Generational or class warfare?
Was OKB a fad? Yes and no. OKB spiked in November 2019. After this hype moment, OKBings drastically dropped, but it is still an ongoing phenomenon.
Are baby boomers the only target of OKBings? Our research shows that it is not, OKBings happen to different actors across all ages.
What are the manifestations of OKB across other languages? Among Dutch, English, French, German, Portuguese and Turkish, tweets that got OKBed the most were mostly age-generation related. This is followed by political tweets, and tweets that were on technology and social media. The content of the tweets that got OKBed differ between languages.
On 9 November 2019, the "OK boomer" meme became suddenly popular. At the end of January 2020, Jacomy released a website where you could explore the phenomenon on Twitter. It still works today. You can essentially see who gets OK-boomed live, or this last week, month or year. The website is named OK-Boometer, and Jacomy presented it in this blog post. The hype faded away quite quickly, but the tool still records about 300 OK-boomings daily. The purpose of this project is simply to explore and analyze the corpus collected by OK-Boometer.
OK Boomer on Twitter started based on the original data set present on the website http://okboometer.com/data/okbooming.csv consisting of [# tweets] from 2011 to the present day. These tweets consist of “one OK-booming for each tweet that is replying to another tweet, or retweeting with a comment, where the tweet contains "OK Boomer" (and minor variations like "OK, boomer" etc.) but not more than 20 characters, URLs and mentions (@someone) excluded. We do not count retweets or likes. People have to OK-boom by themselves.” (OK Boometer, n.d). From the raw data set, versions rehydrated for 4CAT (https://4cat.oilab.nl/results/8981b8e4127ea0ec04ff9564a8022cbd/) and TCAT (https://tcat14.digitalmethods.net/analysis/index.php?dataset=okboomer_id_v1) were added, with the number of “OK Boomer”present alongside the rest of each tweet’s metadata.
There was a moment when we heard about it on the web and in mainstream media, but we do not hear about it anymore. Is it still a thing, or was it just a fad? Did it stick?
The OKB phenomenon presumably targets baby boomers. But is it the case?
What cultural specific trends can we find under the OK Boomer tweets?
Do they reflect generational or other tensions such as gender or politics?
What are the differences between the countries analysed?
We call a “OK-Boomer-ing” (abbreviated OKBing) the fact that someone replies “OK Boomer” to someone else on Twitter. This can take several forms.
We count one OKBing for each tweet that is replying to another tweet, or retweeting with a comment, where the tweet contains "OK Boomer" (and minor variations like "OK, boomer" etc.) but not more than 20 characters, URLs and mentions (@someone) excluded. We do not count retweets or likes.
Our source material consists of a list of OKBings.
The list of OKBed tweets was extracted, with the number of OKBings. We only kept tweets that were OKBed at least 3 times.
This list was “rehydrated” in TCAT: from the identifier of each tweet, we queried the Twitter API to retrieve the content and metadata of the Tweet, assuming that it was not deleted or the account suspended.
From the rehydrated list, we extracted subsets of tweets by language, as detected by Twitter: Dutch, English, French, German, Portuguese and Turkish.
From each of these 6 language-specific lists, we extracted the most OKBed users. We also listed the most OKBed users overall, and we sourced a list of US politicians, and their Twitter account if they had one. For each of those accounts.
For each of those personalities, we manually associated a Wikipedia page if it existed, and we scraped additional information from WikiData.
The tweets are sorted from most OKBed to least.
Not all Twitter handles are that of an individual: we also have brands, collectives or government agencies. We tagged “person” on the Twitter handles that presented themselves as individuals, with either a first name and last name, or an artist name. In the case of artist names, we looked into whether the Twitter bio featured additional clues such as other social media platforms etc. So, disclaimer: it does not mean that those are persons, or that only actual persons get tagged as such by us. The label represents how the Twitter account presents itself.
We use the birth date to identify a baby boomer, following the criterion used in Wikipedia: individuals born from 1946 to 1964, and thus from 58 to 76 years old (at the moment of writing, in 2022).
