Managing the cringe

Read to the end for a sleepy little guy

Who Is Actually Paying For Twitter Blue?

On Monday night, Elon Musk provided another update about Twitter Blue. As always, assume everything this guy says is a lie, but apparently the current plan is to make the For You tab exclusively for the content posted by Twitter Blue subscribers. I’m not sure Musk anticipated how unpopular this would be, though, because he eventually followed this up with a caveat, writing, “Forgot to mention that accounts you follow directly will also be in For You, since you have explicitly asked for them.”

I’m not sure what this means or how it would be any different than what the For You tab is now, but let’s assume that if something does change on April 15th, it’ll most likely involve adding more visibility for Twitter Blue subscribers in the For You feed.

Twitter Blue has mainly been advertised as a way for the app’s power users to upgrade their experience. But that’s not who’s buying it. According to the most recent figures I’ve seen, around .02% of the site pays for Twitter Blue. And, this week, Mashable reported that half of those users have under 1,000 followers and 17% have less than 100 users. Which means Twitter Blue is actually a service primarily used by people who do not have any real audience or community that they’re active participants in. And this effectively makes Twitter Blue more of an attempt at monetizing access and influence for people who don’t have any and are desperate enough to pay to get it. And now we’re seeing Musk really struggle to manage the subsequent cringe of giving people that access and influence.

It reminds me a lot of how the crypto industry works and also how pickup artists operate tbh (I think there’s a lot of overlap between those demographics actually). Once you have all these people paying, they start expecting to be treated like the elites you’ve told them they can magically be for a small fee, and it turns out this gets real embarrassing real fast. For instance, I’ve noticed that at a lot of crypto conventions there is a sort of ever-increasing hierarchy of different exclusive spaces that are only available for bigger and bigger whales. It’s casino logic. And I’d bet a lot of money on there being some pitch deck inside of Twitter HQ outlining how Twitter blue is only the beginning of the monetization strategy with even more ways to pay planned once they get it off the ground.

And Twitter isn’t the only site trying to manage its own bizarre decision to destroy itself this way. Business Insider has recently called this “Big Tech’s big downgrade,” writing that “tech companies have monetized confusion, constantly testing how much they can interfere with and manipulate users.” Writer John Herrman recently wrote about the “junkification” of Amazon, Cory Doctorow has written about the “enshittification” of TikTok, I just put out a whole video on Silicon Valley’s midlife crisis, and the YouTube channel Folding Ideas has a great video out this week declaring that “the future is a dead mall”.

Social media was never perfect. In fact, it was always sort of a house of cards barely holding in place. And now the whole thing is coming apart because the companies that run these networks wanted to make more money. And I think what’s most annoying is that there was a lot of stuff they could have fixed to make these networks better not just for those who want to pay, but for everyone and in ways that I actually think would have made money in the long run. But it seems like the path we’re on is one we can’t get off of now. So, we’re going to have to sit here and watch the internet get dumber and worse until this whole thing plays out.

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“The Patriot Act For The Internet”

A ban on TikTok in the US is becoming an increasingly real possibility and it’s creating a lot of chaos online. And also making for some very weird political fights, with some conservatives railing against the ban because it’s being largely pushed by Democrats. Though, certain Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez don’t support the ban. It’s a big mess.

Within this mess, there is a new panic around one of the bills that has been proposed to force ByteDance to sell TikTok, which is called the RESTRICT act. It was introduced by Democratic Senator Mark Warner. Conservatives and libertarians have seized on certain wording in the bill that appears like it would allow the government to throw you in jail for up to 20 years for accessing TikTok with a VPN.

Greg Price, the communications director for the State Freedom Caucus Network, a right-wing nonprofit, called it “the Patriot Act for the internet,” which is an idea so upsetting I’m having trouble processing it. But it’s also overstating things just a bit.

The Daily Dot dug into the bill and a spokesperson for Warner told the outlet that “someone must be engaged in ‘sabotage or subversion’ of American communications technology products and services, creating ‘catastrophic effects’ on U.S. critical infrastructure, or ‘interfering in, or altering the result’ of a federal election, in order to be eligible for any kind of criminal penalty.”

