Every bad tweet lives a life. They begin as every tweet begins: in idiocy and shame, but also with hope. No tweet will ever be anything but the legible stain of a person yielding to the human impulse to transcribe the precise sound of every fart; even the good tweets that exist are basically the record of your more interesting- or amusing-sounding farts. Some of those are worth remembering, and will be remembered, but most of them are just kind of fleetingly unpleasant. So that’s Twitter, an entertaining social media platform that is jarringly popular among sociopaths, may well be doomed, and which is objectively driving people insane. I myself like the site a great deal, but I am an idiot.
Maybe you spend some or even a lot of time on there, as I do. If so, you have noticed that much of being on Twitter boils down to reading bad tweets. There are, we can only assume, many thousands of insanely shitty tweets written every day, most of which pass unremarked and unmourned. This is as it should be, if only because everyone being aware of every shitty tweet that existed would be crushing; servers can handle this volume of shittiness, but humans cannot. Humans break. Twitter breaks them. Again, this is a website I generally enjoy.
For all the shitty tweets that we cannot and will never see, there are a great many that achieve a sort of rank antifame. Everyone hates these tweets, and because Twitter is what it is and how it is, these tweets are then shared widely specifically because of how shitty they are. The worst of these achieve a phenomenon known as The Ratio, which Luke O’Neil explained as a sort of upside-down version of success in which the tweets elicit an exponentially greater number of responses—e.g. get fucked, or thank’s for the insight, or live in a toilet forever, or Governor Huckabee that is not even by the most generous definition of the term ‘a joke’—than retweets and likes. There is, in The Ratio, a rare example of the invisible hand of the marketplace doing what it is supposed to do. If a tweet manages to get thousands of responses and a few dozen lonely co-signs, you can safely assume that the tweet in question sucks a lot.
This holds true along a scaled continuum, with the worst tweets from the most prominent sources generally generating the most dramatic ratios. For instance:
Washington Post politics editor Philip Rucker’s tweet from last week about “the new Trump,” for instance, got more than 17,000 responses and was retweeted fewer than 700 times. You can see how this happens: prominent figure is extremely and obnoxiously wrong about a thing that Twitter tends to get upset about, and the rocket ride to THE RATIO is on. You probably have noticed this. My goal here is to introduce you to the joys of a different type of bad tweet, that generates a different type of ratio. Here, for instance, is one of those tweets, from protein-rich war advocate Eli Lake.
I have oafishly circled the ratio in question, so you can see it. What you see, in this ratio, is a bad tweet from a middling Twitter personage getting a proportionally bad response. What you also see, in this ratio, are the Triple Crown stats from one of Adam Dunn’s more thoroughly three-true-outcome seasons—a .198 batting average with 34 home runs and 83 RBI. The baseball slash-line ratio can be a way-station for bad tweets on their way to Herculean, Rucker-esque ratio annihilation. But for a certain type of tweet, it is destiny; some bad tweets exist seemingly only for this purpose. Here, for instance, is a recent tweet from Josh Barro, who heads up coverage on the Weird Priss beat for Business Insider.
These are Triple Crown stats that match perfectly with the tweet’s dipshittery. This is Ike Davis three seasons before he decides to reinvent himself as a pitcher. It’s Yuniesky Betancourt the year before he signs with a Korean team. It’s perfect.
It is not always perfect, though. If a tweet is bad enough, it will eventually rocket into slash-line regions unreachable by baseball players. But, if you get to this bad tweet early, you can watch it on its journey. Here, for instance, is a very bad tweet from an account called @thetaclair. My apologies for the big dumb flag in the middle of it.
Some of this is complicated. I am not remotely sure that Theta Clair is a real person, for one thing. Twitter says she has 1,504 followers, although TwitterAudit only recognizes 467 as even existing. Buzzfeed also did some pretty compelling work, after another widely read and widely shat-upon tweet of hers, that suggests @Thetaclair was created to...well, it’s hard to say, beyond being bigoted in a familiar and luridly infected way, but with a blurry image of a young white woman atop the account. But let’s take her at her word.
So: Our tweeter is a bigoted sorority member “with the spirit of 1776”—bigoted enough that Kappa Alpha Theta, the sorority in question, went to the trouble of determining that the account had nothing to do with them and tried unsuccessfully to get the account banned from Twitter—who never takes or posts pictures of herself. Clair is authentically popular among Indonesian Youtube aficionados with catholic tastes and Forex traders fond of inspirational quotes and other blurry-avi types, and is primarily concerned with whatever it is that’s currently upsetting the internet’s most toxic online shut-ins at that moment, in precisely the way that such a shut-in might wish a blonde sorority member to be concerned with those issues.
That’s the complicated part. The simple part is that a lot of people hated her shitty tweet. With more than 2,700 responses to 340 retweets (and a disconcerting 1,400 likes), this is a profoundly shitty tweet that went on to achieve precisely the ratio it deserved. On the Sunday of its birth, I tracked it on its journey and so can demonstrate how the slash-line ratio presaged its rise.
Scholars of the form would say that @thetaclair “went 2017 Chris Carter” at 6:45pm, which was when I first noticed that this tweet was headed for big things:
At 7:53 she was slashing .215/10/39, a line that students of the form know as Lyle Overbay Has Been Designated For Assignment:
A half hour later, she’d fully gone Chris Iannetta:
Ninety minutes after that, she’d made it, putting up a .358/28/84 slash line that Mike Trout would put up in a season in which he was unjustly beat out for MVP by a player with more RBI:
It wasn’t until after midnight, when the tweet achieved the extremely purple Robinson Cano Spends An Entire Season In Double-A For Some Reason slash line of .476/40/132, that it finally slipped the surly bonds of the plausible and headed for its place in the stratosphere/toilet.
The slash-line ratio can do nothing to protect you from bad tweets; only logging off can do that. But it is my belief that the slash-line ratio can enhance your experience of Twitter all the same. I hope that the slash-line ratio, once you know to look for it, can add something to those bad tweets. It can highlight the heroic scale of their wrongness.
It can add an affirming and contextualizing echo of parallel tryhard wrongheadedness to a tweet that’s otherwise just a blaring cheese-gust.
It can add some enriching irony to a tweet that otherwise doesn’t have a lot going for it.
Twitter, until it goes away, is going to be what it is, and it mostly is bad. But if you have to see bad tweets, and you do, you might as well get to think of Jack Cust while you’re doing it.
David Roth is a writer from New Jersey who lives in New York. He’s on Twitter @david_j_roth.