Before the garbage, three things! First, if you’re in New York City tomorrow night, my very good friend Mark Vigeant is doing a live comedy show about the internet. Mark told me to write that this is a “special one-night-only-event” that is “dedicated to the looming, omnipresent threat of BIG TECH!” Whatever the heck that means. Second, at the end of the month I am also doing a live show about the internet (at the same venue as Mark, no less). And, third, I’m doing yet ANOTHER live show about the internet in London on November 10th. Wow so much IRL content! And, as always, think about hitting the green button and becoming a paid subscriber.
The Infinitely Boring Low Stakes Toxicity Of TikTok
Four days ago, a TikTok user named Matthew Heller, who appears to be affiliated with hornblasters.com posted a video of a woman screaming at him after allegedly rear-ending his Lamborghini. The video went incredibly viral. It’s been viewed over 40 million times and was even written up by different news outlets. “Lambo Owner Has Patience Of A Saint After Getting Rear-Ended In Viral TikTok,” Jalopnik wrote.
The woman in the video, Maddy Gilsoul, then made her own TikTok account and posted additional security camera footage of the incident, which she claims proves that Heller sideswiped her and almost hit a biker crossing the intersection, which caused her to rear-end him. Gilsoul’s video was watched over half a million times. It also transformed the already very viral story into something that TikTok, both the algorithm and the platform’s community, can’t resist: discourse.
If you don’t spend a ton of time on the site, it has quickly spawned its own world of weird pundits that keep their massive audiences fed by commenting on whatever random topic or challenge is rising to the top of the app that day. Which is how you end up with bizarre videos like the ones from a user named Dr. Ryan, who is, ostensively, a doctor, where he accuses Heller of “gaslighting” and analyzes footage of the accident, declaring who he thinks is at fault. (Apparently, this is not the same Dr. Ryan from TikTok that has claimed COVID-19 was a hoax.)
Heller, amid the TikTok drama frenzy, then released more video of the accident, this time Ring camera footage, and posted it to his YouTube. In this newest video, you can see Heller honk at Gilsoul and, when she doesn’t move her car, he passes her. Which is when Heller allegedly sideswiped Gilsoul. If you’re trying to understand how this all ends up with Gilsoul rear-ending the Lamborghini, Gilsoul later wrote in a TikTok comment, “I rammed into the back of him because if you don’t care about sideswiping me, then I don’t care about hitting your rental.”
Heller’s second video then kicked up even more TikTok discourse. User @tizzyent, a 45-year-old TikToker who has over 3 million followers on the platform, did numerous videos about the accident. @tizzyent is part of the loosely-organized network of liberal TikTok users led by 31-year-old lactation specialist and doctor of pharmacy Savannah Sparks that dox antivaxxers on the platform. Back in August, I wrote about how, while I largely agree with their whole deal, I find their aggression and vigilanteism uncomfortable, at best.
In @tizzyent’s most recent lambo crash update, he ends on a fairly reasonable conclusion: Heller probably sideswiped Gilsoul as she was waiting at the intersection for the biker to cross the street and then she rear-ended Heller.
Here’s the thing. None of this matters.
But, at this point, this minor traffic accident has generated more views than most major shows on network TV. It has become an entire news cycle, full of open source investigative work, opinions, analysis, and, at one point, in one of his videos, @tizzyent said he was in contact with Heller and receiving updates. It’s only been four days! What the fuck is happening here?
On Wednesday, I wrote about the Couch Guy TikTok drama, which has had a similarly compressed and intense life on the platform. If you missed it, a girl filmed herself surprising her boyfriend at college. In the video, he’s sort of slow to react, which, because it doesn’t align with how movies and TV portray moments like this, TikTok’s community immediately began accusing him of cheating on her and being an abuser. Quick aside: My family has found extremely elaborate ways to surprise me for my birthday every year since 2011. Every single time they do it, I freeze and, for a brief moment, don’t know what’s going on. Just like Couch Guy!
Anyways, after Couch Guy made his own video, defending himself against the thousands of users racking up millions of views analyzing the video and accusing him of being a sociopath or whatever, Couch Guy was then accused of, wait for it… gaslighting.
What’s happening on TikTok right now seems to be a confluence of three things. First, I think a lot of this is connected to what I’ll call the traffic light livestream phenomenon. There have been several moments over the last few years where Twitch users have become obsessed with a static camera pointed at traffic, most recently it was a stop sign in Massachusetts where no one actually stopped. I’m from Massachusetts, stop signs don’t mean “stop,” they mean, “slowly roll through while sipping your gargantuan iced coffee.” But, basically, people on the internet will kind of obsess over whatever is put in front of them.
The next dimension to all of this is the fact that TikTok’s algorithm is extremely powerful and also very sticky. Trends and challenges go very viral, but also macro user behavior tends to stick around. Right now, everyone on the platform thinks every piece of media shared to the app is worth analyzing forensically. This, I believe, started with the gamified doxing of antivaxxers done by users like Sparks and @tizzyent earlier this year, but really kicked into high-gear around the Gabby Petito case.
