Passive-Aggressive Friday

A week ago, I invented a Twitter game called Passive-Aggressive Friday (hashtag: #PAFriday). For losers who don’t know how Twitter works, here’s some background info:

  1. Hashtags (words or strings of words preceded by “#”) are the Twitter convention for “tagging” toots (140-character updates) and making them easily searchable.
  2. On Twitter, you talk directly to other user by appending an “@” symbol to their screen name in your normal 140-character update. For example, if @lonelysandwich wanted to say something to me, he’d type “@thisisconlan You’re a jerk.”
  3. In the previous example, “@thisisconlan You’re a jerk.” would appear as a normal update in the individual timeline of @lonelysandwich. However, to eliminate clutter in your general timeline (where you see the collected toots of everyone you follow), Twitter doesn’t include toots that begin with an @ mention of users who you don’t follow. So, for someone who follows @lonelysandwich and not @thisisconlan, they wouldn’t see the response in their general timeline. This eliminates a lot of superfluous, out-of-context junk from users’ general timelines.

I thought it would be funny if these responses to other people appeared in the general timeline—not just out of context, but also without any way to gain the needed context (as you could normally do by clicking on the other user’s profile). This seemed like a funny premise, and it kind of reminded me of the passive-aggressive stuff people post on Twitter anyway (e.g., vague complaints about people being mean to them or how people are ugly, etc.). So I called it Passive-Aggressive Friday (“Friday”, because I wanted to make a day of it—not because I planned to make it a regular thing).

On Friday morning, I initially described the game1 in a toot to my followers:

Today’s “Passive-Aggressive Friday”, a Twitter game I invented where you carry out normal Twitter conversations, but never @reply. #PAFriday

But that wasn’t very clear (stupid 140 characters2), so I added this:

If you’re just joining us, Passive-Aggressive Friday is a game where you respond to toots normally, but without the @reply. #PAFriday

I reminded people to tag their toots with “#PAFriday” so anyone could follow the fun with a simple search.

People seemed to get on board pretty fast. I was happy about that, and there were some great posts. Here are some of my favorites (remember: these appeared entirely without context to everyone, but especially to casual observers).

@abelopez:

you would. #PAFriday

@kieltfs:

That statement offends the unemployed #PAFriday

@SteveYears:

Dude, you’re repeating yourself #PAFriday

@hootz:

I’ve had dreams that start like that. #PAFriday

@kieltfs:

I’ve crushed dreams that start like that. #PAFriday

(I love jokes like this that are funny on their own, but even funnier if you know that they’re a callback to something else.)

At its core, the whole thing was just an exercise in absurdity: taking toots out of context for comedic effect. Many people used #PAFriday to its specified purpose (i.e., responding to actual toots without mentioning the user). But it was fun to see how other people took this (really quite vague) idea into entirely different directions. Some people seemed uncomfortable that the game wasn’t following any clearly defined set of rules. As I explained, in a toot to no one in particular: “The point was never to really be passive-aggressive, but just to laugh at the idea of it. #PAFriday”

And that’s where, beyond the absurdism, a bit of social commentary crept in. There were a few undertones that seemed to pervade the game (at least from my point of view).

Making fun of people who actually are passive-aggressive on Twitter.

Twitter is notorious, in my mind, for passive-aggressive sniping. It’s designed to be an outlet for short statements about what you’re doing or thinking, and that inevitably leads to people complaining about others in their lives without naming those people. Plenty of people who participated in #PAFriday took the opportunity to actually complain stuff that bothered them (with the enhanced self-awareness of explicitly tagging the complaints as passive-aggressive).

Making fun of people who assume other people are being passive-aggressive toward them.

It was also fun to lampoon our own oversensitivity to what other people post on Twitter (or the flip side: the assumption that other people know what we’re talking about when we make vague statements). People have asked me what I was talking about in certain toots, or even if I was talking about them. Our brains are just wired to be self-centered. When someone makes an ambiguous statement, we go to great lengths to figure out how it might be about us. For #PAFriday, there was an overload of these ambiguous statements. It was fun trying to figure out which toots might be in response to which other toots. And it also reminded me that, in fact, not everything is about me.3 I hope others had the same kind of realization.

What does “passive-aggressive” mean?

Interestingly, the most typically passive-aggressive toots of the day seemed to from people complaining about the game itself (either sincerely or ironically). Multiple people mentioned that others didn’t seem to understand the definition of passive-aggressive.

I’m not sure if these remarks were directed at individuals who were participating in unexpected ways, or if they were directed at me for calling it “Passive-Aggressive Friday” (please refer to the previous point). I know some people are sticklers about stuff like that.

The actual definition of passive-aggressive is along the lines of: an indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation. Technically—because written statements are an active act, not a passive one—none of the toots could be truly passive-aggressive.

A strong case could be made, however, that in the popular vernacular (rather than the clinical), the term passive-aggressive is understood more as an avoidance of direct confrontation. This view is typified online at PassiveAggressiveNotes.com, which even includes an explanation and mea culpa for English prescriptivists.4

I, like PassiveAggressiveNotes.com, was using the popular definition, trusting most people would understand what I meant. Many people didn’t follow the “rules” of passive-aggression, but that was kind of the point all along. It was just an excuse to laugh at some stupid stuff.

As far as I’m concerned: mission accomplished.

  1. Not really a game. []
  2. Just kidding. I love you, 140. So much. []
  3. Or is it? []
  4. For my short explanation of language descriptivism versus prescriptivism, see this post. []