Musk's masterful Brazilian gambit

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Elon Musk Is Beefing With Brazil

Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court (TSE) is investigating Elon Musk after he said he would restore a handful of X accounts that had been ordered offline by a Brazilian judge. It’s unclear what the accounts are or who they belong to, but based on both Brazil’s recent history with court-ordered online moderation, as well as Musk’s refusal to comply, I think it’s safe to assume they’re probably connected to far-right extremism or misinformation. But we’ll get to that in a second.

Musk, over the weekend, dusted off his usual playbook and launched a harassment campaign against Alexandre de Moraes, the court’s president. Musk has threatened to publish everything that Moraes has sent to X (they’re doing some dumb Twitter Files thing again), demanded Moraes resign (doubtful), and also compared Moraes to Darth Vader (he honestly looks more like Voldemort).

(Very cool post, thank you.)

Brazil’s government is also contemplating ending its contracts with Starlink. Though, Musk said he would provide free internet to Brazilian schools if the contract was broken. Which, I suppose, is better than what Starlink is currently being used for in Brazil which is providing internet coverage for illegal mining operations that are stripping gold from indigenous areas in the northwest of the country. When Musk got the Starlink contract approved during the last months of the far-right Bolsonaro administration, he said at the time it would be used for “environmental monitoring of Amazon.”

Which is worth noting actually. I don’t think it’s an accident that Musk suddenly doesn’t want to play ball with Brazilian tech regulations now that left-wing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is in charge. As Platformer pointed out recently, Musk rarely has these kinds of temper tantrums when he’s ordered to do something by a right-wing administration. Musk has even threatened to shut down the X office in Brazil if Moraes and the court don’t back down. Once again, all of these things are threats and nothing of any substance has actually happened here. Se você é um funcionário brasileiro do/da X (Twitter) vamos conversar!

As I wrote in January last year, after Bolsonaro supporters, or bolsominions as they’re more commonly called, held their own insurrection and stormed Brazil’s Three Powers Plaza, the country’s courts have been much more aggressive about online moderation than anything we could possibly imagine here in the States. Which is probably the main reason why Musk is Posting Through It so hard right now. The TSE has opened a wider investigation into X’s role in supporting what it’s calling “digital militias,” or anti-democratic users that spread mis- and disinformation. And Moraes has reportedly ordered Brazil’s National Telecommunications Agency to get ready for a court order that would block X entirely in the country.

Brazil has played this same judicial game of chicken with a bunch of other platforms over the last few years. The TSE banned Telegram due to extremism in 2022, though the ban was eventually lifted. And last year, the TSE sent all of Big Tech panicking after they proposed a “fake news” bill that would impose huge fines on tech platforms not catching and removing illegal content before courts spotted it. Google tried to throw a widget underneath videos protesting the bill and the TSE threatened them with $200,000 fines for every hour it was up. lol wrecked. Oh, also, not that anyone normal would care, but right-wing video platform Rumble has already left the country due to Brazilian regulations.

There have been a few Brazilian politicians issuing support for Musk, but it’s not exactly overwhelming. And I don’t think Musk is dumb enough to exit the country. Most estimates place Brazil as either the fourth or fifth biggest country on X, which most Brazilians still call Twitter btw. The site also hasn’t lost its central place in Brazilian internet culture since Musk took over. Based on the big Brazilian posters I follow, Bluesky is a weird curiosity and Threads died a quick death because it’s objectively not fun. Which is why I think this is a whole bunch of nothing that will go nowhere, which is usually how things involving Musk end up.

I’m not going to say that Brazil’s moderation laws are perfect. I don’t think any internet regulations from any country are, frankly. But I do think it’s important that a country like Brazil, which has been historically treated as a test market by Silicon Valley and, now, more recently Beijing, is at least trying to define how foreign tech platforms should and shouldn’t operate within their borders. And before anyone jumps in here and tries to compare this to the proposed Congressional TikTok ban here in the US, let me stop you real quick: Brazilian courts are going after specific accounts on specific platforms for specific kinds of content that cause actual problems. The US should try it sometime!

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Friends! Hello – Mike Rugnetta here to say I hope you're having a nice Garbage Day! But also to say: there’s a new episode of Never Post today, our podcast about and for the internet.

This week Charlie Harding from Switched on Pop joins us to discuss pop-music that has sounded "like the internet"; we also discuss the psychological impact of Before and After posts.

We’ve recently discussed using the "megadungeon" of TTRPGs to understand the internet, asked why Facebook keeps asking you to "reconnect" with dead friends, and wondered if staying sane online means ignoring much of what you see.

