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Trump is a Poster, Elon is a Reply Guy
Building a Theory of Reply Guys
If you’re extremely online, you’ll often hear someone described as a ‘Poster’1. This is usually a compliment - Dril is a great poster. Donald Trump has the soul of a Poster. It’s someone whose posts and personality online are so distinctive as to merit recognition. It’s the peak compliment for an internet personality to be a recognized Poster, and it sits in the pantheon of very online internet terms with Hellsite, Reply Guy, and Doomscrolling.
The antithesis of a Poster is the Reply Guy. Calling someone a Reply Guy is never a compliment. If a Poster is filled with originality, verve and creativity, the Reply Guy has none of that. Reply Guys2 are seen as pathetic, sad weirdos. They’re objects of derision.
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These two personas were largely developed on Twitter, which is unique among social media sites in that replies have equal visual weight to the original posts they’re responding to. Image/video based social media sites like TikTok, YouTube and Instagram shunt the comment section to the side or the bottom, and comments are visually marked as being of lesser importance than the main content. Nobody calls YouTube commenters Reply Guys, because YouTube comments don’t matter enough for anyone to call them anything at all. But Twitter grew up as a text-based site, first and foremost. A secondary reply is formatted in an almost identical way to the primary tweet. And discussion is the whole point of the website - part of the original appeal of early Twitter was that it was the site where you could reply to famous people and they’d actually see it.
And so it was on Twitter that the archetypes of Posters and Reply Guys developed. But what are they, precisely? What makes one famous internet personality a Poster and another famous internet personality a Reply Guy? Before we can describe exactly what they are, it’s important to clarify what they’re not.
What Posters and Reply Guys are Not
It’s not all about replying. Let’s get this out of the way first. The stereotypical case of a reply guy is the person who replies to every post a more popular figure puts out. They might be critical or adoring, but they’re always in the comments and replies, adding low-value nonsense. This is a Reply Guy, but it’s not the only kind of Reply Guy. And it’s not the type we’re focused on in this post.
Being a reply guy is more than just being someone who replies all the time - it’s a vibe, a style of posting, a mindset. Reply Guys are correlated with annoying replies and responses to other people, but it’s not set in stone. Take the example of Ryan Radia. Ryan is well-known as a Guy Who Replies, but is also famous for the quality of his replies. He’s known to swoop in with facts, helpful statistics, and data about literally any subject. If you make an inaccurate claim about the average lifespan of Guatemalan nematodes, Ryan will helpfully swoop in to correct you with data he somehow sourced from the Guatemalan Nematode Association. You can be a fantastic Poster, even if you’re famous for replying to others.
It’s not about popularity. There are incredible posters with only small followings. There are reply guys with millions of followers and massive reach. Reply Guys can get tons of engagement. Given the state of social media, it’s actually not that hard to game the system and get a large following with a very formulaic approach to posting that maximizes engagement via algorithmic tricks.
It’s also not about importance. You can be an irrelevant nobody and be one of the most famous Posters in the world. You can be a billionaire or a Senator and still be a Reply Guy online. Real world influence and impact does not shield you from being a Reply Guy.
It’s not about partisanship. This isn’t going to be one of those articles where everyone who agrees with my politics is a Cool Kid and everyone who disagrees is a Big Online Dummy. There are iconic capital-P Posters on all sides of the political spectrum. It might make people angry, but Posting talent is distributed without regard to political opinions. It’s part of why the people with bad politics are able to win elections!
What makes a Poster?
In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Stewart Potter defined pornography with a test of “I know it when I see it”. There are categories that defy easy description or black and white tests, but that we intuitively know are real. Poster vs Reply Guy is one of these categories - there is no clear and definable boundary between them, but we all know when we’re looking at a good Poster.
But what sorts of things define a Poster? A poster looks like this:
Can start discourse out of nothing
Is effortlessly funny or creative
Sets trends rather than follows them
People cannot help but respond, react and spread their posting.
A Poster is someone who either consciously or unconsciously gets social media. They understand the mob, the currents of popular opinion. They often have a distinctive rhetorical style, although it’s not mandatory. When others are zigging, they zag - and everyone else starts to zag soon after. They’re iconoclastic. With a true Poster, you get the sense that even if they got zero engagement they would keep posting in exactly the same way.
Donald Trump is an excellent example of what makes a Poster:
He’s effortlessly funny. Sometimes he’s trying to be funny, as in the Warren or Diet Coke jokes. Sometimes he’s not trying to be funny but it’s funny regardless, thanks to his all-caps-high-energy style. He has a cadence and style that is instantly recognizable. And he doesn’t react to trends, he sets them. Even before he entered politics, he was regularly dropping classic tweets. Whether you love or hate Trump, you can probably remember a half-dozen of his tweets that made you chuckle offhand. That’s the mark of a Poster.
Elon Musk is the Ultimate Reply Guy
A Reply Guy, on the other hand, is someone who:
Responds to trends rather than sets them
Lacks creativity and originality
Predictable and unmemorable
Often repeats stale memes/formats others have popularized
A Reply Guy is a bad poster’s attempt to imitate what a good poster is. They see talented posters and want to imitate them, but there’s always something a little bit forced about the posting that a Reply Guy does. You can feel them trying to be popular. It’s often cringe - sometimes in obvious ways, and sometimes in hard-to-place ways. If you can tell someone is striving for approval, they might have the soul of a Reply Guy.
Elon Musk is the quintessential Reply Guy, despite his massive following. In a literal sense he does a ton of replying, enough so that there are articles titled “Elon Musk’s Most Common Replies”. These are usually zero-value-add nothings such as ‘Concerning’, ‘Interesting’, ‘True’ or ‘🤣💯’. Elon has stretched the boundaries of cringe by quoting and responding to his own previous posts, and was even caught using burner account named after his 3-year-old son to make horny replies to his own tweets.
But beyond the literal replying, Musk is simply not a good poster. He’s infamous for stealing memes/jokes from other users and posting them as his own. He rarely has any original insight beyond sophomoric puns. This is a man who thought the height of comedy was removing the w in Twitter’s logo so it would read ‘Titter’. Because ‘tit’ means boob. Which is a funny naughty word. Hehe… Titter. This is a real thing the richest man in the world spent his time on.
You could make a long, long list of all the ways in which Elon is an unfunny tryhard - the constant 4/20 references, let that sink in, the 8 year-old’s level of potty jokes, etc. It’s damning that Elon changed Twitter’s algorithm to boost his tweets because he was jealous that Joe Biden’s “Go Eagles” tweet in the Super Bowl got more engagement than his.
Elon makes jokes without understanding their context, and it’s painful to watch:
It’s been remarked upon over and over, but it’s intensely ironic that the man who paid 44 billion dollars for Twitter is genuinely not good at Twitter. He knows that Twitter was ineffably hip and appealing,3 but he doesn’t understand what made it that way. He flails about, desperate for popularity. He references ‘dank memes’, 4/20, 69 and ‘Harry Bolz’. Elon is stuck as the ultimate Reply Guy in a sort of social media purgatory, owning the platform but still not able to master it, frantically trying to imitate the cool kids without understanding how.
Sometimes spelled Poaster, but that spelling would be annoying to read more than once so we’re sticking with Poster.
And it’s not all ‘guys’ - Reply Guy used properly is gender neutral (although the demographics will skew male)
It’s why he bought it!