Sidechannel, the newsletter writer group Discord server, is launching on Monday! It features myself, Casey Newton, Charlie Warzel, Anne Helen Peterson, Eric Newcomer, Nick Quah, Delia Cai, and Kim Zetter. We have a big guest lined up for our first day that I am DYING to talk about. If you want access to it, as well as the Garbage Day server and extra Garbage Day content, hit the button below. It’s $5 a month or $30 a year. It’s going to be really exciting.
What Do We Owe Each Other Online?
I first got a MySpace account in 2005 and in the 16 years of social media since, I have been a troll and a cyberbully and I have been trolled and been cyberbullied. As a teenage edgelord on 4chan and Tumblr, I thought being shitty on the internet was somehow punk. At the same time, friends around me in high school were pulled deeper into a world of misogynist Reddit libertarians, red-pilled psychonauts, and nazi music blogs. I luckily avoided being radicalized, but as a professional journalist working online in the 2010s, I, then, became the target of every form of information warfare there is — doxxing, brigading, hacking attempts — I’ve never been SWATed, but I have had bomb threats against me reported to the FBI. Suffice to say, I am extremely comfortable with the contours of digital aggression. I understand both sides of it very well.
I thought about my years within the world of online harassment watching Lindsay Ellis’s new video this week.
If you aren’t familiar with Ellis or what she’s been at the center of right now, she’s a YouTube film critic and author who was “canceled” last month for tweets she posted about the Disney film Raya And The Last Dragon. She tweeted, “Also watched Raya and the Last Dragon and I think we need to come up with a name for this genre that is basically Avatar: the Last Airbender reduxes. It’s like half of all YA fantasy published in the last few years anyway.”
Her tweet started trending, with thousands of users arguing that her comparison of the new Disney film, the studio’s first film to feature a Southeast Asian princess, which was informed by Vietnamese folkore, written by a Vietnamese-American, and stars a predominately Asian cast, with Avatar, a cartoon made by white men, was reductive and insensitive. Amid the backlash, Ellis doubled down, tweeting, “I can see where if you squint I was implying all Asian-inspired properties are the same, especially if you were already privy to those conversations where I had not seen them. But the basic framework of TLA is becoming popular in fantasy fiction outside of Asian inspired stuff.”
Genuine criticism of Ellis’s comparisons of Raya and Avatar quickly swirled together with tweets from bad faith actors who understand online fandoms as a winner-takes-all battle royale, a clout-based Hunger Games where something that’s bad for one influencer is good for the one you like, where social justice concepts are twisted into a way to score points for whatever your team is. Ellis deleted her Twitter account and articles about her being “canceled” were written.
Then, yesterday, Ellis released an hour-and-forty-minute response video called “Mask Off”. In the video, which is as long as a feature-length film, Ellis goes through every single mean thing that’s been posted about her online and either flippantly apologizes or, more uncomfortably, details in great detail extremely personal parts of her life, including instances of sexual violence. I found Ellis’s video claustrophobic and unsettling. As for how effective the video is as an apology or even thoughtful meditation on her work around race, based on the overwhelming “TL;DR” response from Twitter, I’m not sure it worked, if that was even her intention.
My feelings about the current iteration of what we call “cancel culture” are nuanced. I think much of it is just the same online harassment I’ve seen since my MySpace days but with a morally superior coat of paint. One of my first big features as a reporter was reporting on the suicide of a 13-year-old girl in Florida. Her name was Rebecca and after weeks of incessant bullying on the anonymous question-and-answer app Ask.fm, she threw herself from a cement mixer. The story changed the course of my life and fundamentally altered how I think about online harassment, as well as the very nature of how people use the internet itself. I don’t share these feelings much because to discuss them via a tweet or a Twitter thread is impossible. Even if you string together 280-character chunks of information, each chunk can be quote-tweeted out of sequence. There is effectively no point in trying to communicate properly on the app, which is makes dealing with this kind of thing even more difficult.
But another YouTube creator, Natalie Wynn, who goes by @ContraPoints online, did try and address this via a Twitter thread yesterday. Wynn, like me, sees clearly the similarities between the information warfare of radicalized communities like 4chan and the Tumblr-ized callout culture of online fandom spaces. “There is a parallel between ‘diet Nazi’ Internet (8chan/ED/KF doxxers) and Twitter wokescolds in this tactic of anthologizing a person’s entire history of misdeeds & embarrassments, and weaponizing it to harass them,” Wynn wrote. “Compare: Encyclopedia Dramatica (far right 4chan supplement that publishes humilitainment articles, revenge porn, etc alongside alleged moral crimes) & your fave is problematic (ye old Tumblr blog posting compendia of public figures’ lifetime social justice crimes & misdemeanors).”
Wynn’s tweets also echo a point made in my favorite Twitter threads, the “trashed bathroom” theory, which compares backlash cycles like the one Ellis just went through to a common phenomenon where homeless shelter bathrooms are immediately defaced after they’re cleaned. “I see kids on Tumblr using the language of social justice as cudgels on people who actually do care about and listen to them or holding the creators in their own communities to an impossibly high standard they never apply to mainstream media properties,” Twitter user @rootsworks wrote in 2017. “I just see trashed bathrooms. ‘These are the people my voice will actually reach,’ they rationalize, ‘so these are the people I’ll hurt.’”
