She had her desk lamp on again. In the 12-foot-wide room that the two near-strangers shared, that lamp felt as bright as a spotlight.
Jessica Taylor hated that Nikki, her college roommate, kept the light on to do homework late into the night. She needed to get to sleep at 11 p.m., and couldn’t with that bright light shining just feet from her pillow. Nikki, meanwhile, was very tidy, and couldn’t stand that Jessica’s side of the room was so messy and cluttered. She suspected that Jessica was the one responsible for a mysterious stain on the carpet, and she thought her sleep-deprived roommate should just buy a sleeping mask if the lights bothered her so much.
“Right off the bat she annoyed me,” Jessica told The Washington Post. For the first few weeks of college, however, the mismatched roommates tried to keep the peace. “When we moved in, she was pretty nice,” Jessica said.
Time went on, and neither Penn State freshman talked to each other about the increasing tension between them. Instead, one of them — Nikki — found another way to vent: She told the Internet about it instead.
“Two weeks down, and I already hate my roommate,” she tweeted in early September. Later that day, she tweeted again: “My roommate situation is a horror story.”
Jessica and Nikki were well on their way to becoming each other’s college roommate horror stories by then. Bad roommates — and the ugly fights that come with them — happen to the best of us in college. But the feuds don’t usually play out on social media, with various snipes gathering 100,000 retweets. And that’s exactly what happened after Jessica found her roommate’s Twitter account.
“today i found all the subtweets my roommate has made about me, so i printed them out and hung them up in our dorm ❤️” Taylor tweeted Tuesday afternoon:
About five minutes after tweeting her handiwork, Jessica told me, that tweet started to go viral. So she tweeted again: “To add on to how s[—-] my roommate, she called the cops on me yesterday bc i had weed and she hates me.”
Another tweet contained what appeared to be images of text messages between the two roommates, detailing the fight they had just before Jessica tweeted about her revenge.
“Yeah i shouldn’t have tweeted that but I did so that’s that,” Nikki texted her roommate after being called out for her subtweets. “This is going to be really uncomfortable if you keep feeding the fire.”
In the exchange, Nikki says she didn’t go to the “police,” but did report the smell of weed to their hall’s RA, triggering the involvement of campus law enforcement. “When I walk into the room and it smells like weed yes yes it does effect me,” she texted Jessica.
“How??” Jessica replied. “I mean literally if it bothered you you have a conversation with me about it not call the police lol.”
“Weed is illegal don’t have it in the room or I will tell the RA again,” Nikki responded. “It’s up to them what to do from there and if they call the cops that’s not my problem nor do I care.”
Suddenly, thousands of strangers on the Internet were following every detail. And most of them were rooting for Jessica.
“It felt good to be able to complain about her, so that people could understand,” Jessica told me.
The “roommate horror story” is a viral genre at this point, and Jessica’s story isn’t even the first one this year. A few weeks ago, a UCLA freshman tweeted out a image of a dramatic email she received from her new roommate before they even arrived on campus, an email that New York magazine described as “more dramatic about bunk beds than anyone has ever been in the entire history of humanity.”
But the UCLA email went viral largely detached from the identity of the person who sent it. Not so in the case of the Penn State dispute: Nikki’s Twitter handle was visible in Jessica’s tweets, and it didn’t take long for the Internet’s amateur vigilante detectives to get to work.
Jessica’s new fans started combing through Nikki’s Instagram account, posting photographs that appeared to show the college freshman drinking alcohol — which, Jessica told The Post, proved that her roommate’s objection to her weed habit was “hypocritical.”
When Nikki’s friends — along with some strangers — started to reply to Jessica to defend Nikki, the newly born “Uncle Jessy” fandom knew exactly what to do when Jessica called them out:
“all these people defending her all going on private when theyre proved wrong lmao,” Jessica wrote in a tweet, to which she attached a screenshot of a now-protected account.
Things were playing out a bit differently in the physical world. Nikki had few defenders on Twitter, but she was the better liked of the two roommates on their dormitory hall. Jessica said Nikki had gotten really close to most of the people on the hall and “got them not to like me.”
One of Nikki’s friends, Jessica said, came into the room and tore down her subtweet display:
Nikki’s friends remained outside the room. Jessica said she called campus police about it, to report that she was being “harassed” by them.
Jessica said she never intended her tweets to spread beyond her own friends, whom she assumed would find the whole thing really funny. I asked her how she felt about strangers digging through her roommate’s photos, independently trying to find things to damage Nikki’s reputation online and complete the picture that her viral story had started to paint of this person.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I really don’t know. Part of me feels bad, but a part of me feels like she’s the one who instigated it.”
A spokeswoman for Penn State said the university could not comment on disciplinary measures against students, and referred us to the university’s police logs, which do show two incidents — one a student report of an odor of marijuana, another a report of harassment — that took place in the roommates’ dorm building, at times that roughly correspond to Jessica’s version of events.
Nikki hasn’t tweeted about her roommate since the story went viral, and didn’t respond to multiple requests for an interview. We have confirmed Nikki’s full name and enrollment via the Penn State student directory, but we are only identifying her by her first name here.
Her friend Analisa, also a student at Penn State, told me that Nikki was trying to “lay low.”
“She regretted her tweets, and that any of this had happened, and she wished she could go back and change what happened,” Analisa said in an email. “She too is scared for her future.”
And, as it turns out, so is Analisa, who became involved in this viral tale after she caught wind of what was happening to her friend.
“These people on Twitter looked up her photo accounts and started posting her pictures, making fun of her, calling her names, basically cyberstalking her,” she said.
The two knew each other as members of the same dance troupe. Analisa describes her teammate as a “kind,” “genuine” person who had made a ton of friends on campus. “People gravitate towards her,” she said.
“I took it upon myself to report [the harassment] to the university police,” Analisa told me, a request that was forwarded to State College police. When Jessica found out, she was furious. From her perspective, it was her roommate who began everything. She was simply defending herself, she tweeted. And now someone was saying she was “apparently the one guilty of harassment??” she wrote. “lmao.”
Jessica took a picture of Analisa’s Twitter account and tweeted it to her followers. Soon, a bunch of strangers were combing through her life, doing to Analisa what they’d already done to Nikki.
“Random strangers who are barely informed on the scandal would enter my inbox and call me a slut, or a ‘dumb hoe b—,’ tell me to go kill myself, or my personal favorite; ‘you’re a dirty dumb irrelevant whore, find a life outside of your bimbo half-degraded brain, stupid slut,’ ” Analisa wrote.
Jessica has since deleted the call-out that prompted all those emails. But Analisa says that the damage has already been done to her reputation. “I am at risk for losing my internship,” she told me. “I am scared of future professors or peers associating me with this scandal, and especially future jobs.” And that is why we’re only identifying Analisa by her first name, too.
It’s easy to understand why a viral tale of a passive-aggressive roommate getting called out for her subtweets has delighted the Internet. But the fallout hasn’t, arguably, left any of them much better off. Because a feud between two frustrated roommates so captured the imagination of the Internet, two college students are now justifiably terrified that their reputations will never recover.
And even though Jessica has found a satisfying outlet for her frustration, choosing the nuclear option is going to have consequences beyond her viral fame.
But first, she has to figure out where she’s going to live.