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A Few Thoughts On Accidentally Creating A Viral Tweet

Mid-day through the first day of 2018, I accidentally created what I can feel pretty confident in calling a viral Tweet.

The idea of dropping that phrase, mind you, makes my skin crawl. But while doing a little cleaning in the bathroom, I had an idea for one of those quote/retweet predictive text games that were popping up everywhere on Twitter.

How about we use predictive text to write our own epitaphs?

Write “Here lies [YOUR NAME]. [preferred pronoun] was…” and let your phone finish the rest.

Mine is:

Here lies Alexander Zalben. He was clearly not wrong.

I tweeted it out, finished cleaning the bathroom, and then checked Twitter again. I saw a few folks were were either responding or quote tweeting, and frankly after an extremely difficult holiday week the dark subject matter (people sending me their often ridiculous epitaphs) was making me laugh… So I went against internet caution, and just started retweeting everyone who had tweeted at me.

Pretty quickly, it started to snowball to the point that, by that night, I was unable to use Twitter on my phone because the app kept crashing, and everything was flying by at a rate where I could no longer respond to people, or see if friends were writing me things non-related to epitaphs.

A week later, and the Tweet has 13k likes, 1.5k retweets, and 10k comments. That doesn’t tell the whole story, though, because Twitter doesn’t count quote tweets towards any of these stats. In all, as of this writing, the tweet has been seen 1,386,646 times with 501,827 engagements (meaning people who comment, quote tweet, share, etc.)

Look, I know there are bigger tweets, and probably way more interesting tweets – but I have learned a few things this past week I thought I’d share:

1) A Lot Of People Are Going To Be Late To The Party: Though I definitely lost track of these days ago (there are just too many in my feed at this point), the most frequent predictive text epitaph I saw was, “He/She was going to be late to the party.” Was this because people were going to New Year’s parties? Or because predictive text knows that folks are frequently texting to let you know they’re going to be late to the party? Either way, this one turned up a lot, and was pretty grim, given the circumstances.

2) Twitter Needs To Fix Their App: I mean, there’s a lot of things Twitter needs to fix, and clearly this is the humblebrag of problems. But once those replies sped up, I couldn’t use the Twitter app at all. This isn’t the first issue I’ve seen with fast replies, either: when a tweet becomes super popular quickly, Twitter (on an app, or desktop) will sometimes accidentally disconnect replies from the main tweet. It’s a weird bug that means super discussed tweets are less useful than they should be, from both the reader and poster’s ends.

3) Seeing That Many Epitaphs Is Grueling: At first, it was very, very funny, particularly given the ridiculousness of some of the epitaphs. But a week later, with tweets still flying past my mentions, the phrase I pick out most frequently is “here lies [NAME].” The rest I barely register (sorry, you awesome Tweeters), and it’s started to feel like living in a social media graveyard. It’s a small thing, and certainly a mess of my own making. I don’t have a recommendation here other than maybe don’t do the exact same thing I did.

4) Seeing Your Tweet Go Viral On Facebook Is Weird: Several days into this, people started to message me that they had seen my tweet on Facebook. Basically, folks would screencap my tweet, post on their Facebook page, and then “play” the “game” with their followers. I heard it got posted in New Zealand, and the Irish Examiner wrote up an article about the tweets among other countries. Again, no specific conclusions, but as you might expect more people’s parents mentioned seeing this on Facebook than Twitter. This is probably partially because Facebook is a more active, personal sharing experience than Twitter, which is almost always referencing the original account. Still, it’s kind of like that thing where two of your friends meet at a party without you there. Kind of cool, but takes a second to wrap your mind around.

5) Why Do People Like This? Last year I had two viral tweets for different reasons: political ones.

On January 26, I tweeted:

Are you actually f**king kidding me

(and yes this is real, @POTUS is tied to a Gmail account)

…which has 11k retweets, 13k likes, and 442 comments. It also has 1.7 million impressions, and 378k engagements.

On February 15, I tweeted:

Good morning! Today the President has condemned:

NY Times
Washington Post

He has not condemned:


…which has nearly 53k retweets, 99.9k likes, and 1.4k comments – and 5.4 million impressions… But “only” 210k engagements.

Compare that to the main tweet we’re discussing, and you can see that way more people are engaging with the epitaphs tweet per view than that last one, which vastly dwarfs it in retweets and likes. You can definitely (and I’d say successfully) argue that’s because the latter two truck in partisan politics, which eliminates a chunk of the population from engaging. But I think the reason is a little deeper than that, though semi-related.

I think we’re all feeling super grim and dark right now. It wasn’t totally on purpose, but part of the inspiration for this tweet is that my mother-in-law rather suddenly passed away right before Christmas. I haven’t written about it or talked about it too much as I’ve been trying to deal with other issues surrounding the event. But the way I always deal with things is through humor. Death is a lot harder (and more inappropriate) to joke about. So I’ve found my feelings coming out in different ways. Having someone close to you suddenly die is an incomprehensible event, but it’s a little easier to face if you’re laughing in some way. That’s why epitaphs were on my mind, whether I meant it or not. And that’s, I think, why people are responding to this tweet. We spent most of the year panicked that the end of the world was coming, so having a computer come up with the most ridiculous epitaph for you possible is a release. It’s a way of looking death in the face, and laughing. I’d doubt most folks are thinking about it that way (just like I wasn’t, at least at first). But it is a release, to make the unimaginable smaller.

Or maybe predictive text is just silly. Could be that.

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