Yes, people deserve to use the internet without experiencing hatred or insensitivity and they should be able to be critical of someone like Ellis, but also, Ellis should not be expected to lay bare the deeply personal details of her entire life to be able to continue making videos reviewing Disney movies. It should not be hard to articulate this idea. And I think it’s worth considering why it’s so difficult to talk about this and who are the people or companies or platforms in positions of power right now that benefit most from us “canceling” each other like this.
Let’s Talk About The Monster Energy Drink Pickles
This was sent to me by a user in the Garbage Day Discord named Gwiggs. If you click through, there’s an entire thread about what it was like to eat these. “ITS BEEN 10 MINUTES AND A VIBRANT ‘FLAVOR’ STILL PERMEATES MY MOUTH,” @armcannon tweeted. “It’s hard to describe *how much flavor* is happening. I feel like I have bitten the forbidden fruit and am now cursed with too much knowledge. This might be my villain origin story.”
Cool, sounds good!
Tramp Stamps And The Industry Plant Conspiracy Theory
A reader tweeted a video this band with no context at me a few days ago and I sort of lost it in the shuffle (if you send me things please tell me what it is supposed to be lol.) But thanks to a helpful Tumblr post, I have since learned that the Tramp Stamps are vaguely queer hyperpop-ish music group that are being accused of being “industry plants”. I have listened to their music and as someone who unabashedly loves both hyperpop and mall emo, they are not great! And I’m not just saying that because one of their songs has the lyrics, “I’d rather die / than hook up with another straight white guy / I’d rather die / than fake it like I’m having a good time / I’d rather die / than spend the night / with another Ryan” 😔
Apparently, the whole group is problematic as heck. As one TikToker put it, “their vibes are just so rancid” lol. Their TikTok tag is A MESS. Also, Redditors dug through contracts for the group and they are definitely not “indie” by any means. And, making things even more insidious, Rolling Stone has a good piece that connects the dots between the band and the infamous producer Dr. Luke.
Thinking About This Tweet About Steak-Umm
The context here is that Tom Goodwin is a business writer and media consultant who is replying to a thread the Steam Umm account posted about how to effectively educate the public about the importance of science. I think the whole thing really says a lot about society.
Good YouTuber Alert
More than a few people I’ve spoken to recently have reported seeing Sarah Z’s videos suddenly appear in their recommendations widgets. I’m not complaining! They’re great. She goes deep into some of the thorniest and weirdest internet subplots of the peak Tumblr era.
Please Visit This Website
The link in this tweet is https://y-n10.com and it’s a website for Yamauchi No.10 Family Office. What is Yamauchi No.10 Family Office? Basically, a Japanese venture capital fund run by a very wealthy family. But the site is absolutely beautiful. Bring back cool websites! Make more websites!
You’re Going To Want To Listen To Second Beat Songs
I’m not actually sure how well-known Tumblr’s audio blog community is outside of the platform. There’s a lot of really great stuff there, but it’s both hard to find old posts and hard to share outside of the site. One audio meme I adore are the edits of songs meant to make them sound like they’re either playing from another room, or on the radio of a car, or as if you’re hearing them from outside of a party. There was one post that I came across many years ago that was supposed to be “a Fleetwood Mac song playing inside on New Years Eve as you stand outside the party on the fire escape and get ready to tell them you love them” or something. Really unique pieces of internet fiction that sadly are regularly deleted or DCMA’d out of existence.
Anyways, Second Beat Songs isn’t that. It’s just songs with every second beat removed. They’re great. Here are three good ones:
Most hilariously, if you want to hear just the second beats, you can check those out on the Patreon.
The Popcorn Salad Video
You guys see this video yet? It’s wild. It’s from a Food Network host named Molly Yeh. She mixes mayonnaise, popcorn, and like coleslaw or something together in a bowl and serves it to people. Incredible scenes.
It also serves as a great segue to mention this Protocol piece about why Big Tech keeps trying to turn food blogs into bland directories of recipes. It addresses something that a lot of people may not realize about how food blogs get traffic:
But you know who cares about the life story? Devoted readers, certainly; every food blog has followers who actually do care about the writer's life and children and favorite musicals. But that's not really why the life stories are there. They're there because SEO, Pinterest and advertisers all demand it. They're a business decision, plain and simple, just like practically everything else on a given food blog.
And to circle back to the horrifying viral popcorn salad video up there — and the rest of the viral food horrors the COVID era has produced — I guarantee you that we’d probably have a much more functional cooking communities and less chaotic culinary creators if they weren’t forced to fit their recipes into the bizarre and byzantine systems that huge platforms like Facebook and Google use to moderate their advertising marketplaces at impossible scale. Though, I’m not sure we can blame platforms for every food monstrosity online.
P.S. here’s a cool vape video.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***