Why Tabloids Talk So Weirdly on Social Media

The content of red top newspapers is as cruel and salacious as ever, but the way they share their ideas has evolved.
Lauren O'Neill
London, GB
Why Do Tabloids Post So Weirdly On Social Media?
Image: Owain Anderson

An article about Perrie Edwards from Little Mix, captioned “Looking so radiant”.

An article about England footballers taking a holiday after the Euro 2020 tournament, shared with the words: “Very well-deserved! Enjoy lads!”

An article about a Good Morning Britain guest storming off set following an altercation with the presenters. “He’s absolutely fuming,” the accompanying text reads. 


This is how tabloid newspapers share their content on social media. There is, undoubtedly, something a bit off about it: the way the posts sound like they were written by a bot programmed with posts from the internet profiles of white Facebook mums and former Love Island contestants; the casual attempt at ordinary social media performance; the suggestion that it’s not an historically unsympathetic media behemoth speaking, but an individual person who can’t believe how “incredible” Gemma Collins looks.

The sharing of content in this way is part of a bigger story about how UK tabloid culture has, on the face of things, changed in the last decade. Gone are the days when a newspaper could explicitly call a woman “PIG” in towering capitals without much raising much alarm (this happened multiple times during Jade Goody’s tenure on Big Brother in 2002, when The Sun villainised her mainly for being working class and not a size eight). Now, of course, we have learned about “mental health” and the fact that for most people, famous or not, being gleefully taunted by national publications might have a negative effect on it.

And so the tabloids have pivoted to passive-aggression. In 2021, the content of what they produce has barely changed. There are still the same discussions about famous women’s appearances and obsessive coverage of their weight fluctuations, for example; still the same invasion of celebrities’ privacy. It’s just that the way they say and share it is different. 


Nowadays, rather than explicit judgment, the tabloids now exercise a weird distance from their own content. Rather than calling a woman “fat”, the Daily Mail will say she “nearly spills” from her outfit. Instead of actually stating the house stance that women are immoral for getting plastic surgery, the tabloids post on social media about how “UNRECOGNISABLE” they are afterwards. “She looks so different!” the social posts read. It’s a type of plausible deniability, like a written-down version of a bitchy comment from an aunt, where nothing nasty is actually said, but the intent is clear: “You’re wearing that, are you?”

The type of jibes the tabloids used to make explicitly are now taken care of by social media, where users – sometimes children and young people – weaponise the same strains of misogyny, racism, homophobia and classism, largely unregulated by the platforms which host them. In turn, tabloids condemn these individuals as “sick trolls”. This is despite the fact that they are complicit in creating the kind of culture that made these attitudes feel acceptable in the first place.

Their method of expressing this stuff, particularly on socials, weaponises a type of internet voice. In the same way that the social media accounts of brands now parrot the ways we speak to each other online in order to claim engagement, relevance, and humanity (Walkers Crisps recently tweeted: “PACKET OF CRISPS AND UP TO BED”), the tabloids have picked up on a specific mode of speaking online. It’s not Twitter voice, nor is it “you are valid” internet speak, but a kind of specifically British tone. It is saccharine and hyperbolic, and tends to be proliferated by both mainstream influencers and ordinary users of sites like Instagram and Facebook, exemplified by the use of the word “unreal” as a compliment, Fiat 500 vibes, and “this one” culture. 

Even in cases where the publications are simply reporting on celebrities, the social sells that newspapers use – especially their overfamiliarity – normalise their incessant interest in famous people, and the fact that they cover certain celebrities multiple times a day. It feels like tabloids are saying to internet users: “We are just like you, and therefore we speak for you.”

It’s not surprising that this has happened: Tabloid circulation has been steadily dropping for the past 20 years, and people now receive their daily news via the internet. Tabloids had to immerse themselves in social media to retain their relevance and influence, and emulating online human speech is just an inevitable part of this desperate switch. Nevertheless, it will always feel weird and unsettling to see The literal Sun – commenting “This is an absolute nightmare” on its own article about fuel shortages. The internet, peeps!