Warning, this article has some *NSFW* elements and covers celebrity social media feuds that might get the blood boiling.
Journalists like John Oliver, as well as the entity known as Black Twitter, have employed a new tactic known as the “clapback”. And they’ve become a boon to audience engagement.
This term means a pointed comeback that means to “put someone in their place” or entirely shut down a conversation. It even has Merriam-Webster entry.
The use of clapbacks has become a kind of trend on social media. Influencers and journalists alike employ it in various situations. However, those that clap can also be the target of a clapback.
This strategy has historical roots, but does it really attract more followers?
How Does a Modern Clapback Work via Social Media?
The most famous clapbacks tend to come from celebrities or otherwise “famous” people.
They can be as simple as a tweet like Chrissy Teigen’s pictured above. They can also be as thorough as when Kim Kardashian West provided proof that Taylor Swift approved Kanye’s lyrics in the song “Famous” in 2016.
Clapbacks also happen against companies as displayed by Snapchat and Rihanna. After failing to properly vet an ad, Snapchat posted a distasteful ad about Rihanna and Chris Brown. Rihanna replied diplomatically but abandoned the app.
Snapchat’s stock prices also dropped significantly after this event. The drop could be due to their already declining user base, but the coincidence was still thought-provoking.
In the news world, we most recently saw journalist and anchor Jake Tapper clapback at a priest’s comments about Stormy Daniels. After the Stormy Daniels interview on 60 Minutes, pastor Greg Locke posted the following tweet:
— Pastor Greg Locke (@pastorlocke) March 25, 2018
This kind of digital interaction can positively or negatively affect social status and even stock prices. But clapbacks were around (and influential) far before the invention of social media.
A History of “Clapbacks” in 18th Century French Courts
Clapbacks have existed for a while, obviously, and a perfect example existed in Louis XVI’s court at Versailles.
These social courts had important rules such as:
- Anyone below the rank of duchess must stand
- The king and queen get armchairs
- If you wanted to speak to the king, you’d scratch the door with your left little finger
- How to fold and how far to unfold a napkin in your lap
The list goes on (and on), but disobeying such rules could cost you social status. If you sit at the gaming table but do not play, you could be perceived as ill-bred.
If someone with the necessary rank points this out to the congregation, the consequences could be damning and quite official. Of course, wielding this sort of power can fly back in the face of those who wield it. Just look at Kevin Durant for a good example:
KD has secret accounts that he uses to defend himself and forgot to switch to them when he was replying to this guy I'm actually speechless pic.twitter.com/9245gnpa3c
— idk (@harrisonmc15) September 18, 2017
In royal courts, this method of communication was primarily made to exclude the “plebiscites” from attempting to join. Yet, it also gave the nobles plenty of ammunition against one another. These days, social media has enabled even the common man to feud with celebrities and gain temporary renown.
You’ll see further similarities to the Twitter clapback in Downton Abbey dowagers and even in common office dialogue as pictured below.
Here, a clapback is basically a “backhanded compliment” and is often said with a smile. The insults are snide but pointed. What develops is a kind of verbal “volley” like in ping pong or badminton. Each person has to “one-up” the other with their remarks.
But what digital clapbacks alleviate is l’esprit de l’escalier. This translates to “staircase wit” and implies thinking of the “perfect comeback” far too late. And, in the game of wit, if you don’t get the last word, you are definitely the loser.
With many people’s life histories available on Google, you can dredge up a good clapback in minutes or even seconds.
How Does This Translate Into Viral Marketing and Influence?
A good comeback is as good as landing a punch on Joffrey Baratheon. It sparks the competitive nature in people. That’s why debates can be so engaging.
But they can quickly get out of hand if someone doesn’t “play by the rules”. This has a number of extreme consequences from the outbreak of physical violence to the sudden termination of the debate entirely.
Clapbacks can do both simultaneously which may explain their popularity. They fuse the “revenge story” and “triumphant victory” conceits with humor or comeuppance.
They are tailor-made for social media and segments you might see on Last Week Tonight, The Late Show with Seth Meyers, or Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
But major retailers or companies use it, too. Just look at this Wendy’s Twitter clapback.
This happened all the way back in January 2017. If you check out the thread now, you can see how many likes the Wendy’s tweets have gotten.