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It's ok to feel sad about Twitter
Read to the end for an interesting Twitter thread that may or may not still exist by the time you click on it
A Eulogy For Twitter
I got a DM from my friend and former podcast co-host Katie Notopoulos last night asking if I wanted to do a Twitter Space to say goodbye to the app while it was still possible. I, who had spent most of the day off Twitter and most of the evening catching up on White Lotus season 2, had no idea what she was talking about. The site is still running as of this morning, but last night it felt as if the whole thing might go down at any second. It still seems like a critical system failure is imminent now that large chunks of the company’s remaining workforce are quitting.
Over the span of three hours last night, members of the site’s various communities, cultures, and subcultures walked across the great digital divide to come sit by our campfire and say their piece about the bird site that has hurt so many of us just as often as it has acted as a vital lifeline. At one point we had 21,000 concurrent listeners in the Space, including some high profile users such as one famously Twitter-addicted model-slash-cookbook writer who ignored my requests for her to speak. We had black activists and writers, members of the disabled community, and users in countries like India, Australia, Ghana, and Mexico. We also had furries, gamers, fandom bloggers, and that one guy who tweets every time he cranks off. And, of course, most of New York media. In other words, we had Twitter.
And a consensus started to form last night about Twitter, a site that has maybe had more words written about it than any website in existence, but one that still remains a tricky enigma for its most diehard users. What makes Twitter a hell site is also what makes it work. Users come to it for news, community, activism, shitposts, or the Twitter-esque combination of all four, and that only works because of the site’s chronological newsfeed, the ease of posting a tweet, and the site’s proximity to power. My favorite take on Twitter is from the always sharp Michael Hobbes, who wrote in April, “I think we'll look back on the last decade as a time when social media gave previously marginalized groups the ability to speak directly to elites and, as a result, elites lost their minds.”
Twitter is the neighborhood dive bar of the internet, a place where you are just as likely to get your wallet stolen as you are to meet the love of your life. A place that was never very good, but because of its extreme lack of pretension, or inability to have any, it also is the place that keeps its doors open in times of need. As of right now, the bar’s still open, but a rich land developer owns it, the staff have all quit in protest, and the regular patrons are all trying to figure out whether they should be trying to save it or jump behind the counter and drink from the tap. The rapper Cardi B tweeted out hardcore porn last night, which makes me think it will increasingly be the latter.
Life in an online world is a contradiction. One we still have problems expressing. The internet connects us, but not physically. It’s a collection of shared experiences, but ones we all have in deeply personal and different ways. And the online spaces we spend time on matter to us, but are also full of dumb bull shit. Even if Twitter hobbles along like this for weeks or months, it’s safe to say that it’s not coming back the same, even if Musk miraculously stirs the ship back on course. This era of Twitter is over and it’s ok to be sad about that, but it’s also ok to feel silly that you feel sad about that.
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Let’s Talk About Caroline Ellison’s Tumblr
Last week, reports starting circulating that the CEO of Alameda Research and the erstwhile girlfriend of FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried, Caroline Ellison, had a now-deleted Tumblr called “worldoptimization”. I got a chance to go through an archive of it and I can tell you that there are all kinds of special little things in there that you wouldn't pick up on unless you were someone who has spent the last decade immersed in the platform. Luckily for you, I have.
Caroline’s alleged blog was pretty typical for a 2020s “tumblrina,” a specific type of girlie (gender neutral) who has stuck around on the platform long past its heyday and become comfortable within its more secluded and hermetic post-porn ban culture. Importantly, the blog was a Tumblr specifically, which means she was on there at least in part to participate in collective practices of cultural reception — a.k.a. fandom.
For example, the blog was obsessed with Worth the Candle, a nearly-million-word-long web novel series by Alexander Wales, to the point where the blog posted a Gossip Girl crossover with it, which Ellison may or may not have written herself.
If you've never heard of Worth the Candle, it's a LitRPG isekai rationalfic, which details a character’s journey through the world of a video game. LitRPG is narrative fiction which depicts an roleplaying game in prose, including stats and challenges in-text. Isekai is a Japanese-originating genre in which characters are transported inside another, frequently fictional world like a book or game. And rationalfic is a genre/subculture popular within the “rationalist” community that emphasizes logic, problem-solving, and reasoning, frequently at the expense of characters and emotion. Isekai series, without necessarily the connotation of rationalfic, are immensely popular in Eastern markets, but haven’t really made inroads into Western popular literature except on self-publishing platforms where writers like Wales and Eliezer Yudkowsky can be found.
Ellison has been labeled a “Harry Potter fangirl” because of comments made on the blog and elsewhere, though that's not quite right. She loved Harry Potter, but the blog has a lot of posts specifically about Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Yudkowsky’s infamous plodding rewrite of the series which launched the entire genre of rationalfic. The central hyper-competence fantasy of rationalfic is central to understanding Ellison’s apparent fannishness, which is in turn central to understanding her as a person. She actively oriented her life around becoming the type of protagonist who exists in these stories. There is, or was, a sort of LARP going on, which this Tumblr narrates.
