In the months since Elon Musk’s dramatic takeover of Twitter in October last year, users have been pre-emptively mourning the end of the social media platform and threatening to switch to the various alternative networks cropping up. Enter: Threads. A new app from Meta, set to take on Twitter, which launches today. A preview of the “text-based conversation” app, which is linked to Instagram, says it will be a place “where communities come together to discuss everything from the topics you care about today to what’ll be trending tomorrow”. Still, as flawed as Twitter is, it has an undoubtedly addictive allure that will prove difficult to replicate.
Not only has it seen some of the internet’s most hilarious moments (serving as a breeding ground of humour which eventually filters down to the users of Facebook and Instagram a few weeks later), it has also been a crucial tool for social change. From the Black Lives Matter and MeToo movements, to Greta vs Andrew Tate and *that* Kendall Jenner Pepsi advert, here are some of the highlights and pivotal moments in the website’s history.
The MeToo movement
“If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
It would be impossible to predict the impact of those fifteen words, tweeted by actress Alyssa Milano in October 2017 following the exposure of numerous sexual-assault allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein.
Originally started as a grassroots effort by African-American activist Tarana Burke in 2006, the movement was set ablaze after Milano’s tweet, and has become a viral and vital rallying cry for millions of women, helping them to speak out against abuses of power by men.
Swathes of prominent celebrities and survivors came forward to share their stories, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lawrence, Uma Thurman and Ashley Judd. One tweet fundamentally shifted the framing sexual abuse in popular discourse.
Ellen’s viral Oscars selfie
For the Gen-Zers too young to remember the selfie that “broke the internet”, it may be difficult to understand, upon first glance, why it was so monumental. In an era where A-list celebrity interactions are commonplace, and our favourites feel more accessible to us than ever, a blurry selfie is certainly nothing to write home about.
But you really *had* to be there.
The selfie, taken by Ellen DeGeneres, shows Hollywood royalty Jennifer Lawrence, Channing Tatum, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, DeGeneres, Kevin Spacey, Bradley Cooper, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong’o and her brother and Angelina Jolie (with her face half cut out), with the perfectly millennial caption: “If only Bradley’s arm was longer. Best photo ever. #oscars”.
Currently sitting at a whopping two million likes, Ellen held the “most retweeted” title for more than three years until Nevada teen Carter Wilkerson’s plea for free chicken nuggets from fast-food chain Wendy’s went viral. Naturally.
Blue and black or white and gold? It truly was the question of our times.
Kim Kardashian, Anna Kendrick and Julianne Moore saw white and gold. Kanye West, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift saw blue and black. It became a metaphor for tolerating other people’s perspectives, a moment that divided, but simultaneously united the internet for a brief moment in the halcyon days of 2015.
In case you missed it, the phenomenon originated from a washed-out colour photograph of a dress posted on Twitter, which, due to a quirk in how the brain deciphers colour, appeared to some users as blue and black, and others as white and gold.
Within a week, more than ten million tweets had mentioned the dress, using hashtags such as #thedress, #whiteandgold, and #blackandblue. The dress itself was later confirmed as a royal blue “Lace Bodycon Dress” from the retailer Roman Originals, which was actually black and blue in colour. Yeah, right.
The Kendall Jenner Pepsi advert
In April 2017, Kendall Jenner teamed up with Pepsi to star in a new advert which would go down as one of the worst PR shambles in history.
A quick TLDR: the clip shows Jenner stepping forward from a group of attractive young protesters holding signs with generic slogans such as “peace” and “join the conversation”, while the song Lions by Skip Marley (the grandson of Bob Marley) plays in the background. Wiping off her lipstick, Jenner approaches a police officer lined up in the street with his colleagues and offers him a can of Pepsi, seemingly as an olive branch, setting off raucous approval from the protesters and an appreciative smile from the officer.
The response on Twitter, as you can imagine, was swift and brutal. As well as righteous anger from users accusing Jenner of trivialising the Black Lives Matter movement, she was also mercilessly taunted, including by Martin Luther King Jr’s daughter, Bernice King, who wrote on Twitter: “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi”.
