“Poster’s disease,” as a concept, has been drifting in the air for at least a few years, but — like another popular and unrelenting illness — it first entered my consciousness in 2020. Since then, someone afflicted with poster’s disease has popped up on my radar anywhere from every few weeks to every few days. It has become a catch-all phrase for bad tweets that I don’t want to read, a flashing warning sign to look away from the wreckage on my timeline. But, rather than seeing this affliction as a cautionary tale to disengage, over the course of the past year I have become unduly fascinated by it. Was poster’s disease a malady of quantity or quality? Was it a blight on the blue check elite or the commonplace user? Was logging off a cure, or did it only enhance its posters’ (and readers’) suffering? What follows is my attempt to develop a working definition — a diagnosis, to be clear — of what exactly poster’s disease is.
In order to define poster’s disease, I must first develop a framework to understand the nature of posting. Along that line of inquiry, perhaps it is best to begin by delineating poster’s disease in the context of what it is not. Poster’s disease, for example, is not the same as being “terminally online,” although both share medical lexicon in their nomenclature. Terminally online is synonymous with never logging off. A terminally online person checks the posts first thing in the morning and last thing before they go to bed. They check the posts in the middle of the night if they wake up to pee. They keep Twitter, Instagram, any of it, all of it, in tabs pinned and unclosed on their computer and phone. That is the condition of being terminally online. It is not necessarily the same as posting.
Poster’s disease is also not “main character syndrome,” though this is a much closer approximation of the issue. Main character syndrome is the novelization of the self online, the belief that you are the hero of your world. You are important! Your thoughts have value! Sure, they do, a little bit, to those who care about you. But main character syndrome is the centering of the ego under the guise of self-care. Main character syndrome is believing that it’s okay to tell someone you’re at capacity for being their friend, but they can try again in six months after you’ve had some R&R. (Someone with poster’s disease would continue to be their friend, but complain about it in the form of passive-aggressive subtweets.) Poster’s disease is not directly a type of sociopathy, as I would argue main character syndrome is, but rather, a compulsive behavior to say something, anything, truly whatever, in response to something else (or worse: nothing else).
But then — that reflex — that’s shitposting. And that’s not quite poster’s disease, either. Shitposting is pure nihilism. It’s a philosophy in which no posting matters. “I’m not owned,” etc. Poster’s disease is the blight of optimism, even when it takes on a dark turn. Poster’s disease seeks righteousness, results. Poster’s disease does not live in the descriptive; it lives in movement. Poster’s disease is the tightly held belief that posting works.
To have poster’s disease, you have to believe that posting has an action: posting is a job; posting is giving; posting is achieving; posting is a game, intramural or otherwise, that must be won. Poster’s disease is linking a public tragedy to your own non-tragic experience (posting will achieve proximity and perform empathy), or providing commentary on a conversation that you eavesdropped on (posting will show that you lead a public life in which you are a folk hero observing the whims of the common man). Poster’s disease is tweeting at airlines to get better service. Poster’s disease is “today I learned” for the off-Reddit crowd, perusing Wikipedia or IMDB for a fact that can be shared for #knowledgeclout (posting will equate to intelligence, or if not intelligence, then humility in ignorance). Poster’s disease is threading more than two tweets in a row. Poster’s disease is cross-promoting tweets on Instagram. Poster’s disease is sharing a podcast from the New York Times and writing, “This is so important,” so that people know that you listen to the newspaper of record and also have the intellectual authority to decide what is and is not important.
Poster’s disease is lying to prove that you are smart or hot or social or prone to chaos or whimsy or decadence. Do you ever see something online and know that it is not true? A child says something too verbose and precocious; a boyfriend (it’s always a boyfriend) says something too inane and simplistic. Poster’s disease requires an online boyfriend — sorry, no, this time it’s an offline boyfriend — or wait, maybe, poster’s disease requires a recounting of the foibles of dating so the audience knows you’re desirable but also available.
Poster’s disease seeks righteousness, results. Poster’s disease does not live in the descriptive; it lives in movement.
I’ve seen two people with poster’s disease get into fights with each other, sometimes dragging in a third victim of poster’s disease to serve as the referee. This is one of the easiest and most pleasurable ways to have an excuse to post more: someone else is posting, and you, too, need to post. Poster’s disease is referring to your followers as “my sweeties” or “my babies” (they’re neither). Poster’s disease is writing in the more broadly relatable and overly involved second person, more than the first, even when speaking strictly about oneself. Poster’s disease is a “casual reminder” that a perfectly rated, neither over- nor underrated piece of art, from five years ago is somehow undervalued. Poster’s disease is making a joke that could be taken in bad faith that is taken in bad faith and then not deleted because deleting would be caving in to the scolds and not standing up for the sanctity of personal freedom when, really, the best thing to do is to delete and move on.
Poster’s disease is posting a poem when an actual global calamity has occurred, and also a small, personal inconvenience. Poster’s disease is also the author of that poem advocating for, um, more literary magazines? (What is a literary magazine if not a collection of posts people believe matter?) Poster’s disease is livetweeting getting on a plane to tell someone who lives 2,000 miles away that you love them and then tweeting again from the motel after they’ve rejected you. What is the purpose of this? Not love, surely — posting! Posting is the purpose of this.
Having an alt Twitter account is also poster’s disease. Having an alt, in general, regardless of platform, is poster’s disease. Having an alt is committing, sadly, to posting in light of the idea that the regular avenues of posting no longer serve your desire to post. Posting — expelling a horrible thought — still works, but your usual crowd is no longer worthy of those thoughts. To the alt!
It is easy, obviously, to link poster’s disease to Donald Trump. He was, after all, the poster’s president. Donald Trump had phantom poster’s disease, which is to say: he thought his posts mattered, because enough people would respond to him as if they mattered, though they mostly didn’t matter at all. People with poster’s disease came to believe that posts got Donald Trump elected president, and then people with poster’s disease came to believe that posts got Donald Trump un-elected president.
To be clear: I’m not advocating for, like, touching grass. Contrary to what self-care posters prescribe, you don’t have to touch grass to be happy. I’ve never felt happy touching grass — in fact, I get hives, usually — but the answer is rarely, if ever, posting more. (And it is with a heavy heart that I must add that announcing a break from posting, while well-intentioned, is also poster’s disease.) I advocate for moderate posting, instead. Poster’s disease is not sharing a selfie you think you look good in. Poster’s disease is not writing an actually funny joke. Someone once said to me that Twitter without poster’s disease would just be people sharing their own articles and podcast episodes and the occasional link to someone else’s GoFundMe. Well, that doesn’t sound terrible, actually. It sounds boring, which Twitter once was.
When Twitter launched all those years ago — before Jack Dorsey had the big stupid beard and when I was, I don’t know, 12 years old at MOST, don’t Google my age — there was broad derision over the uselessness of the platform. What were people going to post: “Eating eggs”? “At the beach”? What was the point of that? But maybe that, with all its needlessness, was closer to the right idea of posting. Posting didn’t have to be some referendum on one’s moral character or privilege or intelligence or love life or how many glasses of water to drink per day. It didn’t have to both carry so much weight and so little meaning at the same time. It didn’t have to be so fucking stupid. In seeking a point to posting, some larger purpose to ascribe to a handful of characters slipping through our fingers when we log on, we’ve made ourselves sicker than sick. I could tell you the cure, but then I’d have to post about it.