Some pundits have aptly declared this the Twitter Election. The alt-right’s enormous pro-Trump presence on the struggling platform and Hillary “Yaaas Kween” Clinton’s ‘epic clap backs’ have shown this to be true. Today at a rally in Golden, Colorado, Donald Trump stepped it up a notch (as he tends to do) when he appeared to reference a joke from Weird Twitter as evidence of voter fraud. Yes, I’m afraid it’s officially the Weird Twitter election.
At around 2 hours and 30 minutes into the video below, Trump asks the crowd if they’ve sent in their early voting ballots. “I have real problems with ballots being sent [by mail]. Does that make sense?” he explains. “Like people saying, ‘Oh, here’s a ballot. Here’s another ballot. Throw it away. Oh, here’s one I like. We’ll keep that one.’ I have real problems, so get your ballots in.”
The narrative Trump puts forth of how voter fraud is going down in this election seems to have a connection to a joke made by Weird Twitter comedian Raandy, who tweeted [sic throughout], “i love working at the post office in Columbus, Ohio and ripping up absentee ballots that vote for trump.”
Raandy’s tweet went viral earlier this month when a conservative blog called the Gateway Pundit wrote it up as evidence of voter fraud. The article then made it over to the Drudge Report, and Rush Limbaugh and Scott Baio subsequently weighed in. The fucking Secretary of State of Ohio even responded (via Twitter), “I’ve contacted @USPS about posts alleging destruction of absentee ballots. We’ll get the #facts & if true, hold anyone guilty accountable.”
Now it appears that Raandy’s tweet has made it all the way to the top, the Trump campaign making an obvious Twitter joke—Raandy’s bio is “the cool and chill guy of online” and his location is set to California, not Ohio—part of their campaign narrative. This, of course, makes perfect sense; as our nation’s frustrated fact-checkers can attest, the Trump campaign has shown little regard for the truth, favoring convenient fictional narratives that further their message.
Raandy is wary of whether Trump was actually referencing his tweet. He told Gizmodo, “I’m not sure if he is even referencing something he’s heard about my tweet or it’s something his retard brain just made up.” Fair enough. So there are two ways to read his speech: Either Trump was referencing Raandy’s tweet or his thinking is so in line with those who are mocking him that he regurgitated a similar sentiment.
Trump’s speech in Colorado wasn’t the only moment in this election that Weird Twitter seeped into our political discourse. Throughout, the tone has been perfectly in tune with the website’s outsider comedy scene, which has been described as “collections of people saying incorrect things will make you scratch your head — and laugh.”
So what is Weird Twitter? In BuzzFeed’s 2013 oral history of the online community, John Hermann lists off imperfect definitions of what Weird Twitter is, including “an intentionally wrong style of idiotic comedy” and “a loose group of Twitter users who write in a less accessible form, using sloppy punctuation/spelling/capitalization, poetic experimentation with sentence format, first-person throwaway characters, and other techniques little known to the vast majority of ‘serious’ Twitter users.” Finally, he concludes (emphasis mine):
Weird Twitter is vast and amorphous... This is where the language of Twitter gets created, where its funniest jokes come from, and where its worst tendencies are isolated, rebroadcast, and sometimes destroyed. It’s a meritocratic place where genders, ages, backgrounds, and jobs are either absent or distorted beyond recognition.
With the rise of Trumpism, both liberal and conservative discourse has devolved into self-parody. Trump has always been difficult for liberals to take seriously, partly because his worldview is so patently absurd, it doesn’t seem like it could actually be real. Clinton has also tried playing into the meme game, although the tone of jokes like “delete your account” come across as less weird and more pandering. I don’t mean to imply that Hillary’s attempt at internet humor feels disingenuous as a criticism of her campaign; rather, unlike Trump, she’s a politician. She’s calculating; her team knows what they’re doing. The sassy, sharp sentiments that her campaign espouses on Twitter stand in direct opposition with Trump’s fast and loose tweeting style.
Nevertheless, elements of Clinton’s digital presence—the tool on her website that allows users to compare what Trump and Clinton were doing in any given year—has a smug vibe that is reminiscent of Weird Twitter. The sensibility of this Twitter community (Weird Twitter, I should point out, frequently overlaps with Leftist Twitter) relies on mocking the dumb and dangerous things politicians and commentators say by letting the quotes speak for themselves. You often see a Weird tweet that’s just a screenshot of a quote or a videoclip with some light commentary. Simply adding the caption “I’m this guy” to a dumb tweet or a silly photo, for instance, is a common gag. Pitting Clinton’s political history against Trump’s much more ridiculous past achieves a similar goal: no commentary necessary, do you really want to vote for this guy?
Trump, effectively, is the real life voice of the indignant, aggressive worldview Weird Twitter has been parodying for years. The day after The Washington Post dropped the Access Hollywood tape and some conservatives were calling on Trump to drop out, the Republican nominee tweeted:
The tone, structure and message of the tweet bore matched a 2012 tweet from maybe the best account Weird Twitter has to offer, the mysterious @dril.
The rise of conservative commentator Bill Mitchell is perhaps the pinnacle of the Weird Twitter Election. Mitchell has emerged as one of Trump’s loudest advocates on Twitter, with over 114,000 followers. Before the election, he had no political notoriety—Mitchell is a business recruiter. “In truth, Mitchell’s only qualification seems to be that he just started tweeting a lot,” writes Charlie Warzel for BuzzFeed. Sometimes suspected of being parody, Mitchell has tweeted many things that could easily be inducted into the Weird Twitter hall of fame. Except this dude is for real.
Conservative discourse becoming completely indistinguishable from the leftist parody of it affirms what we all already know: life imitates art just as smug imitates dumb and vice versa.