeting provides the perfect avenue for teens to say the mean things that they think about others, without fear of reciprocation.
“The consequences to the sender seem to be minimal,” ITRT teacher Gail Matthews said. “But the consequences to the person who is the subject of the posting can be irreparable damage. Once something negative is out in the world and in the minds of people, it is almost impossible to change it.”
So how often does the average student subtweet? Senior Nicole Layton says that many of the tweets she sees on her daily feed are tweets directed to specific people.
“I think about a third of the tweets that I see are subtweets, but a lot of them aren’t bad. They’re just things like, ‘one of my followers is gorgeous,’or things like that,” Layton said. “But the bad ones are an easy track to get pulled into. The drama of Twitter can be enticing.”
Senior Makenzie Reid admitted that, although most of the subtweets he sees or tweets himself are just inside jokes, a lot of negative tweets are posted daily, by both boys and girls.
“Gender doesn’t matter when it comes to subtweets, because everyone has problems that they want to vent about,” Reid said. “But I think the type of person that does it is usually afraid to confront other people in person, and they’re attention-getters. It’s just a passive-aggressive way of getting your point across.”
Unfortunately, the online forum makes it all too simple for this passive-aggressiveness to take place.
“Technological media makes it easier to be a bully because it’s more available, more immediate, and draws a wider audience,” Matthews said. “The sender doesn’t want to take a stand or deal with the backlash from his or her comments.”
Although some question how subtweeting can be considered cyberbullying, since no names are mentioned, the tweets are often designed to subtly indicate to whom they are directed.
“Most of the time it’s so obvious,” Brown said. “When two people are mad at each other, and they just post one tweet after the other, who else would it be about? You might as well just be having a conversation.”
Subtweets have become such a regular part of teens’ social media life that for some, they have no importance.
“I don’t take them seriously,” Layton said. “Half the time I’m not subtweeting about anyone in particular, and it’s funny to see people’s reactions when they try to figure out who I’m talking about.”
Layton conceded, however, that even though she might not personally see the harm in subtweets, a message can have a broader impact than originally intended.
“I don’t think we realize how many people we reach or how it affects them,” Layton said. “I think of it as venting to a friend, but it’s public. I post something and 300 people immediately see it and can form judgments from it. It’s hard to imagine that when I post something, and I know exactly who it’s about, that tons of other people might think that it’s about them. I hope that doesn’t happen.”
There is, however, a simple solution to the problem of subtweets, and that is to ignore them.
“Since the subtweet has no identifying information about who the message is meant for, it’s like a hook looking for a fish,” Matthews said. “Don’t take the bait.”