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16 August 2016updated 05 Oct 2023 8:19am

The Great British Tweet Off: why our favourite show dominates not one, but two, of our screens

As The Great British Bake Off returns, why can’t we stop posting in real-time about soggy bottoms?

By Amelia Tait

There is only one thing on this planet that comes remotely close to being as brilliant as The Great British Bake Off, and that is tweeting about The Great British Bake Off.

Following the long-awaited announcement of series sevens contestants this week, the online furore is firmly underway. Between 8am and 11am this morning, 10,396,396 people saw tweets featuring the hashtag #GBBO on their timelines. An online crusade against gendered icing is already fanning the flames of a revolutionary uprising. No one can quite get over how ginger Andrew is.

None of this is new. Every August, GBBO dominates not one but two of our screens. In 2014, there were 1,174,300 total tweets about GBBO during the series. Exactly 199,900 people were inspired to share pictures of their own baking. During one particularly memorable episode – don’t make us say which, alas, you know which – there were a whopping 3,948 tweets a minute.

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Apart from the obvious answer that dirty Diana’s “Well you’ve got your own freezer, haven’t you?” left us in a collective national fury that arguably set us on the path to Brexit, this leaves one pressing question. Why?

“The convergence of Twitter and live TV appears to generate a powerful and engaging entertainment experience which to some tweeters is perhaps more fun than the TV show itself,” concludes a 2011 paper from the University of Lincoln, Co-viewing TV with Twitter. There is a surprisingly large number of studies about the relationship between Twitter and television, each with its own answer as to why we’re addicted to sharing our 140-character insights instead of sitting back and enjoying the show.


Keyhole.co insights on the reach of the #GBBO hashtag

Researchers of a 2014 survey from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered a variety of motivations. First, if our spouse or friends are interested in different television shows, live-tweeting allows a much needed outlet for our thoughts. More interestingly, live-tweeting is seen as a way to affirm our own beliefs and to gain satisfaction in knowing that others agree with us. Finally, for the savvy user, it is considered a good way to help your favourite show succeed.

But none of this explains the unique Twitter success of The Great British Bake Off. Tweeting about the show isn’t the cherry-on-the-cake of an otherwise enjoyable experience; it is the 20 layers of batter that hold up the chocolate gloss of GBBO’s schichttorte.

“For me, personally, live-tweeting is an absolutely necessary part of the GBBO experience,” says Charlotte Mullin, a 22-year-old sales assistant from Uxbridge. “It’s my favourite show to live-tweet because there’s such a huge audience for it and so many creative funny people making so many amazing jokes.”

When I ask her why she thinks GBBO is so enjoyable to tweet about, she provides an insightful, 700-word-article-validating answer:

“It’s quite hard to pinpoint why but I think it’s for the same reason the show is so popular: you have a high-stakes competition requiring an amazing amount of expertise and creativity, but the actual atmosphere of the show is so quaint and welcoming.

“It’s a genuinely heart-warming, silly show and that makes it perfect for hyperbole. The level of emotional investment and positivity the show generates makes joking about it that much more wonderful.”

Plus, the jokes are really, really funny.

Charlotte has tapped right into the show’s fundamental appeal. Aside from the genuinely horrifying injustice that was #bingate, the show’s stakes are so low that they make a perfect outlet for British humour. Unlike other reality shows, there is very little potential for extreme humiliation or extreme glory (the winner, after all, only receives a glass cake stand and a bunch of flowers). This makes being emotionally invested in stolen custard, orange trainers, and Norman’s semaphore all the more enjoyable.

And Twitter is the best place for this unfettered, childish excitement. It is a platform plagued by pompous political bickering, needless hot takes, and savage trolls. For an hour every week for a couple of months in the year, it is quaint, giggling, and gleeful. It is very British, it is very great, and it’s about to kick off.

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