The 4chan-ification of the web

Read to the end for a TikTok with Vine energy

The Return Of The R-Word

One of the most frustrating things about being online right now is that many of the new problems cropping on search and social platforms are ones we kinda-sorta fixed a decade ago. Things like spam, scams, racism, extremism, outright terrorism, and nonconsensual sexual material are crawling back from the fringes as large platforms just collectively shrug and say, “we can’t fix that actually.”

This general 4chan-ification of the web is probably best observed on the everything app that is now also a video app and also a phone app, apparently, that used to be called Twitter, but is now called X. Though it’s happening everywhere.

And this erosion of standards is directly connected to the resurgence of online harassment of people with Down Syndrome. Over the last year or so, stealing TikTok videos of people with Down Syndrome became fair game for the internet’s various bottom-feeder meme accounts.

I’ve never written about this before — I worry it could affect my internet tough guy persona — but I volunteer at a summer camp for people with range of developmental and intellectual disabilities, including Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism. I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager. My dad has worked there for decades and we go up together every year. It’s a profoundly important part of my life, which is why, about 10 years ago, I stopped posting anything about it online.

The main reason is that I could never forgive myself if a photo I shared was taken by someone else and turned into a meme, or worse. This used to be extremely common in the early days of social media. Sites like 4chan and Reddit would steal photos of people with Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy and use them as reaction images, which would get saved in folders, and travel around the internet forever. It’s a deeply cruel thing to do and was, thankfully, never mainstream internet behavior. That is, until recently.

Obviously, X deserves a lot of the blame here. The site’s gameable monetization program and complete lack of content moderation have stripped the community of any human decency it may have once had. But I think there’s a bigger player here: Comedian Shane Gillis.

It would be real easy to say all of this is Gillis’ fault, but it’s not that simple. I, also, think the way Gillis factors into the equation here is a useful example of how if you don’t manage the fandom or community you create, it will run away from you.

Gills has an uncle and niece with Down Syndrome and he talks about them regularly in his standup. His main schtick is publicly talking about his relatives with Down Syndrome the way many other families might talk privately. It’s raw and decidedly not The Approved Language, but it’s also clear that he does so with a tremendous amount of love. And Gillis did this on the biggest stage possible last week, when he dedicated much of his monologue on Saturday Night Live to telling stories about his niece. I thought those parts, specifically, were fine, but I can also see why people might not be excited about someone saying the word “retard” on America’s biggest comedy show.

Luke Winkie over at Slate recently did a great deep dive on Gillis, concluding that he’s probably just a schlubby suburban white guy with incomprehensible, but largely harmless liberal politics. Which sounds right, but I think The Daily Beast’s article about Gillis’ bizarre continued platforming of Holocaust deniers is worth reflecting on, as well.

Regardless of where Gillis is coming from, though, his fans are the worst people on Earth. As Winkie wrote, after Gillis was fired from SNL in 2019, following racist podcast clips surfaced of him mocking Asian people, he found a huge audience of disaffected white guys who also don’t want or need to take politics or the culture wars very seriously.

“Gillis became a star among fans of the post-ironic leftist comedy collective Cum Town, the far more right-leaning Barstool Sports content empire, and, of course, The Joe Rogan Experience,” Winkie writes. “Three dominions of cultural capital that don’t have much more in common other than a combined distaste for a certain brand of earnest, identity-based liberalism commonly associated with people who aren’t edgy white men.”

This carbuncle of sweatpants men that follow Gillis around the internet have taken his standup as carte blanche to plaster sites like X, Reddit, and TikTok with cruel memes about people with Down Syndrome. And his apolitical, ironic slacker vibe has made him very popular with the post-Bernie Bro nihilists on the subreddit for the Red Scare podcast and within the New York Downtown Scene’s intellectual dark web, who have started using the word “retard” again because, one has to assume, they were desperate for something resembling a slur that they could use without going mask-off racist.