In order to challenge the assumption that only baby boomers are OKBed and that it stays purely in an English-speaking context, the data corpus was filtered by language according to the fluency present in our group. Two focuses were put in each language: analysing what type of actors were OKBed (were they political personalities, media companies or regular twitter users?) and what themes were most prominent in their tweets. Tweets in English, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese and Turkish were analysed according to the following thematic criteria:
Generations/age: Is the tweet about generations or does it mention age? (Yes/no)
Gender: Does the tweet mention anything about gender and sexuality? (Yes/no). Includes LGBT-related tweets.
OKB: Does the tweet mention the OK-Boomer phenomenon? (Yes/no). Even if it does not use the phrase “OK-Boomer”' fully, if it is about the act of boomering, then “yes”.
Technology / social media / contemporary culture: Does the tweet mention the use of new technologies (computers, phones, video games, social media etc.), does it comment on the contemporary (mainly internet) culture? (Yes/no)
Politics: Does the tweet include a political comment? (Yes/no). A tweet does not qualify as political if it only mentions something gender-related, because we have a different category for that. Anything that can be considered political within the given country’s/language’s context is marked as political.
Yes and no. It clearly spiked in November 2019, following the moment Chlöe Swarbrick, a New Zealand MP, used the expression in a parliamentary session. We recorded more than 30,000 OKBings that week, but the number of OKBings dropped to 5,000 at the end of 2019, and even lower later on. In that sense, OKB had a well-defined hype moment.
But at the same time, OKB has stuck as a niche Twitter practice. We can grasp this temporality by looking beyond the spike. We break down the timeline as such:
Note: the demarcation between the cooldown and the mainstream phases is the most debatable, as the numbers keep slowly decreasing. It is nevertheless useful to look into the post-spike regime.
|Phase||# OKBings||# weeks||# OKBings per week|
We still currently record about 210 OKBings per week on average (mainstream phase) which is much less than during the spike, but still sensibly more than during the underground phase (before it reached 100 OKBings the same week). In that sense the practice stuck, but as a niche behavior on Twitter.
Our research shows that no, it is not — OK Boomings seem to happen to different actors across all ages. This brings down our hypothesis that the targets of OKB are actually baby boomers, so people born between 1946 and 1964. This brings up questions on the reasons and motivations behind this warfare, pointing at tensions that are not mainly generational, but also class based or political. In our observations, we see that the “Boomer” encompasses a set of attitudes that are mainly tied to traditional and/or conservative views and agendas. We observed that the main spike in the English language tweets is thanks to TV personality Piers Morgan, who is 56 and so too young to be a baby boomer. In contrast, other spikes occur in relation to US President Joe Biden (the spike at age 79), who is actually too old to be a baby boomer. Generally, actors being OKBed span from all ages, as young as 25 and as old as 89.
A few remarks should be made about these results. First of all, the few OKBings displayed at age 108 are based on a mistake in the dataset, namely the wrong Noel Miller (a cricketer who died in 2007) whose Wikipedia page was linked to the Twitter account of YouTuber Noel Miller.
Secondly, we only could analyze those persons whose Wikipedia page contained the data about the age. There were quite some YouTubers and younger people or journalists who don’t have a Wikipedia page. You could say that the older you are, the bigger the chance that you have a Wikipedia page. Following this reasoning, baby boomers are relatively overrepresented in the dataset. Yet, still the findings show the picture that it’s not primarily baby boomers who get OKBed. We could expect that including more ages of younger people only reinforces the findings and that the percentage of baby boomers who receive OKBings will be even lower.
If OKB does not only happen in English speaking countries, what are its manifestations across other languages?
Portugal and Brazil: Although the highest OKBed account is “Partido Chega”, the Portuguese right-wing populist party, most of the Boomed accounts are Brazilian, probably due to their population size.
On average, “OK Boomer” occurred during the same time frame as other languages, although we can see an exceptional spike on the 5th January of 2021, around the Portugal Presidential elections: this corresponds to Partido Chega’s tweet, that interestingly does not make particularly inflammatory remarks but simply tags an opposition party.
