Science & Tech

The 41 Worst People You Meet on Twitter

(Kacper Pempel/Reuters)
From the Assassins to the Ahabs to the Dufflepuds — a beginner’s guide

Twitter, even more so than blogs, offered us the revolutionary promise of a virtual town square: You could hear from and engage with people from many walks of life, the prominent and the ordinary, in real time. You could read news as it breaks, debate the great issues of the day, and have fun.

That promise wasn’t an illusion, but its dark side has become all too clear. In reality, as we now know, Twitter is both a cesspool of terrible people and a corrupting influence on even the best people who inhabit it. Its speed and snarky tone encourage the spread of misinformation and incivility, and discourage rigor, reflection, empathy, and mercy. Large Twitter followings often capture the people who write for them, encouraging them to become more vitriolic and narrow-minded for the quick dopamine hit of a lot of retweets. Stalking and abuse abound.

Let me introduce you to the 41 worst kinds of people you will meet on Politics Twitter. Politics Twitter is, sadly, ubiquitous, whether or not you originally thought your corner of Twitter was about politics. These are not precisely in order of badness (in many cases, especially egregious offenders fall into multiple categories). For brevity, I’ve focused on bad actors of a type particular to Twitter, rather than simply recite categories like “idiot” or “anti-Semite” or “jerk.”

