I'm not locked in Twitter with you. You're locked in Twitter with me.
Read to the end for the new national anthem
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Twitter Is A Slack Room For Some And A Burning Prison Riot For Others
Earlier this month, Atlantic contributor Caitlin Flanagan wrote a piece titled, “You Really Need to Quit Twitter”. It’s a funny, but shrewd look at what the current incarnation of Twitter is doing to our brains:
Twitter is a parasite that burrows deep into your brain, training you to respond to the constant social feedback of likes and retweets. That takes only a week or two. Human psychology is pathetically simple to manipulate. Once you’re hooked, the parasite becomes your master, and it changes the way you think. Even now, I’m dopesick, dying to go back.
Twitter did something that I would not have thought possible: It stole reading from me. What is it stealing from you?
I recently came to a similar realization as Flanagan’s. Twitter hasn’t robbed me of the ability to read (I think that was actually the pandemic), but it has robbed me of my ability to read things that I enjoy. Hate-reading/hate-clicking has slowly become my predominant mode of surfing the web, especially on Twitter. (I put out a whole podcast episode about this yesterday actually.) As Reductress recently summed it up, “Wow! This Woman Just Spent 40 Minutes Investigating A Twitter Beef Even Though She Has but One Life on God’s Green Earth.”
After Flanagan published her piece about her tweeting sabbatical, I’ve noticed more and more reporters publicly admitting how much constant Twitter negativity weighs on them. One reporter, who I won’t name because I don’t want to bring more harassment towards her, lamented that she was getting random Twitter trolls swarming a tweet she had made recently grieving the death of a loved one.
Another reporter, NBC News’ Brandy Zadrozny has also tweeted a few times this week about this, succinctly writing, “this website stinks!”
Zadrozny also posted another tweet this morning, writing, “This website takes up too much real estate in my life — my professional success, my relationships, my humor, my information diet — at the expense of things and people I care about.”
For those reading this who are not in the media and might not understand why reporters, in particular, are so frustrated, it’s because Twitter, over the course of the Trump administration, has become the central feed of American culture. Though, this seems true, to a smaller extent, for other countries, as well. Journalists have to subject themselves to Twitter because there’s really no better or faster way to understand what’s going on anymore. This is even true for Garbage Day. I’ve done tests and the more Twitter stuff I put in here the better the newsletter tends to perform.
But there’s also a tense conflict between how users interact with Twitter right now. And I was trying to figure out how to best articulate it, but then New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz just went and…tweeted it out… “I consider Twitter a chat room,” she wrote yesterday. I think this is what’s at the heart of our current Twitter toxicity.
Many older users, particularly ones who are verified and use Twitter professionally, like journalists, still see Twitter as a place to communicate. Which makes sense, this is what the site was originally intended for. The first tweet ever was Jack Dorsey’s “just setting up my twttr”. But that’s not how Twitter functions anymore. It’s now something closer to a thousand open mic nights happening inside of a thousand protests. You could argue that it was always like this, but it seems undeniable that the stakes are much higher now. But there are many users who still use it as a chat room. For instance…
Earlier this week, Hong Kong-based reporter Mike Bird announced that he had gotten a new job as the Asia business and finance editor for The Economist. Underneath his tweet announcing the news, Guardian media editor Jim Waterson posted a picture of a woman eating a bug.
First, full disclosure, I worked with Jim for a while and I’ve met Mike too. Both nice guys! Second, the bug joke was because The Economist has written quite extensively about the need for humans to eat more bugs. It’s sort of their thing. But because Waterson chose an image that involved chopsticks and because Bird announced he was becoming the Asia business editor, this led a group of K-Pop stans to assume Waterson was making a crack about Asian people eating bugs. Waterson deleted his tweet, but his mentions are a mess and users were tagging the Guardian demanding that he be fired.
This is exactly the issue with the current landscape of Twitter. Some users think they’re in a global Slack room for journalists, creatives, and other media people to share ideas and pass the time and many others believe they’re in a 24/7 info war for digital supremacy. And, unfortunately, almost every feature of Twitter currently serves to support the latter. Trending Topics surface a new random target every few hours and the many balkanized tribes of Twitter lay siege. All of Twitter’s product decisions seem to only further kill discussion and encourage abuse. And this isn’t happening on other websites actually. Places like Discord, Twitch, Reddit, Tumblr, and Pinterest seem to actively be building nicer communities (for the most part) that emphasize more useful and positive experiences. This is made all the more confusing by the fact that Twitter seems to think that supporting creators via monetization tools is the future of the app.
Well, I’m not expert, but I’d guess that the best way to make their app better for creatives is not making its main user experience one of constant psychic torture and agony. But maybe I just don’t know enough about the tech industry works.
A Good Spotify Playlist
I came across this thanks to the r/suspiciouslyspecific subreddit. I like metalcore, but I’m not sure The Red Chord is a good band to listen to in a museum gift shop tbh. That said, I had never heard of North Col before and they’re pretty fun! And, yes, this is the only three songs on the playlist lol.