Amongst the main actors that are OKBed, we see mainstream celebrities such as conservative politicians and journalists, but also other types of micro-celebrities such as Youtubers and influencers in general. There are 3 members of the Bolsonaro family on the list. The Brazilian accounts mirror the “Boomer” identity as they identify with traditional views on family, culture and society. Even if the author does not belong to the baby Boomer generation, the majority of tweets (52.38%) in the Portuguese language comment on an aspect of culture and media as a reflection of “society’s decay” , such as gender inclusive media or technology use, pleading for a return to more simpler values and gender roles, reflecting nostalgia as the main sentiment.
In the Brazilian context, it is also interesting to note that most Youtubers or influencers are mainly young men, associated with anime and video game streaming, but also christianism (on a deeper research, possible connections with an alt-right, deep web sphere could be made). This group mainly comment on contemporary gender and/or sexuality discourse, and this topic comprises 23.81% of OKBed tweets. This means that, at least in Brazil, OK Boomer is not necessarily about age but rather political orientation or group identity, which sometimes mean reflection on “lost generation” and overall post-modernity (generational differences are point out regardless of the Boomer’s age, and this topic is mentioned in one third of the tweets). Overall, there are 2 main clusters of OK Boomers: the older generation of established and conservative politicians or journalists; and the young to middle-age reactionary youtubers.
Interestingly, both clusters are Boomed by their opposition — even an older, yet progressive actor is OkBed by the reactionary “incel” , while a conservative/right-wing actor, no matter the age, will be OkBed by their progressive opponents. This makes OK Boomer a meme that spans across political spectrums, not belonging solely to a particular identity and appropriated by many, but often an anti-establishment critique, whether the target is a young nostalgic conservative or a baby boomer.
As can be seen in the above graph of Turkish OKBed people’s distribution by occupation, most people who got OKBed are journalists, followed by politicians. However, it is important to note that, after a thorough examination of the tweet contents, we found that most of the journalist/newspaper tweets in Turkish were actually reports on what politicians said. This means that the most OKBings were targeting politicians in the Turkish language.
A theme-based categorization of the OKBed tweets was made among the 150 most OKBed tweets in Turkish language. The main categories which were manually coded for all the languages investigated in the project, together with some Turkish-specific themes were as follows:
42% of the tweets coded per category were about age or generations. These include commentary on ‘the young ones’, newspaper articles on ‘understanding Gen-Z’, comparisons between the generations, criticisms on the complaints of the young people. Although this category was the one that has the most OKBed tweets percentage in relation to the rest of the categories, the percentage of the total number of OKBings this category got was 24.5%. This shows that OKBings were not mainly related to commentary on age and generations. Nevertheless, age and generations was a prominent category.
Among the top Turkish OKBed tweets, gender-related ones constituted 6%, yet they got 12.6% of the OKBings. This means that the use of OKB phenomenon was somewhat and proportionally more reactive towards gender-related tweets in comparison to generation-related ones. These tweets are mostly on what women should or should not do, and include tweets on LGBT, for instance president Erdoğan denying the existence of LGBT in the Turkish culture and history.OKBed tweets on technology, social media and contemporary culture constitute 30% of the OKBed tweets, but these tweets got %16.6 of the OKBings. This means that although these tweets were an important part of the OKBing phenomenon in Turkish, they did not get as many reactions. These tweets mostly criticize gaming, screen time and using phones, watching Netflix, listening to books instead of reading them, social media use, addiction and consumerism. This implies that OKBings were against being reluctant to change.
As we were analysing the OKBed tweets, we found an interesting category, which was the tweets that mention the OK-Boomer meme. The Turkish tweets among these were mostly by people who got OKBed previously or who are offended by OKB, and their tweets included commentary on how young people should not just OKB them. Some others, also in line with the other languages, were playing with the OKB meme, in an ironic way.
