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Going Deep on 'Fiat 500' Twitter

How one of Britain's biggest Twitter subcultures became a hotbed of social issues.

by Lauren O'Neill
16 August 2018, 11:26am

Fiat 500 image via Pixabay / All tweet screenshots via @Fiat500Tw1tt3r

"Hangover's gonna kill me wish I had a tango ice blast machine in my flattt"

"Yess mum’s paying for Chinese tonight"

"Fucking hate boys can’t wait til Ibiza with my girls xx"

Maybe you know someone who posts tweets like these ones I just made up. If you don't, they probably at least put you in mind of someone like this: she's in her late teens or early twenties, and gets her mum or flatmates to take photos of her in the kitchen before she goes on a night out. In these photos, she is always wearing a bodycon pencil skirt, and her fake tan glistens, resplendent, against the off-white of the fridge. Her favourite food is sweet and sour chicken from her local Chinese takeaway, her favourite drink is Tango Ice Blast and her favourite activity is slagging off boys on the Internet. She loves Love Island; she shops online at Missguided and Boohoo. She's Fiat 500 Twitter.

Since late last year, people have used this term – named after the three-door city car, frequently marketed at young women in the UK and Ireland – as online shorthand for young women who use Twitter to talk about topics that seem average, like boys, reality TV and hangovers, but whose observations go viral anyway. It has spawned a parody Twitter account and has a male equivalent known as "Dark Fruits Twitter" (in reference to Strongbow's Dark Fruits cider, a drink that might as well sponsor The Courteeners and didnt_happen.jpg). Its Urban Dictionary entry characterises its participants as "British white girls on Twitter that post about hangovers, boys, food, Tango Ice Blasts, and generic life advice that for some reason gets thousands of retweets, usually adding an 'x' on the end for some sort of comedic value that is lost on the rest of the population/world."

For a while, "Fiat 500 Twitter" was an online joke that some of the women who it actually applied to weren't in on. But since its inception, it's gradually become better known, its visibility peaking during the now dearly departed fourth series of Love Island, when it trended on Twitter. Perhaps for the first time in their lives, members of Fiat 500 Twitter started to see themselves referred to as part of a stereotyped group, and while that's been a steep learning curve for some, who take offence at the label, other Fiat 500 women are happy to bear it.

Anna, 20, studies physiotherapy in Dublin, while working in a restaurant part-time. She's into going to the gym and having nights out with her mates. When I ask what else she gets up to as we chat over Twitter DMs, she jokes, "Does makeup/shopping count as a hobby?" Anna sees herself as very much part of Fiat 500 Twitter, telling me, "My tweets are all just complaining about my life, my love life, going out and Love Island." She describes the Fiat 500 demographic as "girls who only really tweet about boys, nights out and being drunk, Love Island or the Kardashians, and other very basic girl tweets". She doesn't really mind if people apply the term to her, because she knows she's a "perfect example" of someone with the typical Fiat 500 traits.

Gabbie, 18, from Leeds, feels similarly. She tells me about her early experiences of the label: "I first heard it about a year ago when my tweets first started getting popular – people were commenting on my tweets calling me 'Fiat 500 Twitter'." The tweets attracting those most responses, she says, were "usually about Chinese [food], Tango Ice Blasts, nice cocktails, being girls' girls and talking about how boys are dickheads". Like Anna, she's OK with being labelled a part of Fiat 500 Twitter, reasoning that "Fiat 500 girls are into things that everyone enjoys, they’re just vocal about it on Twitter so get penalised."

Viral Fiat 500-like tweets can tend to attract negativity, like rude or dismissive replies. One line of thinking might put this down to a general devaluation of feminine interests and pursuits. Gabbie, however, doesn't think being called "Fiat 500 Twitter" is as complicated as that, explaining to me that, often, it's as simple as playground banter, with guys using the phrase against girls for online clout, or even to flirt: "People try to say it in a derogatory way to me, but most of the time the tweets aren't even that generic and it's just boys begging for likes on girls' Twitter comments, so I'm not that bothered," she says.

Recently, however, the topic has become a more complex one, in tandem with the huge success of Love Island.

In lots of ways, Love Island is the Fiat 500 motherlode, full of newly-minted reality celebrities snogging each other in Spain, and is to Fiat 500 Twitter what the World Cup is to Football Twitter. As Fiat 500 tweeters discussed the programme, referring to winners Jack and Dani as "goals" approximately seven times a second, other people scrolling through the #LoveIsland hashtag picked up on some trends.

