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Last month, Wall Street Journal columnist Andy Kessler wrote a piece called “Online Speech Wars Are Here to Stay”. The piece argues that American policymakers who want to regulate the web are probably actually just going to make the internet worse. That’s a valid opinion. As someone who has spent a lot of time outside of America, I can confidently say that we have terrible media regulation. *Joker voice* You can air as many pharmaceutical ads on TV as you want, but everyone loses their mind if you say a swear word or show a nipple.
Anyways, Kessler, in his piece, argued that getting rid of anonymity on social media could be what actually fixes the internet instead of regulation. Interesting that the Wall Street Journal is promoting a solution that would require more work for average people in lieu of the government having any oversight on huge corporations.
Tech Dirt’s Mike Masnick then wrote an a piece responding to the Wall Street Journal article titled, “No, Getting Rid Of Anonymity Will Not Fix Social Media; It Will Cause More Problems” at the start of February. Kessler’s piece is extremely good and worth reading in full. He summarizes his pro-anonymity stance thusly: “There are three big problems with [eliminating anonymity from the social media]: It's unconstitutional. It doesn't work. It creates real harms & puts marginalized and vulnerable people at risk.” All very good points. I agree!
Then, last week, Jon Lai, a partner with Andreessen Horowitz, wrote a big thread about the role of anonymity on the internet. Lai argues that all social products should decide if their users are anonymous or verified before they reach a certain scale. He also points out that while most mainstream platforms require semi-to-totally-verified users like Facebook and TikTok, online gaming platforms like Fortnite are where most people are interacting fully anonymously nowadays. Which is something I hadn’t thought about! I also agree with Lai here. I think having a mix of anonymous and non-anonymous users is toxic and one of the way reasons Twitter is such a nightmare currently.
Like most folks, my thoughts on anonymity, the networking power of the internet, and moderation have evolved considerably in the last decade. If you asked me about all of this in 2010, I’d push aside my floppy indie bangs and tell you that the entire internet should be anonymous. Nothing should be verifiable, everything should be piratable, and if any normies can’t handle the digital chaos, it’s their fault.
Nowadays, I actually think all three of the takes above are partially correct. I agree with Kessler that the government should not regulate how we communicate online. Which is why I think it makes more sense to go after internet communities from an antitrust angle. I agree with Masnick that online anonymity is a constitutional right. And I agree with Lai that it’s the platforms’ responsibility to decide whether users can be anonymous or not.
It’s hard to imagine now, but the word “anonymous” wasn’t always associated with something political or radical. There are been thousands of internet communities over the years that have managed to maintain healthy — though chaotic — anonymous user bases. In fact, there are even non-radical (or less radical) parts of 4chan. I have friends who have used 4chan’s cooking board to learn to make bread and for a little while 4chan’s LGBT board was an aggressively open queer space.
I assume we are far from done with the anonymous discourse. Right-wing Substack bundle The Dispatch is pushing for the end of anonymity. The Columbia Journalism Review is wants to protect it. In fact, it seems like the death of anonymity could be conservatives’ next big project. Which is, of course, ironic because all of their most vocal supporters have spent the last year dissecting Q drops on Twitter accounts with names like hentaisimp1488 and based_kekistan_wizard.
I also suspect that, in a very typical move for Americans trying to do anything complicated, the entire debate around regulating online mega-platforms could somehow end up being about anonymity. Even though the majority of the Facebook-brained militia yogis that stormed the Capitol were proudly posting and livestreaming under their real names! But huge internet platforms are desperate for a way to shirk any kind of real responsibility for the effects of their products and Washington is equally desperate for a way to crack down on these companies in a nice and simple how-do-I-rotate-PDF kind of way. Which makes me worried this whole thing could end up resulting in the end of anonymity online and not about the much-needed busting of monopolies.
Untangling The Wine Guy Thing
There’s an account called That Wine Guy that just posts weird stuff about wine next to the same filtered face. It’s very strange and it appeared out of nowhere this month and has 10,000 followers. There’s a very odd meta-plot line happening on the account about the Wine Guy coming out.
Making things weirder, apparently the photo is actually of Jason Harris, a history teacher who lives in Japan. The account had Harris blocked.
Making things EVEN weirder. A few days ago, Harris claimed to have DM’d with the people running the Wine Guy account and they’re “all good”.
But the account is still posting using Harris’s face. So, uh, can anyone tell me what’s happening here???
The Far-Right Find A New Video Platform
Another livestreaming video platform for gamers is having a far-right extremism problem. Weird how that keeps happening. Previously, the blockchain-based Twitch-knockoff DLive was hosting streams from insurrectionist Baked Alaska and Groyper leader Nic Fuentes. It has banned both. And the site is currently being investigated by Congress. Also, if you’re looking for a good meaty feature on DLive, this Fast Company one is the best look at the site I’ve seen so far.
Earlier this week, Ali Alexander, the organizer of the Stop The Steal movement, resurfaced on Trovo. I had never heard of Trovo before, but it’s owned by Tencent. It was originally called Madcat and is part of the Chinese mega-corporation’s plans for international expansion. Trovo’s been scooping up some decent streaming talent by offering a $30 million partnership program.
Alexander has essentially been in hiding since the attempted coup last month. And he used Trovo this week to threaten to overthrow the government. His following is pretty small, about 100 subscribers.
