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Mortified liberal millennial exasperation
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Fascists Write Fanfic Too
Over the weekend, Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers Of Italy party won a snap election which came weeks after the country's government dissolved earlier this summer. And contrary to what Hilary Clinton has said about Meloni, I do not think she is effectively utilizing girl power by becoming the country’s most extreme-right leader that Italy’s seen since Benito Mussolini.
There is obviously a confluence of factors that led to Meloni’s big win, but a large part of it had to do with how radicalizing the online disinformation and misinformation about Italy’s strict COVID lockdown was. Last year, I wrote a piece for Foreign Policy about how antivaxxers, far-right gangs, and trade unions, rankled by the country’s extremely strict “green pass” system, mobilized on Facebook and Telegram and ended up storming the country’s parliament building.
According to a recent report from European news agency Euractiv, antivax communities and pandemic-related digital spaces were huge vectors for disinformation in the lead-up to the vote over the last few weeks.
In a quote that now is extremely ominous to read back, Carlo Gianuzzi, a member of the Brescia chapter of the National Association of Italian Partisans (ANPI), one of the country’s oldest antifascist organizations, told me at the time that the photos and videos of the Italian antivaxxers clashing with police officers “evoked identical scenes from exactly a century ago, as Mussolini’s Black Shirts were building up the momentum, which would lead to the March on Rome and the taking of power in Italy.”
Meloni spent much of her campaign courting Italy’s large antivax community, though, as I first wrote about her back in July, more so than her ability to harness pandemic chaos, it’s been her keen ability to seize on any and all viral ephemera that first put her on the map. In 2019, one of her wildly homophobic speeches was remixed by two DJs named MEM & J to satirize her, but it was too much of a banger and actually boosted her profile quite a bit.
Populism Updates, a great Twitter account for covering, well, populism, has been following Meloni closely all summer and recently pointed out that she regularly shares anime fan art of herself, usually using the hashtag #MeloniChan. It’s a classic far-right populism tactic to build a cyber army of obsessive otakus who will harass journalists and activists for free, but there’s more to it than that. If you search the #MeloniChan hashtag on her Facebook page, you find photos she posted from Romics, a Rome comic convention, and a post she wrote about the anime Fist of the North Star.
Also, Tumblr users recently found Meloni’s self-insert Lord Of The Rings fanfic. “No one bullied Giorgia Meloni enough when she was writing Tolkien self-insert dragon fan fiction in the late 90s and now she's the first fascist PM in Italy since Mussolini,” Tumblr user thehharpy wrote. Here’s a link to an archive of it if you’re curious (It’s bad).
We spent a while in the Garbage Day Discord this morning talking about all this stuff. And I’ve spent all weekend trying to articulate that particular kind of mortified liberal millennial exasperation I tend to feel every time I come across yet another fascist nerd like this. And there's a lot of them. In fact, I’ve even wondered if there’s just something fascist about like science fiction, fantasy, or anime. I don’t think there is, but I don’t think it’s unrelated either.
When I last wrote about Meloni a few months ago, I wrote that you can’t defeat fascists with memes because all memes can and will be co-opted by fascists. But I think it goes further than that.
Younger, savvier members of the global far-right movement like Meloni understand a few things innately that most leftists and liberals still do not want to accept. First, nostalgia is a weapon. Whether that’s nostalgia for a fictitious national past or nostalgia for Saturday morning cartoons, both can be used to foment division and anger. Second, anyone under the age of 50 right now grew up in a world of anime, video games, nerd culture, and, more recently, the internet. And third, everything now is content and any content is better than no content, no matter how cringe.
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There’s A Weekend Version Of Garbage Day Now
People are saying it’s really good! It’s a big weekend roundup full of fun stuff to stare at. It’s for paying subscribers only, but I think any free reader would really dig it. Hit the button below to check it out.
How A Fake Coup Goes Viral
You’d be forgiven if, for a brief moment over the weekend, you thought that Chinese Communist Party President Xi Jinping was removed from office in a coup. One version of the viral rumor, screenshotted above, claimed that planes “completely disappeared” over China. The hoax was also pushed in an article by Newsweek, making spread beyond just Twitter.