Worst of all, Gillis seems to be aware of this. His fans regularly send him memes about people with Down Syndrome and they spent last week celebrating that he said “gay” and “retard” on live TV. They’re disappointed he wasn’t racist, but they were quickly distracted by organizing a harassment campaign against a woman in the SNL house band that wasn’t laughing at his jokes. He’s also faced firsthand the ugliness of the world he inhabits.

Last year, Gillis was a guest on the unwatchable “comedy “podcast” Flagrant and had to tell the hosts to stop pulling up and laughing at videos of people with Down Syndrome dancing. Clips from the episode recently started making the rounds again this week on Reddit and X. It’s incredibly uncomfortable to watch.

And, sure, Gillis is not directly organizing any of this larger edgelord behavior. But he can’t be separated from it either. As I wrote above, the companies that run the internet have all but given up moderating it, so that work has to be done by us now. We have to manage our own communities and we have to look out for the most vulnerable. People with Down Syndrome and their loved ones should be able to openly share their lives online without worrying about getting turned into a meme or converted into engagement bait by some anonymous goblin. Even if that means dropping your chill bro facade and riling up the Stoolies when you tell people to stop.

Gills has the biggest podcast on Patreon. He’s been at the top of their charts for over a year. He has a massive platform and he built it by letting every awful guy in the country project themselves on to him. And while he does genuinely seem to really want to use that fame to bring visibility to the Down Syndrome community — and I think it’s admirable that he does — he’s not willing to draw a clear line between visibility and exploitation.

It’s really in vogue right now to scoff at political correctness and laugh at triggered libs obsessed with identity politics and say none of it matters. But it always does eventually. And that’s when you have to decide if your Patreon subscriptions are worth pretending you still don’t care.

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Meh…rathon? is a simple site. Every day there’s one deal up for sale, absurdly cheap, and you decide if you want it.

Except…when it’s not that simple. Like today.

Today is having a…Meh-rathon. It’s one deal after another for the whole day. So if you head over there now and don’t like what you see, wait a few minutes and you’ll see something else. It’s carefully designed to waste your time. But in a good way.

I can’t tell you what’s up at right now, but you can find out yourself by just heading over to

Don’t Tell Nintendo, But Patreon Is Full Of Emulators

—by Adam Bumas

On Monday, Nintendo settled a lawsuit against the team that made Yuzu, a popular emulator that let people run Switch games on a PC. They have since completely shut down operations, scrubbed everything they’ve made, and paid Nintendo $2.4 million.

People are debating the ethics of emulation again, but it’s less simple than the usual question of whether you should punish people getting things they can’t buy legally. For one thing, Nintendo’s grievances are mainly focused on Yuzu putting out code for games on release day or the day before, meaning all their work had to be done off pirated copies.

Interestingly enough, Yuzu was supported by Patreon, which has a huge emulator and indie game development scene. According to Graphtreon, Yuzu was pulling in $45,000 a month in subscribers at its peak. That peak was last May, after The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom came out, but it actually started weeks before the release. They didn’t officially say people could run pirated pre-release copies on Yuzu, but the court documents say that thousands of people were doing it, and Yuzu was carefully tracking all their data. That means there’s a paper trail showing that Yuzu was functionally selling the biggest game of the year before it came out.

Nintendo has bigger problems with Yuzu than that, though, since their filings also call emulators illegal by definition. Apart from Yuzu, the team also had to delete Citra, an emulator for 3DS games. Nintendo plans to end all online support for the 3DS next month, so the same arguments about lost revenue don’t really apply here.

Opinions are pretty divided. There’s definitely some sentiment that Yuzu got too greedy, but there still aren’t a lot of people taking Nintendo’s side. Meanwhile, Yuzu’s Patreon is gone, but there are hundreds more unofficial emulators and mods making money there. Two of the five biggest creators on the entire website are both making graphical mods for the racing game Assetto Corsa. And I’ve been tracking Patreon growth for almost a year now and emulators are regularly at the top of my list. So are all of these in danger of being shut down the way Yuzu was? It’s complicated. And Patreon declined to comment on this story.

