Snitches get stitches. It’s true in life, and on social media.
This morning Mashable published a hilarious explainer about the social media scourge known as “snitch tagging.”
This is basically what it boils down to: say you tweet something critical about a celebrity without tagging them. Then, someone tags said celebrity in a comment so they know the internet is throwing shade at them.
Here’s an example featuring Daily Beast editor-in-chief Noah Shachtman.
If Shachtman wanted to engage with Musk, he would’ve tagged the tech titan himself. But this random troll thought he knew better than a seasoned reporter and took it upon himself to alert Musk of a critical story.
There are plenty of acceptable ways to tag on Twitter. For example, if you see a funny tweet, it’s fine to tag your friends in it to share the love.
There’s also the stealth snitch tag, where someone searches their own name on Twitter just to see what people are saying about them. Kardashian crony and “Food God” Jonathan Cheban does this all the time to call his critics “pathetic” and “ugly.”
These people bring the pain on themselves and deserve some good-natured ribbing.
But snitch tagging is rude, presumptuous and just not cool. As such, many Twitter uses have taken to blocking snitch taggers and deleting whole threads once someone snitches.
There’s one variety of snitch tagger Mashable doesn’t focus on, however—and it might be the most insidious of all: when celebrities tag everyday Twitter users who were critical of them. You could call this phenomenon “Twitter tattling.”
Musk is particularly guilty of this. Whether users tag him or not in critical tweets, he usually responds. That has the ripple effect of sending thousands of Musk-defending trolls into the critic’s mentions.
For example, after Musk proposed creating a site called Pravda to rate news outlets’ trustworthiness, many journalists commented to defend their profession.
“Do you think it’s in the interest of powerful people to A: support a free press that exposes their lies, or B: tear it down so their lies are easier to tell?” Joshua Topolsky, founder and editor-in-chief of The Outline, asked.
“Who do you think owns the press? Hello,” Musk responded.
This dog whistle set off a flood of anti-Semitic messages in Topolsky’s mentions.
Of course, the online abuse is even worse for women. Science writer Erin Biba commented on the same Musk tweet, accusing him of threatening media and science with his “powerful ignorance.”
“I have never attacked science,” Musk replied. “Definitely attacked misleading journalism like yours though.”
Hundreds of Musk fans hurled misogynistic insults at Biba, calling her everything from an “idiot” to an “unfuckable cunt.” The response was so toxic that she deleted her initial tweet.
President Donald Trump is also a big tattler. He’s called out union leaders by name on Twitter, exposing them to harassing phone calls and online vitriol.
On the flip side, Trump has also retweeted conspiracy theorists and brought them further into the mainstream. As a result, he’s opened up anyone who disagrees with these theorists to increased social media harassment.
Exposing relative unknowns to mass trolling is just plain heartless. As The Outline pointed out, social media should theoretically follow the same principle as stand-up comedy: “Punch up, never punch down.”
But Musk and Trump are two of the most powerful people in the world, so for them, there’s nowhere to go but down. When they pick a target, their disciples are ready to pounce.
There is one easy solution to this: celebrities can stop engaging with everyday Twitter users. Let them blow off steam and air grievances, whether they tag you or not—but don’t make things worse by responding.
Of course, it’s doubtful that Musk, Trump and their ilk would ever actually exercise this restraint. Twitter tattling is fun for them, and they don’t care that it makes the rest of us miserable.