The Ratio Establishes Itself on Twitter

Posted February 9, 2018 6:38 p.m. EST

It’s easy to tell when you’ve nailed a good tweet — just watch the likes and retweets pile up as the post goes viral.

Now there are also more ways to tell if a tweet was bad. That’s because a new barometer for Twitter blahness has taken hold: the ratio.

The way a ratio works is simple. Divide the number of replies you get to a tweet by the number of likes and retweets. If the former category is much larger than the latter, you probably tweeted something awful.

Consider the following example:

“I ask again though: Why can’t Trump be praised for delivering a good speech full stop?

Chris Cillizza, the CNN political commentator who wrote that tweet and goes by @CillizzaCNN, is perhaps the most ratioed man on Twitter. His tweets frequently cut against the grain of overall Twitter sentiment, and their replies are a prime reflection of that. With this tweet, he got more than 3,300 replies, with just 85 retweets and 270 likes.

Cillizza is at a disadvantage, since political tweets are often among the most ratioed. That’s compounded by his perspective on politics — he often plays devil’s advocate — which has left him a frequent target of the crowd. (Cillizza has said that he believes the ratio is a “lefty Twitter concept,” and that he doesn’t buy into it.)

Pundits are not the only victims of the ratio. After the chief executive of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, responded on Twitter to the dragging of a passenger from a flight in April by officers, the airline’s Twitter mentions were packed full of angry replies.

By the end of last year, the phenomenon of Twitter ratios finally crossed over into predictability. In December, Newsweek tweeted, “Does Hillary Clinton have terrible taste in men, or just too ambitious to be a supporter of other women?” Imani Gandy, a journalist and legal advocate who goes by @AngryBlackLady, summed up the internet’s response rather aptly:

“I’m just here for the ratio.”