  1. The Assassin: The Assassin is on Twitter for one reason: to get you off. He is the single worst kind of Twitter user. He’ll call your day job, doxx your home address, tweet lewd things about your children. There’s no reasoning with the Assassin; he goes, or you go.
  2. Captain Screenshot: One of the fine features of Twitter is that tweets don’t exist in a vacuum. They may be part of an ongoing, connected thread; they may be part of a conversation. People who want to engage can respond, or tag you, or quote-tweet. But not Captain Screenshot! Captain Screenshot posts an image of a single tweet, invariably to trash it and its writer, often in the most bad-faith reading imaginable. Worse, but not uncommon, is when Captain Screenshot drills the writer for not mentioning something that . . . is mentioned elsewhere in the thread or conversation. And because Captain Screenshot doesn’t tag or respond to his targets (if he’s feeling especially antisocial, he’ll refer to them by a cutesy nickname, slur, or Spoonerism), the writer may be unaware of how his words are being misconstrued, or puzzled as to why his mentions are suddenly filling up with bile. Worst of all is when Captain Screenshot blocks someone but keeps trashing that person from behind the block.
  3. The Chief Dufflepud: The Chief Dufflepud’s signature characteristic is twofold: He has a legion of sycophantic followers who trail after him giving off praise like Sir Robin’s minstrels, and he constantly reinforces their reinforcement of him by retweeting their hosannas to his brilliance and courage. If you argue with the Chief Dufflepud, he will make sure that your mentions are flooded with these people, none of whom will add anything knowledgeable to the discussion; they will simply assert that you have been Owned and Destroyed by The Great One and should Take The L.
  4. The Juice Boxer: The Juice Boxer is a particular creature of progressivism. His self-image is deeply tied to his belief that his opinions are not only the only morally correct ones but also are so compelled by The Data that no intelligent person could possibly hold any other opinions. The signature of the Juice Boxer, therefore, is his need to constantly affirm that people on the other side are, every last one of them, stupid. The best part of a Juice Boxer’s day is when he responds with “lol” or “derp” or “this guy is supposed to be an intellectual,” without even bothering to explain why the target is wrong.
  5. The Swaggerer: The Swaggerer may be male or female (as may most of these types), but machismo is his game, and he is most typically found on the right. What distinguishes The Swaggerer is that he’s more interested in showing that he is Tough and Fights and Never Apologizes and Owns the Libs and Isn’t a Snowflake and Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings than he is in the actual content of his arguments.
  6. An Historian, Ph.D.: An Historian, Ph.D., may have a Ph.D. in history, political science, economics, psychology, math. . . . It doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t even matter if it’s in a topic completely unrelated to what he’s talking about. What’s most important to An Historian, Ph.D., is that you understand that he has a Ph.D. (it’s often in his Twitter handle and almost always in his bio) and typically tenure, and that you defer to him because he’s a Ph.D. and you’re not (even if you are).
  7. President Donald J. Trump: Trump’s Twitter account is in a category of imprudence and insanity all to itself, but what earns him a particular and unique place on this list is the gravitational pull he exerts on the entire rest of Twitter. A single Trump tweet can change the topic of discussion on a dime, spreading acrimony and activating a whole bunch of the other types on this list. Moreover, the unpredictability of when Trump will pop out of his gopher hole and what he’ll say at any given moment lends a paranoid quality to Politics Twitter, a sense that even going to sleep means resting on the cone of an active volcano.
  8. The Thirsty Bro: The Thirsty Bro responds instantly and loudly to tweets by prominent public figures with lots of followers, especially the president (see above) or other major politicians. The Thirsty Bro doesn’t care that he is yelling at someone who will never read or respond to him; the whole point is to be seen doing so, because it brings him more traffic and makes him feel as if his endlessly unrequited relationship with his target has shown him to be the better of the two.
  9. The Crazy Cat Lady: The Crazy Cat Lady may, again, be male or female; she is typically middle-aged, single, childless, and not particularly religious. In consequence, her distinguishing feature is putting way too much emotional energy into politics to fill the role that other people fill with family, faith, and community. That inevitably leads to a high pitch of either hero worship or hysteria in everything she writes, and a deep and especially personal sense of betrayal when she falls out with a candidate or party — something she is especially apt to do, having over-invested in the first place.
  10. The Washington General: The Washington General is someone on your own side, yet basically everything he says on Twitter is comically wrong in one way or another, usually a way that is easy and obvious for reasonably intelligent people on the other side to spot. The Washington General is a constant embarrassment and a particular favorite target of several of the other types on this list, who use him as a daily punching bag to cheaply illustrate their own brilliance, rightness, and tribal superiority.
  11. The Masked Unmasker: A lot of people on Twitter are anonymous or pseudonymous. Many bloggers are, too. This is not ideal, since we like to know where arguments come from, and you should discount the credibility of factual reporting by anonymous accounts unless they are backed up with independent evidence. That said, there are fair reasons — some of them driven by the other types on this list — why people who have something useful to contribute nonetheless keep their names and jobs secret. The Masked Unmasker is dedicated to exposing the names, jobs, families, and sources of financial support of everybody else. That’s a debatable stance, but what makes the Masked Unmasker so insufferable is that he is, himself, anonymous and gets very upset at anyone who tries to turn his own game against him.
