Elon Musk is more Funko Pop than man
Read to the end for two very important John Green tweets
Comedy Is Legal On Twitter Again As Long As You Do What Elon Musk Says
It’s kind of amazing how confusing it has been trying to keep up with what’s happening to Twitter under Elon Musk. I imagine it’s largely because there is no real plan and half the company has been fired, but it’s also a really interesting example of Twitter itself being consumed by its own frenzy. Musk is literally leading the company via his livetweeting, which means every random idea that pops into his head and, thus, gets typed out on his phone, just feeds into a never-ending content cycle for users on the platform. I am no longer able to keep separate in my head what Musk has actually done, versus what some pundit has said will eventually happen in a thread, versus what is a just a random meme, versus what a Musk impersonator tweeted. It’s been fascinating to watch the last guardrails of the site breakdown and reduce everything to a sort of primordial soup of raw content.
Right after Musk bought the site, he tweeted, “Comedy is now legal on Twitter.” Which makes sense, Musk is more Funko Pop than man and has the cultural understanding of a 12-year-old boy who just saw a South Park episode for the first time. But it’s especially funny to look back at now, less than two weeks later, because Musk’s Twitter has instituted its first real moderation change since he took it over. Any verified account impersonating another verified account will be suspended from the site permanently. As noted by The Verge this change in moderation is so new that the site’s Terms Of Service don’t even mention it.
A couple big accounts have been felled by Musk’s petulant new moderation policy. Former NFL player Chris “@ChrisWarcraft” Kluwe was one of the first to go after changing his profile to Musk’s and instructing people to drink their own pee. Comedian Kathy Griffin was also banned for pretending to be Musk and saying that he was going to vote Democrat. Then, last night, Musk said that any account that clearly stated they were are parody account wouldn’t be banned, but still banned H3H3 Productions’ Ethan Klein for pretending to be Musk and saying that he missed Jeffrey Epstein — even though Klein’s account clearly said it was a parody in multiple places. Then Musk doubled down on these moderation decisions tweeting, “My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk,” referencing the account that tweets every time Musk uses a personal jet, which just collects very public information from flight trackers. Also, Musk’s moderation scrutiny doesn’t seem to extend to folks pretending to be Tesla.
Though, so far, comedian Tim Heidecker has not been banned for pretending to be former President Donald Trump and tweeting that he died.
The most important development though is that Jack Dorsey seems to be publicly breaking with Musk (slightly) over the rebranding of Twitter’s factchecking widget, Birdwatch, which Musk has renamed Community Notes. Dorsey, in a long back and forth over the weekend said it was “the most boring Facebook name ever” (he’s right). But it was in that back and forth between Musk and Dorsey that I got the clearest sense of what I think Musk thinks he’s doing right now.
The Twitter Blue paid verification rollout has, thankfully, been halted until after Tuesday’s US Midterms, but when it launches it will be most likely be the only version of the site that actually works. The free version will be awash in spam and engagement from free accounts will be buried algorithmically. Moderation, though, I suspect will continue to be extremely strict across the board. Musk doesn’t really care about expression. He cares about Twitter in an abstract way. He also seems to be planning to outsource much of the moderation that was happening by the company itself to the users, combining Twitter with a wiki using Community Notes.
Will all of this work? Well, I’m a firm believer that even the smallest moderation or feature changes can have massive cultural ripples on a site and there are a lot of these happening at once right now. But I think ultimately the success or failure of Musk’s Twitter will really come down to two things. First, we’ll find out if the world’s most powerful people — the CEOs, the politicians, the journalists, the creators — that have relied on Twitter for almost two decades are, at this point, capable of imagining their lives without it. If not, then Musk’s Twitter will work for a while, but we’re also in the midst of a real generational shift online, which means the next question is whether or not Musk can build a project that young people will pay for. I’m, frankly, pretty pessimistic about millennial, Gen X, and boomer Twitter users finding somewhere else to go online, but I’m far more skeptical Musk can build something cool that young people will actually pay for. Not even TikTok thinks it’s cool enough for that.
But it’s also very likely that by the end of all of this, Musk and his weird friends just end up with the exact same system Twitter is currently using.
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A Very Real Tweet About Twitter
Let’s Talk About Rotisserie Chicken Guy
I’m always really excited when a lot of readers send me the same thing. And let me tell you, there was A LOT of interest from all of you about the guy from Philly who keeps eating rotisserie chickens every day. Here’s what you need to know.
His name is Alexander Tominsky, he lives in South Philly, his Twitter account is @AlexiconTom, and he’s been eating a rotisserie chicken every day for over a month. He recently did an interview with Billy Penn and told the local news outlet that the 40th chicken, which he ate yesterday, would be his last. “The City of Philadelphia has had a lot of pain, but it’s a city with a lot of perseverance. That’s what makes this city very special,” he said. “It’s a powerful thing I’m doing and it only felt right to share it.”
Fun fact: I had a friend in college who would regularly eat an entire rotisserie chicken. So we decided to film him do it once. He ate it in like under two minutes. I still think about it all the time. It was almost hypnotic.
Anyways, I wish Tominsky and the city of Philadelphia good luck in whatever whacky adventure they get up to next.
