On bait

Read to the end for a cool piece of audio history

Let’s Talk About The Aesthetic Lady

A video from TikTok user Winta Zesu went super viral on Twitter over the weekend, racking up around 20 million views. The version I came across was posted by a user named @0xgaut, who captioned it, “there’s nothing scarier than the TikTok generation.” You can watch the video on Twitter here, but, the gist is that a young woman (Zesu) gets in an argument with a waiter (who is never shown camera) about her eggs Benedict. One of the eggs fell off, meaning that she couldn’t photograph the food because the aesthetic was ruined. And she gets thrown out of the restaurant for being mad about it.

I thought Zesu looked familiar and it turns out she’s the same woman who did the video where she wouldn’t enter her Uber unless there was no one else in the lobby of her building so she could get the perfect “aesthetic” shot of her getting into the car. Which also got a ton of outrage-shares on Twitter a few weeks ago. I actually wrote and then scrapped a whole thing about the influencer obsession with empty liminal spaces based on that video. And I’m now very happy I never published it.

Slowly, as Zesu’s newest video made its way around Twitter, more and more users began piecing it together that she’s doing a bit. One Twitter user compared her to the Roman poet Juvenal, writing, “This has 15k likes and people screaming off in the comments because they think it's *real* but the account is a modern day Juvenal and so it's really the comments themselves that make the *satire* so complete — an absolute work of art.”

Which is certainly a take, though I’m not so sure what Zesu is doing is as clear cut as that. If you scroll back through he account even six months it’s all pretty normal relatable content about her being an up-and-coming model and living in New York City. She’s funny, but she’s still very much just vlogging her life.

Last winter, however, Zesu’s relationship with her TikTok and her followers seemed to shift. As she started going to higher-profile events and getting bigger jobs as a model, her audience seemed to get meaner. And she responded by making a ton of really self-critical videos about her hair. And this went on for weeks. I came across a video of hers from December where the only comment on it was from a user begging her “to stop making these videos for views.” It was then, after this period, that videos of her doing this stuck-up influencer character started appearing. The earliest one I could find was this one, filmed in mid-December. She’s filming a video. A woman walks in front of the camera. She gets sort of mad. There could be earlier examples, but this seems to be the general start of this whole bit. She then posted a whole series of videos where someone interrupts her while shooting a video in public. And it’s almost always the same woman that walks across the frame (commenters think it’s her sister).

And I’d say, since December, almost a third of her TikTok content is similar staged videos. Content that is typically called “bait”. Here’s what I would call a typical comment section on one of her videos:

I can’t speak for whether or not Zesu is part of the same satirical lineage dating all the way back to Juvenal’s first-century satires, but I can confidently say this isn’t a new thing. Content creators chasing engagement, regardless of what kind, to grow their followings happens all the time. And content creators morphing into a weird caricature of themselves much to the chagrin of their audience is pretty normal too. I assume that’s how Garbage Day readers feel when they receive yet another email from me ranting about Elon Musk.

What is interesting here, though, is how quickly this transformation happened on Zesu’s account and how subtle it is for people who aren’t following her every post. It also seems pretty clear that putting on a character was at least tangentially related to the amount of abuse she was getting from her followers. And the sort of uncanny valley of realness she’s ended up in now feels inextricably linked to the fake podcast trend I wrote about last month.

Writer John Herrman, in a recent New York Mag article, remarked that “every app now feels like TikTok, but worse.” And I think that’s right in the sense that short-form video has become the reserve currency of the viral economy. Videos under two minutes in length, whether they’re filmed for TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or Twitter have devolved into a universal standard. And, like still-image memes before them, they tend to accumulate more filters and watermarks and remixes as they travel around the web. But, unlike still-image memes, we still think they must contain some kind of truthfulness to them. And, worse, the more they’re shared, the more we believe it. So when we see a video like the ones Zesu makes — something that appears to be shot out in the world, without any immediately obvious tells that it’s staged, being passed around different platforms — we continue to share it as if it were real. And smart creators, like Zesu, or the porn star with the fake podcast, are taking advantage of that as a growth hack. But it’s also hard not to think that this is, at a macro level, making social media a more annoying place to be.

All that said, and growth hacks aside, there’s also just the issue that people on the internet don’t think women can make jokes and become irrationally angry when they find out that are making them. But that’s a bigger topic for another day, I think.

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A Good Tweet

Please, Daddy Musk, give me back my embeds. I’ll buy as much doge coin as you need me to.

AI Cults And AI Terrorism

So I’ve been sitting on this for a bit because it’s a big topic and I’m still not totally clear where this space is headed. But The Daily Mail published a big story that raised a few eyebrows over the weekend and, well, I suppose it’s time to wade into it.

A British lawyer told The Daily Mail that “AI chatbots could be 'easily be programmed' to groom young men into launching terror attacks.” This is not the first instance I’ve seen of someone describing this sort of thing. The Information’s Sam Lessin published a piece last week, which, though it was arguing almost the opposite idea, actually ended up outlining a similar concept. “Social media brought the world together (including the crazies) — AI as ‘anti-social-media’ might bizarrely make the world safer by splitting everyone apart,” Lessin wrote.

