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Some Interesting (And Not So Interesting) Twitter Updates
The ever-worsening situation over at Twitter is pretty difficult to follow, so let’s go in order. First, and most importantly, the site is hemorrhaging users. Both The Verge’s Nilay Patel and Platformer’s Casey Newton have said they’re probably calling it quits. And I haven’t tweeted in almost a week. Which is causing me a bit of a digital identity crisis. If you see me tweeting in the near-future, assume it’s because I’m in a pretty dark place mentally (which was always kind of the case tbh). Either that, or my traffic here has cratered. Aside from notable users announcing they’re leaving, a recent report from Insider Intelligence estimates that if current trends continue, Twitter’s user base will shrink back down to where it was in 2014 by the end of next year. Anecdotally, I’d say about a third of the people I follow are tweeting regularly still.
On Monday, well-known tech reporter Kara Swisher put forward a theory as to why the Elon Musk of 2022 feels so different from the Elon Musk of, say, 2012: What if Musk wants to turn Twitter into a Fox News competitor? I actually think this is plausible! But at this point, I also think Musk is just a being of pure impulse. He’s essentially a flatworm with a rocket company. A naked central nervous system of raw urges wandering the halls of Twitter, asking people if they know good QAnon memes to tweet out.
Here’s another fun theory: All of this is happening is because Musk was upset about the @ElonJet account. Maybe, maybe not. But, as data journalist Dan Nguyen has noticed, it’s weird that Musk started buying Twitter shares right after the owner of the account, college student Jack Sweeney, turned down Musk’s offer to buy it. And it’s weird that Musk started shadowbanning the account almost immediately after taking over the company. And it’s weird that the account that first noticed Musk’s obsession with the @ElonJet account was suspended. And it’s weird that the @ElonJet account, itself, was suspended today.
You know what’s also weird? The fact that Ukrainian phone numbers suddenly couldn’t use two-factor authentification on the site for a while (they can now). But, perhaps weirdest of all, Jack Dorsey tried tweeting out an official response to the current Twitter situation, gave up two tweets in, and then just published it as a post on Revue, Twitter’s newsletter tool, writing, “I don't want to edit everything into 280 char chunks.” My man, you’re the whole reason we all communicate like this now.
As for what Dorsey actually thinks, he’s still banging on about Twitter as an open protocol. He envisions a world where social media functions like email — one singular suite of digital interaction tools that we use for real-time communication experienced via different hosts. “I don’t believe a centralized system can do content moderation globally. It can only be done through ranking and relevance algorithms, the more localized the better,” he wrote. Which I also sort of agree with!
But if I worked for someone for years and they let the new owner of the company accuse me and my coworkers of being pedophiles, to the point where we had to flee our homes for safety reasons, I’d care a lot less about their vision of the future of social media and way more about that. At the very least, I would never ever expect that person to ever run a company again in any meaningful way. You know, because of the spinelessness. So, perhaps Dorsey should have sat on his open protocol stuff and tried to address all of that first.
Oh, also, Revue is shutting down.
Alright, a few last things to hit here: Twitter isn’t paying rent anymore, which is illegal when poor people do it, but an interesting way to cut costs for rich people. And, per a scoop from Platformer, Twitter’s new big plan to make money is to violate the GDPR with wildly invasive ad tracking. I wish them well on the next two weeks of pretending that that’s a viable plan before they desperately pivot to something else. Oh, and Glitch CEO Anil Dash makes a great point that the site’s data tracking is also probably being misused right now.
This Is The Last Week Of Garbage Day For 2022!
I’ll be continuing the weekend edition for paying subscribers and the Discord will be running, but I’ll be taking a little break from the free emails. But keep an eye on your inbox, I might have some surprises for you before the year’s over. If you want to keep up with the world of online garbage, though, hit the green button below and subscribe!
A Good Tweet
Our Sense Of Context Might Be Broken
Yesterday, Rosie Nguyen, the founder of the app Fanhouse, who goes by @jasminericegirl on Twitter, tweeted a cute anecdote about her sister’s wedding. I think most reasonable people would read the tweet and assume it was meant to be a nice story about a fun playful relationship. But because it was shared on Twitter it, obviously, was not taken that way.
The amount of utterly deranged responses from strangers accusing Nguyen’s sister of being abusive is astounding and I couldn’t possibly fit them all in here, but you can click through the quote tweets to read them all if you want to ruin your day. My favorite interaction was between Nguyen and some kind of medical wellness author.
“No matter how much they love each other, these communication styles signal a short marriage,” the user tweeted at Nguyen. To which Nguyen replied, “you were not at the wedding also you don't know these people.” Which is really the main point.
I think there are two things happening here that have become so prevalent online that we don’t even really register how weird they are anymore: One, we assume that everything we are seeing in a piece of content is somehow representative of the entire situation. And, two, weirdly enough, we also think there must be more to the story than how it’s being portrayed and that if we dig into the piece of content deeper we can reveal that truth.
