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Social media is just a thing that happens

Read to the end for a real good Reddit post

The Indelible Human Urge To Make Anime AMVs

When I was a teenager in the early 2000s, my family upgraded our home computer to Windows XP and we got a DSL modem. I quietly installed a little program called Kazaa, hoped I wouldn’t get a letter telling me I was being sued, and pretty quickly fell down a rabbit hole of internet content and digital piracy that would lead me, well, to eventually writing this very newsletter.

During that early Kazaa period, I remember having a sort of revolutionary moment. I was on a real kick of downloading fan-made music videos, or AMVs, where were clips mainly taken from pirated anime DVDs that were then edited together with popular songs. And there was one AMV that I really liked which was a bunch of scenes from the anime Cowboy Bebop set to the song “Smooth Criminal”. I have tried to find it again in the years since and I came across two YouTube uploads — one set to Michael Jackson’s version of the song and one set to Alien Ant Farm’s. It could have been either or neither. It’s been a long time.

But the revolutionary moment was when I realized that I had a software on Windows XP called Movie Maker that would, in theory, let me make my own AMVs. So I took some footages from the cutscenes of the video game Kingdom Hearts and mashed it up with Good Charlotte’s “Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous” and I thought it slapped, so I uploaded it to Kazaa. I have no idea if anyone ever saw it, but I felt really cool that I had, in some small way, put something of mine out into the world.

Years after I had moved from Kazaa to BitTorrent (before my college banned it), I bumped into someone at a Comic Con and we got to talking and somehow the Cowboy Bebop “Smooth Criminal” Kazaa AMV came up. He said he not only knew exactly what I was talking about but, also, claimed he had made it. I have no way to prove he was telling the truth, and it’s a weird thing to lie about, but people are weird.

Hearing that my own very isolated Kazaa experience was actually a shared one was as if someone had told me they had had the same dream as me. It was exhilarating and destabilizing (if they were lying). And the point is that long before we were all connected online via Facebook or Twitter, people were encountering the same pieces of content, making their own and sharing it, and finding, albeit awkward, ways of talking about in real life.

In VICE this week, Edward Ongweso Jr proclaimed, “Social Media Is Dead,” writing that “true social media doesn’t actually exist, and never did.” And Ongweso’s argument is compelling, that what we’ve been calling social media for the last 15 years is a “paltry simulacrum of sociality in service of behavior modification and profit maximization.” I would say this is correct, but I think that, like me making a Good Charlotte AMV as a teenager, social media is also just a thing that happens when you have an internet connection.

Everywhere you look right now big tech platforms are falling apart. Musk’s Twitter is down as much as a million users since he took over. And engineers for the site are warning it’ll start breaking at a structural level very soon (my DMs have already stopped working properly). This morning, Facebook announced it was laying off 11,000 employees or around 13% of their staff. And layoffs are tearing through other social companies like Snap, Patreon, and Cameo. Now, it’s likely that a lot of this is largely to do with a huge “post”-COVID digital slump that’s happening to the e-commerce and the ad market right now, but, also, exactly how long did big tech companies think they could monopolize behaviors that are, in my opinion, innate?

I’m not sure I think this is all really as apocalyptic as some folks on Twitter writing eulogies to posting are making out to be. But I am concerned about a few things right now. I worry about content creators in the Global South who just started to get a foot in the door losing access to their audiences. I worry about marginalized groups who have been able to finally get some version of their voices heard by those in power. I worry about older users who rely on the internet for human connection and information and have long deserved better internet experiences than what they currently get from companies like Meta. And I worry that out of the wreckage of the bad old platforms rises a million twee-authoritarian TikTok clones that turn our passions and curiosities into fuel for an all-seeing A.I. But, last week, I asked you all a question: “How do we find each other again?” And I think the answer is we won’t have to. No one’s really going anywhere. We just have to wait for these bozos to give up.

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Two Nice Photos

Making Sense Of The FTX Stuff

FTX was one of the larger crypto currency exchanges, with over a million users and a valuation of an outrageous $18 billion. Its founder, the 30-year-old Sam Bankman-Fried, also quickly made a name for himself by, basically, not being totally evil. He seemed genuinely interested mildly progressive causes and even earned himself a nice Politico feature back in August about his newfound Democratic megadonor status.

On Tuesday, Bankman-Fried, in a five-part Twitter thread, not-quite announced that FTX was being purchased by crypto exchange Binance due to a “liquidity crunch” (FTX didn’t have money anymore). Binance’s Changpeng "CZ" Zhao then confirmed that Bankman-Fried had signed a non-binding agreement for Binance to acquire FTX. Though, Coindesk is reporting that Binance might back out. Fun fact: I saw Zhao speak at Web Summit last week and he told a packed stadium on opening night that crypto wasn’t a volatile industry and the crowd literally laughed at him. Seems like a cool guy.

