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Some teens let their anger out on Twitter. (Mash illustration)

By Emma Seslowsky, Lincoln Park
and Aaliyah Gibson, Whitney Young

Over the last couple of years, we’ve been lucky enough to witness some monumental web trends. Gangnam Style, the Harlem Shake and even photographs of cats with toast on their heads (seriously though, you should check that out).

Then there are the not-so-nice trends, such as subtweeting. If you’re scratching your head right now, consider yourself lucky. Subtweeting is a Twitter trend in which someone tweets about another person, group or event.

The catch is, they never directly address who or what they’re talking about. Through the message, the tweeter gives subtle hints or clues that, in a way, identify their target. While subtweeting isn’t always negative, it can easily lead to misunderstandings, confusion and even bullying.

WAS THAT TWEET ABOUT ME?

Lincoln Park junior Rigoberto Olmos said he has experienced the Twitter phenomenon firsthand—and it wasn’t pleasant. “Subtweeting is just a way to get attention,” Olmos said.

When he believes he’s the target of a subtweet, Olmos said he feels uncomfortable. “(I feel) awkward because I feel the urge to want to fix the situation, but then again, I don’t want to because I don’t want the person to know that I’m somehow on top of what they’re doing,” he said.

It’s not strange for teens to feel that way, said Rachel Simmons, an educator and author of “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls.” In fact, it’s normal. “Part of the nature of being involved in social media is anxiety about what you’ll be missing if you’re not online and what people will say about you either directly or indirectly,” Simmons explained. “Subtweets are another level of anxiety.”

SUBTWEETER CONFESSIONS

Surprisingly, even teens who have fallen victim to subtweeting find themselves committing the same offense. Stevenson junior Alexa Kotlyar has experienced both ends of the Twitter war. “For some reason I would subtweet about their subtweet,” Kotlyar said about responding to tweets she thought were about her.
But even she agrees that subtweeting doesn’t work for addressing real-world issues. “It’s an immature way of dealing with your problems with someone,” Kotlyar said. “You might as well tag them in it if there’s an intention for the person to see it.”

Other teens believe subtweeting shouldn’t be taken so seriously. “For me, it’s been more of a humorous and ironic take on (a) situation,” Whitney Young senior Muhammad Hassanali said about his own experience as a subtweeter. The last subtweet he wrote? “I’m the type of person that will love you even if I don’t,” Hassanali tweeted. Like any good subtweet, the intended receiver isn’t identified. Hassanali later told The Mash that the tweet was aimed at “superficial” people he knows who brag or express emotions to seek attention. “It’s me saying, ‘I’ll listen, but I really don’t care.’ ”

Does he believe his tweets could hurt someone? “Not really,” Hassanali said. “I try to keep them elusive.”

Still, he admitted that subtweeting can be misused. “It could be an effective way (to handle a problem) because it brings attention to the situation,” Hassanali said. “But on the other hand, it can also be detrimental to that person if they already feel bad about it. It’s to be used at your own discretion.”

HOW TO DEAL

Perhaps the most obvious problem with subtweeting is that without direct confrontation, you may never know who the message was actually intended for. “When you subtweet, you can play both sides and be the good or bad guy,” Simmons said. “You can deny that was your intention, and no one will know.” Some subtweeters don’t see consequences to their actions.

So, what’s the best way to handle a subtweet you feel is intended for you? “The worst thing you can do is respond to a subtweet online,” Simmons said. “The more conflict you draw, the more out of hand it goes.” Sometimes, you have to unplug yourself from the situation. “Get off Twitter … remove yourself and have a friend take your phone,” Simmons suggested. “You have to take the high road, and the high road is to not reply.”

UNEXPECTED CONSEQUENCES

While it may seem like subtweeting victims suffer the most in these situations, Simmons said there are other unseen consequences that could affect the subtweeters, too. “You’re not learning to communicate like you have to in the real world,” she said. “By teens depending on social media sites to get their words across, they’re not practicing communicating in person, which is a hindrance for their futures.”

Some teens, such as Whitney Young senior Denise Cunningham, believe that subtweeting is here to stay. “I think people will always subtweet,” she said. “With the use of social media, people are bound to unintentionally mention someone or something that happened.”

With an arsenal of 140 characters readily available, it’s hard for some to resist the urge to subtweet.

>> Read more: Why subtweeting matters

>> For more in our Why News Matters series, sponsored by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, click here.

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About The Mash

The Mash is the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written for teens, by teens. The paper is distributed for free each Thursday at Chicago-area high schools and is written largely by high school students.

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