And, lastly, TikTok is, as we speak, supplanting Facebook as the main app of America. As more and more Americans begin to use TikTok, I suspect TikTok content will start to resemble Facebook content. The ugly American weirdness of Facebook — the casual racism, the petty small town drama, the nameless grifters, the weird old people, the Minion memes, the public meltdowns at fast food restaurants, the goths, the bored nurses, the men in their trucks talking on their phones, the extremely basic backyard viral challenges — it will all come to TikTok. It will hit the app’s sophisticated video production tools and aggressive algorithm and turn into endless content cycles, where it will probably spin out in weirder and darker directions than anything we’ve ever seen from Facebook.
The Frosted Mini-Wheats Astroturfing Campaign
When I first came across one of these tweets and assumed it was real. Unfortunately, with the way Twitter discourse has been lately, it’s been extremely difficult to pull apart what is a bit and what is a genuine and very deranged thing that someone is seriously posting to the app. So I did a little digging.
The first mini-wheats tweet was posted on October 6th by Twitter user @hatecoleslaw. It was a quote-tweet of a tweet by a non-binary activist called @jewish_activist who was spreading the word about Kellogg’s workers going on strike. There are transphobic replies under @hatecoleslaw’s tweet and their feed is full of 4chan-y blackpilled doomer memes. So I’m going to assume the first mini-wheats tweet was meant to make fun of @jewish_activist.
@hatecoleslaw’s tweet was then retweeted by a Twitter user named @DebtPeon, a kind of dirtbag-left-y account. @DebtPeon then took the “mini-wheats” text and posted it as their own quote-tweet of @jewish_activist’s tweet about the Kellogg’s strike.
@DebtPeon’s mini-wheats tweet didn’t go viral, but it got a few replies from other leftist accounts, one of which half-jokingly accused @DebtPeon of being part of an anti-progressive psyop because of how stupid their tweet was. @debtpeon then replied, saying, “I WAS DOING A JOKE, BUT SOMEONE REALLY SAID THIS.” Which means that @debtpeon may have seen the original @hatecoleslaw tweet and turned it into copypasta thinking it was real? Or maybe the @hatecoleslaw and @DebtPeon accounts are run by the same person? They don’t follow each other, nor does @DebtPeon follow any of the five accounts that retweeted the original post (I checked), but @DebtPeon reposted @hatecoleslaw’s tweet within minutes. And from there, the mini-wheats tweet became copypasta.
So to summarize: An account full of far-right anti-trans 4chan memes tweeted something making fun of a non-binary Jewish person, which was then was ironically reposted by a bunch of leftist accounts, turning it into copypasta, which was seen without context by other users who genuinely mistook it for real tweets posted by disabled Twitter users.
Some Questions About The Zodiac Killer Reveal
This week, outlets like Fox News, the New York Post, and TMZ reported that the identity behind the Zodiac Killer had finally been revealed, claiming it was a man named Gary F. Poste, who was connected to several murders in the 1960s and died in 2018. It is safe to say that the evidence the infamous killer was Poste is, uh, inconclusive at best. The FBI says the case is still open.
A reader named Meg tipped me off to this and asked me to look into it. The team behind the Zodiac Killer unmasking is called the Case Breakers. According to their website, they’re a 40-member national task force of “crack investigators”. Wow, they should look into the lambo crash!
Throughout all the press coverage this week of the Zodiac Killer reveal, multiple outlets have interviewed a man named Tom Colbert, citing him as a member of the group, but he’s actually the founder.
Colbert and the Case Breakers were also involved with a 2017 reveal of new D.B. Cooper “evidence”. This Seattle Times article from back then features an interview with Colbert and describes a “40-member cold case team” that helped Colbert in the investigation, which sounds a lot like the Case Breakers. Colbert and his wife Dawna own dbcooper.com, which, used to list the Case Breakers as part of their investigative operation, though, no longer does. As for the D.B. Cooper evidence, they claimed they found a strap from Cooper’s parachute.
Colbert is a movie producer, who was involved with the 2012 Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum romcom The Vow. In 2009, he launched a site called CommStatim, which sells “courses” on things like “human intelligence,” “geospatial analysis,” and “truth verification/lie detection”. And CommStatim uses a lot of the Case Breakers projects as ways to sell these courses. The Case Breakers are also currently looking to hire a digital media specialist.
On the Case Breakers’ website they list a bunch of cold cases that they claimed to have cracked, which includes their D.B. Cooper project. And, at the bottom of that page, after listing all their supposed evidence that their team had unearthed — that they claimed the FBI was hiding about Cooper — the page reads, “All of it will be featured in a five-part series on a premium streamer, set for 2022.” 🤔 🤔 🤔
A Good Pumpkin Carving
Fantasy Football Players Keep Getting Hacked
A reader named FPL Riker sent me this. Apparently, there’s been a string of fantasy football hacks this season? I’ll admit, the sports fandom is a massive blindspot for me, but it’s definitely interesting. If any of my readers have any thoughts about why this is happening so often, let me know! I’m curious about it.
The TERF To Far Right TikTok Pipeline
This is a real good video! If you want to read more about this, you should head over here because it is absolutely fascinating (and scary).
A Dark, Fucked Up Version Of The Hamburger Helper Mascot
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a real nice song about recipe blogs.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***