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Mutants in the wasteland of Twitter
Read to the end for a good tweet about Taylor Swift
Jorts The Cat, Garden Husband, Lesbian Emu Farmer (…We Didn’t Start The Fire)
One of the most interesting, and infuriating, contradictions of Twitter is that most conversations on the site require a decent amount of nuance and context to understand, but the site is constructed in such a way that makes any real nuance or context impossible. Even if you lay out your thoughts clearly in a thread, threads are still made of individual tweets, which can easily be pulled out of context. And if you do that, you’re rewarded quite a bit by other users on the site.
That’s because after years of piss-poor moderation, most power users have nestled themselves into smaller communities for protection and support. Like gangs of hideous mutants crawling around a post-apocalyptic wasteland, hunting for resources and fighting off roving battalions led by this scorched new world’s various warlords, we all have our corner of Twitter and attack other groups to prove our commitment to the tribe that gives us shelter. OK, it’s not actually that deep, but you get the idea. And in the last week, three minor controversies have bubbled up on Twitter that all connect to this current paradigm.
First, on October 16th, the Washington Post reported that Emmanuel the Emu, a popular TikTok emu, had contracted avian influenza and was in critical condition. The emu’s owner, Taylor Blake, owns a farm called Knuckle Bump Farms, but, as users pointed out, Blake has gone viral before. She initially went viral for a video where she asked a woman out who was working in the Taco Bell drive-thru. Then Blake was “cancelled” because users found old racist tweets of hers. And now Blake is being “cancelled” again because she’s back in the news thanks to her sick emu. Blake is now being attacked both for her old racist tweets, but also for the fact that she was kissing her emus on camera, including the sick one. But, also, it seems like the emu may not have ever actually been sick, just stressed out. And making things more confusing, Twitter users started attacking a different young woman who owns an emu on TikTok because there are multiple white lady emu farmers on the app right now.
Second, on October 17th, as I covered extensively in this week’s Garbage Weekend, the owner of the Jorts the Cat Twitter account, which is a novelty Twitter account that posts about labor rights from the point of view of a cat, responded to another user named @queenveej who was complaining about an annoying grocery delivery experience she had had. The Jorts the Cat Twitter account told @queenveej that she should buy her own groceries instead of having them delivered and then doubled-down, saying that gig workers who do grocery delivery for low-pay shouldn’t be harassed. Twitter users who identify as disabled began demanding the Jorts the Cat account apologize for being ableist.
And then, finally, on October 21st, a Twitter user named @lilplantmami tweeted about how much she loves spending time in her back garden with her husband in the mornings. @lilplantmami, a crunchy, kinda-granola wellness account, received thousands of replies and tens of thousands of quote tweets, many of which were calling her some combination of classist or ableist.
I don’t think it’s an accident that two of out of the three of these incidents involved young women, that two of out of three of these incidents involved animal content, and that two out of the three of these incidents involved backlash due to concerns about ableism or classism. And it’s important to the address the latter issues first. We about to enter a fourth year of a pandemic that, thanks to a profound lack of institutional support, has forced many disabled and/or immunocompromised people to limit or completely cut off their access to the outside world. And we can also see a global recession coming over the horizon. And so, using Twitter is something that be done remotely and, if you have an internet connection, it’s free. Makes sense. The question is why now? And why these particular incidents?
To answer that I want to point to a fascinating study from March put together by Tyler Freeman titled, “Does Twitter’s Algorithm Hate Your Friends?” Freeman wanted to figure out why the Twitter “Home” timeline, which shows tweets in a ranked order, rather than in a chronological feed, wasn’t surfacing tweets from people he followed. So he created a script that recorded basically every tweet he saw over a month and recorded them into a database. He analyzed the database and found that 56% of the tweets he was seeing weren’t from people he followed, but from just other accounts — the three most common recommended accounts for him were @Foone (148,000 followers), @isosteph (36,000), and @ManMilk2 (1.3 million). Obviously, the accounts most often pushed into your feed by the Home tab would be different for everyone, but the fact remains that Freeman’s feed was not actually his. Considering 13% of the tweets he encountered were ads, that meant that less than a third of what Freeman was seeing on Twitter was something he actively asked to see.
The “Home” tab was discontinued, thankfully, right before Freeman published his findings, but other, similar recommendation widgets still remain all over the app. In fact, remember how I said that it’s not an accident that the lesbian emu farmer, Jorts the Cat, and the garden husband discourses all involved animals and/or young women? That’s because I know it’s not an accident because underneath each of these tweets are sometimes literally the same recommended “More Tweets”. All of which are viral tweets that fall into classic viral content buckets — animals, fight videos, young white women doing literally anything, wholesome memes. In fact, this viral video of a pig on a ball is currently recommended under both the Jorts the Cat tweets and @lilplantmami’s:
I don’t think Twitter drama would disappear entirely if Twitter didn’t have a recommendation algorithm, nor do I think that marginalized people on the app are being outrageous to be angry about, well, literally everything all the time. But I also think that Twitter’s algorithm preys on people’s emotions and, unlike even Facebook, when you combine a rage-inducing algorithm with a platform that incentivizes and rewards extremely quick and frictionless public posting, you’re going to get absolutely out of control behavior. Twitter wants its users to be as active and engaged as possible and is still trying to find ways to bombard us with as much content as it can. And in the process it reduces everything we post there to viral ephemera meant to be reacted to and torn apart by strangers. Whether you’re a cat, an emu farmer, a woman who has a healthy relationship with her husband, or a pig on a ball — it’s all just inputs for the rage machine to sell ads against.