Which is reassuring! Though, I still don’t like the idea that the US government would be able to decide what any of that means, particularly the part about “interfering in, or altering the result” of an election, which feels a little too vague for my taste.

I’m still sorting through my own feelings about all of this, though I think I’ve basically decided that I don’t like the idea of the US government banning a whole social network and think it sets a really dangerous precedent, but I also don’t think banning TikTok would be as impactful as you might think. I’ve written before about how India and Russia have handled their own bans, but the closest example in the US I can point to is probably the death of Vine, which had about 200 million users in 2015. TikTok currently has about 150 million in the US. I think TikTok has become a bigger hub for business and culture than Vine ever was, but I think it would largely feel the same.

YouTube Has Conquered The American Living Room

According to some recent data from Nielsen, YouTube is now the number one streamer on American televisions. According to the report, YouTube has overtaken Netflix as the most-watched streaming platform for TV viewers.

This is super interesting and something I noted back in October of last year, which is that YouTube has carved out a really curious niche as one of the last things you can casually watch with other people. Most streaming platforms are full of bingeable seasons of TV that you can’t just jump in and out of — including even their reality TV shows. And TikTok doesn’t really have a good interface for playing on a big screen. Which ends up making YouTube a sort of cable TV equivalent.

A Good Explainer On “The Gen Z Shake”

This was sent to me by a reader named Doctor Popular. The “Gen Z shake,” if you’ve never heard the term, is that thing that younger people do where they start recording before they’ve put their phone down in one place. It’s a sort of in medias res for digital video. The user above, @cocomoe, makes the point that it’s also a clever way to fake authenticity a little bit and make it look like you didn’t expect to be making content.

One thing that @cocomoe doesn’t mention that I have noticed is that there’s also a bit of an ASMR quality to people tapping or moving their phones, as well. It’s an easy way to grab people’s attention amid the dialogue and music.

New Conner O’Malley Video Dropped

Mickey Mouse is back and he’s darker than ever.

Let’s Talk About The Kanye Voice AI

Roberto Nickson, a creator that focuses on emerging tech, made a video over the weekend where he used an AI model of Kanye West’s voice to make a song that sounded a lot like West.

There’s a lot to not like about Nickson’s video. The lyrics were not good at all. He also used West’s voice to do a “shoutout” to Donda West, which, no matter what you think about West, is a legitimately gross thing to do. It’s also yet another video of someone using an AI to clone a black artist’s voice without their permission. Funny how that keeps happening, isn’t it? Nickson sort of addresses some of this in a followup video, though not in any meaningful way.

But one thing that Nickson mentions in his video is the idea that in the near-future musicians will have models trained on them that they can record with. This is a profoundly cynical vision of the future, which makes me think that’s absolutely going to happen (if it’s not happening already). But it’s also fairly in line with existing vocal processing technology, like Melodyne which already allows you to tune your voice to anything and tweak the timbre and key.

This is a good moment to mention something I keep running into with AI tools, which is the question of who is being “replaced” by them. AI evangelists, who are overwhelmingly white men from what I’ve seen on Twitter and YouTube, can’t seem to contain their excitement about using an AI to generate images of women or clone the voices of their favorite — predominately black — musicians. And there are hundreds of demos being uploaded to Twitter every day now with a different lightly-bearded guy in a minimalist home studio full of Apple products getting all revved up imagining a feature where they don’t have to pay artists, don’t have to interact with human women, and can wear the voice of their favorite rapper. And I think that says quite a bit about the values of the people who are most excited about this technological revolution at the moment.

Two Good Tweets From Ice T



I Really Don’t Want To Write About The Woman Who’s Obsessed With Everyone’s Genitals

And, luckily, Rusty over at Today In Tabs did it for me! He dubbed her “the beaver disbeliever,” which is real good.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, well, you know, maybe ask yourself if you want to. Really think about whether you want to waste minutes of your one life on this planet learning about the unhinged TERF that’s been getting into fights on Twitter with pornstars about whether their genitals are real or not.

If you do want to go further, you can click here and see a thread of some of her greatest hits. Her account is currently restricted.

Some Stray Links

P.S. here’s a sleepy little guy.

***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***

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