A new reason to talk about live audio
Read to the end for a good Tumblr thread about "King Of The Hill"
New Weird Twitter Growth Hack Dropped
Last spring, Twitter launched Spaces, back when venture capitalists successfully convinced everyone that social audio was the future of the internet. lol rip Clubhouse. And, for the last year, Spaces have been heavily over-promoted on the app. This is a super common tactic for platforms who want to create the illusion of innovation: Launch a new feature, give it a prominent placement in the app, push it constantly, convince high-level publishers and creators there’s organic interest, and then rugpull them by removing the artificial promotion once you have enough folks onboarded that you can declare it, internally, a success.
It’s not dissimilar to how Facebook spent years allegedly knowingly inflating the numbers around what constitutes a video view during the first big pivot to video. This is why my advice for anyone who is excited about how popular their Twitter Spaces are right now to maybe wait to see if people will actually listen when they aren’t getting a push alert for it by default. And, based on what I’ve seen recently, that is probably coming soon.
Meme accounts and other forms of coordinated Twitter networks are now using Spaces as a growth hack for non-audio content. Because of course they are because audio is not something that will ever work well in a feed-based platform!! A constantly updating centralized stream of content is for your eyes, not your ears, you fools!!!
I got a bunch of questions from readers about this over the weekend, particularly @KarmaBurrito, who was nice enough to send me a bunch of examples. And here’s another thread of examples that Literally Media’s editor-in-chief Colby Droscher noticed where a user launched a Twitter Space with a Spongebob meme. Droscher, in a followup tweet, shared the same explanation I came across: Tweets announcing Twitter Spaces get their own push alert by default.
Since the beginning of Twitter Spaces, Twitter has floated them to the top of users’ timelines a la Instgram Stories. If someone you follow organizes or listens in to a Space, the app will show it at the top of your feed. But, also, since at least last winter, users will get a push alert letting them know that a Space is starting. You can turn this off in settings, but not many people seem to know that.
Twitter has to do this kind of goading to literally peer pressure you into joining a Twitter Space because, once again, Twitter’s app is not built for consuming long-form audio, but they unfortunately spent too much money trying to shoehorn it in while it was a buzzy pandemic fad and now they just have to keep pushing this thing until they have a new idea to claim is the future of the platform.
Meme accounts have noticed this and are now basically launching junk Spaces simply for the extra promotion. Twitter seems to be catching on because a bunch of tweets I saw of the weekend are now deleted and many of the accounts that were doing this trick are now suspended. But the tweet embedded above is still active and it gives us a good look at what’s going on here. The tweet was retweeted 31,000 times and beneath it are a ton of ads for weird Telegram groups about cartoon pornography and gambling. The account is also tweetdecking — amplifying other accounts in a content network — that are doing the same Spaces spam trick.
This is also my favorite part of the lifecycle of a feature like this. When a platform launches in-feed video or live audio or disappearing stories, unless one of these things actually catches on, which is rare, they usually get slowly absorbed into the platform’s existing world of spam and abuse. For Facebook video, this means edited videos of women getting fake breast augmentation surgery uploaded as if they were live and, for Twitter Spaces, this means accounts posting a Fairly Odd Parents meme with the caption, “Timmy Turner was down bad for Trixie 😂” in a tweet promoting a Twitter Space that doesn’t exist and then advertising a dildo dropshipping scam in the replies beneath it.
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The Russian “Bots” Probably Didn’t Disappear
@FacebooksTop10, which is a project that was created by New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose and Fabio Giglietto, an associate professor of Internet Studies at the Università di Urbino in Italy. The way the account works is that, once a day, it tweets the 10 Facebook pages with the most popular link posts in the US. The account uses data from CrowdTangle and it’s a great resource, but it’s, also, just a tiny tip of the tip of the iceberg of what’s actually happening in America on Facebook.
Per Facebook’s most recent Widely Viewed Content Report, less than 15% of what users see in their News Feeds are posts that contain links. So, yeah, @FacebooksTop10 is useful for getting an idea of what people are reading, but it’s not great at understanding the full picture. Most Facebook top 10s are a mix of Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino, some cat pages, NPR, and maybe a thing about celebrities.
But, suddenly, many people are claiming that that has changed, saying that Ben Shapiro and other conservatives are less prominent in the top 10 tweets (they aren’t). And the reason for this is supposedly the sanctions against Russia. Now that Russia can’t fund American right-wing publishers, the argument goes, there’s no more bots! No more disinformation! America is saved!
Let’s be very clear about this: This isn’t how bots work, how dark money works, how media buys work, how Facebook works. It’s not how anything works!
