First came Twitter.
Then came Twitter fights.
Then came Twitter passive aggression: Insults that don't explicitly identify the person being criticized are so pervasive they have a name, the subtweet.
Now that subtlety is being punctured by a rising Twitter behavior -- snitch-tagging.
A snitch-tagger is essentially a Twitter tattletale. He or she sees a tweet criticizing another user and chimes in with that person's Twitter handle -- flagging the insult for the target to see.
Tweeting directly at someone is like ringing that person's doorbell and saying what you think of them, said Mark Marino, an associate professor of writing and the director of the Humanities and Critical Code Studies Lab at USC.
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Snitch-tagging, then, is like dragging a person by the collar to someone else's door, ringing the bell and saying: Listen to the awful thing this person said about you.
It's a move that pulls both the critic and the criticized into a digital confrontation that neither of them asked for.
And it's one that takes advantage of a quality that defines Twitter -- the absence of barriers separating public figures from their fans and haters.
Snitch-tagging could be well-intentioned, Marino said, but it reminds him of drama-hungry kids egging on a schoolyard fight. "It's hard not to think of the middle-school version where you're waiting for the sparks to fly."