The story of Unsuck DC Metro took another weird turn this past weekend, when the popular Twitter account waded into a controversy about a local author who posted about a Metro employee eating on a train. By Sunday, Unsuck DC Metro was tweeting about the “Woke fascist”s criticizing him and making liberal use of Twitter’s block function. That makes this controversy, which comes on the heels of a lawsuit Unsuck DC Metro filed against WMATA with help from the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, at once self-contained and potentially quite baffling to anyone who doesn’t spend a lot of time reading angry tweets about local transit. Here’s a brief look at Unsuck DC Metro’s decade-long career as a major, and still somehow anonymous, pain in the ass for transit officials, employees, and people whose jobs include trying to translate the everyday chaos of Twitter to the real world.
Who is Unsuck DC Metro?
I spoke with the account’s creator by phone last April for a story that never worked out, about what I felt was the dark turn in tone the account had taken in recent years (the article fizzled because I couldn’t get many people to talk to me about him, and I no longer remember what the news hook was, but whatever it was it had gotten pretty old by the time my boss encouraged me strongly to find something else to do). He told me his first name, which I agreed not to share, and said he lived in Northern Virginia and had worked as a journalist—all stuff that has been reported before. The complaint filed against Metro describes Unsuck DC Metro as an “unincorporated association” made up of area residents whose “purpose is to raise awareness of and educate DMV residents and visitors about the operations of Metro.”
Who are these other people?
Unclear. When we spoke, Unsuck mentioned a collaborator who used to be an investigative journalist at a “top-notch newspaper,” but the reference to this account being an association tracks closely with how Unsuck DC Metro works in practice–people tag @unsuckdcmetro when reporting Metro failures and outrages, and he retweets them. “The Twitter page is curated from other people, and although it’s got my voice in there, it’s very much predominantly a retweet machine,” Unsuck DC Metro told Allie Kessel in 2015.
What’s the history of this project?
Unsuck DC Metro began life as a blog in 2009, then followed the rest of us DC-area loudmouths onto social media. He now has a Twitter following of more than 80,000 as well as a Facebook page with just shy of 20,000 followers. When it started it was a combination of an alternate public address system and a place for whistleblowers. It’s been an essential follow through Metro flameouts and foibles, as well as a steam-release valve for riders who’ve had it just about up to here. Now it’s more of a gathering place for Metro haters than a voice of constructive criticism, but it’s still the account you’re most likely to find first-hand reports about whatever’s keeping you from getting home on time. I still follow! (And as of 2:46 PM, am not blocked by him.) (UPDATE 3:06 PM: I am now blocked.)
Has Unsuck DC Metro always been so fighty?
There was a time when the superstructure of DC media thought Unsuck DC Metro could be tamed. Robert McCartney took him to lunch; Metro spokesperson Dan Stessel wrote a guest post on his blog. But any optimism Unsuck DC Metro may have had seems to have dissolved as years have passed. (That antipathy apparently goes both ways: No WMATA spokesperson even replied to me when I tried to get a comment about Unsuck DC Metro.) When I asked him whether he thought Metro could actually be, you know, unsucked, Unsuck DC Metro said he was frustrated by what he saw as the system’s unaccountability and resistance to meaningful change. “I don’t think Metro can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he told me. Over the years he’s taken an ever-harder line toward people in the media or transit advocacy spheres, calling many of them shills. He also denied that the account had become completely scabrous: “I still think it’s pretty funny,” he told me. “I think a lot of people come for catharsis, information, a laugh or two.”
Why is the account still anonymous?
This was my concern: Isn’t it a cop-out to demand accountability when you won’t even say who you are? “Do I have to be accountable?” he replied. “I don’t get any money; I don’t have an ax to grind.” Unsuck DC Metro said that if he put his name and photo up behind his hobby, he’d become a public figure, and “it’s kind of mean out there for public figures … I’m not really interested in that.” He emailed a while later to say “I feel that I am accountable to readers. If they think I provide something valuable, they follow me and engage. If they don’t, they can not follow me/ignore me.”
What does Unsuck DC Metro want?
In a word, accountability. In Unsuck DC Metro’s view, new management comes and goes without making anything better, and GMs “resort to interior decorating” rather than fix the system’s serious issues, which tick like time bombs underneath every commute. “I think there needs to be somebody who owns Metro, and that person is responsible for how Metro runs, and if he or she is not doing it right, they lose their job,” he said. Viewed through this lens, Unsuck DC Metro’s dismay about the employee who ate in a subway car appears to be deeply rooted in his conviction that she would suffer no consequences for it. I asked him last year whether he’d ever think about hanging up the account. “I feel like it’s a service that a lot of people like,” he said. “As soon as I stop having fun, I will stop doing it.”