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The Rise of the Shitposter
A few years ago, I was excited that I was in the running to get a new client, so excited in fact that I had booked a colleague to fly in from New York to join me on the pitch. I received a bizarre call from the client in question a day later, telling me that their CMO had read a recent (at the time) tweet of mine and that, sadly, we would not be moving forward. I remember the deep sense of shame at the time - that I had endangered my own livelihood by tweeting “fucka sucka ding dong” on a lark, but then remembered that this was ultimately not a matrix through which I should be evaluated and that anyone who judged me for it was a huge weenie that would be a pain to work with.
A week ago, a new client remarked that I am a “class A shitposter,” and I clapped like a child at the circus at the idea that this was positive, and remarked that most people in PR are simply too normal, and that my moat was some form of self-inflicted brain damage from years of posting.
The definition of shitposting is relatively vague, but it mostly comes down to “posts in a way that is chaotic and not befitting of one’s station as a professional.” The Verge called Elon Musk “a shitposter with a hobby of being CEO of Tesla and SpaceX.” Taylor Lorenz over at the New York Times defined shitposting as “a style of posting involves people publishing low-quality images, videos or comments online,” which I’d say is only part of the rich tapestry of the shitposter, as there have been many shitposts that are not really low quality insomuch as they are simply chaos. Responding to people that are arguing with you with “?” and “what?” is shitposting, posting “I am going to become the joker” is shitposting, and retweeting a guy saying “I hit the juckport 1 trillion$” is shitposting. Though some may say that shitposting involves spam, well, that’s just spam.
There’s many definitions of shitposting, it was the word of the year a few years ago, and there are people who claim they’re shitpost accounts, I don’t care, my word is truth. The idea of being a “shitposter account” is truly loathsome. I’m sure someone will read this and say “ahh, sir, actually shitposting is-” and my answer, as usual, is to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shitposting is basically just hanging out and dicking around online, throwing off the shackles of expectations of what one should do and not do online. If anything, shitposting is the antithesis of personal branding, at least when it’s done based on the metric of “I find this funny, and you probably will too.” The definition is so vague and broad that I think that it’s been applied to just about anything that isn’t inherently serious or structured. A standard dad joke wouldn’t be considered shitposting, but posting “I Am The Father Of All Brands” at 9PM on a Tuesday would absolutely be considered shitposting. I feel dirty even typing out what is and isn’t shitposting, because it feels like I’m chewing up something I and many others enjoy into little pellets, over-codifying something that at its core is fun due to its lack of codification.
I think part of my career success has come down to the idea of shitposting, if only because it involves focusing more on what makes me laugh (or happy, or sad, or angry) rather than what is or isn’t expected of a given person. When I wrote about personal branding, my anger was partly focused on the idea of people trying to force structure and logic onto their own chaotic existences. The original joy of the internet - before everything was so easily searchable and monetizable - was that there was a degree of dicking around with people for no reason other than the fact that you could, and it was fun. Part of this joy was through the anonymity (or quasi-anonymity) of Everquest, or mIRC, or whatever forum you were on - you could joke and have fun without the worry that someone would judge you for it.
I think the modern joy of shitposting is that it returns to that innocence, with the risk to one’s personal brand that a future employer or romantic partner may see you tweeting stuff like “I will personally see the PJ masks arrested and tried as adults” and question your sanity. So much of our online lives has been injected with a vast amount of social and fiscal weight - we want to appear erudite, hireable, valuable, reliable, and we do things based on meeting those matrices. We worry that if we say or do the wrong thing - and I add I am not talking about cancel culture stuff - we’ll be considered weird, unreliable, untrustworthy, and thus we try and stick to the norm. But the reality is that nobody really cares - I have tweeted some of the stupidest, most irrelevant garbage in the world, and I keep getting clients and remain happily married.
A note on “cancel culture”: As I’ve said, what I’m talking about here is not cancel culture stuff, it’s not people making racist or sexist or cruel jokes or stuff like that. “Not being able to say stuff because of society” is not the same as “being worried that if I seem too weird people won’t like me.” Yes, there are forms of shitposting that are harassment - just like anything! - but it’s very obvious what those are.
Personally, people seem to like the shitposting, and I think it’s because there is no grand plan or agenda to it. It’s what I think is funny or interesting at the time, and there’s a harmlessness to it - and I think that’s why many people (especially in the media) are doing it too. I’m seeing respected journalists who are dicking around posting irrelevant stuff, and it makes me happy - people are stressed, trapped at home to varying degrees, and I think that blowing off steam online doesn’t have to be about getting mad at people. I’ve seen serious reporters at serious outlets shitposting, and it brings me joy.
I also think that the stream of consciousness element of shitposting is what makes it so fun and honest. We put so much thought into everything we do online, and when people are out there shitposting, there may be a moment of consideration about the phrasing of something, but in reality, it’s mostly just a case of doing whatever and posting. It’s the posting equivalent of The Eric Andre Show, where many jokes are funny partly as a combination of their content and the context (what is meant to be a serious talk show). Perhaps that’s the fun of shitposting, too - people follow me online with the expectation that I’m going to have Big Serious Thoughts about, say, remote work or public relations, and they find me posting that Rivers Cuomo is Andrew Cuomo’s son. And they love it! Or they don’t, and it doesn’t matter.
As people shitpost more, I think they’ll realize that there is no harm in treating Twitter (or other social networks) as their own spot where they just do whatever. It’s countercultural in that most social media is so carefully groomed, so constantly evaluated and re-evaluated for impact and engagement, that joking around about something unrelated to their job is refreshing. We’re all so utterly focused on getting everything right that relaxing, honest, and silly stuff is, on some level, a joy to behold.