Nine years ago today, America marked the anniversary of Sept. 11 for the first time … on Twitter.
The network had been launched just a few months earlier. It wasn’t a hit. And because there was no retweeting or favoriting yet, early adopters had no way to know if their tweets had been hits, either. Every tweet just hung out on the user’s personal feed for a while, then ticked away to make room for the next musing:
That was a simpler time. The tweeting of Sept. 11 is now an event in and of itself. To be clear, nobody has to tweet about 9/11.
Most people should not tweet about 9/11.
And yet every year, thousands of people are compelled to tweet about 9/11, as if not tweeting #NeverForget really means that you forgot. And now, thanks to Twitter’s metrics, everyone can keep track of who’s remembering 9/11 the best:
Not you, Kristin Davis.
Presidential candidates began preparing for the event well in advance. This year, some White House hopefuls have created their own custom-designed Sept. 11 tribute images cut to perfect tweeting size. Each one looks kind of like a tragedy greeting card branded in the candidate’s personal aesthetic. Rand Paul has opted for a sleek, timeless design:
Ted Cruz’s version looks like a PowerPoint slide jazzed up with Blingee:
And Ben Carson printed his own campaign slogan—“Heal, Inspire, Revive”—over the battered New York City skyline:
Some Republican candidates have chosen to also acknowledge the victims of the other Sept. 11:
Meanwhile, President George W. Bush’s press secretary Ari Fleischer has inserted himself back in the national conversation by staging a real-time retelling of the 9/11 story …
… for the third year in a row.
But curiously, the #brands—once eager to commemorate the event on their timelines—are now rethinking their contributions to this annual exercise. Last year, the owner of a Virginia Bikram yoga studio suffered backlash when he tweeted a 9/11-themed discount offer (“9+11= 20 % OFF!”) and then more backlash when he tweeted a conspiratorial nonapology. (“If you want to be upset, research the term ‘911 building 7’ and check the news because they are hearing ‘chatter’ about us getting hit again.”) And in last year’s “A Brand Remembers 9/11,” the Awl mocked Carnival Cruise Lines, White Castle, and Applebee’s for tweeting anodyne tributes in their peppy company voices. All three have yet to tweet in tribute this year.
Did they forget? Or did the humans behind the brands finally recognize how bizarre it is for a fast casual restaurant to claim to “remember” a terrorist attack? In 2015, it seems more appropriate for companies actually affected on Sept. 11—like American and United airlines, which lost passengers and employees on hijacked planes—to say a few words. And yet, even their tributes take the form of blandly generic nods. It’s almost as if social media managers really don’t remember Sept. 11.
As always, the best tweet about 9/11 is no tweet about 9/11. (Looking good, Hillary Clinton!)
Unless, of course, Sept. 11 represents not a national tragedy for you, but a personal one. In which case: Tweet whatever you want.