A little announcement: Tomorrow’s Extra Garbage Day for paying subscribers is an interview with a creator I’ve been DYING to talk to… Nat Puff, or as you might know her, LeftAtLondon! We talked about the strange legacy of Vine, the power of TikTok, and the complicated differences between doing what you love and doing what you’re good at. Also, Death Grips. Hit the subscribe button to get that in your inbox tomorrow!
When Is It Time To Start Panicking?
Unlike the many large-scale cruelties of the Trump era, which felt random and personal, this new moment we’ve found ourselves in is extremely calculated. Critical race theory as a moral panic was largely engineered by one man, who has been publicly bragging about its effectiveness the entire time.
Last September, while Trump was still in the White House, the Manhattan Institute’s Christopher Rufo went on Fox News and claimed the federal government was being indoctrinated by critical race theory. Rufo suggested the president pass an executive order to remove this dangerous ideology. And we know Trump heard him because he then tried to do it. Trump’s anti-diversity training executive order has since been reversed by President Biden, but the anti-critical race theory movement didn’t stop once Biden took office. It moved to Facebook.
According to data from CrowdTangle, a social analytics tool, over the first six months of 2021, local Republican Facebook pages along with right-wing publishers inundated Facebook with critical race theory content. This had a palpable effect on local American politics. Protesters — and Proud Boys — stormed school boards and by this summer, around 30 states had introduced some kind of anti-critical race theory legislation, even if no one can actually define it.
In March 2021, Rufo outlined on Twitter exactly what he was hoping to accomplish with critical race theory. “We have successfully frozen their brand — ‘critical race theory’ — into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions,” he wrote. “We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.”
And this Facebook-supercharged hyperlocal groundswell is continuing to work. There is some debate about what exactly helped Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin win the Virginia gubernatorial election earlier this month, but I tend to agree with Popular Info’s Judd Legum, who tweeted, “Everyone should familiarize themselves about hyper-politicization of school boards and the dark money groups behind it. This playbook will be repeated in hundreds of races across the country in 2022.”
Youngkin’s platform was essentially a vague collection of right-wing Facebook memes. He said he would ban critical race theory from Virginian schools (which isn’t possible), bandied on about “election integrity,” without saying whether or not he accepts that Biden won the election, and, of course, promised to remove COVID mandates. He was also given a huge push by Steve Bannon, who has been not-so-quietly using his podcast to build a Breitbart-like digital propaganda machine for the post-Trump world, which I assume will be pointed directly at the 2022 midterms. As Bannon said on his show last week, “we’re taking over school boards, we’re taking over the Republican party for the precinct committee strategy, we’re taking over all the elections.”
But it’s not just the Manhattan Institute and Bannon that have settled on a hyperlocal Facebook-fueled information war for reclaiming the country via misinformation and hysteria. Not only did Gawker slayer and neo-monarchist Peter Thiel literally just buy a house in D.C., over the summer, he also gave two $10 million donations to two different Super PACs, one to help elect the Hillbilly Elegy guy, J. D. Vance, and one to help elect venture capitalist Blake Masters, both of whom are running for Senate. And both of whom are running on the anti-critical race theory platform. And we haven’t even mentioned the ongoing dismantling of voting rights across the country!
It’s probably nothing, but I’ve also been reading a lot about coups lately. This recent piece in The Nation about the almost comical beginnings to the 1989 coup attempt in the Philippines is a good read if you’re, like me, struggling to figure out where we would be on the doomsday clock of American democracy.
Ever since the insurrection earlier this year, it feels like there’s been some small hope that a January 6 commission could fix all of this, right? We’ll finally uncover some kind of shared truth about the insurrection that will wash away the right-wing hysteria taking over school boards and local elections. Bannon was just indicted! The QAnon shaman was sentenced to over three years in prison today. Maybe, the commission will reveal the full picture of the Republican party’s complicity in attempting to overthrow the government in time to stop powerful right-wing dark money from influencing the 2022 midterms.
But can the January 6 commission compete with the conservative disinformation swarm? Earlier this month, in a wildly horrifying Twitter thread, sentient viral video of a racist incident at an Applebee’s, Marjorie Taylor Greene, described visiting the jailed insurrectionists in what she called “the patriot wing” of D.C. Department of Corrections detention facility. According to VICE, the jailed insurrectionists have a growing fanbase that believes they are political prisoners.
Because conservatives have settled on hysteria and panic as their central political tool for 2022, it’s hard to really gauge how freaked out we should be by all of this. The New York Times published a column literally this morning, titled, “Democrats Shouldn’t Panic. They Should Go Into Shock.” Should they? I feel like I’ve spent the last seven years trying to figure out if it is, in fact, time to panic.