Modern copyright laws don’t mix well with the internet. They get even worse when you have to deal with unlicensed fan labor, which simultaneously violates IP law and forms the bedrock of that IP's cultural footprint. I recently spoke to someone who has experience with brand copyright managers, and they were dubious that Warner Bros. would have let the AI Willy Wonka Experience stay in business, if it had operated long enough to get their attention. Yes, corporations should probably have way less power to completely delete anything they own from the public record (see also Coyote v. Acme), but I also don’t think it’s crazy Nintendo went after them once they blurred the line between emulation and bootlegging.

Let’s Talk About Online Distribution!

Media is dying, the news is over, etc. Amid the industry-wide freakout about how people find information, there have been a couple interesting discussions about online distribution. As in, how people find stuff. Which I think is good because, if you ask me, that’s actually the problem. Saving the media, or whatever, isn’t about racing to make “snackable” Quibis that Gen Z watches. It’s about really doing some soul-searching about how people find things on the web.

The Atlantic’s Ian Bogost recently wrote a piece called, “It’s Time to Give Up on Email". Heh… what the fuck, man. Unfortunately for, uh, me, I guess, Bogost makes a couple decent points. Email is annoying. Everything runs through it. Most people’s inboxes are not relaxing places to consume content. “Email is a public-health concern,” he wrote, though, he explicitly said that Garbage Day emails don’t count. Don’t factcheck that.

Meanwhile, over on Chris Hayes’ podcast (a podcast is like a newspaper that someone reads out loud to you), Semafor’s Ben Smith argued that email and podcasting are the only options left for publishing because they run on open protocols. Email actually runs on a tangled rats nest of a couple protocols, but I get the point. Right now, in 2023, there are four main ways to distribute content:

  • RSS (which is what podcasts run on)

  • Email

  • Social

  • Search

With two more possibly gaining traction down the line:

  • The Fediverse

  • AI chat

You could also maybe throw the blockchain here, as well, but let’s ignore it for now. Until the fediverse catches on, RSS and email are the only distribution models that don’t need corporate middlemen. So, yeah, until we build another way, that’s where the future of digital media has to live.

It’s Time For A New Gamergate, I Guess


There’s a new gamer controversy brewing. The gist of the conspiracy driving this new harassment campaign is that a group on Steam believes that a game development company called Sweet Baby Inc. is pushing diversity in video game character designs. They aren’t. As a redditor put it recently, they’re essentially sensitivity readers for video games.

Kotaku had a reporter sneak into a Discord server that’s spearheading the campaign. Here’s a good piece breaking this all down.

Like almost everything gamers care about, this isn’t based in reality and doesn’t really matter. Unless, of course, it spins out of control and jumpstarts a global fascist movement. Which has, you know, happened before.

The Glasgow Oompa Loompa Is On Cameo Now


That’s me on cameo! Ready to take on requests from your Scottish Oompa Loompa. Link in bio and below 👇 ... See more

X user @laracroftbarbie made a good point about viral users who try and cash in on something like the Glasgow AI Wonka incident. “I am fascinated by how the internet turns people like this into private entertainers for our unlimited amusement,” they wrote. “People make money from it, sure, but god how grim. The 21st century equivalent of seeing someone ‘funny’ on the street and throwing pennies at them to dance.”

I agree there’s a grimness to this sort of thing, but I don’t think it’s totally bad. Also, the people involved with the Wonka event were actors, so, this kind of attention is what they were after in the first place. But I also think that one of the weird side effects of an internet primarily powered by social networks is that attention is a commodity now. Once you get it, you’d be stupid not to cash in on it.

A Fantastic Map

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P.S. here’s a TikTok with Vine energy.

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