Over the course of the show, some women who fit the Fiat 500 profile developed a negative fixation on the show's only non-white couple, Josh and Kaz, who were incessantly branded "smug", despite being sweet and inoffensive. Similarly, you could search Twitter for "Love Island Samira" and see that comments like "can’t put my finger on why, but I just don’t like her" abound, as a number of Fiat 500 tweeters described their "vague" dislike of the show’s only black female contestant. This jarred with other Twitter users, who soon began to view Fiat 500 Twitter in general as emblematic of a particular type of veiled racism and small-mindedness in the UK.

As the anonymous mind behind the Fiat 500 Twitter parody account – a kind of real-time historian of the demographic, who bases their tweets on submissions from real life Fiat 500 Twitter – tells me: "A lot of what I saw when searching 'Fiat 500 Twitter' during peak Love Island time were accusations of racism or tactical racist voting, so Wes, Josh, Kaz not winning, or appearing in the bottom three, often sparked a sort of 'quelle surprise' wildfire notion." Those observations came in part from members of UK Black Twitter, who identified a correlation between the views expressed by some Fiat 500 Twitter users, the voting power of their demographic (who watch Love Island in their droves) and the results of votes on the show.

Tasha, 19, a Bath Spa University student and member of Black Twitter, definitely perceived these connections, though Love Island wasn’t the first time she'd heard of Fiat 500 Twitter. "It was a huge thing around October, November, 2017 – that's when I first heard the phrase, anyway," she tells me. "My Twitter friends and I used to always talk about how girls whose profile photos were of them stood in front of a door, or put kisses after their tweets, or tweeted really, really relatable and basic shit would always get thousands of retweets."

This seems pretty in line with the general perception of the demographic, though Tasha believes that some Fiat 500 tweeters had always employed casual racism – "they'll refer to a Chinese takeaway as a 'ch*nk' and seem to have no remorse", she observes. It follows, then, that some of the same ignorant viewpoints filtered down into Love Island tweets from some parts of Fiat 500 Twitter. "I know a lot of people find Fiat 500 Twitter quite ignorant," says Tasha. "When they started saying stuff about Samira, or disliking her for 'no particular reason', it just made people a bit suspicious, as a huge majority of them are white."

As the series continued, parts of UK Black Twitter joked about Fiat 500 Twitter voting against the black contestants and other contestants of colour. "When Black Twitter started talking about the voting being racist, we were half-joking, as Love Island was the only time that two 'sides' of Twitter came together," Tasha explains. Those who were the subject of such jokes, she says, often reacted defensively: "When people started taking it personally and beefing everyone, trying to say 'it has nothing to do with race', you could deffo tell the series was over."

This is part of a larger pattern – made glaringly obvious by internet discourse – where white people accused of racism or unconscious racial bias will commonly react as if they’ve been personally insulted, rather than taking the criticism onboard. Some parts of Fiat 500 Twitter may have been perceived as ignorant in this way, though Tasha's keen to stress that, in her view, racism and Fiat 500 Twitter aren't necessarily a package deal.

While she identifies Fiat 500 Twitter as "Mainly Scottish white girls", she adds that "English or Welsh girls are not exempt, and black girls, or even Asian girls, can be Fiat 500. It's just anyone that follows that tweet format and has no grasp of what's actually going on in the world, with life revolving around takeaways and cheating boyfriends. It is its own mini culture, so anyone can be involved. I've had my own Fiat 500 moments – sometimes you just wanna complain about boys, don't ya?"

The best parts of Fiat 500 Twitter, then, are the ones with universal appeal – heart eyes next to a photo of a pizza, or posting about how much you hate your ex – and many of its tweeters do just want to talk about their nights out and how much they "want some fuckin chips x".

There's something quite funny about the idea that girly tweets about wearing woolly jumpers in autumn and going to a McDonald’s drive-thru can spread so widely across Twitter as other users scramble for virality by trying to make the best jokes, and their success is sometimes also to the chagrin of men who don't think such ordinary, feminine interests are worth a lot.

But at the same time, it's crucial to recognise that when Fiat 500-style tweets do include prejudiced comments and veiled racism, their banality can also make the prejudice seem banal, flattening it – often with coded language, as Tasha points out – in order to package it inside Fiat 500 Twitter's usual mould of inconsequentiality (which in itself is reinforced by the "non-threatening" image of its young, female, largely white demographic).

Like any URL subculture, however, Fiat 500 Twitter is reflective of the IRL culture from which it comes – and that says a great, complicated deal about white British society, attitudes towards pursuits considered feminine in general and the ways in which prejudices like racism and internalised misogyny are expressed online.