April 19, 2019

The Age of the Self-Own

“The video of a college-age Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dancing on a rooftop was ostensibly meant to be a takedown. “Here is America’s favorite commie know-it-all acting like the clueless nitwit she is,” wrote the poster, Twitter user @AnonymousQ1776, referring to the congresswoman by the nickname “Sandy” and incorrectly dating the clip to her high school days.

As we all know now, it backfired. “I keep rewatching the @AOC dancing video and can’t find the problem. She’s… having fun? Has friends? Likes music?” tweeted Time journalist Charlotte Alter. Ocasio-Cortez’s cheeky response, posted the next day—a video of herself dancing in front of her new office on Capitol Hill—was shared widely, becoming the congresswoman’s most retweeted tweet within hours. The attempted smear, another user wrote, was the “best self-own of 2019.”

We live in the age of the self-own. Spend enough time on Twitter and you will become familiar with the phenomenon’s telltale signs: enormous ratios, dunking via quote tweets, dozens or even hundreds of users pointing out the original poster’s fatal mistake. It’s the hypercharged equivalent of a social faux pas in which one, say, sets out to pointedly humiliate a co-worker, only to lay bare one’s own assholery for the entire office to see. Online, the self-own follows an established pattern: the cocky assertion, the twist, the pile-on, the humiliated retreat into silence (or, worse, the attempt to argue yourself out of the hole you’ve dug—otherwise known as “doubling down”). A self-own is an act of hubris and aggression: In trying to cut down someone else, you only wound yourself, and the carnage is lapped up by an audience intimate with schadenfreude.”

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