Anyways, Bloomberg reports that Bankman-Fried has lost about 94% of his $16 billion fortune. That’s bad right? Ed Zitron wrote a pretty thorough teardown of Bankman-Fried and FTX, positing that there’s a very good chance Bankman-Fried is actually a bit of a, as Zitron put it, Bankman-Fraud lol. “This industry desperately needed Sam Bankman-Fried to keep being the respectable gentleman of the cryptocurrency world,” Zitron wrote. “Having SBF attend events with Bloomberg and say smart things about the economy was useful, because it suggested that there were executives in this industry that could both legally visit America and not commit massive amounts of fraud.”

But the real interesting question mark here is what this means for Tom Brady. As a man from Boston I am always asking myself that question. Brady and now-ex-wife Gisele Bündchen reportedly had equity stakes in FTX that are now also assumedly ethered into nothing.

You know how in disaster movies there’s that really tense and mundane 20 minutes before the disaster shows up on screen? All the characters are sort of minding their own business, grabbing a coffee or heading to the office, ignoring the news chyrons in the background saying things like “scientists report a mega tidal wave could kill us all” or whatever? It sort of feels like the entirety of Silicon Valley is currently living through that 20 minutes.

Elon Musk Was Ratio’d By The Eiffel Tower

Per the invaluable Populism Updates, this week French streamer Arkunir ratio’d Elon Musk, calling out Musk for deleting tweets that are getting dunked on by users. And the official Eiffel Tower Twitter account, which I didn’t realize was kind of sassy — though I suppose that makes sense — decided to jump in. Click in to see the full meme:

Time For Another Round Of Deepfake Panic

A few years ago, it felt as if a bunch of tech journalists and academics spun a big wheel and were like, “we’re all going to freak out about deepfakes now.” There were endless articles written about politically weaponizing deepfake technology for disinformation purposes and, I think, a lot of that hubbub eclipsed the real main danger of deepfakes, which is the creation of nonconsensual sexually exploitative content, which is still a huge problem with no clear path to stop it. I find that there is a certain pocket of the technology space that loves to endlessly whine that average people are too stupid or “media illiterate” to understand internet content, but also seem to be way too squeamish to address the actual ways normal people are already using that technology to terrorize each other.

But the other thing that has been eclipsed by the deepfake panic is that the technology doesn’t have to be used for evil. And can even be kind of cool? Case in point: this video created by impressionist Jim Meskimen who recently used deepfake technology to create a TikTok where his face morphed as he read a poem in various celebrities voices.

Is it a little unnerving? Sure! But it’s also really neat and super impressive. I’ve been trying to take an even-handed approach to A.I.-influenced art and content because I think there’s a lot of hysteria around it that’s drowning out some genuinely exciting uses of it and I think this is a good example. Is it an increasingly pressing ethical conundrum? You bet. But I do think we need to stop sometimes and be like, “wow, cool vid.”

Tumblr Users Ward Off Twitter Refugees With Cringe

Just so you know, Tumblr users are pumping out a bunch of extremely embarrassing posts right now, hoping to scare off Twitter users who might be curious about rejoining the site. Actor Ryan Reynolds announced he was decamping from Twitter to Tumblr and that has really riled up the users on Tumblr. It’s bit of a “damn bitch you live like this” situation at the moment. There are basically no real celebrities on Tumblr anymore, with author Neil Gaiman and Taylor Swift being the last real irl famous people on the app (that I’m aware of).

Do I think Tumblr could actually replace Twitter? No, but I do think it’s a good third space between Instagram and Twitter and I hope more people start to use it.

I’ve been trying to find a way to include this in an issue for a while now, but I haven’t been able to, so I’m going to jam it in here even if it doesn’t totally work: George RR Martin used LiveJournal as a blogging platform up until 2018. Because he liked it! And also he’s a smart enough guy to know that you don’t need to be everywhere and it’s ok to carve out your own space on the internet. So my hope is that maybe amid all of the Musk-ian chaos happening on Twitter right now, a bunch of celebrities and creators find other pockets of the web and just, you know, chill there for a while. Go find a little internet home and don’t worry about the rest.

An Extremely Funny YouTube Meme

I can’t believe it. A new YouTube meme. And it’s good! The video above takes footage from the Hulu documentary series McCartney 3,2,1 and users are replacing the song that Paul McCartney and Rick Rubin are listening to. Here’s another one with Cannibal Corpse. Fantastic stuff.

A Good Tweet

Some Stray Links

P.S. here’s a real good Reddit post.

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

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