The OKBing spike in Turkish language tweets happened on 24 December 2019, which was a month after the English language spike. The tweet that started the Turkish spike was tweeted by BirGün Gazetesi, a Turkish newspaper, yet the news report was about Devlet Bahçeli (born in 1948, a baby boomer), a right-wing nationalist political party leader. This tweet, which ranks the second in the top OKBed tweets of all languages, was about Bahceli’s words regarding a proposed project called Kanal Istanbul. This project was one which raised environmentalist concerns in the Left, and Bahçeli claims that the ones who are against this project are “unsensible and non-national”. This tweet is one example of the largest category of Turkish OKBed tweets which got the most OKBings, namely the political tweets.
Turkish political tweets were %26.6 of the OKBed tweets which were coded, yet, they got %65.9 of the OKBings. This shows that in the Turkish context, OKBings were most sensitive to political tweets. Alongside these tweets that were categorized as political, there were tweets on Islamic and/or traditional values, family, marriage, relationships, and class differences. These subjects that were also mentioned by the OKBed tweets, can be interpreted as the following. Although the content of the OKBed tweets were not necessarily politically conservative, most of them were reluctant to change or reactionist in a way.
Surprisingly and differently than the other languages, the Turkish OKBed corpus has a significant amount of tweets that criticize the use of English words in Turkish, and compare Turkey and the West. These tweets were 18.6 of the coded Turkish tweets and they got 20.6% of the OKBings. An example to this is a tweet by an online newsper account, reporting president Erdogan’s words:
This tweet, which ranked the fifth among most OKBed tweets in Turkish translates to: “President Erdogan: Social media language is becoming a prevalent language among our young ones. Meaningless abbreviations, foreign words in scattered in sentences, nonsense expressions are becoming more and more normal every day. We are compelled to put a brake on this.” This may indicate that OKBings were targeted towards a reluctance of change.
Similarly, the tweet that got the second most OKBings in Turkish language was the following:
Translates to: “Turkish woman will not be a subject of the global gangs’ ethnic, religious and SEXUAL polarisation. We will battle the economic, political, social, cultural deterioration, together and shoulder to shoulder, as women and men… One can only play into the hands of separatists with nonsense dances and feminist shows…” Here, we can see that Avar sees Turkish women and Turkish nation as a unity, compares this unity to the rest of the world and claims that feminism leads to polarisation. Together with the rest of the categories, this one also indicates a reluctance to change, or reactionism, which seems to be the main reason a tweet gets OKBed in Turkey.
The most boomed social group in the German-speaking Twitter-sphere is that of journalists and politicians. The average age of all the Twitter users analyzed is 56 years and thus corresponds not to the definition of a boomer. 89% percent of them are men. The data shows that the age distribution is broad and that people who do not belong to the boomer generation do also get OKBed.
The younger Twitter users in the selected dataset are mostly youtubers or musicians, whereas the older ones tend to be journalists or politicians.
The main topic in most German tweets deals with questions about age and generational differences (37%). These tweets are also the ones that have received the most OK boomings. A tweet from Friedrich Merz (image below) serves here as an example. He is a part of the Bundestag and a member of the Christian Democratic Union. In his tweet he denounces the statements of Greta Thurnberg in which she talks about being robbed of her youth. Merz claims that this generation had the best youth that ever existed in Europe.
Another main topic is questions regarding political viewpoints. 22% of the tweets analyzed address such topics. This shows that the term "OK boomer" is not only used for generational issues but also when a user presumably disagrees with the political statements of a tweet. An example of this is a tweet from Hans-Georg Maaßen (image below). He is also a member of the Christian Democratic Union. In his tweet, he recommends that the members of the Social Democratic Party nominate Olaf Scholz as chairman and not Walter Borjans. This statement is not about generational differences or class warfare. It is a purely political statement.
About 13% of the tweets dealt with climate issues. Many of these statements also showed a certain generational conflict, which is also evident in Friedrich Merz's tweet criticizing Greta Thurnberg.
Gender issues (7%) and the negotiation of the "OK Boomer" phenomenon (10%) are less pronounced in the German-speaking world. Tweets dealing with technology and social media are also less frequent (10%).
