Ah, Twitter and the amusing, strange, cryptic web you weave. If you spend a significant amount of time trolling the depths of the micro-blogging platform, you may have noticed an interesting hashtag war of sorts between the #followateen and the #followanadult factions. And you’re probably very, very confused.
If this viral trend caught your interest but you can’t figure out why in Internet’s name we’re playing this strange, generational game, allow us to break down the ageist details.
How it all started
While the #followa___ movement has recently risen to relative levels of infamy (an easy thing to achieve on the Internet), it’s actually been around since 2011. Writer David Thorpe proposed the idea – and the hashtag – by simply saying:
Your twitter feed isn’t complete unless you follow a random teen and just enjoy their little teen life. #followateen
— Lucrative Trillion (@Arr) December 29, 2011
It’s not a complex idea. Find a tweeting teen, start following, and enjoy what follows: high school-related, Snapchat-filled, Instagrammed, 140-character tidbits of madness.
Recently, he advocated we bring the hashtag back. And so we did.
— Lucrative Trillion (@Arr) April 12, 2013
My teen seems surprised to learn you can get a ticket for texting and driving. Also, she got a ticket for texting and driving #followateen
— Jonathan Wegener (@jwegener) May 5, 2013
my teen thinks pac sun has the cutest shorts #followateen
— Jessica Misener (@jessmisener) April 12, 2013
My teen asks to excuse her stupidity, but legit, what is “chlamidia?” #followateen
— MarthaAnne Dunaway (@MissMarthaAnne) May 6, 2013
Sometimes my teen drops blockbuster facts on my timeline. E.g., there is a mayonnaise factory in her town. #FollowATeen
— A sloppy kisser (@rolando) May 6, 2013
My teen can’t find her brother, and also doesn’t ‘get you.’ #followateen
— Luis Paez-Pumar (@paezpumarL) May 6, 2013
Sure, part of this is to sort of revel in this part of Twitter that so many of us never see: Twitter, again – for most of us – is a source, a newswire, a press release machine, a reporting mechanism, a PR tool. But for some of us, it’s a place to retweet Rihanna lyrics, compare prom dresses, and complain about homeroom. It’s sort of addictive: Once you enter that world, it’s a sort of welcome reprieve from the all the serious, businessy, super important tweets we’re constantly harassed by.
And yes, there’s also the benefit of a little perspective on what the younger users among us think is cool. After all, they know what’s up and we’re old, out of the loop, and still think it’s interesting to talk about how lame Google+ is (hint: it’s not).
Of course we were not only innocently enjoying the youthful side of Twitter and all of its sweet, sweet naivete. We were also ruthlessly mocking them for being a part of this great big thing called social media that, in case you did not notice, has been a major force their entire lives, encouraging them to share their every thought, photo, meal, location, activity.
Every day I thank God there was no Internet when I was a dramatic teenager. These kids aren’t doing so bad. #followateen
— Athenae (@Athenae) May 6, 2013
But an answer to our mocking was coming.
We were all having so much fun, following our tweens and teens – enjoying their rants about not making the varsity team, how their moms were being so unfair, how lame detention was – when the game was turned on us! And it was turned by none other than Tavi Gevinson.
To those truly tuned out of the younger generation, Gevinson is the teen blogger who has turned her Internet savvy into an empire. She has nearly 150,000 Twitter followers, is Tumblr elite, runs the Style Rookie website, and was once described by Lady Gaga as “the future of journalism.” Also, she’s 17. Also, Gevinson and her over-always-sharing generation basically are the Internet, and to think this laugh-at-the-kids game would continue without much notice or retort from those who were raised online was nothing short of hubris. And thus, she and Rookie Mag started #followanadult, and a new era was born.
— Rookie (@RookieMag) May 3, 2013
My adult is murdering this peppermint fudge. #FollowAnAdult
— Samantha Giles (@SamSamboG) May 6, 2013
My adult says “they” want to make him into a cyborg. #followanadult
— Mary Counts (@maimers912) May 6, 2013
my adult has an infant and thinks everything that infant does is inherently perfect/adorable. #followanadult
— Maggie K-Shaw (@maggiekshaw) May 6, 2013
My adult is white and xenophobic but totes got drunk today on Cinco De Mayo! #followanadult
— Jazmin Martinez(@jazminbobby) May 6, 2013
My adult doesn’t want anyone to fall in love with her because she ain’t got no time for that #FollowAnAdult
— Dillon McCormick (@DillonMcCormic1) May 5, 2013
To further complicate everything, we adults noticed this retaliation (guys, we all need to pay more attention at work, OK?) and started meta-mocking #followanadult.
“My adult gets mad about video games and fights with people with nude anime fox avatars” — if I were someone’s adult for #followanadult
— leighalexander (@leighalexander) May 7, 2013
— Adrian Chen (@AdrianChen) May 3, 2013
BUT THEN! BUT THEN! The teens noticed that we noticed, and made fun of our co-opting the #followanadult hashtag.
— Rosie Gray (@RosieGray) May 3, 2013
Thus the circle is complete, everyone’s making fun of everyone, it’s unclear who – if anyone – is winning the game. And does the fact that #followa___ has became “mainstream” mean it isn’t long for this world?
Is the game over?
Just because the #followateen jig is up and #followanadult has captured our attention doesn’t mean the fun (and cruelty) has to be over. The rules remain: If your teen or adult tweets at you or realizes they are the object of your Twitter lurking, you lose the game. That’s more or less the only qualification to play – you must remain a voyeur, hiding in the shadows, observing your pick.
In case you hadn’t already come to this conclusion, it’s all very creepy. You silently stalk some poor Twitter user, usually pointing out his or her more ridiculous, stupid, or overly dramatic moments, inviting the world to an inside joke about how silly your teen or adult is. And yes, you talk about them like that: They are “your teen” or “your adult” – like a class pet. More like a lab rat, actually.
It’s all in good fun, of course. And perhaps the experiment can help us learn from the each other: For instance, I did not know John Mayer was recently cured from Granuloma, had booked a summer tour, and was releasing an album – and now I do. Thanks teen! And yes, sorry for the sarcasm, but this is indeed a fact that I didn’t previously know and am enjoying even though you are bragging about it as if you had nursed Mr. Mayer back to health and served as muse for his new music.
Really, at the heart of the war between the adults and teens of Twitter is this lesson: For every genius 140 characters we rattle off, there are thousands more than make us sound like assholes. Let this be a lesson to us all, that no matter how small you may feel to the Internet, there might just be someone reading your every thought; to someone, you are an enigma. There could very well be someone laughing at your simplicity or your “maturity,” jealous of your youth or freedom – and then, of course, there are the times we all meet in the middle. And isn’t that what the Internet is all about?
My teen has been having the strangest music cravings lately (dolphin emoji). #followateen
— MarthaAnne Dunaway (@MissMarthaAnne) May 7, 2013
My adult thinks her mind was blown by seeing Swedish house Mafia’s last set ever. #followanadult
— Ian Smith (@Djfrommars) May 5, 2013