National Post

End the tweet shots

- Calum Marsh

Etiquette tends to develop in concert with leaps in technologi­cal evolution – and so it was that the very moment we were introduced to Twitter we inaugurate­d uncompromi­sing rules around subtweetin­g.

A subtweet, for the uninitiate­d, is a glancing barb dispatched by one Twitter user at another, only obscure enough that the identity of the recipient isn’t made obvious. It’s an insult hazarded behind someone’s back. And Twitter etiquette dictates that it be done discreetly, so that if possible the insulted doesn’t know.

It’s a bit like the social strife in a Henry James novel. You simply must navigate the discord the proper way.

More arcane are the rules of conduct around what’s known informally as “sub-faving.” This one is a little bit more difficult to explain. The sub-fave is a kind of passive-aggressive endorsemen­t. It occurs when a Twitter user entirely uninvolved in a conflict between two others brazenly likes or “favourites” one side’s replies.

Suppose I’ve tweeted that I find so-and-so’s opinions on the matter of foreign policy simplistic and vile. So-and-so, bristling at the charge, fires back that I’m naive – and from the internet ether materializ­es a third party to fave his cutting riposte. This partisan interloper has sent an unambiguou­s message: I am wrong.

Is such a gambit acceptable or rude? Twitter protocol isn’t so clear on the point.

On the one hand, sub-faving seems a rather harmless exercise. Clicking that little heart requires next to no effort, after all, and the sentiment expressed is as meagre as it is plain. The sub-faver impresses an attitude of dissent upon a person in the wrong without having to tender any intellectu­al stake.

And yet it may be precisely this ease that renders the subfave an infraction of Twitter politesse. The sub-tweeter, in the very least, submits his invective to public scrutiny. The sub-faver, meanwhile, is critical without any chance of requital. It is ill-mannered and undiplomat­ic. You might even say it’s cowardly.

Of course, the courteous and gentlemanl­y needn’t resort to such barbaric gestures. Instead online foes may be challenged and trounced in column inches: the well-bred writer should seek vengeance in the form of the sub-column, in which a petty vendetta is smuggled into print under the guise of profession­al journalism.

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