Threadjacking: Inside The New Communication Term (& How To Avoid It)

In the age of the internet, new lingo and trends spread faster than most of us can keep up with it. You may not have even heard of the latest term until you're being accused of doing it ... and what then? If you've come across "threadjacking" in the past few months, you've probably at least figured out that it's not a positive term. If you've been called a threadjacker, you probably have even more concerns. You may have committed the internet's most recent party foul without even meaning to. 


Before email, texting, and social media were a thing, people had to deal with chronic interrupters and those who always seem to get off topic in person — and we still do — but now, we have added "threadjacking" to the ways that people can do that. It's a very similar phenomenon but rooted in a digital space. Here's everything that you need to know in order to avoid future instances of threadjacking — an unappreciated disruption that can happen at work, online, or even in your group text messages. Mastering this latest expectation of internet etiquette can help you to look and feel better on social media. 

Threadjacking takes a conversation off-course

Despite what the name implies, threadjacking has nothing to do with succumbing to the urge to pull that string on your sweater. Instead, Your Dictionary defines this internet sin as "the act of taking over an e-mail list or discussion thread with a subject unrelated to the original posting." While this can often be done accidentally, Urban Dictionary notes that this is often a popular tactic for online trolls, who hope to distract from the original subject of conversation or upset the original poster. 


Threadjacking can be as innocent as asking a follow-up question that sparks a much longer conversation. If things are getting deep under someone else's topic heading, it might be time to start your own thread. If you're looking to ditch the threadjacking label, you also may need to resist the all-too-common urge to share a personal anecdote under someone else's experience. Instead, make your own post and shout out your inspiration!

This is the latest consequence of reply all

Threadjacking can also appear in workplace settings. We've long heeded the warnings of unnecessary usages of "reply all," but threadjacking is a new email rule to take note of ... and it can show up in unexpected ways. Let's say that your boss sends an email out to you and your coworkers about vacation time. When you see the list of subjects, you remember that you've been meaning to send a message out to the team about keeping the break room's refrigerator clean. You quickly hit "reply all," thank your boss for the information, and tack on your own memo. While it may be an appropriate use of "reply all" (as all of your coworkers were intended to receive the message), you would have just committed threadjacking. 


Don't see the harm? In emails, threadjacking is especially frustrating because your "reply all" email will automatically retain your boss's subject line about vacation time ... despite the fact that your message is about the kitchen. Co-workers who may have wanted to follow up with your boss about his original message may get lost among irrelevant replies. One Twitter user put it best: "i don't respect email threadjacking, if your message doesn't match the subject i'm gonna need you to start a new thread, don't f*** with my workflows." 

Threadjacking has also been seen on social media

Even if you've mastered the art of not "replying all" (or if you avoid your email inbox altogether), you may still encounter threadjacking. Truly a problem for the modern age, the phenomenon also manifests online. Many misdirected threads are actually taking place on Twitter, or other forum-based social media platforms, and users are not going to stand for it. 


As users engage with different content, entire conversations may begin to take place in the "replies" of someone's original Tweet. While this can be an interesting way to learn new information or connect with new friends, it creates a nightmarish barrage of notifications for those who were involved in the initial discussion. For users discussing sensitive topics, it can also submit an original poster to conversations they do not wish to be privy to. "White sisters," wrote one user. "My mentions are not a space for you to dump on me or my friends. You're entitled to your feelings but I'm no longer tolerating threadjacking." 

Another person shared their best practices for navigating this online space and its ever-changing rules: "I have learned to quote tweet, restricting replies, rather than just quickly replying. That cuts down on threadjacking & trolls."