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How Much Spotify Pays Out Vs. Apple Music
This video is fascinating and I’m not totally sure I’ve seen anything like it before. It was put together by a music producer named L.Dre. He compared his earnings from two different songs that both performed similarly on Spotify and Apple Music. If you’re just curious about how big of a discrepancy there is between the two, I’ll give you the TL;DR now: It’s about a 74% difference between the two platforms, with Apple Music paying out way better.
I’m admittedly a Spotify power user, I basically have it going all day and I’ve never messed with Apple Music, but I always knew that Spotify wasn’t super great. But I had no idea how big the difference was. Definitely watch the whole video if you’re interested in the business of streaming music, because L.Dre does a great job providing a really rare inside look at how the sausage gets made.
Tumblr Blaze Is Getting A Little Weird
I got some questions about Tumblr Blaze from some readers and I have some of my own. It seems as if something has shifted with the service. If you missed this, Tumblr has a tool now that lets users pay a flat sum of money to boost their content to other users. There’s not tracking or targeting, so it’s just like a shotgun blast out into the ether. One reader asked me why a user named wallpads has spent so much money Blazing photosets of what appear to be random stock images? I have no idea.
More pressing, though, is that I turned off the new NSFW filter for my dashboard. It doesn’t make porn available again, but it does allow me to see other kinds of adult content that might be shared by accounts I follow. It, also, apparently, means I can now see all the fetish content that’s being blazed, like a post that was Tumblr Blazed last night that I will absolutely not be linking to it but was, I’m pretty sure, someone in an adult diaper firing a gun.
The Warm Girls Of TikTok
There’s a new TikTok microidentity getting some attention on the app right now called “warm girls”. Like all the other microidentities happening on TikTok, it will cease to be relevant in probably 3.5 weeks, but also have bizarre and unforeseen ripples across art and fashion for years to come. Exciting! As for what a “warm girl” is, I watched dozens of different videos about it and it seems to either be an aesthetic where you’re really cozy or a super fashy tradcath thing where you like renaissance art and long for a pastoral life in the European countryside. I suppose it could also be both.
One response to trends like “warm girls” was posted recently by a user named @attemptedsoc, who said that TikTok users latching on to these little trending “girl types” was morbid and actually a sign of how none of these people have actual identities anymore. It’s a punchy take and I can see why it resonated with cantankerous millennials on Twitter, but it’s historically wrong. TikTok microidentities may look and feel new, but they aren’t. Not only are they basically exactly what happens literally every time young internet users have a social platform that allows them to easily share music, like Myspace and Tumblr, but, also, many of the current ones even have the same names.
So why are these coming back? Simple, TikTok has reduced the effort of posting a video to make it as easy as a tweet. Unlike YouTube, which has never figured out how to integrate a simple, lightweight mobile video editing interface, TikTok content is easy to make and easier to consume. So suddenly we’re getting a level of subcultural energy on par with what we saw at the end of the 2000s.
So where does this all go? Well, if the music industry cracks down on the copyright gray space that TikTok audio exists in, the app’s cultural cachet dies and they lose young people. If the music industry continues to turn a blind eye to the absolutely out-of-control music piracy that’s happening on the app, I assume we’ll reach a point where youth subcultures become so temporary and also incoherent that young people can never be properly advertised to again, which is kind of exciting if you think about it.
Very Cursed Merch
User t3h933k cursed the Garbage Day Discord with this over the weekend. If you don’t immediately understand why this is so awful, allow me to begrudgingly explain. Alpha, beta, and omega are classifications used in a specific kind of erotic fan fiction. They relate to a character’s, uh, sexual role. The omegaverse is messy and complicated and involves a lot of male pregnancy, so I’ll just leave it at that and give you this Mashable link if you’re curious about heading further down that rabbit hole.
The clothing line above was created by Tumblr user badinfluencepress, who wrote, “Ideal clothing for making weird eye contact with the other online-looking person at the grocery store or gym, confusing your boss over a video call, or meeting your fandom Discord squad for outdoor brunch!” And you can buy them here.
Steamed Hams But It's Live Action But It's Made By A High Schooler
I agree with the guy in the comments who wrote, “Someone give this man a budget so he can actually set a house on fire.”
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good tweet about Taylor Swift.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***