If you’re over twenty years old and in fandom, you probably haven’t heard of “Social Media AUs.” If you’re a teenager or young adult whose primary fandom engagement space is Twitter, however, your feed may be full of them.
Social Media AUs are AUs where, instead of a traditional prose fanfiction, a story is told through screenshots of invented social media profiles for the characters involved.
What I’m specifically discussing here is the Twitter AU, in which the entire story takes place within a Twitter thread of screenshots, including fake Twitter interactions, direct messages, Instagram posts, and sometimes edited graphics and prose segments as well. Some Twitter AUs have interactive polls for readers to participate in. They’re mostly popular in KPop and younger anime fandoms centered on Twitter as opposed to Tumblr or Dreamwidth or some other website, although I have seen a few for the MCU floating around.
Twitter AUs became popular extremely recently, when the BTS Outcast AU by Twitter user flirtaus (now deleted) went internationally viral in February 2018. By internationally viral, I mean on the third day of the AU being posted, the reader participation poll got over 500,000 votes. More than a million people were following it. Billboard reported on it. Yeah.
Two months after Outcast, the “doofenperry stan twitter AU” was first posted, parodying stan Twitter culture using Phineas and Ferb characters.
The interesting thing about Social Media AUs is that you have to pretend everyone involved is now the type of person to live the details of their life publicly on Twitter, at least to an extent, which means you have to accept a level of OOC behavior no matter what the AU is. The characters also tend to use slang and memes popular in stan Twitter, rather than how they speak and interact in their respective canons. This creates a story that is often entertaining, but not the most in-character. Few, if any, characters have distinctive tones for their internet interactions, as opposed to earlier internet-messaging based original works like Homestuck.
Many authors of such AUs use the protagonist’s twitter accounts to show what they're really thinking about each other as opposed to their interactions with each other. To do that, the two main characters can’t be following each other, so it’s always an AU where some of the canon cast is friends with person A and the other half is friends with person B.
The Twitter AU is also a format that doesn't allow for a lot of exposition, what with character limits and only 4 images allowed per tweet. This makes it easier to just jump into the story, but at the same time, if you’re not already familiar with the characters, it’s extremely difficult to follow. A Twitter AU thread often starts with a title/summary tweet accompanied by a gif or graphic, a tweet with rules explaining how to interact with and interpret the AU (“x and y don’t know each other, y and z are bffs, quote RT, don’t reply, etc”), and then just jumps right into the story. The main text of the tweet is used to comment on or add context for the screenshots that contain the actual story.
Reading these Twitter AUs now, I’m reminded of the early days of Ngozi Ukazu’s Check, Please! webcomic. Back in 2014, Check Please had a canonical Twitter account run by Bitty (the protagonist) updated in real time and aligned with the webcomic. Fanfic writers incorporated Bitty’s love for Twitter into their fics, both AU and canon-compliant. But for whatever reason, instead of designing fake Twitter screenshots, people would just have text-only Tweets in their fanfics sometimes and tag it as a “multimedia fic.”
To me this seems like an early version of the Twitter AU, but in a more realistic and grounded way. Just because Bitty’s on Twitter, doesn’t mean his entire life is on Twitter. There’s no memes or stan Twitter language, just friends interacting with each other in a public digital space for fun. This can be attributed to the fact that the fics I’m thinking of were written by older adults than people writing most Twitter AUs.
If you’re interested in checking these out, good luck. The format of a Twitter AU means if you’re not already familiar with the characters, it will be difficult to keep track of them and their roles in the story. It’s also harder to find these since few, if any, are ever crossposted to AO3. Most just stay on Twitter in a thread, unless the original poster suddenly deletes.
You can try, though. I did read Outcast without knowing anything about BTS. A good starting point would be to search “[Your fandom] Social Media AU” on Twitter and see what comes up.