Getting attention—and clicks—amid the cacophony of Twitter can be difficult, but James Taranto, editor of The Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com and Best of the Web blogger has a maniacally effective (if painful) way of cutting through the noise. As his followers no doubt know, Taranto often tweets out links with a simple (and complete) 140 character message:
HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!! dailymail.co.uk/femail/article…— James Taranto (@jamestaranto) July 5, 2012
It all feels a bit like Robert DeNiro's Max Cady in Cape Fear, and he does this pretty often: Seven times in the past week alone. Our feelings about it are pretty similar to our thoughts on frivolous internet slideshows: we're deeply grated, but we cannot stop ourselves from clicking. Among all the tweets that pass through this writer's feed, Taranto's "HAHA" tweets (as we shall henceforth refer to them) earn by far the highest click-through rate. When you see that many HAs, it's almost impossible to resist the curiosity, even when you've seen them before. So, what's so funny?
We asked Taranto, who described his habit this way: "Mencken observed that 'one horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms.' I have found a way to fit 10,000 syllogisms (plus a link) into 140 characters."
Basically, his laugh tells quite a bit about the links he posts without actually saying much of anything. But just what does he mean by it? We broke down and clicked through his past month or so of "HAHA" tweets. Taranto is an irreverently conservative columnist -- he's best known for his witty "Best of the Web Today" blog. So those who read his often joke-filled musings daily won't be too surprised at what drives him to "horse laugh." The links he includes after a "HAHA" generally fall into a few discrete categories, broadly united in their effort to mock liberals. They are:
Liberal hand-wringing: Anytime someone writes that a liberal initiative, politician, or priority isn't faring well, typically when they know they are writing for an ideologically friendly audience, they make a good target for a Taranto laugh. "Just cheerleading [Barack Obama] doesn't help him," tweeted columnist Jonathan Alter, for example. "He needs a sharper, more cogent message with some memorable lines." Amused, we guess, at the idea that one need only take occasional breaks from "cheerleading" the president, Taranto responded, "HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!" When Joe Brewer wrote in Cognitive Policy Works that progressives "always have the facts on our side. The experts agree with us. Hell, a lot of us are the experts," and yet "Conservatives are so good at winning," Taranto responded with... okay we'll stop including his responses in full now. But you get a sense for how irritating they can become en masse.
Internal inconsistencies: Unintended irony is like Taranto's laughing gas. Taranto loves to laugh when an ideological opponent accidentally upholds a conservative point. When liberal Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne seemed to adopt the NRA's main accusation against the White House's motivations in the Fast and Furious scandal while speaking on TV, Taranto tweeted out a Daily Caller article that pointed this out, appending a "HAHA" for good measure.
Pro forma response to criticism: Taranto loves to respond with a "HAHA" to his most vicious Twitter-critics (Twitics? No, never mind.) Full disclosure: We once passingly called him a "Twitter asshat" in reference to his habit for these tweets, to which he responded (as we should have predicted) with a link and a "HAHAHA..." He responded similarly when Slate's Matt Yglesias tweeted:
There are a few other general categories into which his laughs fall -- including, more basically, articles he just seems to have found LOL funny -- but again, they're all pretty united in their politics. If you disagree with Taranto, or even if you just hate caps lock tweets, it can be incredibly frustrating to follow him. You click on the links, grow angry at his glee, and if you tweet in anger, you just become subject to another tweet. Of course, we haven't unfollowed him yet because there's something so effective about the way he annoys us into clicking. And like any other useful Twitter feed, he takes us to places and stories we wouldn't have seen otherwise, after which we can form our own opinions on the articles. (It's not like he's clouded our minds with too many words on them.) He just irks us as he does so. If you're a liberal with a blood-pressure problem, we would not encourage you to follow him. But if any of this appeals to you, or if you're just morbidly curious, or even if you're just looking for something to hate click, we'll give him a tentative #followfriday. With more followers—he currently has 14,140—we guess Taranto will get the last laugh. As usual.