King subsequently wrote an article for Huffington Post, explaining that the advert “contributed to the notion that there is a fairy-tale, light way to ease conflicts that have existed in this nation for hundreds of years”.
As a result of the backlash, Pepsi quickly pulled the ad from the air and from YouTube. Yikes.
Black Lives Matter
It has been a decade since the first tweet with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was posted. Shared in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin, the tweet sparked a movement has since utilised Twitter to protest against police brutality and racially motivated violence.
By June 10, 2020, the hashtag had been tweeted roughly 47.8 million times, and that year the movement returned to national headlines and gained further international attention during the global protests in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
An estimated 15 million to 26 million people participated in the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, making it one of the largest movements in the country’s history.
The Imagine pandemic video
It wasn’t even a week into lockdown. We had been inside for six days, and already everyone had clearly lost their minds.
Because there really is no other explanation for this video.
On 18 March 2020, Gal Gadot hit publish on a post that would seal her fate in the internet meme hall of fame forever. The video saw herself and a supergroup of celebrities (including some unfortunately actually cool people who will now never be seen in the same light again) each singing a line from John Lennon’s Imagine. Stars like Kristen Wiig, Natalie Portman, Maya Rudolph, Will Ferrell, Zoë Kravitz, Mark Ruffalo and Jamie Dornan for some reason all lined up to sing in this out of time and off key performance that no one asked for.
It’s difficult to decide which section is most unsettling. Of course, a top contender is Sarah Silverman’s faux-cheeky riff, but a lesser-talked about horror is the transition from Natalie Portman’s comically lacklustre line to Zoe Kravitz sitting creepily in front of a burning fire looking like she’s about to plot your murder.
“We are in this together, we will get through it together,” Gadot captioned the post. Do we have to, though?
The Cats trailer
In a similar vein to the Imagine video, Twitter is truly at its best when it comes together to collectively mock celebrities.
Another moment of iconic collaborative Internet meme-ry came on July 18, 2019, when the trailer for the live action Cats remake was released.
It was perhaps the combination of the absolutely cursed transmogrified CGI human-cat hybrids and the bizarre A-list cast which set the internet ablaze, the likes of which included James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, Jennifer Hudson.
Were they being held hostage? Who convinced DAME Judi Dench to do this? Why did the cats have visible breasts? What does “digital fur technology” mean? It was all too much.
30-50 feral hogs
As the gun control debate raged in the US after a weekend of devastating mass shootings in 2019, naturally, blazing rows on Twitter took place between pro and anti-gun users about the right to bear arms.
In the midst of this, however, one man in Arkansas posed a simple question: “Legit question for rural Americans - How do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play?”
Unfortunately for Willie McNabb, his logistical dilemma was, of course, not taken at face value. The idea of a bloodthirsty army of feral pigs charging into a backyard in the space of three minutes, in a stand-off with an AR-15 wielding hero quickly sent Twitter into a tailspin, and, before long, it was trending nationwide with over 50,000 tweets.
And they were excellent tweets. It was one of the greatest days in the website’s history.
Greta vs Andrew Tate
On 27 December, former kickboxer and professional misogynist Andrew Tate, 36, sent an unprovoked and hostile tweet to climate activist Greta Thunberg, 19, about his sports car collection. “Please provide your email address so I can send a complete list of my car collection and their respective enormous emissions,” he wrote.
The best he could have hoped for from this was a cheap laugh from some of his faux-macho followers. Instead, he was subjected to potentially the greatest clapback in history, and found himself arrested for human trafficking.
In Thunberg’s now infamous reply, she wrote: “Yes, please do enlighten me. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Tate, who clearly didn’t know when to duck out of a losing battle, then posted a bizarre video message in response. Hours later, the controversial influencer was arrested by Romanian authorities for human trafficking and rape investigation. It was widely speculated on Twitter that the video helped Romanian authorities secure his arrest by the sourcing the brand name of the pizza boxes in the background and deducing where Tate lived. While that detail sadly turned out not to be true, it was fun while it lasted. The exchange will still hang in the Twitter hall of showdown fame.