#Mean: Bullying in 140-Characters

DUBUQUE — Today I’m going to tell you about something you’ve all probably heard of, or even seen, on Twitter: the subtweet.

UrbanDictionary.com  defines a “subtweet” as “a tweet (message posted on the website Twitter) that mentions a Twitter member without using their actual username. Usually employed for negative or insulting tweets; the person you’re mentioning won’t see the subtweet in their Twitter timeline as it doesn’t contain the @ symbol that every Twitter username has.”

I would argue with the second part of this definition. All too often a subtweet is posted with the intention that whoever you’re talking about will see it, and react in some way. A subtweet is one of the most passive aggressive things you can do on the Internet. Usually it is done with the intention of hurting someone. Once in a while though, a subtweet can reference someone with the intent of expressing gratitude, happiness, or longing.

Things can get a little confusing out there in cyberspace.

Okay, so the majority of subtweets are done by girls, but I still have seen plenty of males that partake in them too. They also seem to pop up more at night and/or weekends, when exhaustion, emotion, and liquid substances are more likely to play a part. No matter if it’s someone lashing out at an ex, a friend, co-worker, etc., no one is really safe from the wrath of a subtweeter.

The thing is, though, subtweets really aren’t helping anyone. They are spawned from an outburst of emotion that you feel like you just can’t hold in, and so you take to Twitter when you should probably be going for a run, punching pillows, etc.

So why do we do it?

Well, probably because just like most things these days, tweeting gives us a sense of instant gratification, and an ego boost. As soon as we hit “send,” our words are no longer our own. Hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people can see our innermost thoughts. We feel like this gives us a sense of power and control, when really the opposite is true. As soon as we let it go, it’s gone. It can be screenshotted, e-mailed, forwarded, whatever until the foreseeable end to technology.

And besides, there’s always good old-fashioned word of mouth to rely on too. We really have no power over our words at all once we speak them or write them or tweet them, and we have a loss of control in the way that they are distributed.

But that’s not all. We also lose control in the sense that Twitter is extremely limiting in word count. People can interpret what we write in any way they want, whether it’s how we intended it be taken or not. This can be very destructive as well.
When I first got Twitter I swore I would never, ever do such a thing. I thought people that partook in it were petty and catty and immature. Still, in the past few years I’ve had a Twitter account, there have been numerous times that I just couldn’t help myself. I wanted validation from retweets and favorites that my vague and accusatory or longing tweets, even if they came from people I’ve barely spoken a word to my entire life. I wanted to be forward and brave and loud on the Internet, when I couldn’t find the words to address someone in person.

A subtweet doesn’t solve anything. It just makes matters worse, more complicated, and shamefully public. You can quickly get a reputation for too many subtweets, and this can severely damage your own reputation and credibility. People will associate you with gossip, anger, jealousy and pettiness, even if you’re a perfectly good person besides this guilty little habit. So what can we do to eradicate the wrath of the subtweet from our lives for good?

Of course, subtweets will always be out there as long as Twitter exists. There will always be an angry ex, a jealous friend, or a conniving co-worker lurking somewhere out there. What you should do is try and remove these influences from your feed. Unfollow people that never seem to have anything positive to say and celebrities that can’t seem to help wanting to bring others down. Studies have shown that what we read or see online affects what we ourselves are more likely to post.

If you say more positive, chances are more of your posts will be uplifting or at least neutral too.
Another thing that we can do is talk to our friends, co-workers and family members that seem to be participating in the subtweeting trend. Tell them (gently) that you’ve noticed they’re upset online, and ask if they want to talk about anything.

Make them aware of the fact that if you’ve noticed their habit, other people have too who they might not even realize are out there. This can be a huge wake up call, especially if they have higher-ups that follow them from work: you could potentially save their job in the process.

Lastly, think before you tweet. Ask yourself if you really want the whole world to know that you’re mad at your sister for not asking you to be her maid of honor, your boss for not giving you the promotion, or the blue sedan for cutting you off on your way to work. Who really cares anyway? Take a deep breath, erase the tweet, and go do something else to let out your emotions. Like I mentioned earlier, take deep breaths, journal in a diary, go for a run, punch a pillow, talk to a friend, etc. All of these things will be much more productive (and private) in the long run, and you won’t experience that dreaded “tweeter’s regret” days later when your cousin from Wisconsin texts you wondering what’s up with your tweets lately.

I, for one, am going to do my best to completely stop subtweeting, even if it’s a positive one. If I really want someone to know I’m grateful or had a good time, I’ll tell them in person or with a good ol’ written thank you note that they will appreciate a lot more than a 140-character Internet post. I’ll also unfollow people that never have anything nice to say, and that fill my newsfeed with “Debbie Downer” messages. What good are they doing me anyway? I hope you’ll do the same, and we can make Twitter a kinder (and more fun) place to be.

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