On Trump’s inauguration day, I was working in Tokyo. I watched on TV while sitting in a leopard print-themed bar in Tokyo’s Golden Gai neighborhood in Shinjuku as Japanese news agencies translated his American carnage “speech” live. I’ve often compared how it felt to watch the footage of street fights and burning cars in D.C. that day from so far away to a scene from a science fiction movie where the astronauts watch helplessly from the window of their spaceship as nukes go off back home on Earth. And ever since, I’ve found myself imagining what future history books will say about whatever new horrifying thing is happening in America. I like imagine some kind of timeline, constructed 50 years from now, going from “democracy” on one side to “authoritarian takeover” on the other side. I imagine pointing at it and saying, “oh, interesting, there is November 2021. Look how much more there was after,” etc. It’s a largely futile exercise, but I can’t really stop doing it.
So imagining that history book in the future, right now, we have a massive online right-wing propaganda machine firing on all cylinders. Conservative not-so-dark money is pouring into elections happening on every level. The country is gripped by hysteria over even mildly progressive education programs. QAnon supporters are running for office. And the insurrectionists have stan armies. So, where on that imaginary chart are we? Is it time to panic? And if so, what does that even look like?
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A Cursed Tweet
This nightmarish piece of content was dropped into the Garbage Day Discord by Allegra.
Opening Up The Guts Of TikTok’s Algorithm
This is a really cool project that was sent to me by a reader named Shahruz. It’s called The Online Creators Association and they’re doing some very interesting research about how TikTok works. You should check out their excellent Powerpoint about how the app’s algorithm works.
They’ve reverse-engineered how the TikTok icon appears on different devices, analyzed how the For You Page suppresses certain kinds of content, and are even compiling a list of words and phrases that are most likely auto-censored by TikTok’s captioning. Definitely recommend checking this out!
What Climate Misinformation Looks Like
There’s a new study in Nature that looks at how machine learning could detect misinformation about climate change. One of the study’s authors, John Cook, a research fellow at Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub, did a great Twitter thread breaking down how they taught an A.I. to detect misinfo and what they learned in the process.
According to Cook’s thread, they organized a taxonomy of climate misinfo into five main categories and then mapped thousands of pieces of internet content onto that map. They ended up with two decades worth of climate misinfo and a few of the trends they stumbled across are fascinating — and unnerving.
The narrative that the “science is unreliable” has been steadily on the decline since 2005. Meanwhile, the narrative that “solutions won’t work” has been rapidly becoming more popular.
Yassify The World
You have, no doubt, seen the Yass bot by now. But if you’re out of the loop, there’s not a ton to understand. Most of the “yass” edits are being posted by @YassifyBot and what they do is take an image and feed it into a beauty filter like FaceApp until it’s unrecognizable. The tweet that really kicked off the current meme, though, was a Yassified edit of Toni Collette from Hereditary. Here’s a tweet from Twitter user @OroroWasHere that includes it. My main takeaway is that if you feed photos into a beauty algorithm enough times they all end up coming out looking kind of like Melania Trump, which is interesting.
Extremely Cool Internet Thing
Glitch has launched a new tool called Glitch In Bio and it’s incredibly cool. It’s from Glitch and it’s their riff on a landing card or Linktree-like platform. But what’s super cool about it is that it supports, as Glitch CEO Anil Dash described it, “anything the web can do.” You can throw in embeds, as many links as you want, custom designs, the whole shebang. Also, it’s free. Really can’t wait to mess around with this.
They look the same! Does anyone else think these guys look the same? It’s freaking me out!
The Craziest Damn Car Chase You Will Ever See
Ok, so this is an absolutely wild clip from 2014 that is doing huge numbers on Twitter right now. Indy100 chased down the original story. The carjacker’s name is Ryan Stone and he was sentenced to 160 years in prison. The anchor from the video, Jayson Luber, reacted to the clip going viral again, tweeting, “Apparently, I'm going viral in this tweet for the recap story of the wild police chase that started on the north side of metro Denver and ended on the south side. Watching what was unfolding in front of me was both scary and exhilarating all at the same time.”
Which One Of You Signed Garbage Day’s Email Up To This Change.org Petition?
I came across a little surprise in my inbox last night! It seems somebody signed Garbage Day up for a Change.org petition titled, “Bring Back Bare Feet For Sonic Characters”. That’s funny, I don’t remember signing this petition! And I DEFINITELY don’t support it.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good thread about Taylor Swift and Spider-Man.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***