  1. Sports Nose On: “Clown Nose On/Clown Nose Off” is Jim Treacher’s apt description of Jon Stewart and his ilk: performers who couch political arguments in humor, then retreat to “I’m just a comedian” when called on making misleading or nonsensical points. Sports Nose On is someone you follow for content in some other field than politics, but who continually interjects political commentary into her feed. I encounter the type most commonly among sportswriters, but you’ll find plenty of entertainers and talkers in all manner of other areas who are like this. Going off-topic into political screeds, in and of itself, is not the problem; while it’s not everyone’s favorite thing, lots of people (myself included) tweet about many different subjects. The problem with Sports Nose On is not that she won’t “stick to sports” but that she insists you stick to sports in responding. No matter how strongly her political opinions are expressed, she won’t tolerate pushback and is typically quick to block anyone who disagrees with her in response.
  2. The Genre Stasi: A close relation of the Assassin is the Genre Stasi, almost entirely a creature of the “social-justice-warrior” Left. The Genre Stasi may not be all that prominent or influential outside of a tiny corner of the world, often a slice of the writing or performing world or a hobby, but she polices her field with endless vigilance and can ruin careers by declaring you Problematic.
  3. Colonel Kurtz: Colonel Kurtz is one of the saddest features of Twitter. He was a man or woman of real insight and stature once: a scholar, a novelist, a sportswriter, a scientist, a filmmaker, a crusading politician. Now, he’s up in years — often past 70 — and his filter and judgment and ability to resist hoaxes and fake news are gone, leading him to make a constant fool of himself. The superheated partisan atmosphere of the Trump era, with its fever-swamp conspiracy theories on all sides, has created far too many Colonel Kurtzes, at least a third of whom on any given day can be found sharing links to Andy Borowitz.
  4. The Amnesiac: The Amnesiac has very strong opinions about many things. The Amnesiac had equally strong and opposite opinions about those same things when the other party was in power, but the Amnesiac has deleted all those Tweets and will never acknowledge the contradiction. If you, today, hold the opinions the Amnesiac held in 2013, the Amnesiac will be glad to tell you how ashamed you should be of your awful takes.
  5. The Unwatchdog: The Unwatchdog is typified by two things. One, from his perch as a media commentator, former political strategist, or academic, he is full of holy certainty that other people are biased, hackish, and misleading — this is nearly all he talks about. And two, he himself is massively all of these things, resolutely ignoring any story that might compel some self-reflection. Confirmation bias and groupthink may be a hazard for everyone on Politics Twitter, but for the Unwatchdog it’s all he ever does.
  6. Dr. Jekyll: We’ve all fallen for a Dr. Jekyll now and then: He tweets reasonable-sounding things we agree with, and those tweets appear in our feed a couple of times, so we start thinking this is a sensible and reliable person. Maybe we retweet him or even start following. Then, when we start reading the Tweets that don’t get the same circulation, the truth hits us in the face like a dead mackerel: Dr. Jekyll is a lunatic, an extremist, a racist, a fabulist. . . . Whatever the problem, it ends up not taking that long to discover, and we end up kicking ourselves that this one didn’t give off a whiff of crazy until we started treating him as legitimate.
  7. The Sophomore: The Sophomore is often, though not always, a young person. Sometimes, he’s a person who recently got interested in politics, or recently got interested in a particular topic. He may be someone who recently converted to a different political, religious, or philosophical tribe. In any event, the signature of the Sophomore is that he presents arguments with a flourish as if he only just thought them up and thinks he has devastated your argument even though his point is so old it was originally made in hieroglyphics. He is triumphant if you are too weary to rebut this in full for the thousandth time in the past 18 months.
  8. The Instant Logan Act Expert: The Instant Logan Act Expert is an unfortunate by-product of the democratization of discourse. Thirty minutes into any public controversy, the Instant Logan Act Expert suddenly has strong and confident opinions about the topic, despite having never given it a moment’s thought before. Often, the Instant Logan Act Expert is simultaneously an actual expert in one or more other topics, and he should really know better.
  9. Toxic Todd: Toxic Todd may be often wrong, but never dull. He’s also visibly unwell. You may be tempted to respond to him: Maybe he’s on the other side and presents an easy target, and maybe he’s on your side and you want to distance yourself from whatever mess he is making at the moment. But getting dragged into his latest self-made storm is only going to wear you down to no profit, and do you really want it on your conscience to be the last Twitter fight he had before he shows up in the police blotter or the morgue? Toxic Todd doesn’t need correcting; he needs help. Engaging with him is enabling.
  10. Captain Ahab: Captain Ahab’s Twitter feed is dominated, to an unhealthy extent, by other commentators he dislikes. (He’s a close cousin of Captain Screenshot, and he may sometimes deteriorate into becoming The Assassin). He’s at a loss whenever his hate-objects go quiet.
  11. The Pillow Fort: The Pillow Fort has a public account, maybe even with many followers, but subscribes to such an extensive block list that scores of people who haven’t ever engaged with her aren’t able to read her Tweets. The Pillow Fort lives in what amounts to an intellectually gated community, where disagreeable facts and opinions are never to be seen.
  12. The Sixth Senser: The Sixth Senser used to be legitimate, maybe even a big deal (on TV, in politics, in academia, wherever), before his career imploded in humiliating fashion. You thought you’d heard the last of the Sixth Senser, but there he still is, tweeting away without shame or even any sign that he knows his career is dead and there’s a reason he’s just a Twitter rando now.
  13. The Drama Queen: You may think the Drama Queen’s Twitter account is about the Drama Queen’s opinions about things, but in practice, the Drama Queen’s Twitter account is about the Drama Queen’s Twitter account. Has she been suspended? Shadow-banned? Will she quit Twitter? Are people mean to her? Does she get threats? Stay tuned!
  14. The Closing Timer: The Closing Timer may be a savvy and respected Twitter account by day but has a pronounced tendency to get in increasingly harsh, sloppy arguments in the evenings, from which he’s never able to just disengage. When the typos and accidental links to other stuff open on his browser start coming, it ought to be time to call it a night. The Closing Timer should probably put a breathalyzer on his phone.