The blog also includes lots of Taylor Swift, including an assertion that “if I were the sort of person who wrote such things I would definitely write Heloise and Abelard fanfic based on Cruel Summer.” Ellison also wrote wordy Goodreads reviews, including of books by Naomi Novik, a co-founder of Archive Of Our Own. There were also multiple posts on the Tumblr tagged with “#matt levine is my internet boyfriend” and, in the grand tradition of being on Tumblr to post about Tumblr, tagged long posts about internecine rationalist drama with “#this blue website.”
All of this is to say that Jay Caspian Kang hit it right on the nose when he observed that Ellison’s alleged Tumblr proves Tumblr’s superiority over Twitter — at least in this voyeuristic context. It brings up broader questions about what it means to leave a trace online. Why is a blog materially “better,” when it comes to examining the slug-slime trail of some notorious Main Character? It’s certainly more rewarding in a tactile sense. You can’t just search a keyword and have the relevant posts pop up with the keyword highlighted, like you can on Twitter. You must to go paging through the posts like some kind of Name of the Rose-ass scholar of heresies, parsing the arcane tags referring to “#HBD” and “#not sj go away.” I could do it all day.
But blogging is not something the kids know or care about, I fear. There will always be atavistic throwbacks who, by virtue of nostalgia or sheer nonconformity, remain tied to the sorts of platforms that will make for good popcorn reading after a dramatic downfall. But as Charlie Warzel and Kevin Munger discussed, text is simply not the future. Despite the likelihood that Twitter continues to shamble forward as a zombified version of its former vibrant self, it’s video and audio all the way from now on. (“At last, I can stop suffering and write that symphony.”)
Speaking of audio, I talked in Ryan and Katie Notopolous’s excellent Twitter space yesterday for approximately two minutes and gained about 150 followers, which is a great return given I was lying completely horizontal in my childhood bed in my pajamas while I spoke. Lots of cool people followed me afterwards, which was great, but they should also all follow me on the new public-facing Tumblr I just made!
An Important Twitter Update
Let’s See How This NFT Guy Is Doing One Year Later
This was flagged up in the r/cringe subreddit. A year ago this week, Twitter user @Tristan0x posted this tweet, which has aged in a really spectacularly — almost impressively — awful way. I went to check out the account and this tweet is still pinned. Which is a choice!
As someone noted in the comments of the Reddit post, Solana, the crypto service he was earning interest on, is down over 90% from where it was a year ago.
A Terminal Amount Of Cope From The Elon Musk Subreddit
I came across this thanks to a tweet from @rustbeltjacobin. The weirdos over at r/elonmusk have not been having a great time. Musk’s extremely embarrassing handling of Twitter is causing a lot of them real anguish because it flies in the face of the idea of him they have in their heads. To Musk’s stans, he’s the smartest man in the world and everything he does fits into a larger, perfectly executed longtermist plan to get us to space. As that becomes increasingly unlikely, they’re spinning more and more elaborate conspiracy theories to explain what he’s actually doing.
“I suspect he found something big and is trying to keep control of it. I wouldn't be surprised if a new legal claim is filed by Musk against the previous management of Twitter before the end of the year,” the user above wrote.
It’s important to note how indistinguishable this is from QAnon… or a Snyder Cut fan. Many online fandoms, particularly ones enjoyed by men on Reddit, have reached a level where they function like benign cults. But when the shared reality of the community starts to fracture, they get genuinely very panicky. There is some of this behavior on Tumblr or Archive Of Our Own, but I think because those platforms emphasize iterative fan works, there’s less of a fixation on canon and hierarchies. Whereas on Reddit or YouTube, there’s more of an incentive on fan theories, analysis, and reactions. Which is how you get Star Wars fans editing all the women and minorities out of The Last Jedi or this poor soul fantasizing about Musk suing the former managers of Twitter for some reason.
A.I. Porn Is Coming
Tech Crunch has a great piece about the growing generative-A.I. porn community, focusing on a Discord server called Unstable Diffusion. I joined it this morning and it operates similarly to the Midjourney Discord, where there are rooms of users sending prompts to the Stable Difussion A.I., only they’re trying to make porn.
But I’ve been noticing what I would call a NSFW creep in generative A.I. art over the last few months. I was in the Midjourney Discord a few weeks ago trying to get a particular image rendered and watched another user spend easily a few hours trying to get Midjourney to make an anime woman with a specific size of butt.
I’m curious how generative A.I. will intersect with human sexuality. Right now it’s a lot of humans asking the A.I. to recreate NSFW content we’re already accustomed to looking at, but what happens when an A.I. renders something new? Can an artificial intelligence create a new fetish?
Speaking of fetishes and algorithms…
How Can You Tell If A TikTok Is Fetish Content?
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This was sent to me by a reader named Miles, but I’ve had questions from other readers about this general issue with TikTok. It’s getting kind of hard to tell if the bizarre sensory content on the app is fetish content or not.
If don’t understand how it could be, first, congratulations, you live a better life than me. Second, there’s a user named @lenarae.lh, embedded above, who is currently doing a great job explaining how and why certain TikTok videos feel… icky. Basically, if you see a video on TikTok that has gasping or moaning or weird closeups of hands or feet or holes or gratuitous footage of young women eating or touching weird slimes or goos, you’re probably watching a fetish video.
The question I have with all of this, and one that I still haven’t answered even after interviewing some of the creators that make videos like this, is if they know they’re making fetish videos or if they’re simply making videos that do well in an algorithm because they’re then being served to fetishists.
A Good Tweet
Some Stray Links
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***