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Pure Vibes

Brazil Has Finally Made Someone “Bluesky Famous”

—by Adam Bumas

Facing the possibility of X completely shutting down in the country, Brazilians are beginning to migrate to Bluesky. In the 24 hours after Musk posted about the TSE’s decision, Bluesky saw over 400,000 posts in Brazilian Portuguese, briefly making it the most popular language for skeeting. It was the federated platform’s first day with major growth since it left its invite-only period in February.

It’s further evidence of what I’ve said before, that everything about Bluesky is completely downstream of X — not just its user base but its features, its communities, and its culture. In short, it’s hard to see a future where anyone gets Bluesky Famous. But as I was sifting through Portuguese skeets, I saw an exception that proves that rule.

Paul Frazee has been working at Bluesky since 2022. Until last June, he was the fifth most-followed account on Bluesky, and unlike the other four, he has a poster’s soul, mixing jokes with serious updates about the platform. Soon he had the same quasi-famous “senpai” status of all mods and admins who regularly contribute to the community they maintain. But even though it was a standard kind of internet fame, it was completely unique for where it happened, on a platform where virtually all the loudest voices brought their audience from elsewhere. Frazee became much less prominent after he took a break from posting due to a spat involving someone seriously saying “ACAB includes Dril” (a story for another time).

But over the weekend, when thousands of new Brazilian users flooded the app, he picked up Google Translate and started engaging as closely as ever. The infamous Brazilian fan phenomenon kicked in, and soon he had been christened “Paulinho,” or “Little Paul,” and all the memes and jokes about his stewardship of the website gained a new life.

I’m still dubious Bluesky will ever flourish as a social platform in its own right. But even if I still classify it as the same kind of in-joke you’d see on a big forum or Discord server, not a whole site, I have to admit I’m seeing something original-ish here (you can too, with the custom Paulinho feed).

Going Further Down The Gylcine TikTok Rabbit Hole


They’ve got their own core tech with a whopping 31 patents under their belt and a whole lot of production experience #mulldog #glycine #trustworthy

On Monday, I wrote about the dangerous new Chinese psyop preying on America’s youth: promotional videos for Donghua Jinlong, a glycine manufacturer based in Hebei, China. I mentioned that more than a few of the Donghua Jinlong memes circulating TikTok right now seemed to have some kind of connection to the Red Scare podcast and New York’s fashy Downtown Scene, sometimes called Dimes Square. I have a bit more context about this now.

A reader tipped me off to the fact that there are now a bunch of memecoins for glycine and Donghua Jinlong and the creator of at least one of the memecoins is the one making the Red Scare/Dimes Square-related edits.

I am going to assume this is complete gibberish to most people, but the simplest way to explain all of this is that there are a bunch of vaguely-leftist-but-not-really crypto developers that hang out in Manhattan’s Chinatown and they jump on or outright co-opt memes similar to how 4chan raids used to work 10 years ago. And these users are particularly interested in TikTok because there’s a lot of impressionable teenagers on it.

New Twitter Alternative Dropped


There’s a new (soon to be) federated Twitter alt in town. It’s called Lyrak and it seems like it’s main gimmick is an ad revenue share. And I should say, a 50% split for ad revenue is pretty good! Lyrak’s team also seems like they’re reaching out to journalists and creators and onboarding them first (they reached out to me fyi). From what I can see, Lyrak is not federated yet, but the plan is to integrate it with ActivityPub. No snark, I wish them the best. But…

I think trying to make THE social network for the fediverse is actually kind of a backwards way of thinking about it? And I’m beginning to realize my deep lack of interest in the fediverse is because, at least so far, everyone is just making Twitter variants with it. I was recently sent a blog post about the “fediverse of things” by developer Terence Eden, which made me more interested in decentralized networks than anything I’ve seen so far.

And, yes, I see the emails and comments from readers saying I should cover what’s happening on Mastodon and Bluesky more often (And, yes, I know Bluesky is not on ActivityPub, please don’t yell at me). Send me stuff you find interesting!

People Are Downloading Facebook Again (With A Huge Caveat)


According to some very interesting data from Appfigures, Facebook and Instagram were the two most-downloaded apps across iOS and Android for March. But as I wrote above, there’s a big caveat here.

As social media analyst Matt Navarra notes, the spike in downloads was because all of Meta’s apps went down briefly last month. So it’s likely that users weren’t downloading Meta apps, but re-downloading them.

The reason I mention this is because there has been a steadily increasing undercurrent on sites like X and Threads arguing that Facebook is, somehow, making a comeback. I think this partially due to nostalgia and partially due to Meta’s stock price soaring at the moment. But I would advise against declaring a Facebook comeback, at least, culturally. Though, who knows, maybe bringing back Pokes will be enough.

A Good Observation About Big Bang Theory

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

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