First, and foremost, most Russian “bots” aren’t bots. According to findings from the Mueller Report, most of the documented and notable examples of Russian troll farm activity were connected to the use of sock puppet accounts — many fake accounts run by the same human user — and catfishing. Second, even if the internet was full of Russian bots, why would totally automated accounts turn off due to Russian sanctions? They’re automated! Third, if a publisher like Ben Shapiro was, hypothetically, being funded by the Kremlin, sanctions would only suddenly make him less prominent on Facebook if Russia was literally paying him by the day. Which doesn’t make any sense. Also, Russian dark money would have no effect on American web traffic unless they were paying Facebook or Twitter directly to promote right-wing publishers, which, once again, why would they be paying them day-to-day.
Look, I can go on and on, but I think you get the idea. Not only did Russian misinformation not suddenly disappear after sanctions were imposed on Russia, as I wrote on Friday, English-speaking internet is full of Russia propaganda now and the main source of it isn’t Russian Twitter bots or Ben Shapiro’s Facebook page, it’s Tucker Carlson.
A Few More Updates About Russia’s Invasion Of Ukraine
First, there’s an absolutely wild Instagram called @richrussiankids, which has recently pivoted to content about rich Russians living abroad reacting to the invasion. The most recent post, pictured above, is of champaign bottles meant to look like Molotov cocktails.
Next up, on the conspiracy theory front, Tulsi Gabbard has doubled down on the biolabs conspiracy and a big group of Putin supporters were filmed doing the Z salute in a Russian shopping mall. Also, according to a Washington Post scoop, the Biden White House is briefing American influencers on how to create content about the conflict. I would say it’s, at least worth pointing out, that Russian influencers were doing literally the same thing for the Kremlin before they lost TikTok access.
Finally, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation released some stats about what the country has been able to purchase with their crypto fund, including almost half a million packed lunches and 5,500 bulletproof vests. Also, congrats on the Wikipedia mention, Igor (it’s since been taken down).
A Good Tweet
Yuga Labs Bought CryptoPunks
Last week, one guy decided he didn’t want to work in Web3 anymore and ended up closing down 25 different blockchain-based startups and, now, Yuga Labs, the company that created Bored Ape Yacht Club, is buying the rights to CrytoPunks, another massive NFT line.
Yuga Labs announced they’re giving CryptoPunks holders “full commercial rights,” which means anyone who owns a CryptoPunk can do anything they want with it. If only CryptoPunks were actually good looking pictures of something and not, you know, shitty pixel art. This also means that one company owns two of the best selling NFT lines. Excited to find out how monopolies are good for decentralization.
I’m also still just trying to process the idea of a “JPG monopoly”.
Robert Pattinson And Zoe Kravitz Meet A VTuber
A VTuber, or virtual YouTuber, named La+ Darknesss, or Laplus, interviewed The Batman stars Robert Pattinson and Zoe Kravitz and it’s actually an incredible video of Pattinson being out-weirded by something going on around him for once. He’s known for being the eccentric one in the room during press events so it’s nice to see him totally thrown by something for once. He looks like his brain is struggling to process what’s happening. Fantastic interview! Wish a VTuber had been able to do a junket for The Lighthouse.
The Ahegao Hoodie Makes Another Unfortunate Appearance
Garbage Day is a little late today because, frankly, I’ve been struggling with how to write about this last item. I’ve written out and deleted so many versions of what I want to say here, but I think it’s best to just go with something simple:
This video, uploaded by Katie Oscroft, a reporter for the UK’s ITV, is of volunteers in Poland collecting supplies for Ukrainian refugees. The video, which is definitely heartwarming, has over 10,000 retweets and I’m going to guess that the majority of them are not about the refugees. You see, in the corner of the video there is a man in an “ahegao” hoodie. If you don’t know what ahegao is, it’s a Japanese term for an orgasm face made in hentai, which is cartoon pornography.
This is not the first time ahegao clothing has made appearances like this amid breaking news events. Early on in the pandemic, a man was spotted at a supermarket in an ahegao hazmat suit and, then, last year, a guy wearing an ahegao facemask popped up on a French newscast.
Look, I can’t believe I’m saying this for a THIRD time in this newsletter, but please don’t wear your anime porn clothes out in public, especially if you’re going to be on the news.
Some Stray Links
“These were people who came of age during the Obama years, and genuinely felt like things were fine, even as everything about the Bush era accelerated. The War on Terror expanded, the reactionary far right organized, the wealth gap grew. Rather than expanding the middle class, the gig economy absorbed those falling out of it into even more precarity, while the pyramid scheme of content creator culture entrenched a new form of serfdom in the US. Meanwhile, my generation was dressing up as the kid from Where The Wild Things Are and reading Hipster Runoff to know how they should feel about Converse versus Vans.”
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***