As we move from the early states into the more decisive spate of primaries, social media is becoming a toxic brew of electioneering, scandal-mongering, and all-out warfare between the candidates’ best and most informed proxies: the general public at their keyboards. It got so bad last night that I had to recover from reading tweets about two rival election town halls to watch a man’s leg get sawed off during my DVR’ed final installment of War and Peace.
So if you’re struggling to make your way through the maze of anger, assertions, and accusations that have become the daily social media experience, let us offer you a guide to the ten types of political aficionados you will meet on social media.
The Above-It-All Prognosticator: This person won’t let you know how he feels about a candidate or how he is voting. Instead, he’s interested in telling you exactly what will happen because he and he alone can predict the future. “Clearly, Bernie will lose by a 13-point spread in North Carolina, but Rubio’s fifth-place finish in Nevada will mean…” Everyone who doesn’t see this obvious outcome, he avers, is hopelessly naive and idealistic. At this point, your eyes glaze over.
The Trench-Digging Partisan: This person, also known by the pejorative “Bernie Bro” or “Hillary Bot” is fond of embracing hashtags like #FeeltheBern or #ImWithHer, and then using the opposite hashtag ironically to diss their opponent. Since February began, Partisan has only posted or tweeted negative pieces about the other candidate, accompanied by some “See, I told you!”-style copy, a signature move which implicitly encourages massive flame wars in response. The Partisan secretly loves flame wars. The Partisan frequently utilizes “This.” to introduce pieces she finds particularly trenchant.
The Guerrilla Fighter: Unlike Partisan, Guerrilla never actually shares op-eds or news items. Instead, he darts into people’s Twitter mentions or comment threads, leaves a little bomb of provocation, and disappears. For instance, after a post or tweet wherein everyone is praising Bernie Sanders’ integrity, Guerrilla slips in, says something about “unelectable,” “naive,” and “pipe dream,” or maybe “McGovern,” and then flees, not waiting around to field any responses. In a pro-Clinton scenario, Guerrilla dances up to the original post and leaves a gentle, “#HenryKissingerLovesHer” or, “Remember when she was on the board of Wal-Mart?”
Then, like a flash of lightning, the Guerrilla has returned to the woods and fields of the web she knows best. But if a flame war starts, only the truly committed Guerrilla can resist coming back out into open territory to defends her position; most will return and retreat again and again before finally saying, “I just came here to make this one point, I’m going to disengage now,” and then failing to do so. The truly artful Guerrilla is as rare as the bald eagle.
The Nervous Grandparent: The thrust of this person’s posts, emails, comments, and, ahem, phone calls are all the same: if the Republicans win, we’re doomed. “We can’t let the other side win because if we do America will die and Earth will explode and Martians will take over!” This may not be so far from the truth! But Nervous Grandparent cannot move beyond his handwringing position to consider any other aspect of the election. “Yes, yes, financial reform is important,” he says. “BUT THE REPUBLICANS WILL TRIGGER The APOCALYPSE.”
The Relentless Questioner: Every post of Relentless’ is framed as a question, which this person thinks makes her seem really, deeply intelligent. Like, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but why do Bernie Sanders’ representatives always use the subjective case when discussing healthcare reform? Does this seem fishy to anyone else?” Or, “Can anyone tell me where Hillary Clinton was during the great Lilith Fair debate of 1997? I feel it would be v.v. informative for my decision-making, thx!”
The Armchair Beltway Pundit: Like her close relative, the Prognosticator, this person absolutely loves polls. She posts the latest out of Michigan and drops phrases like “margin of error” and “spread” and “trending” all day long. The only things she loves more than polls are Washington Post op-eds, Politico articles, and cable news discussions of which candidate is connecting with which audience. She watches cable news all night and on Sunday mornings to hear her favorite Washington Post or Politico writer defend his Washington Post op-ed. She has a lot to say about why millennials are betraying their own future by not voting/voting for Sanders/voting for Clinton/existing. When you bring up actual policy, her eyes glaze over and she says something about “the electorate,” “soccer moms,” and “swing states.”
The Coward: “Hey, this is interesting,” says the coward on his Facebook page before posting an article. “This really made me think. Did it make you think?” He is noncommittal, but unlike the “Relentless Questioner” who wants to seem smart, this person won’t commit because he doesn’t want to get yelled at. But he also doesn’t want to be left out. Another favorite word of the coward’s is “fascinating,” or occasionally: “Wow. Never knew this, if true. Anyone want to weigh in?”
The Denouncer: Throws cold water on the hot, hot flame war by noting that the system is rotten, electoral politics are inherently compromised, the two-party system is bullshit, the media is bought and sold and in the tank, and neither candidate actually gives a crap about people of color, women, trans people, queer people, indigenous peoples, disabled folks, or anyone else. This person is probably right about almost everything, but he gets in the way of partisan squabbling and is therefore deemed a nuisance.
The Armchair Psychologist: This person watches the election like it’s a soap opera crossed with a Freudian textbook. “I just wonder how Hillary feels,” he posts. Other favorite assertions: “It’s clear that Bill is undermining Hillary.” “Bernie clearly has contempt for his hairdresser.” “Let’s talk about the Bush boys and their daddy issues,” and “Trump must have a really small Penis.” The Armchair psychologists knows all the characters at play, thinks Anderson Cooper must be jealous of Rachel Maddow, and wants to know exactly what happens when Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly pass in the hallway. He’s pretty fun.
The Trump Voter: Why are you still following this horrible person? The block button exists for a reason.