These connected behaviors are the same force that drives both QAnon conspiracy theories as well as the people who dig through footage of K-Pop singers, looking for moments when their hands lightly touch to use as proof that there’s sexual chemistry between them. And I honestly think it just comes down to the fact our desire to post and create content is way higher than it is to seek out additional context or admit we just don’t and won’t ever have it. That’s boring and just posting some random thing that’s popped into your head isn’t.
Instagram Launched Some Stuff, I Guess
Instagram’s not-really Twitter killer dropped and it’s interesting, sort of! It’s called Notes and it’s basically an AIM status for Instagram. You get 60 characters and an emoji (oh, wow, a whole emoji, amazing) and it shows up on top of your story icon. Notes are only visible for 24 hours and within mutually-followed accounts. The app also launched Group Profiles and their BeReal clone, Candids.
My issue with pretty much every product move that Instagram has made this year is that I just don’t know what they’re supposed to mean in aggregate. My concept of the app has become so fuzzy that I genuinely don’t know what Meta wants people to do with it. The TikTokification of Reels seems meant to push out lifestyle influencers and replace them with more specifically-focused creators. But Notes and Candids feel more aligned with private social apps like WhatsApp or Discord.
It’s likely the answer is very simply that Instagram doesn’t know what it wants either and is just trying to hedge its bets as desperately tries to lock in one more microgeneration before it ends up as a new Facebook-like holding pen for aging users. But it’s more than a little frustrating that Meta’s big innovations this year for their last relevant app have been yet another pivot back to video and the return of the status update.
There’s A Bankrun On Binance
In the last 24 hours there has been close to $2 billion of withdrawals from Binance, one of the last remaining big crypto exchanges to not get absolutely rocked this year. The bankrun seems to be largely driven by serious doubts that the exchange has enough liquidity to back user funds. Binance’s CEO Changpeng Zhao has tried to reassure customers that everything is fine, but that seems to be making everyone more nervous. My "we are still totally liquid" tweets have people asking a lot of questions already answered by my tweets, etc.
But it’s not just liquidity doubts that are causing problems for Binance. Yesterday, FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried was arrested in Bermuda before he could testify before Congress, but Forbes got ahold of his testimony and one of the more interesting parts of it was that SBF was planning to submit screenshots from an "exchange coordination" Signal group he was in with Zhao that looks quite a bit like an illegal conspiracy to manipulate various crypto markets!
How Much Longer Will TikTok Be Allowed In The US?
There have been murmurs of a potential TikTok ban since the Trump administration, but it seems like we’re finally gearing up to make some kind of decision on the future of the short-form video app. Yesterday, a bipartisan (but Republican-led) bill was announced titled, the “Averting the National Threat of Internet Surveillance, Oppressive Censorship and Influence, and Algorithmic Learning by the Chinese Communist Party Act”. Yikes! What a mouthful. It’s also being called the “ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act,” which is also cringe, but easier to remember, I guess.
The bill was largely architected by Florida Senator Marco “Gen X China Hawk” Rubio and it would block “all transactions from any social media company in, or under the influence of, China, Russia, and several other foreign countries of concern.” Would love to hear more about what those “other foreign countries of concern” are.
Last week, The Week collected a whole bunch of background on the growing anti-TikTok stance from Washington and in their piece they bring up the thorny first amendment issues that would come from wholesale banning an app in the US. Unlike what Elon Musk and his new corporate comms team of Substack millionaires think the first amendment is, this actually is a pretty clearcut case of violating it. Which is probably why the ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act is specifically targeting the transactions of Chinese-owned companies, hoping to cripple TikTok financially as opposed to just outlawing the app.
I have a lot of questions about how this would work in practice — could we still watch TikToks made in other countries, would other western democracies follow suit, how would China retaliate, etc. — but I suppose the biggest unknown here is what the immediate impact would be to creators and, especially, the American music industry, which have come to rely heavily the app. But, also, its likely that all of this is just meaningless theater and no one involved has thought about any of that and it’s silly that I’ve even entertaining it.
Man, we really need new apps.
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(Tumblr mirror for folks in non-TikTok regions.)
New TikTok Growth Hack Dropped
This screenshot of a TikTok from user @thisis_bex went viral this week after people were completely baffled by the caption: “Imagine how good your life would be if you had a 26-year-old nursing assistant by your side, now replace S with N.” There are a lot of ways to interpret that and not a single one of them makes any sense.
As The Daily Dot pointed out, @thisis_bex shares a lot of sexually-charged content on the platform and also runs an OnlyFans, so it’s likely this was meant to be a viral marketing strategy for her. But I did come across a really interesting theory in a similarly-confused Reddit comment section:
It's nonsense, intended to make people puzzle over the meaning (particularly men, who will assume it's something sexual and thus spend inordinate amounts of time trying to divine it) while the video plays in a loop on TikTok. Since the platform rewards videos with more views, this perpetuates the cycle. Not to mention everyone in the comment section trying to figure it out.
Another Good Tweet
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a funky little man.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***