Unless your social media is totally and utterly professional at all times (well done on your steely restraint, if so), chances are you've probably been guilty of throwing a little shade online at some point or another. Known on Twitter as subliminal tweeting, or "subtweeting," this involves sending a snarky tweet or a to-hell-with-it style post in relation to a person — without directly mentioning a name or Twitter handle. Oh, and it’s apparently one of the worst things you can do on the Internet. There's even research to prove it.
Yep, even though everyone from Miley Cyrus to the King and Queen of Shade Kim K and Kanye West have fired off thinly-veiled jabs online, next time you feel like uploading that oh-so-salty meme or ice-cold tweet in reference to your ex-best friend or partner, be aware that people might be judging you for it: Research slated to be published in Computers in Human Behavior has found that subtweets are actually very unlikable, and that these negative feelings extend to the tweeters of subtweets, too.
Professor of communication Autumn Edwards, along with her graduate student, Christina Harris, carried out a study with 349 undergraduates, who each viewed and judged four tweets. According to the Washington Post, one tweet directly mentioned someone and was positive, another mentioned the person but was mean, one was a rude subtweet, and the other was a subtweet which was kind.
The scientists found that people don’t think highly of those who subtweet; in fact, they’re less likely to want to befriend them, more likely to judge them for being less socially competent, and are less likely to think they share personal characteristics. Apparently this is because people take subtweeting as a sign of rudeness and a lack of social skills: We naturally view people who are deliberately obtuse in online conversation suspiciously, favoring frankness and openness instead. And since the purpose of a subtweet is to be subtly salty... well, you can see where the problem might be.
WaPo reports that there is one exception to this rule, though: According to Edwards, if you really feel the urge to let rip on your timeline, you should actually call your victim out personally; people will think you’re less of a jerk for directly addressing the person than if you sent a passive-aggressive subtweet.
Although the research might seem to point to the glaringly obvious (nasty tweets = really bad), it’s actually really interesting to think of how we can curate our own internet personas, and what our language and behavior online says about each of us. We’re now living in a world where each tweet is an indicator of our own personal brand and set of social skills — there are even specially designed tools to help us decide what to post to our social media timelines — so knowing more about how we come across to others online could, potentially, reduce the amount of trolling many of us face online. In turn, this might lead us to happier people on the 'net all round — and goodness knows we could use a little more positivity these days.