Upon observing the Dutch OKBed tweets, it is @wierdduk that got OKBed the most. Wierd Duk is a Dutch historian and writer. He is most known for his journalistic work on politics in radio and television shows. His thoughts and ideas are often labeled as conservative and on the right spectrum of politics. In the tweet, which was OKBed 69 times, Duk comments on ‘Ok, Boomer’ as a phenomenon. He links the use of this word to a lack of intellectual thinking or critical debate. He further labels the use of ‘Ok, boomer’ as the arrogance of a younger generation: a sign of weakness, his words. It is rather ironic that the tweet was OKBed the most in Dutch tweets. The second most OKBed tweet is similar to Duk’s post. The third most OKBed tweet is also one of political context.
The tweet from Wierd Druk symbolizes the overall theme that comes back in all of the Dutch tweets. When analyzing the tweets it immediately becomes clear that a lot of the Dutch tweets are saying things about the phenomenon of OK Boomer itself. Which then also provokes more tweets that just react with the words ‘OK Boomer;. Next to the tweets about the phenomenon itself, the other top tweets appear to discuss politics. The overall theme that is most often OKBed are about differences in generations. Almost half of all the collected tweets are about this topic.
The people that get Ok Boomed the most in the Netherlands are journalists, politicians and newspapers. However this can also be explained because Dutch Journalists and politicians are very active on Twitter in general so that also increases the chances to get OK boomed.
As for the timeframe in which the OK Boomer tweets appear it is quite comparable with the other countries. The spikes in the amount of tweets appear in november and december of 2019. The biggest spike is on 18 november 2019 and 17 december 2019. However, it is interesting to see that the OK Boomer phenomenon makes a small comeback in march of 2021. On these two dates, december 19th and october 18th no special events took place. However, on october 18th the newspapers discussed racism in football and a critical report about Dutch police. On december 19th 2019 the newspapers reported on themes such as parents leave, inclusivity in the arts sector, reading books and travel agencies. No special events, yet information that could hypothetically lead to questions about generation differences. The below diagram proves that in comparison to other countries, Dutch tweets are more focused on content including age-generation-tweets. Where other countries show more input regarding political content, the Dutch score is rather low.
This research aimed at challenging the three main assumptions about OK Boomer: that it was a 2019 fad targeted at baby boomers and exclusive of English speaking countries. In the findings presented above it is clear that, even though it had its spike in 2019, the meme “OK Boomer” continues to the present day. Spanning across generations — even Millennials get OKBed — and languages, this is a universal phenomena but with its own cultural specificities according to each country’s political and social context. Whilst in Portuguese speaking tweets (that are mainly located in Brazil) most OKBeds target comments on cultural phenomena, media or technology, in Turkey they are mostly political tweets or critical of the English language within the Turkish context. However, they share the fact that both spikes are targeted at a right-wing politician and both languages’ corpus of tweets shows a type of resistance to change and support of traditional gender roles. Both the Dutch and the German tweets, however, confirm the assumption that generational differences por tensions are the main motivations for OKBooming someone. Similar to Turkey, Germany also has a strong focus on political statements and affiliation. This indicates while all analysed languages used the OKB meme as part of a generational warfare, some also appropriated it as an activist/political meme.
Despite the limitations of our dataset and limitations of time and resources, we found that OKBings were not only related to generational warfare, but also to other tropes, such as activism and politics. Sometimes it was used as a joke, sometimes to punch harder to the ones closest to you. This shows that further research can be done on what kind of a warfare OKB phenomenin entails. This is also an indicator that using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, deeper research on memes, their backgrounds, targets, and how they are used can reveal insights on the nature of warfares between opposing groups.
Mezzofiore, Gianluca. "A 25-Year-Old Politician Got Heckled During A Climate Crisis Speech. Her Deadpan Retort: 'OK, Boomer'". CNN, 2019, https://edition.cnn.com/2019/11/06/asia/new-zealand-ok-boomer-trnd/index.html.
Mueller, Jason C., and John McCollum. "A Sociological Analysis Of “OK Boomer”". Critical Sociology, 2021, p. 089692052110257. SAGE Publications, https://doi.org/10.1177/08969205211025724. Accessed 14 Jan 2022.-- SaniyeInce - 22 Feb 2022