Influence of wtw.mass Can Not be Ignored

Michael O'Connell, Staff Writer

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The evolution of teenage social communication has made what would have only been shareable through anecdote, or via an interpersonal discourse, all but a few taps away.  For the first time in history, teenage mistakes of generations past have developed a nostalgic patina and are now permanently enshrined in the everlasting color of a place like Instagram or Twitter.  This is not to say, however, that all teenagers, or even a majority of teenagers, curate their respective social media profiles to be as embarrassing as possible. Every person under 30 is likely cognizant of how their online history represents them to employers–both present and future.  This warning, or rather that Instagram has evolved to serve as an augmentation of reality and a platform for self-flattery, has coached a filter into the posting habits of most teenagers. Nevertheless, I am not here to argue there is anything wrong with posting a photo of your dog, or the sunset, or even the occasionally impudent selfie.

Humans are, after all, animals. The same biological factors that subconsciously encourage male peacocks to fan their colorful feathers, or for lions to fight for the approval of a lioness, are not so dissimilar to the ones at play when someone chooses to post something online.  Attention is something that humans, from a strictly animalistic perspective, benefit from and enjoy. Attention promotes social popularity and attractiveness to mates, while also developing a network of amicable altruistic connections that we inherently desire. I will not lambast a person who posts, or is encouraged to post, something that they may regret in hindsight for these reasons. Oscar Wilde once rationalized, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” and perhaps for the brash and brazen among us this will always ring true. However, the influence of media companies, festering to cash in on any passing trend, has permeated the impressionable minds of teenagers across the globe with an insatiable desire for attention.

I thought it would be most topical to review the history of an account well known by Massachusetts teens: wtw.mass.  For the uninitiated, “What’s the Word Massachusetts,” simply referred to as “wtw.mass,” is a Massachusetts-based media channel that operates profiles on Twitter, YouTube, and VSCO, but focuses most heavily on posting to Instagram. According to their own website—which exists almost entirely for the purposes of encouraging brand partnerships with the “wtw” accounts—over 13 million people view their Instagram content a week, and they have a growing follower base of well over 100,000. Further reading reveals the Genesis story of “wtw,” being that it began in the summer of 2016 as group chat of students from across the state.  The chat was “brought together by club soccer” and was used to, “[share] funny videos…[and find] events and parties on the weekends.” Realizing memes and videos from the chat were successfully reposted by accounts like Barstool Sports encouraged three members of the chat to create a similar Massachusetts-based account in the form of “@wtw.mass.”

What the account has evolved into, or rather devolved into, from its unassuming, and somewhat charming beginnings is unfortunate. wtw posts are convoluted, woefully lacking in self-awareness, and most often cringe-inducing. For the purpose of pedantry, take the month of August 2018, in which the wtw Instagram account posted 22 times. Those 22 posts in chronological order go a little something like this:

  1. A video in which a boy attempts, but ultimately seems to fail, at removing a “Saturdays are for the girls” sticker from a car window.
  2. A Snapchat video captioned, “Lexington really is the best high school in the state,” in which a boy reveals that a usb drive cleverly hides a Juul.
  3. A video compilation edit of a vacation on Martha’s Vineyard that utilizes outplayed suburbanite video editing aesthetics.
  4. A Snapchat clip labeled “🙂 science class 🙂🤷🏽‍♂️” in which two girls can be seen fighting while teachers attempt to restrain them.  In an expletive-filled explosion, one girl threatens to murder the other.
  5. A video in which a young man leans his head against a door to listen as people on the other side would seem to be having sex.
  6. A video from a party in Hamilton, Massachusetts, where a boy punches another boy and drunkenly celebrates knocking him out.
  7. A video of a fight at the Xfinity Center. Others can be seen filming
  8. A Snapchat video from Lynnfield High School that shows a student using a Juul in front of an otherwise distracted teacher.
  9. A tribute video to a Massachusetts teen killed in a car crash.
  10. A video following the “don’t judge a book by its cover” meme, in which a young man shaves off his eyebrow.
  11. A post appreciating some of Massachusetts’ most talented collegiate athletes.
  12. A video of a young man flipping a water bottle over his back after asking someone to say that he is, “washed up.”
  13. A Snapchat video captioned, “Poop dollar,” in which excrement is seen to be sandwiched between a one dollar bill.
  14. A video of a young man drinking four bottles of beer at once.
  15. A video that shows a hand scrolling over a very long text message sent by “Gianna.”
  16. A video encouraging followers to submit footage for a fall sports video edit.
  17. A video of a teenage boy hitting a golf bowl from inside a kitchen and shattering a window.
  18. A video of two people walking dozens of dogs.
  19. A video of a young man drinking vodka out of a dog’s water bowl at the encouragement of those around him.  One remarks that he has been “[made] sick.”
  20. A series of Snapchat videos that depict one man driving to and from Northbridge, Massachusetts, in order to help “Bill” get around.
  21. A concert clip from the Xfinity Center where Ty Dolla $ign hands a blunt to a fan who proceeds to drop it in front of the entire audience.
  22. A video of a man’s outstretched—and Juul accompanied—hand, encouraging ducks he is standing near to “take a hit bro.”