Bill Bishop’s Sinocism has a real good writeup about why it’s probably nonsense. “We should know with certainly by October 1 if something has happened,” Bishop wrote. “Again, I think these rumors are BS but there are things we can observe that either give them credence or discredit them.”
But here’s an interesting dimension to all of this. According to Andy Patel, who tweets as @r0zetta and works as a researcher for cyber security firm WithSecure, the #ChinaCoup hashtag was amplified by a massive network of fake Twitter accounts from India.
“Fake Indian accounts are rapidly becoming the driving force behind global Twitter trends. I wonder how long it will take the folks at Twitter to realize this,” Patel wrote.
Let’s Talk About A/B Testing
Over the weekend the New York Times published a story with the explosive headline: “LinkedIn Ran Social Experiments on 20 Million Users Over Five Years”. I saw the headline come across my Twitter timeline and, honestly, my first thought was, “people use LinkedIn enough to be experimented on?” But, either way, I assumed the platform had done some kind of deeply unethical research on its users. In the third paragraph of the story, however, the Times defines what actually happened:
In experiments conducted around the world from 2015 to 2019, Linkedin randomly varied the proportion of weak and strong contacts suggested by its “People You May Know” algorithm — the company’s automated system for recommending new connections to its users. Researchers at LinkedIn, M.I.T., Stanford and Harvard Business School later analyzed aggregate data from the tests in a study published this month in the journal Science.
The unethical thing, here, according to the Times is that users were not notified about the fact LinkedIn was adjusting its algorithm. “The changes made by LinkedIn are indicative of how such tweaks to widely used algorithms can become social engineering experiments with potentially life-altering consequences for many people,” the Times story reads.
Now, sure, that is true. Algorithmic recommendations have all kinds of unforeseen effects on our lives. For insistence, the choice between using Bumble’s algorithm or Tinder’s to find dates could literally change the entire trajectory of your life. But, as many folks on Twitter pointed out over the weekend, what LinkedIn was doing is called A/B testing and almost every website you use has some version of it.
“When the goal of the test is POSITIVE [can we help our users find better outcomes] the framing of routine A/B testing as nefarious in its lack of disclosure is quite cynical,” Homebrew partner Hunter Walk tweeted.
And I agree! I didn’t think I’d be siding with a platform here, but A/B testing is extremely useful. In fact, even the New York Times does it! And they eventually added a sneaky little line to their LinkedIn story admitting that. And if Substack allowed it, you better believe I’d be using it. (Morning Brew actually has a subject line A/B testing system that I’ve thought about trying to hack together.)
A Good TikTok
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(Tumblr mirror for folks in non-TikTok regions.)
Tumblr Invented A Fake My Chemical Romance Song
Shout to Tumblr user torturelabyrinth who recently wrote, “I am going to see volcano shake it up mentioned in a ryan broderick garbage day newsletter by the end of next week. Calling it now.” You’re god damn right. Let’s get into it.
If you aren’t in the loop, Tumblr has been losing its mind over the current My Chemical Romance tour. Lead singer Gerard Way’s costumes are a big fixture on my dashboard and it seems like the band is really going out of their way to fill up their performances with callbacks for long-time fans to obsess over.
Amid the explosion of content about the current tour, last week, Tumblr user girlblocker wrote, “every MCR concert I see live-blogged one of my mutuals posts like ‘oh my god they played their song volcano shake em up, which was performed once in the vault of a secret bank in western Nevada in 2010 and then recorded on a disk which has been buried for a decade and only now are we getting to hear it again’.”
The post went viral and now fans are all pretending like “Volcano (Shake ‘Em Up)” is a real song. Fans even managed to get lyrics to the fake song posted to Genius. And you know what? The lyrics, which I think were largely written by an A.I., are honestly so good that I had to check like five different times while writing this to make sure the song wasn’t actually real. (I’m pretty confident it’s fake.)
A Good Tweet
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good video of French people laughing.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***