Read to the end for an extremely good beatboxing video
A Theory On Twitter Brain
In September of last year, Twitter user @haircut_hippie described the “extraordinarily defensive” writing style used by a lot of Twitter power users. It’s a type of writing that I’ve been calling “posting neurosis” and I don’t think it’s specific to Twitter. I think it’s actually part of what makes the Wadsworth Constant so true, which is the internet axiom from 2011 that states that you can safely skip the first 30% of any YouTube video and not miss anything. A lot of popular video essayists tend to jam a lot of asides and pre-apologies and content warnings and responses to fictitious angry reactions from hypothetical viewers right at the beginning. But because Twitter is the most socially important internet platform in America and also the one that emphasizes brevity via its tight character limit, this kind of recursive communication style is definitely more noticeable there.
But posting neurosis isn’t responding to something that doesn’t exist. There are a lot of people who use social media that become violently enraged if they view content that somehow doesn’t completely and totally align with their worldview. I’m also talking about a specific kind of internet toxicity here. I’m not talking about racist trolls or violent extremists, I’m talking about essentially online manspreaders. People who seem to compulsively need to assert their own point of view in the comments and replies of other people’s content. These people tend to show up most prominently in fandoms, but they can show up anywhere.
And there have been a lot of attempts since @haircut_hippie’s tweet to figure out exactly what is causing this. One popular TikTok from earlier this month described this phenomenon as “TikTok turning into Tumblr, which has already happened to Twitter.” Which is an interesting way to put it. Especially because Tumblr is a largely non-algorithmic website, while Twitter and TikTok are not. Which means, if there’s any truth to this idea, it might not be something we can blame on recommendation algorithms.
To unpack that idea more, for a lot of users, especially ones who were active in fandom spaces, there’s a consensus that Tumblr between 2012-2017 was a wildly toxic place and then, after the site banned pornography in December 2018, that toxicity went over to Twitter. I’ve had a few big Tumblr users tell me over the years that the site’s pornographic communities didn’t make things toxic, but the presence of NSFW content on the site created a culture without healthy boundaries between users. As one user told me, the people who are comfortable being horny on main also tend to be the people who are most comfortable brigading other users for no reason. And, a couple years ago, I actually tried to do the math on this to figure out if there was any truth to this.
According to data from that time period, about 150 million users left Tumblr at the end of 2018. During the same winter, Twitter was actually losing followers, but, by the spring, had gained about 10 million users. So, in a sense, you can say that, yes, Twitter grew after Tumblr’s porn ban. Though, there’s no real way to prove that it was specifically Tumblr users who migrated to Twitter. The Trump presidency made Twitter the center of the universe for a while, so it’s understandable that the user base would grow at that time. But since doing that research, I have wondered if the bulk of community moderation problems on major social networks is actually about managing the toxic behavior of the same 5-10 million people who move around the web being terrible to each other. And, for what’s it’s worth, I do know one truly horrible Tumblr user who was an active fandom bully on that site who is now doing the same stuff on Twitter.
This week, Twitter user @PublicChaffinch was able to catch this kind of deranged entitlement in the wild. If you don’t feel like clicking through on the screenshots below, the account @WholesomeMemes shared a children’s drawing about how they would buy a dog for $100 and then users started yelling at the account for sharing an image that promoted “buying animals” and also not having enough money to care for the dog you do buy.
But what’s interesting is that, at least based on anecdotal evidence (or vibes), this kind of behavior tends to feel like it can get worse, or, in Tumblr’s case, get better over time. Which would mean that it’s happening in reaction to something. Which makes me think it’s not something inherent to a particular user experience choice. And, as I said above, it can happen on YouTube, or Reddit, or anywhere really. So perhaps there’s something else happening here that can actually happen anywhere online.
Instead, what if this kind of behavior is actually a reaction to a social network’s irl cultural importance? What if it’s not that TikTok is becoming Twitter which became Tumblr, but what if it’s that when a social network gets popular, particularly with very young or very old people, who don’t know how to communicate properly online, that website becomes toxic and stays toxic until the site becomes irrelevant and those users decide to move on to somewhere else? What if there is a large cohort of entitled users who are moving from site to site, making them worse, but what if it’s simply what we used to call “casuals”? In fact, last year, after interviewing a lot of people who found themselves at the center of various Tumblr dramas in the mid-2010s, I discovered that, in most instances, everyone involved was a teenager. So what if Twitter brain, as we think of it, is actually a modern version of another very old internet axiom, “Eternal September,” where new users flock to a popular internet community and obliterate its social norms. And, if that’s true, that would make Twitter Brain one of the oldest problems on the internet and possibly one that we might not ever actually solve.
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Where’d All The World Economic Forum Stuff Come From?
If you’re suddenly seeing weird World Economic Forum content everywhere this week, it appears to be a coordinated campaign from right-wing influencers who are trying to find a new foothold in the Freedom Convoy narrative now that that’s all over. I’ve got a good deep dive on the convoy over at The Verge if you’re looking for a catch-up.
