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All news is good news in an attention economy
Read to the end for an incredible video about Twitter
We All Have A Choice To Make Now
On Friday, CBS announced that it was suspending its entire operation on Twitter because of the “uncertainty” around the platform. By Sunday, the company was back. Its press department tweeted, “After pausing for much of the weekend to assess the security concerns, CBS News and Stations is resuming its activity on Twitter as we continue to monitor the situation.” And this is how Elon Musk responded:
He also shared this incredibly cringe meme.
I’ve seen other journalists and activists besides CBS say they’re leaving the site. Many will, but I think many will come back or never really leave at all. Massive outages aside, I don’t plan to leave, but I regularly lurked on 4chan up until around 2014, so this isn’t anything new for me.
The bizarre circus-like frenzy and simultaneous bittersweet eulogizing that was happening on the platform last week has curdled. Donald Trump is back, but hasn’t tweeted yet. Musk said that Alex Jones will not be coming back to Twitter. The right is not happy about it. And, immediately following a devastating mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado, Libs Of TikTok has already begun sending waves of harassment against a drag brunch in the same state. I saw users tagging Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s former head of legal, and Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, accusing them of having blood on their hands for the Colorado shooting and the continued targeting of LGBTQ spaces by accounts like Libs Of TikTok. But they don’t work for the company anymore.
Before Musk took over, there was a certain rhythm to high-profile content moderation on Twitter. Users would complain about another user or trend or piece of content. They would tweet about it and, if it went viral enough, journalists on the platform would see it. Then those journalists would ask Twitter’s press department about why this was happening, putting pressure on Twitter to publicly address it. That’s when the company would have to make a decision — acknowledge the issue and fix it or commit to leaving it be. I assume in most cases it was simple arithmetic: Would advertisers be upset by headlines about this if it continued and was there a policy that could be cited for taking it down? Typically, Twitter would take down offending tweets, or temporarily suspend an offending user. Usually, the user would come back, double down, escalate, and eventually, if things got nasty enough, like Trump or Jones, they’d be booted off the platform. I’m not so sure that can happen now. Advertisers are leaving the app and it’s hard not to see Musk’s Twitter Blue as a way to kill this process entirely.
The site, from a technical perspective, is breaking. But the mechanisms we’ve relied on for pushing for any kind of tangible change on the platform are also broken now. I imagine the next guardrail the site will run up against is Apple. Twitter is grandfathered in for NSFW content, but how long will the company let Twitter stay on the app store? There’s also the governmental guardrails to consider. For instance, Russia Today’s Twitter account is blocked in the European Union and the United Kingdom and Germany has special hate speech laws that block certain content. How long until the EU or the UK simply decide it’s time to remove Twitter from their internet?
Which creates a situation that America, as a whole, has never been very good at dealing with: self control. If the site continues to fill up with hatred and misinformation, but is still entertaining or, worse, newsworthy, when do we stop using it? It was already a small app with longer tendrils of influence seeping out into every sector of society. And it’s basically “the assignment editor of the US media”. As it becomes a darker space, what will that mean for the way we see the world?
Musk, through his tweets, has cheered raw engagement on the app, regardless of whether it’s negative or positive, and appears to view headlines about Twitter with an equal flatness. He seems to think that all news is good news in an attention economy. Now, we’ll see if he’s correct.
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The Problem With Federation
I finally got around to starting a Mastodon account and, while the platform is pretty interesting from a technical perspective, I’m not exactly sold on it being a replacement for Twitter. Which is fine, it’s not supposed to be and it’s weird that everyone is still acting like it could be. But I also think it’s maybe good that Mastodon’s federation concept is getting more scrutiny because it’s not exactly the content moderation cure-all that a lot of advocates claim it is.
If you still don’t understand how Mastodon federations work, don’t feel bad. It’s actually a weird concept. The easiest way that most Mastodon users explain it is like email. To use email, you sign up for a client like Yahoo or Google or Hotmail, which controls how your inbox functions and what your email address is. I can send an email from my Google account to someone with a Yahoo account. Same thing with Mastodon. I made an account on mastodon.social, which is one of the bigger “instances” of Mastodon, and I can follow and send messages to someone who doesn’t use the same instance. Except, where Mastodon differs from email is that the person running your instance can decide to “unfederate” from another instance. To use another metaphor, imagine if your Verizon phone number could suddenly not call T-Mobile numbers because the vibes were off.