The Mastodon Conundrum
OK, look. Over the weekend, I wrote that Mastodon, the “federated” social network that many are advocating a move to from Twitter, was both “too complicated” and also didn’t have DMs that were as secure as Twitter’s. Many readers messaged me and called me a “coward” lol. And also said that Mastodon’s unencrypted DMs were just as accessible by admins as Twitter’s are. Fair enough, I suppose I just feel slightly more comfortable with Twitter employees policing themselves from peeping than a random Mastodon admin. Though, seeing as how petty Musk is being right now, that might not be a fair assumption.
I also agree with Twitter user @lolennui who so precisely put it, “every explanation of mastodon makes me feel like I’m at a party and someone wants to play their elaborate card game everyone’s too drunk for.” That’s not the service’s fault, it’s just that it has a really passionate early user base and its core mechanic requires a really thorough reimagining of how a social network works.
But the issue with Mastodon is that people aren’t on Twitter in 2022 because they like the features. There are plenty of other websites where you can read and write words. People are on Twitter because they don’t want to read and write words with other random strangers. They’re on Twitter because they want access to irl famous or important people in media, politics, or business. That’s why various fandoms are constantly trying to game hashtags. They want their fandom to be seen as more popular than other fandoms as a way to convince culturally-impactful people to create more content for them and about them. This is true for essentially every Twitter user — a K-Popper, a #Resistance Democrat, an anime nazi, a 5am-wake-up hustle bro, and a leftist cartoonist are all trying to get not just any kind of person to notice them, but those who they perceive as being in charge. The metaphor I’ve used a few times in talking with folks about a Mastodon migration is that suggesting Twitter users move to Mastodon is the same as someone saying, “don’t drink at the the country club full wealthy and well-connected famous people, come to my bar, it has the same alcohol.” The alcohol isn’t the point. It’s the people in the bar.
I like Mastodon in theory, and even interviewed the founder last year. I think there’s a world where Mastodon grows from this into a reliable Twitter alternative, but I don’t see it ever replacing it. Instead, I think all of the Twitter alternatives — Mastodon instances, Musk Twitter, Gettr, TruthSocial, Gab, Parler — all start canceling each other out and shrinking as we inch closer to a larger paradigm shift online that I think we all can feel is right around the corner.
A Very MrBeast Halloween
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MrBeast shared a video of himself handing out iPhones to children on Halloween. You can watch a Reddit mirror here. There is, of course, all the normal discourse about how “real” this video is, but I think there’s a larger point to be made here about how we understand the wealth of internet creators. As one Redditor wrote in the comments, “These youtubers are making so much money that their content is turning into some kind of Rube Goldberg approach to burning it.” That’s just not a comment that people would have casually made 10 years ago.
I think MrBeast is the first creator to really connect irl understandings of wealth to internet fame. Before him, creators like PewDiePie never really progressed in terms of production value even as they became millionaires. So we could never really see the impact. But with MrBeast there is a noticeable growth there that is undeniable.
Another Redditor, over at r/dataisbeautiful put together a really great video chart looking at how much money MrBeast says he’s spending on his videos. The numbers are all pulled from the amounts listed in the titles, so obviously this isn’t the total sum that MrBeast is spending, but the visualization is still fascinating. About midway through 2016, MrBeast basically spent a couple thousand dollars and launched his channel into the stratosphere and it never went back down.
Are British Lads OK?
I should put a warning right here. This video includes a lot of beer puking. But it’s also one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a while. I particularly like the first 90 seconds because it starts with zero context provided as to why these eight lads are trying to drink five pints in five minutes. They just start and chaos ensues.
If you are looking for context, though, it’s a university cricket club from Hull, England, and they’re doing this and a bunch of other stuff for charity.
Related, but not related, across the Irish Sea, a new TikTok video from Belfast’s drinking champion Danielle Walsh has gone viral on Twitter again. I agree with @youre2basic, who wrote, “One night out with her would completely change the trajectory of my life.”
A Good Tweet
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s two very important John Green tweets.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
Hi! Love Garbage Day!
So, I'm part of a corner of Twitter that migrated super hard to Mastodon. Within less than a week, ecologists and evolutionary biologists got their own instance, everyone started putting their Mastodon handles in their Twitter profiles, the hashtags #TwitterMigration and #TwitterExodus started popping up everywhere, someone told us about Debirdify, and everyone's Mastodon feeds filled up with helpful technical and etiquette guides. It feels like the community both materialized overnight AND got way more wholesome and pleasant and chill.
I don't know how typical this experience is, but there seem to be a lot of other academics doing this too (https://github.com/nathanlesage/academics-on-mastodon), and I keep getting stuff from journalists through the Fediverse. I don't know if it'll stick / work, but certainly academics seem to be early adopters - perhaps especially those of us in more quant fields because we're likely to be interested in open-source software.
Anyway, hope this is useful meat for a future article, and thank you again for all you do! My partner and I really appreciate Garbage Day as a source of media-studies journalism.
I think the way to explain Mastodon is to explain that it’s kind of like email… a thing which is difficult to use, which everyone hates, which is almost impossible to understand, and which most people nonetheless still use.
As for all the Twitter alternatives… half of the big-name ones are just heavily branded Mastodon instances. So perhaps the way to explain Mastodon is instead to explain that it’s the thing that lets you log into the Kim Kardashian app using your account from the Jeremy Renner app. (I know these are not actual Mastodon instances… yet. Give them time.)