It must be remarked that these posts do not directly name, nor provide the age of, the individual(s) in them, but many are clearly sent from Massachusetts’ high school campuses.  More recent posts indicate a marked shift toward more sports-based content. Since August, roughly 25% of all wtw content has been sports related. Though cherry-picked, posts on wtw associated accounts have featured anti-Semitic tropes.  The accounts also often make tribute posts to teens and police killed in the state. Often these posts are made within days of posts that portray teenagers both breaking the law and endangering themselves at the risk of drunken decision making.

To reiterate, I am not here to play the parent of the people who find themselves on wtw.  They have made their decisions, and they can live with them. However, this is a problem that does not need to exist.  If one is to believe that the “only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” the appeal of being featured on accounts like wtw should be obvious.  As the search for an ever more outrageous drunken party highlight takes over the minds of attention-hungry teens, the boundaries that once defined extremity have been stretched to dissolution.  As wtw, and similar accounts, grow in popularity, so does their capacity to spread trends and video challenges—dangerous or otherwise. However, when the competition for attention includes submissions like that of a boy drinking four beers at once, or that of a young man shattering a window after hitting a golf ball indoors, it’s hard to conceive a timeline that ends with the taming of iPhone recorded antics.

Several members from the Class of 2020 made their own conclusions as to why accounts like wtw are popular and the associated drawbacks to this popularity. Junior Conor McGonigle described the account as “trendy” and good for looking at “what kids are doing in Massachusetts…and people messing around.” wtw posted footage from the recent boat fire in Scituate Harbor, which McGonigle gave as an example of how the account uniquely connects users from Massachusetts.  However, he felt that the account’s popularity has led to some people participating in trends they might have otherwise never been familiar with–in the hopes of being featured on the account.

Junior Tristan Buckell felt that the account was best for looking at memes. He said the principles of the account are “not a bad thing [rather wtw] is just using the stupidity of others to their advantage.”  

Junior Jack Thompson said he likes the account’s highlight sports videos that are often from Massachusetts High School athletics.  He said it is somewhat “weird” to see the crazy party videos and know that those scenes are relatively localized. He felt it to be embarrassing as well.

McGonigle, Buckell, and Thompson all mentioned the short-lived “uncut” version of wtw that they felt often crossed the line into unacceptable and even “gross” content.  Junior Jack Sanchez doesn’t follow the account, saying he only tries to follow accounts run by individuals on Instagram and not media groups or companies.

You are free to judge wtw in the ways you deem appropriate; however, to ignore its influence is to choose to see less than the full picture.  The dynamic of teenage-hood changes with time, creating pockets of idiosyncrasies that one generation appreciates–and the next generation completely changes.  Where accounts like @wtw.mass fit into the story of millennials, or Gen Z, is still up for interpretation and contemplation. It’s effect, however, plays out at every high school party and sporting event. Most of all it is important for those befuddled by the rise in popularity of new media to neither fear nor mercilessly attacks it. Rather, it should just be ignored and allowed to slowly and peacefully slip into the past.

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