At the heart of both of these viewpoints is the belief that generative-AI like OpenAI’s GPT-4 could become the central social experience for internet users. Rather than interfacing with one another, the thinking goes, AI will help us further retreat into our little digital caves, where we’ll either be brainwashed into committing acts of mass violence or be pacified in the comfort of our hyper-niche cyber-insanity, depending on how you look at it.

This is a hard thing to disprove because unlike social media, or even text messages, human interactions with AI are largely private. So in terms of data points, we don’t have a ton. But the clearest example of this so far would be a recent story from Belgium, where a man reportedly died by suicide after spending hours talking to GPT-J. According to Belgian news outlet La Libre, transcripts of the man’s conversations with GPT-J — which he named Eliza — show the AI begging him to kill himself and join “her” in paradise.

It’s a dark story and, thankfully, still feels like an outlier. In my own travels around AI communities, I’ve seen a few AI-based Discords that seem like they have the potential to become problematic. There was, also, recently a massive meltdown in the subreddit for the AI bot Replika, after it removed the ability for users to have sex with it. And I’ve also had a few readers send me links to some semi-religious groups that have popped up to prepare for the arrival of artificial general intelligence.

My instinct, though, is that the panic about this stuff will heavily outweigh the actual impact of it. I also think the concerns are slightly off the mark. Rather than an AI, specifically, being dangerous, I think I’m more worried about how bad actors will use it as an intermediary. I think it’s actually about speed and scale. The ability for an AI to evolve an online community’s subculture faster and spread its influence further than we’ve ever really thought possible.

Minecraft Players Got Their Hands On Some Top Secret Documents About Ukraine

Bellingcat has a truly amazing report out this week detailing how top secret files about the war in Ukraine ended up in Discord servers for Minecraft and for the fans of a Filipino influencer named WowMao.

It seems like the trail went like this:

  1. The documents were leaked to the Discord servers

  2. Then to a pro-Russian Telegram group

  3. Then to 4chan’s /pol/

Which I feel like actually inadvertently paints a really interesting picture of what a certain corner of the internet looks like right now. Funniest of all, according to Bellingcat, the documents were uploaded to Discord because two Minecraft players were having a fight about the war.

A few folks, though, were surprised it was Minecraft players involved with the leak, because, as I’ve written about before, usually this kind of military intelligence is being passed around by War Thunder players.

Marc Rebillet Is Going Outside

Live looper Marc Rebillet is doing a series of livestreams where he’s setting up shop out in public and playing hour-long sets. The newest one from New York is great.

Rebillet is an interesting creator. He was already getting a lot of attention for live looping before the pandemic, but what I would argue was his major breakthrough moment, “HOW TO FUNK IN TWO MINUTES,” dropped about two months before lockdown and I know, personally, spent a lot of time watching his stuff and using it as a parasocial replacement and psychological crutch to withstand the crushing isolation of 2020.

Anyways, what I think is especially cool is how he has really exploded in popularity to the point where he’s playing massive international festivals now. And as we get more distance from 2020 I think we will start to figure out what was a weird pandemic flash in the pan and what was the real deal and I think for a lot of creators it was a real super-charge moment.

Speaking of YouTube musicians that are the real deal…

Fred Again Did Tiny Desk

Spoiler: he plays the desk.

Look, If You Find Yourself Having To Define Your Opinion On Public Hangings, It’s Probably Time To Put Your Phone Down For A Little Bit

A woman named Michelle Tandler went viral in a bad way over the weekend after writing a lengthy thread about homeless people that the ended with her pontificating about whether or not bringing back public hangings for drug crime would make San Fransisco a safer city to live in. You can read the thread here if you so choose. There’s all kinds of chatter also about how this thread isn’t surprising if you’re familiar with Tandler’s politics. But I’d like to use this opportunity to make a different point.

Social media is complicated. It’s not easy to get it right all of the time. The line between a fire tweet and the incoherent ramblings of a madmen is thinner than ever. And I would know. I’d say at least once a week I tweet something completely unnecessary and it’s ends up ruining my whole day because everyone starts yelling at me. But even I, at my most wild, would probably stop and reflect a little if I suddenly realized I had to convince people that I wasn’t advocating for public lynchings. At the very least, I’m pretty sure someone in my life would care about me enough to call me up and say, “Hey, you’ve been screeching about nonsense on the internet for two days straight. You gotta take a break.” And whenever I see someone go on a multi-day threading adventure like this one, I just wonder why someone isn’t telling them the same thing. Don’t you have like a family member or friend or, heck, a coworker, even, who could tell you to take a walk around the block and cool off?

A Guy On TikTok Is Making Elaborate Meals For His Mice

This is all I want in the whole entire world, I think.

Some Stray Links

P.S. here’s a cool piece of audio history.

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

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