9 tweets that defined 2020
To put it bluntly, a lot has happened this year.
From adland to the world at large, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. presidential election, the Black Lives Matter movement and countless other history-shaping events have been inserted into most every aspect of our lives.
And where else but Twitter could an armchair historian look to for an up-to-the-second timeline of 2020 as we, the body politic, lived it? The social media platform has occupied a unique place in our society’s consciousness for the past few years, becoming the stage where headline-making news and deep-seated misinformation and viral memes live side by side.
Here are nine tweets that, as a collection, concisely sum up the fears, dramas, triumphs and quirks that defined this year—all in 280 characters or less.
1. Tom Goodwin’s COVID-19 screed
In August, Publicis Groupe’s head of futures and insight Tom Goodwin took to Twitter to craft what may be 2020’s most unfortunate tweetstorm, indiscriminately criticizing what he viewed as “the total obsession with Covid deaths over all other deaths” and claiming that while 7,500 Americans die every day, “only the ones with this precise new Virus matter.” Publicis promptly parted ways with Goodwin. He backpedaled a bit, offering the quasi-excuse that his views do not represent his now-former employer’s, but the damage was done. It also landed him on our Most Consequential Quotes of 2020 list.
2. ‘This claim is disputed’
After Twitter intervened last month to warn that President Trump’s claims of election fraud were bogus, brands saw an opportunity. Copying the social media platform’s original warning format, which displays as a line of text accompanying misleading tweets, corporate Twitter accounts soon began to publish “facts” about their brands, supported by a take on the site’s disputed content label. The meme spread rapidly with everyone from Oreo to Burger King and FC Barcelona clamoring to join in the fun.
3. Steak-umm is the new voice of reason
In addition to deadpan tweets about Philly cheesesteaks and abstract memes, frozen meat brand Steak-umm emerged this year to be an unexpected presence of truth and authority on Twitter. Since April 6, the company has been intermittently sharing advice about verifying credible news sources, identifying misinformation, and tips for living through a pandemic—copying an unorthodox corporate Twitter strategy that has found traction with Wendy’s and MoonPie, among others, and gaining almost 100,000 new followers in the process.
4. Corona is here
Back in February, when coronavirus cases in the U.S. could still be counted on both hands, and commentators were un-ironically musing about confusing Corona beer with the disease, the Anheuser-Busch InBev-owned brand landed itself in hot water with a tweet about its new hard seltzer. On Feb. 27, Corona posted on social media that its four seltzer flavors were “coming ashore,” leading some to criticize the brand’s poor timing as COVID-19 fears were rising globally. (Corona defended its tweet, saying its advertising “is consistent with the campaign we have been running for the last 30 years,” though the beer brand’s “coming ashore” imagery has since been deleted.)
5. Gap’s infamous ‘unity’ hoodie
The day after the closely watched U.S. presidential election, long before the race was called in Joe Biden’s favor, Gap used one of its trademark hoodies to call for bipartisan unity in a tweet that was … poorly received. Actually, that’s an understatement: The backlash generated by the half-red, half-blue garment—which was not a real product, but rather one Photoshopped for social media—was so intense, the clothing retailer deleted its “unity” tweet within the hour and quickly issued a statement resembling an apology (see also Biggest Brand Blunders of 2020).
6. Trump ‘hereby claims’ Michigan
'Twas the claim heard around the world! The same afternoon as Gap’s “unity hoodie” gaffe, President Trump took to Twitter to lay claim to the electoral votes of Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Carolina, before closing with, “Additionally, we hereby claim the State of Michigan.” (Once all races were certified, the incumbent leader would go on to lose all of the aforementioned states with the exception of North Carolina). People soon seized on the president’s phrasing, “hereby claiming” things left and right, and elevating this premature Trump tweet to “covfefe” and “unpresidented” status.
7. Nathan Young’s AdColor stumble
Since nonprofit 600 & Rising’s inception in June, it has made significant progress in its mission of addressing systemic racism in advertising. But this summer, its co-founder and former president Nathan Young took some heat for criticizing Adcolor, a long-standing awards event that celebrates diversity in the industry. “@ADCOLOR is an awards ceremony completely divorced from reality that sells the story that progress is being made on diversity in advertising and buys cover for holding companies,” he tweeted in late July. The backlash grew and Young subsequently opted to step down from his role, as 600 & Rising dissolved its “current structure.”
8. Oh, to have a private island!
For the American public at large, 2020 has largely been a year of lost celebrations, missed family time and hardships made out of necessity to cope with the ongoing pandemic. That does not appear to be the case for Kim Kardashian West. In late October, the celebrity offered a tone-deaf glimpse into her lavish life, tweeting: “After 2 weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine, I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time,” accompanied by photos of the revelry. Naturally, brands lined up for their chance to mock.
9. Jack Ma’s charitable donation
When Alibaba Group Holding’s co-founder Jack Ma joined Twitter in March, his first tweet made a statement: a photo of a China Eastern Airlines jumbo jet loaded with coronavirus testing kits and PPE supplies, bound for the United States. Twitter users applauded Ma’s philanthropic act as the pandemic was first gaining ground stateside, though few could predict just how appropriately the gesture—a foreign nation donating aid to the U.S.—would foreshadow our bungled virus response in the months to come.