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'Modern Family's' Danny Zuker: How to Win a Twitter War (Guest Column)

Twitter Battle Graphic - H 2013

The writer, currently feuding with Donald Trump, shares important lessons about insulting people through social media.

This story first appeared in the July 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

When THR approached me to write a how-to piece on winning a Twitter war, I had some reservations.

Frankly, I’ve been looking to put my much-publicized dustup with Donald Trump behind me. We’ve both said all we needed to say, and now is a time for healing if not total reconciliation. But then I thought of the children out there dreaming their dreams of waging and winning a tweet battle, and I knew I couldn’t keep what I’ve learned to myself. So what follows is some general advice that has absolutely nothing to do with Mr. Trump.

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It all comes down to picking the right opponent. Twitter wars are won and lost based on this most basic decision. There are two things to ask yourself: First, “Can I beat this person?” Especially if this is your first war, you want to find someone you can outwit consistently in 140 characters. Read through their timeline and see if they are inept at cogent comebacks, have an inflated sense of themselves or have a limited vocabulary, repeatedly saying things like “Loser” or “Hater” or “You’re fired.”

But just because you can beat someone doesn’t mean you should, so ask yourself the second question: “Is this person deserving of ridicule?” If you decide to wage a war with your dry cleaner because he lost your coat, you’re going to seem petty. Think bigger. For example, and this is off the top of my head, maybe a real estate developer who is bullying a Scottish farmer or, I don’t know, a reality star who might claim his show is a hit when in fact it was beaten in the ratings by a repeat of Family Guy. Hypocrisy is always a great target. Again, this is just a made-up example, but imagine someone who constantly complains about America’s trade policy with China but then manufactures his ties and shirts there, or someone who tweets about frivolous lawsuits after suing a comedian for comparing him to an orangutan. I realize a person like this couldn’t actually exist, but you get the idea.

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Finally, whomever you choose to engage with, avoid commenting about physical appearance. It’s a cheap shot that lowers you to your opponent’s level. Even if their skin is orange or their hair resembles the coat of a rejected breed at the Westminster Kennel Club. You and I are better than that. Have fun and be careful out there.

Zuker, @DannyZuker, is a writer/executive producer of ABC’s Modern Family.