#Teens

05.22.14

My Weird Inside Look at Teen Twitter

Emoji-laden messages, fan letters, offers of nude photos—these are the things that happen when you share a name and very similar Twitter handle of a teen celebrity.

When my daughter was younger, I encouraged her active use of the Internet under my supervision, going so far as to help her set up various outlets of potential expression. One of these was a Twitter account that she briefly used, and which she probably would have continued using had her main mechanism of access not been a desktop computer that occasionally works.

That was then. Now, my daughter is older and I can barely fathom that she is a teenager. She’s changing—not in a bad way of course, but in the way that happens regardless of our readiness for it. My father once cryptically telling me about me that he looked up from the breakfast table one morning to see somebody coming down the stairs that he no longer recognized.

In an entirely unrelated development—but one that occurred at roughly the same time as my daughter’s birthday—I started getting strange, occasionally inappropriate messages to my personal Twitter account from people (mostly teenage girls) that I didn’t recognize, all praising various things about me that were not true.  How cute I was. How lucky I was to have friends like someone named Jack. How excited they were to see me. What they were willing to offer in exchange for additional access to me.

Without plugging my own Twitter account, it became very obvious that each of these teens was looking for somebody whose own handle was close to my own, and who, I later discovered, shared with me a first and last name. His account is @sammywilk, and he’s associated with a group called Magcon—a collection of teenaged boys whose entire claim to fame is being social media famous. @sammywilk has a vast following or, at least, vast compared to what a 33-year-old father of three can generate via his own relentless snarking.

I did what I assume all people do when they are confused about something: I typed “Magcon” and “Wikipedia” into Google and hoped for the best. There was no easily understood Wikipedia page to be found, and it took me weeks before I finally happened to stumble onto a reasonable explanation for what Magcon is:

Magcon stands for “Meet and Greet Convention,” a sold-out weekend-long traveling event—New Jersey, Austin, Chicago—showcasing 11 teenage boys and one accessorized girl. The boys aren’t pop musicians or actors or, for the most part, possessors of the sort of talent that would have made someone a teen idol in previous years. They’re social-media savants, famous and desired because they’ve built a successful feedback loop of fame and desire, among a mostly female online fan base as large—and loyal—as Lady Gaga’s.

Although my temptation is to balk like a sitcom father—“Whaddya mean these guys are famous for Tweeting?!”—I know better. Teenagers have forever had their own inexplicable obsessions and I am not so old that I forget the ones that were popular when I was an adolescent: New Kids On The Block in 4th and 5th grade, the Backstreet Boys and N*Sync when I was graduating high school, and a thousand other things in between. The only difference between then and now is the immediacy of the access.

There are times when the attention seeking takes a turn from simple fandom into dedication that gives me pause. Like the young woman who offered me nude photographs in exchange for following her.

When the Twitter messages to me started, I mostly ignored them, neither knowing what they meant—so many are written in a dense fog of abbreviations, emojis, and coded messages—nor being anything more than slightly irritated that those few replies my own tweets produced were getting lost in the scroll of misplaced adulation.

However, I’ve since decided that replying is more fun. I take particular pride in disappointing so many dedicated accounts.

But this has its limits. There are times when the attention seeking takes a turn from simple fandom into dedication that gives me pause. Like the young woman who offered me nude photographs in exchange for following her. I explained that I was not who she thought I was and also that offering nude photographs to strangers—even beloved ones—was a bad idea. She acknowledged how dumb it was, but wrote off the behavior by saying that fans do stupid things, and implied that this was the only way to get the real @sammywilk’s attention. The conversation ended, predictably, and since then I have no idea what happened to her in her quest for that boy’s attention.

However, the hyperactive imagination of a father can go places, and the following conversation occurred:

“Have you heard of Magcon?” I asked my daughter.

“No, Dad.”

“Okay, good.” I said, not really knowing what I would have said had she answered otherwise.

“What about your friends?”

“No, Dad, I don’t think so.”

I was so uncomfortable with my what brain was thinking about that I dropped it. But her mother didn’t.

“You know not to be stupid on the Internet, right?” she asked.

My daughter said, “I know.”

“You know what we mean by stupid, right?”

“Yes.”

And we believed it, both because there is no other option really and because she has proven quite reliable in her assurances. That might change as she gets older, and as parents, we will be forced to adjust accordingly. But in the meantime, she is allowed to continue creating her own indecipherable emoji conversations with friends and sharing her own quirky photos on Instagram. Her Twitter account remains dormant.