New Weird Mega-Popular Children’s YouTube Account Dropped
This was sent to me by a reader named Meg. The channel is called D Billions. It is is absolutely massive, with over 10 million subscribers. Many of their videos have over a million views. I watched a few and they’re all very typical uncanny valley algorithmically-optimized children’s content — lots of bright colors, loud noises, and surreal Tim And Eric-esque close-ups.
Apparently, there’s been a little bit of drama around D Billions. Tons of parents over on Reddit’s r/AskParents have been trying to figure who exactly runs the channel. “I've been dying to know who they are, was hoping I'd get an answer here,” one user wrote.
“I hate how my daughter enjoys them,” another wrote lol.
Users think the channel is based in Kyrgyzstan, even though it’s listed as an American account. Though, ultimately, I suppose, it doesn’t totally matter where the channel is from if their videos are safe for kids. But this does expose a weird feature of online video at the moment. I fell down a similar rabbit holes a few months ago trying to get in contact with the people who run the 5-Minute Crafts content farm and one of those primitive building channels, Tube Unique Wilderness. I, too, came up short trying to find any real details about who actually makes those videos, but best as I can tell 5-Minute Crafts based in Cyprus and Tube Unique Wilderness is part of a primitive building media network based in Cambodia. It’s weird to think about how the internet is now more public and tied to our identities than ever before but also still, in many ways, a totally anonymous place in a way.
Help! I Need A Good Logo For My Business
On Wednesday, I wrote about Twitter users having a botnet post gibberish in the replies of a tweet to artificially boost its engagement. I wrote that I assumed the tweet was targeted by bots to make it appear more prominently in Twitter’s trending content widgets. But a few readers messaged me to say it’s actually a bit more complicated than that.
I was told me that what was actually happening is that users are posting things like “logo for my business” to attract the attention of bots that would then boost the engagement of the thread.
So I tried it out as an experiment, I tweeted that I needed a logo for my business. I received a BUNCH of replies and because I have open DMs, a bunch of messages, as well. I actually messaged one of the “bots” back and discovered they weren’t a bot at all, actually.
We talked for a little bit. I’m not totally convinced they’re who they say they are — at one point the account wrote, “I'm a female” (I didn’t ask). But they said that they have a search going for “logo” and other similar terms and just respond to as many people as they can.
I can’t speak for all of the accounts that immediately tweeted at me, but I think this is even weirder than what I initially assumed. With the original tweet from Wednesday, it wasn’t people using a botnet to juice engagement, and it may have not been what a few readers assumed, either — people writing replies that would attract bots. What actually may have happened was users wanted to boost the visibility of a tweet, so they filled up the replies with requests for a “logo” or “essay,” which then pinged thousands of anonymous freelancers looking for work, who then replied to these requests, thus boosting the tweet’s placement in Twitter’s trending algorithm.
“You Become The Leopardwoman”
There’s a really good post about a “leopardwoman” that’s circulating on Twitter right now. It’s gone super viral. Just as an exercise, I wanted to see if I could find the original and I think I did! I think it comes from here. I won’t ruin it, but it’s real good.
The Homemade Tesla Chair
I found this on Reddit. It’s from 2019. It’s a bunch of Ukrainian YouTubers who built a Tesla chair. It’s absolutely insane. If you skip to around 3 minutes in, they build a lightning bolt helmet out of a watermelon. Happy Friday!
A Good Tweet
Enter The Matt Hancock Simulation
A British Twitter user named Dan Douglas used Build, the graphics engine behind games like Duke Nukem 3D, to recreate the office where former UK Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock recently got caught both violating his own COVID social distancing guidelines and cheating on his wife. PC Gamer has a few more details on this project. OK, now use the Unreal engine to simulate Dominic Cummings violating COVID lockdown last year to drive to his parents’ house.
The Manager Of The PBR Twitter Account Was In A Ska Punk Band
I’ve recently been immersing myself in “ska Twitter,” because the pandemic helped me realize that life is too short to not spend as much of it as possible earnestly enjoying and sharing things that I like and care about. Over the weekend, Aaron Carnes, the author of the new book In Defense Of Ska, tweeted a link to a Bandcamp for a band called Disputed at the official PBR Twitter account. And this is how the account responded:
So, yes, the manager of the PBR Twitter account was in a ska punk band. For many, this won’t mean anything, but for others, this will be very important information that confirms some sense of order in an otherwise chaotic universe.
Take Me To Endorphin Port
There’s not much I can say about this video other than that you should watch it and that I want to go to Endorphin Port.
Another Good Tweet
Some Stray Links
“Unmasking ‘Dark Foreigner’: The Artist Who Fueled a Neo-Nazi Terror Movement”
P.S. here’s the new national anthem (Tumblr mirror).
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
I love this newsletter. So much.
I used to use Twitter as a place to talk with friends and often make new friends. Its search was bad and it didn’t have the terrible viral vectors it has now. When Trump began his campaign, it shifted Twitter from not great (GamerGate’s worst part was not long before) to awful. Especially people mining past tweets to use for abuse. I never said anything terrible on Twitter, but I was having conversations. I used a script to delete all my tweets through January 1, 2018.