As protesters in Ottawa were getting arrested over the weekend, American conservatives started circulating the above fake tweet about lowing age of consent laws from the World Economic Forum. You’re forgiven for not knowing how the World Economic Forum is connected to the truckers convoy. Basically, there’s a conspiracy theory that liberal elites like Justin Trudeau are working with the World Economic Forum to use COVID mandates to take over the world. And I, actually, place the blame for this on the World Economic Forum for naming their COVID and climate recovery program “The Great Reset”. Even worse, they made the tagline of “The Great Reset” in certain videos promoting it: “You will own nothing, and you will be happy.”
If I was an organization made up of the richest people in the world, I simply would not do that, but, hey, maybe I’m different.
The “Great Reset” conspiracy has been kicking around since last year, but Rebel Media founder Ezra Levant decided to dust it off and bring it back out over the weekend, tweeting about how Trudeau’s deputy, Chystia Freeland, is a director for the World Economic Forum. And since then, there’s been a torrent of Great Reset content flooding Facebook and Twitter, to the point where Twitter had to make a moment factchecking some of it. Though, Twitter’s factchecking is full of completely uncritical promotion for the World Economic Forum, which, once again, if I were a company constantly accused of censoring people to support a cabal run by the global elite, I, simply, would not do that.
Anyways, as with all of these sorts of things, I think the most interesting dimension to this is how right-wing conspiracy theories have, at this point, become a complete alternate universe that can be called up like this to keep users satiated and active.
Oh, and just for anyone who doesn’t understand how Joe Rogan fits into this ecosystem, four days ago, he put out an episode with Maajid Nawaz, a British columnist and anti-Islamic extremism expert. And you’ll never guess what part of Rogan and Nawaz’s conversation went viral right as convoy supporters were pivoting to Great Reset content: A claim from Nawaz alleging the World Economic Forum is using COVID lockdowns to infiltrate governments around the world and create some kind of social credit score.
A 20-Year-Old Bottle Of Ketchup Is Finally Opened
Matt Carracappas, the creator of the site Dinosaur Dracula, told his Twitter followers that if they retweeted him over 5,000 times, he would post a video of him opening a very old bottle of Heinz EZ Squirt ketchup, which could have come in the colors passion pink, awesome orange, or totally teal. Well, his initial tweet was retweeted 15,000 times, so obviously he had to deliver. Last night, he finally opened the ketchup.
If you don’t want to watch the video, it turns out the ketchup went very very rancid. The color was kind of like curdled blood and he said he didn’t really smell like ketchup anymore. Cool!
Going Down The Gender Critical Rabbit Hole
Nonbinary YouTube creator Caelan Conrad created a really intense and extensive documentary about the gender critical movement. They also created a handy landing page for all their research, including a database of some of the worst content they came across during their investigation. Also, another thing I really liked about this is that Conrad’s TERF alias is named “Carol Marinara” lol.
I think it can be hard to get a good sense of how the anti-trans gender critical movement operates just like any other radicalized online space and Conrad’s videos do a pretty good job of showing how it uses the same kind of dog whistles and the same kind of indoctrination that you would see with something like QAnon.
A Redditor Worries About Being Punk
Reddit user u/amberino924 poised a very interesting question to Reddit’s r/punk subreddit. They wanted to know if they were still punk even if they dipped a cookie in their hot chocolate sometimes. Luckily, the commenters were very supportive:
“Don't let some fucking poser tell you it's not punk to enjoy a chocolate chip cookie and some hot coco from time to time”
“Everything i do is punk because i say it is, including knitting”
“I build epic castles in Minecraft”
Another Redditor Does Some Math
A Reddit user named u/Mt_Thimble did some really top-notch analysis of the reverse snap from Avengers: Endgame (the moment when Professor Hulk undid Thanos’ snap, returning the population of half the universe in a single instant). u/Mt_Thimble wanted to figure out how many people would have been reverse-snapped into a Doubly Occupied Toilet Encounter, or DOTE, as the author calls them. Basically, what if you were snapped on the toilet, and reverse snapped onto someone’s lap.
According to u/Mt_Thimbe’s research, it seems like it could be as high as 50,000 people who were snapped back into reality and had an awkward run in with someone else using the bathroom. You can read the whole white paper about this here.
Shawn Mendes Knows You’re Photoshopping Him Pregnant
So I just saw this on Tumblr this week. Last fall, an Instagram account called mpregcelebs, which photoshops pictures of male celebrities apregnant, posted a photo of singer Shawn Mendes as, you know, pregnant. If you’ve never heard of mpreg before, or “male pregnancy,” just know, it’s a thing. It’s been around for a while. There’s a lot of mpreg art about Sonic the Hedgehog. No, I don’t know why (though, I have some theories).
Anyways, apparently this picture got shared around enough that it caught Mendes’ attention, who left a comment, writing, “This is just I don’t this makes me feel super I mean it’s just kinda,” which I assume is meant to be read as, “This is just… I don’t — this makes me feel super… I mean, it’s just kinda…”
It seems like this was a pretty big moment for mpregcelebs, though, because they were posting a lot of Shawn Mendes pregnant edits before this and, while the account isn’t active anymore, hey did end up making Mendes’ comment their profile picture.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s an extremely good beatboxing video.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***