In theory, this is supposed to allow one instance to pressure another to remove offending users. Because Mastodon is a protocol with no owner, it’s not dependent on advertisers. So this is meant to build back in some of the social pressure that I was talking about above. In practice, though, as I wrote this weekend, it feels a lot more like digital NIMBYism.
Sarah Jeong, an editor for The Verge, mentioned a similar experience during a Twitter Space I was co-hosting last week, saying that there was a really toxic streak of white respectability politics on the platform. And Twitter activists of color are sharing stories of being banned from Mastodon instances for overtly political content. Once you’re banned from a Mastodon instance, you’re free to find a new one to join, but you may lose all your data from the initial instance and, worse, instances that let you join them risk being unfederated for accepting you in.
Mastodon users love to argue that this is a great way to keep nazis off the site, and I suppose it is. But it also gives the whole app a real small New England town in a Stephen King novel feeling to it.
Tumblr Invented A Fake Martin Scorsese Movie
Tumblr is currently doing what Tumblr does best — inventing an elaborate and nonsensical inside joke to obsess over. Users on the platform have invented a fake Martin Scorsese movie called Goncharov and they’re filling up wikis with lore about it, scoring their original music, and even edited Scorsese’s Wikipedia page to the point where it’s now been locked.
Why is this happening? Well, it started with a post back in August, which reblogged a knockoff shoe that had a tag that was embroidered with the name of a movie that was meant to look like Gomorrah, a movie Scorsese helped distributedin the US in 2009. You can read a fascinating post about why that would happen here. As Twitter user @cinemashoebox pointed out though, Tumblr users aren’t just posting fan works for the fake movie, they’re also having fake discourse about it, which is also very funny. If you don’t want to navigate the Tumblr posts, here’s a good thread collecting it all.
This is not the first time users on the site have done this. Last year, they invented a Minecraft server that didn’t exist called the Penis SMP and roleplayed as fake Minecraft streamers for a while.
The “Good Crypto” Myth
I spent most of 2021 really trying to wrap my head around crypto and Web3. I went into it with as much of an open mind as I could. I heard all of the pitches — DAOs, proof-of-stake, environmentally friendly NFTs, lightning networks in the Global South — and very little of it really passed muster. One of the “good crypto” projects was Helium. A very simplified version of the project is that people would power WiFi nodes in exchange for passive income through crypto tokens.
And in a very long Twitter thread from over the weekend that doesn’t really make a ton of sense, billionaire Bill Ackman pointed to Helium as an example of how crypto tokens could “build intrinsic value over time”. Ackman’s thread was not very well-timed unfortunately because the project has been imploding since August and, following the FTX crash, is doing even worse now.
Speaking of FTX, someone made a deepfake of Sam Bankman-Fried to try and trick desperate investors into clicking on a fake giveaway link. And the hacker who stole almost $450 million from the exchange may be making moves to start selling it.
Let’s Talk About NeRFs
A neural radiance field, or NeRF, is a generative A.I. that works in 3D spaces. It is probably the most exciting A.I. tool being played with right now, but it’s sort of hard to wrap your head around. This video from Corridor Crew does a great job of showing what the possibilities are.
This video is also pretty cool for folks like me who just have not realized how far CGI has progressed in the last decade.
Myspace URLs Still Work
I tried this out and it does work. My old personal Myspace and the page for my high school ska band both still work. No, I will not share them. Thankfully, both pages are completely stripped of media, but the top 8s are still there, which is an interesting artifact. If you look up Myspace URLs on desktop, it takes you to the last version of Myspace, which was a weird horizontal scrolling thing for iPads. But if you do it on your phone, the links bring you to a very broken page that looks closer to the original.
Let’s All Move To applerankings.com
I came across applerankings.com thanks to Tumblr user archliches and I’m in love. It’s an incredible website. Not only does it have a fantastically complete ranking of different kinds of apples, it also has a comment section. Here are some of my favorite comments:
“I’ve been alive 36 years and have only tolerated apples this entire time. Found Kanzi at Central Market a couple of weeks ago and I’m undone. I will now drive 30+ minutes for just these apples.”
“Kanzi is the king of apples. This is at least a 95. Honeycrisp can bow down to king Kanzi.”
“This apple is a joke. Cornell?? Come on.”
“I enjoy the Cosmic Crisp apples so much that I give them to strangers in the airport and stop people buying other apples in the store and recommend the Cosmic Crisp. I always carry at least 3 apples and other fruit when I fly to keep me from buying food in the airport.”
A Good Tweet
This was dropped into the Garbage Day Discord by B0_J0_FAKE.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here is an incredible video about Twitter.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***