Netflix uses Twitter’s contextless trend to market ‘sex education’

Since the dawn of social media, fans have found creative ways to get obsessed with their favorite TV shows—whether it’s chat rooms littered with Lost theories; Teen Wolf Tumblr pages; or Game of Thrones hashtags filled with millions of tweets in just one episode.

A few years ago, another mechanism for interacting with television appeared on the Internet: Twitter accounts without context. True to their name, these profiles post screenshots of captions from popular series – from Glee to Legacy – taken out of the show’s context.

There are no contextual accounts for shows ranging from The Sopranos to SpongeBob SquarePants, while 274,000 Twitter users follow a profile dedicated exclusively to New Girl’s Nick Miller (Jake Johnson).

The Office alone has over a dozen accounts without context, the most popular of which has over half a million followers. Sometimes the screenshots are just isolated moments from the show – think of Kevin (Brian Baumgartner) spilling a vat of chili on the floor of the Dunder Mifflin – but sometimes they are placed in an entirely new context related to world events.

Kaisi, a 24-year-old Parks and Recreation fan, runs @nocontextpawneetells Diversity that many of her most popular tweets are about the 2020 presidential election. During the recount, she posted a screenshot of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) saying, “Well, math is hard.” A day later, when Donald Trump officially lost, she posted a Donna Meagle (Retta) meme that said, “You’re fired.”

Abbott Elementary writer/producer Brittany Nichols says no contextual accounts allow fans to “interpret” their favorite show in their own way: “It gives the show a life of its own outside of traditional broadcasting and streaming. It also gives fans a shorthand and way of communicating that is unique to the community.”

Kaisi has been running the Parks account for about five years, but she said her following skyrocketed just as the pandemic began. Entering the office due to the government shutdown has taken on a whole new meaning in the world of COVID-19 and has gone viral on Twitter.

“These things were so close to everyone during the pandemic, even though these episodes came out five, six, seven years ago,” Kaisi says. In fact, many other account holders, without context, believe that the pandemic has boosted their following — probably because people glued to the couch in a moment of desperation have returned to their favorite comfort shows and started looking for a sense of community online.

“My favorite part of running a Parks account is interacting with other fans,” Kaisi says. “It’s great to see that even seven years after the show, he still has that kind of community. To be able to appear on the Internet and say: “Little Sebastian died today 11 years ago” … we are all crying about a fictional horse.”

However, Kaisi notes that her account is not only liked by the Parks and Recreation experts, who have watched the series dozens of times. New fans are constantly joining the community.

No context sequence

Similarly, Anna Golez, who manages the most popular fan account “Heritage”, @nocontextroyco, says many of her followers started watching the show because they wanted to understand the context of her screenshots. In other words, the lack of contextual accounts has inspired a lot of hyper-online people — Gen Z mostly — to jump on board TV shows because “they see all these memes in their timeline but don’t know what they mean,” Golez says. . .

Nichols adds, “It introduces the show to a whole new audience that connects after seeing the screenshots. It gives people the opportunity to test something they usually don’t have.”

When writing scripts, TV writers obviously don’t think about what lines will best get on Twitter. But Nichols says it’s nice to see her jokes go viral online nonetheless. “We don’t write to be remembered. We don’t write lines on purpose thinking they’ll make a good screenshot, but when they do, I think everyone loves it.”

“We were all wondering who was behind the non-contextual Abbott account,” says Joya McCrory, another writer on the hit elementary school sitcom. “I’m glad they enjoy the show and are putting in the effort. We have so much gratitude.”

Abbott Elementary isn’t the only writers’ room that lacks context. Allison who runs @nocontextbcs, says that the official Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul accounts follow her, as well as Saul showrunner Peter Gould. Yagmur, who runs the popular Community account, says star Ken Jeong was one of her first followers and helped the account grow through retweets. Shortly thereafter, Joel McHale and many of the show’s writers joined us.

Managing accounts without context with hundreds of thousands of followers is not an easy task. Golez says that when new episodes of The Heir came out, she watched them “once for me and twice for screenshots.” Kaisi maintains an organized folder system on her computer, filled with Parks and Recreation screenshots tagged by episode and tagged with keywords to make them easy to find. Allison says she takes screenshots from the Plex server, where she can take the highest resolution shots available.

However, almost all account holders interviewed for this article do so for free. While accounts with no context contribute to active online communities, they also provide incredible free marketing for big networks and streamers. After all, that’s the reason they don’t send out cease and desist letters.

“I don’t see how free marketing can be considered bad,” says Nichols. “If it was harmful to creators and networks, I think they would shut it down. They would pull out their little copyright laws and close these accounts, but they don’t because they know how useful they are.”

Sex education without context

To take it one step further, Netflix has embraced the trend of lack of context in its official marketing strategy for the high school drama Sex Education. With over 400,000 followers, the account without context verified on Twitter is hugely popular but also met with some resistance.

“I definitely disagree with [Netflix] co-opting the trend,” Nichols says, adding that it’s often “bad” when corporate social accounts and TV shows try to imitate Internet language. “There are some things that are born from the internet and should still be owned by people on the internet.”

McCrory adds: “That’s how the Internet works. Young people come up with something cool, and then corporations see it and co-opt it, and it becomes uncool.”

Of course, while many disagree that a major streamer is cashing in on what fans online are already doing for free, others are simply surprised to see this trend reach new heights.

“We’re doing it for fun, so it’s crazy that this has reached Netflix and gone this far,” says Francesca Persic, who runs the Glee account without context. “They’ve seen all these amateur accounts resurrect their show, so they created their own account with no context because it works.”

Representatives for Netflix and Sex Education refused to speak to Diversity for this report.

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