But Alexander’s presence on Trovo should be an interesting test for Tencent. The company wants to be the global brand for all things gaming and livestreaming. Which sort of go hand-in-hand. But the problem is, at least in the US, that that community is also ground zero for white nationalist terrorism. In fact, if you go over to Alexander’s still very-much active channel on Trovo, it recommends a bunch of other right-wing content. This morning, it suggested I check out the David Knight Show, which seems like a pretty hard-line libertarian talk show, and channel called The Honkening, which this morning, was literally just streaming Info Wars!
All of this means that Alexander probably isn’t the only far-right influencer currently making a home on Trovo. I assume Tencent won’t have any free speech concerns that prevent them from deplatforming the entire network of extremists using their site, but it seems like this endless game of extremist whack-a-mole is so far from over.
Trish Paytas Appears to Be Buying Adam Sandler’s Clothes
You know, I think I really like Trish Paytas! Her emo EP was pretty good, her music video was really well-done, and her presence as a long-standing Tumblr meme over the years has just been really nice. I’m beginning to think that she’s a genuinely clever and creative person who, if she wasn’t an “influencer,” would be considered a legitimate comedian, or at least, a funny entertainer. Her latest thing on Instagram seems to be buying famous outfits worn in various Adam Sandler Movies, like the one above from The Longest Yard. She also claims to have bought Sandler’s outfit from Don’t Mess With The Zohan. I’m obsessed.
Not to get too Big Brain Hours here, but this is all making me wonder how many other people working as “influencers” right now are actually being overlooked in terms of their genuine creative output. This is sort of the weird Faustian bargain of internet fame. If you’re someone who has been shut out of traditional professional spaces, whether it’s writing, acting, modeling, filmmaking, or whatever, and you build up a following online, no matter how big you get, you’ll never really be able to crossover. Or at least, no one really has, yet.
I assume this is largely to do with the class divide between people who can afford to take the gamble on, say, going to film school or trying to pursue a successful career in the media or entertainment industries and those who can’t. There will always be a sneer from the establishment no matter how good you are. But I also think that to get any real success on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, you have to completely debase yourself, for sometimes years. I assume this is also by design. One, it’s a house always wins situation for companies like YouTube. But also it’s too make sure you can’t just leapfrog out of their video game and go get a non-soul-crushing job on TV or something. Just one rigged system being traded for shinier new one, I guess.
I know that if this is seen by Trish Paytas stans they will swarm me, furious that I am just now realizing this. Please do not cyberbully me. I am now firmly on your side.
The Guy Who Wrote “Friday” Makes Weird Videos About Trump Now
This was sent to me by Twitter user @spamofthemic. I totally didn’t notice on Wednesday that Patrice Wilson, the producer and songwriter of Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” has pivoted into being a Trump guy now.
Wilson was running ARK Music Factory when he released Black’s single ten years ago. ARK would charge young girls several thousands dollars to create pop songs for them. This incubator-like program is what Black was part of. The whole operation was, uh, extremely off-putting, to say the least.
ARK’s website no longer works. And the YouTube channel that Wilson was using is now called Naked Wire Network. It posts a bunch of unlisted videos, so it’s hard to tell the exact amount of content it’s creating. But most of the videos seem to be really horny America-themed pop songs or weirdly violent and intense Trump videos. Much like Rebecca Black becoming a cool and successful hyperpop artist, it also feels fitting that the weird “factory” that made “Friday” is now pumping out whatever the heck this is.
A Truly Upsetting Twitter Thread About Pikachu
This was sent to me by my friend Jamie. Last month, a Twitter user tweeted that they were watching a show about cakes on Food Network.
Unfortunately, Food Network decided to quote-tweet this and said thank you, sending out this extremely cursed picture of Pikachu to its 4.7 million followers.
As you can imagine, the replies to this tweet are… Not Good. I won’t be embedding any of them here, but you can click through and explore it all for yourself if you’d like. All I’ll say is, I regularly forget that there is a big overlap between Pokémon fans and furries!
Speaking of furries…
I Regret To Inform You That Furries Are At It Again
If you can get passed the central premise — furries using VR and animal-shaped sex toys to remotely bang each other — it’s actually a really really interesting article about technology and intimacy.
I love making fun of furries because they are inherently ridiculous. Also, most furries I know also think they’re ridiculous and there’s a tremendous amount of self-aware camp to the entire subculture. But I also have a lot of respect for them. My long-held belief is that furries are about 10 years ahead of the rest of the population in terms of our evolving relationship with the internet. The community has effectively solved most the online issues that plague the rest of us:
They routinely switch between multiple identities and avatars without much issue.
They can navigate between ironic and non-ironic aesthetics and understand how that kind of behavior has to be kept in check before it leads to extremism.
And they intrinsically understand that digital life is a LARP, but not any less impactful because it’s a LARP.
What I’m saying is, read the piece because teledildonics is our future, people!
A Good Tweet
And Finally, I Made A Thing
I uploaded this earlier this week and figured I’d throw it in Garbage Day. I’ve been spending lockdown 1) fantasizing about being in crowded bars again 2) listening to old music I liked in high school and 3) learning how to use Ableton. So this is the result of all of that! If you’ve ever wanted to hear an emo Girl Talk set, this might be the mix for you!
P.S. here’s a cool Rubik’s Cube video.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***