  15. The Marriage Counselor: The Marriage Counselor is a particular side effect of couples (or families or networks of friends, but couples get it the worst) who are both public people. The Marriage Counselor thinks it’s appropriate to send you tweets and DMs warning you about the latest thing your wife just wrote or said, as if it’s your job to smack her back into line.
  16. The Turing Test Failer: The Turing Test Failer does not like your tweet and wants to express in the strongest possible terms that you and your tweet are terrible. If you respond, the Turing Test Failer will double down. But everything the Turing Test Failer says is generic ad hominem and performative; he never gives the slightest indication of having actually bothered to read or engage with either the original tweet or your responses.
  17. NumbersBot07389490502: In contrast to the Turing Test Failer, NumbersBot07389490502 may actually seem like a human being, but he’s been on Twitter for only a few months, and his Twitter handle is full of random digits, and there’s no shaking the feeling that he’s a façade covering a cubicle farm in Volgograd.
  18. The Narrative Driver: The Narrative Driver is typically a national politics reporter, and she is well aware of the fact that her first take on everything will be breathlessly repeated multiple times before people get to see the speech, testimony, or document she’s reporting on. And her take is not what was actually said, or at least not with crucial context that would make clear that her take is just false. Occasionally, she may correct the record, but always much later, with a lot less feeling and many fewer retweets.
  19. The Vendebtor: The Vendebtor, like Captain Ahab, has enemies. He may be your friend, your ally, your colleague, or at least someone you’re on civil terms with, but he’s engaged in Holy War with somebody else who is also your friend, ally, or colleague. And he’s not going to accept your neutrality.
  20. The Heel Turner: The Heel Turner is a by-product of the character-assassination focus of a number of the other types. The Heel Turner may be someone in your social or political circle. He may be someone you have known for years. But he’s listening to the people who hate you passionately, and he eventually falls in with the wrong crowd. Without a ton of warning, he starts sniping at you as if you’ve always been his enemy. It’s not really about you; it’s about his new friends.
  21. The Unclicker: Commenting without or before clicking the link is epidemic on Twitter, and just about everyone has done it. But there are some particularly bad tendencies. One is people who tweet responses to organizational accounts that exist to share links (I get these often from @NRO links to my National Review columns), where it is obvious that the person responding could have clicked the link to get their concern addressed. Worse is when you respond to someone with a link — even to something you wrote, just off Twitter — and they continue the argument while conspicuously refusing to read it even though it may be the words of the very person they’re arguing with.
  22. The Party of One: The Party of One can show up anywhere on the ideological spectrum and is often the most insightful and sincere of the personalities on this list. Like many of us, the Party of One thinks his particular point of view across multiple issues is the only reasonable one. What the Party of One lacks is the basic sense that political coalition-building is a team sport. As a result, the Party of One spends an excessive amount of his time denouncing half of his own side for extremism, and the other half for heresy.
  23. The Ratio Believer: The Ratio Believer truly thinks he is making some sort of point or difference in the world by responding to tweets that have attracted a critical mass of irate responses. The most obvious tell is when he just flat-out tweets, “Just here for the ratio.” Ratios are a stupid way to measure anything about the truth or sense of a tweet; in a nation of over 300 million people, the fact that you angered a few hundred mouth-breathers says nothing about whether you have a point.
  24. The Fav Police: Twitter’s “Like” or “Favorite” feature has always been ambiguous: Some people use it to signal approval, others just to bookmark tweets. But the Fav Police are on the case, always watching what tweets you Favorited in order to convict you of endorsing the tweet, or its author, or the author’s employer, or . . .
  25. The Content Thief: The Content Thief has been a fixture on every social-media network, and Twitter is no exception: He is constantly passing off memes, jokes, and observations as his own without even altering them slightly from the people he stole them from, other than not crediting them.
  26. The Teaser: The most interesting thing the Teaser has to say is coming soon, yet always just off the horizon. Sometimes, the Teaser promises a specific revelation, which turns out to be disappointing. But more often, the Teaser works on innuendo and hints: I know things, wait until you see this. But it never arrives.
  27. The Boycotter: The Boycotter, like the Assassin and the Genre Stasi, is out for scalps, not conversation. She can be found on other platforms, but Twitter encourages both her reach and her monotony. Her target is more typically a company or public figure, rather than other Twitter users. She typically fills her feed with calls to contact her latest target’s advertisers, donors, employers, or friends to mob them with anger and try to use their most vulnerable point to silence his voice.
  28. The Snitch Tagger: The Snitch Tagger adds someone to a Tweet, or even a conversation he wasn’t originally involved in, by using his @ symbol, when he really shouldn’t. Sometimes this can be virtuous: Some people argue that snitch tagging in response to Captain Screenshot tactics is bad, and I would disagree with that. But one of the most obnoxious tics is to @ a prominent person (especially a celebrity) and then continue discussing him in the third person, thus flooding his mentions without really trying to interact with him as a fellow human.
  29. The Follow Fisherman: The Follow Fisherman has one notably annoying tic: If he follows you and you do not follow back, he will continually unfollow and refollow, each time adding a new notification to you. The Follow Fisherman is especially irritating to accounts that don’t have a ton of followers and carefully monitor their followings.
  30. The Sad Parody: The Sad Parody is explicitly a parody account. There are so many of them out there, and so few that hit the mark. Some are just over-the-top stupid; others exist mainly to trick people into retweeting them by blending in with the real account. The Sad Parody isn’t actively offensive, just a waste of space.

If you’re on Twitter or thinking of joining, I hope you follow me @baseballcrank, and don’t let the worst people ruin it for you. But don’t say you weren’t warned.

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