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Students tweet their way to online accolades

Parody Twitter accounts start as creative writing projects, gain thousands of followers

“Anyone who likes to write realizes there’s a plethora of terrible ideas that bounce around in your head. It’s my job to give those ideas a voice and a face to punch,” said Dana Schwartz ’15, the brains behind the parody Twitter account @GuyInYourMFA.

Started in early September, the account represents a typical white male “literary novelist,” Schwartz said. @GuyInYourMFA often quotes some of his “work,” describes an idea for an upcoming novel or remarks on one of his many struggles as a privileged white male.

“I relate to Holden Caulfield on a level you wouldn’t understand,” reads one tweet, which was favorited over 300 times.

“My tattoos are references to books you’ve never heard of,” reads another.

Schwartz, a Herald opinions columnist, now has over 12,000 followers and gains around 100 more every day. Her account has garnered the attention of several notable names, including New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean and “Matilda” actress Mara Wilson, as well as several literary agents.

Schwartz is not the only Brown student who has tasted Internet fame. Clara Beyer ’14.5 started @FeministTaylorSwift in June 2013 and has since acquired more than 102,000 followers. Several other anonymous Twitter accounts spoof elements of life at Brown, though to considerably smaller audiences.

Though concentrating in public policy, Schwartz takes literary arts writing workshops every year. Inspiration struck a few weeks into the semester, she said.

“It’s me getting my worst writer instincts out in the world. All the terrible ideas I have, I give them a graveyard,” she said. “I think people who take themselves too seriously and think everything out of their mouths is the most profound thing ever … need to be taken down a peg.”

“And at the same time, I recognize that I have that in myself.”

For Schwartz, a parody Twitter account serves as a fun way to procrastinate, she said. “I was bored and I needed constant stimulation. It was either a popular Twitter account or Tinder.”

Schwartz’s alternate persona receives a lot of attention from his Twitter followers. Some tell @GuyInYourMFA that they’re in love with him; others attempt to imitate the voice. But the attention will become “less cool” the minute she starts promoting herself or letting people know who she is, Schwartz said.

@FeministTaylorSwift was born when Beyer, post- Magazine’s serif sheriff, tweeted the idea on her personal account and a friend, Kevin Carty ’15, a former Herald opinions columnist, encouraged her to pursue it.

Beyer takes Taylor Swift’s lyrics and adds a feminist spin — but not in an attempt to criticize her. “I use her lyrics to bring feminism to people,” she said.

“She wears short skirts/And t-shirts/Depending on what/She feels like wearing/*shrug*” reads one tweet.

“It’s a love story/Baby just say yes/because consent should always be freely and enthusiastically given,” reads another.

Beyer’s followers include stars like Hayley Williams, the lead singer of Paramore, and one of Swift’s close friends.

@FeministTaylorSwift has opened many doors for Beyer. After attracting the attention of several literary agents, Beyer took a semester off last fall to write up a book proposal on feminism and work with an agent. But she discontinued her work on the book once she returned to Brown.

“I put a lot of thought into the proposal, but it turned into something like a guide to feminism, … and I’m just not qualified to explain feminism to everybody,” Beyer said. “I don’t have enough experience. I found myself contradicting my own beliefs at times.”

Though the book didn’t work out, she did get the opportunity to meet her muse.

Beyer met Swift over the summer after writing about the account in a contest submission. Beyer, along with the other winners, went to Swift’s apartment to hang out and eat pizza after attending one of her events.

“I told her, ‘I’m so glad you invited me to this. It says that you guys don’t actually hate me,’” said Beyer. “But (Swift) thought my Twitter was really cool. She said, ‘If people hate me, they make it really obvious. So if there’s any ambiguity, I just assume it’s fine.’”

It’s not clear what poises a Twitter account to go viral. Beyer has created several parody Twitter accounts that have been dead ends. On one,  @InstagramModel, she described “all the things that girls on Instagram do” — for example, “eating granola today,” or “casually sitting by a sunset,” Beyer said. But @InstagramModel never achieved the wild upward trajectory of @GuyInYourMFA.

Carty, who is friends with both Schwartz and Beyer, said an account’s virality has something to do with gaining the attention of a major Twitter icon.

“I remember seeing (@FeministTaylorSwift) go from a couple hundred followers to a thousand,” Carty said. “But then Hugo Schwyzer — this guy who wrote for Jezebel and the Atlantic and who marketed himself as this hip male feminist — retweeted FemTaylorSwift, and that’s when it started going from 1,000 to 10,000 to 75,000 followers. And we saw this crazy rise.”

Carty said he’s interested in better understanding why certain content goes viral. “I think people are slowly figuring out how to do the medium of Twitter well, and short-form parody is what Twitter is really good at. One-liners — that’s the type of comedy that works with Twitter,” he said.

“It’s definitely a little bit of an art, to try and make a point in such a short period. But if you figure out how to do it right, it can be this amazingly powerful thing.”

But Carty said he doesn’t necessarily believe in “Twitter fame.”

“I don’t think there’s this attachment of fame and celebrity to Twitter,” he said. “Certain Twitters just get elevated to a more national platform.”

Other Brunonians have started similar anonymous Twitter accounts, though few have become as well-known as @GuyInYourMFA or @FeministTaylorSwift.

A mere 30 people follow @IsTheRattyGood, an account featuring tweets including “Eh,” “Not really” and “Yes; chicken fingers.”

@BrownHipster, an anonymous student who often posts pictures of coffee and tweets about subjects like white oppression, also has yet to take off. “Shopping period perpetuates the capitalist norms in our society #capitalistprison,” reads one tweet.

“Just saw a gaggle of first-years doing a jumping photo in front of Van Wickle Gates #GagMe,” another reads.

Though some of these accounts never attract widespread attention, they still serve as anonymous platforms through which Brown students can voice their thoughts on a variety of topics.

Beyer said she would urge students to start their own parody Twitter accounts. “It’s like the best, smallest investment in the world. Start a bunch, because the barrier to entry is zero,” she said. “It probably won’t go anywhere but maybe it will, and who knows? It could be awesome.”


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