The announcement of Elon Musk’s imminent purchase of Twitter this week kicked off yet another round of tweets from users threatening to move to Tumblr. Which then kicked off another round of responses from long-time Tumblr users — myself included — saying, “lol Tumblr can be just as toxic.” Though two interesting details have emerged that might mean these weren’t just idle threats. Twitter confirmed to NBC News that several high-profile conservatives saw huge upticks in followers this week, while liberals and certain celebrities saw dramatic decreases. And even more curious, Matt Mullenwag, the founder of Automattic, the company that owns Tumblr, tweeted that Tumblr saw a 19% bump in new user registration yesterday.
I subscribe to the theory that huge shifts in internet culture typically coincide with users mass-migrating from one site to another. Something Awful goons breaking away to form 4chan in 2003 is the example that’s perhaps the most impactful and easiest to study, but this includes Reddit’s r/The_Donald getting spun off into its own site, 4chan users leaving to start 8chan, and right-wing Twitter users flocking to Parler and then using it to help plan the insurrection. Historically, big things tend to happen when users leave one site for another.
Among certain corners of the internet, there’s a long-running meme that after Tumblr’s porn ban all the bad users left for Twitter. I’ve written about this a bunch and also have been keeping a little list of toxic Tumblr posters who do seem to have abandoned the site around 2018 and moved over to Twitter. I’ve found about a dozen. No, I won’t be naming names, as internet infamous as some still are, they’re just random people. But I can say that they are politically all over the spectrum. Based on math I’ve tried to do looking at user metrics for both sites between 2018-2019, I think it’s possible that 5-10 million people may have gone from Tumblr to Twitter after the ban, but I’m not sure we’ll ever know.
There’s lots of theories as to why annoying users would leave Tumblr for Twitter following a porn ban, but most of the popular arguments tend to circle around a similar point to one I heard floated by the moderators of a large Penis SMP Discord. The Penis SMP was a Minecraft-related roleplaying campaign that was really popular with Tumblr users last year. While reporting on a story about it for Polygon, the young Tumblr users I was interviewing posited that people who spend time on a platform that allows NSFW content may also be comfortable with other forms of digital boundary pushing. “Maybe people who are comfortable sharing porn on main also love internet drama,” they wondered.
This all lines up with another internet axiom, Bidoof’s Law, which states, “will there ever be anything more timelessly funnier on this site than seeing some joyless idiot asserting their stupid controversial worldviews internet toughguy style and then checking their blog and they’re just, completely openly and shamelessly addicted to hentai.” But I think the porn thing is only a piece of this.
Modern social platforms have learned that compressing our internet experience at the expense of our sanity means we use their products longer, thus making them more money. And I actually tend think conservatives like Ben Shapiro are being genuine when they say they think Twitter is a left-wing website. For a lot of people, regardless of political affiliation, websites that run on centralized feeds of content, whether it’s algorithmic like Facebook or Instagram or chronological like Twitter and Tumblr, are inherently alienating. Maybe Shapiro looks at his feed and feels like he’s being piled on in the same way I do. For the last decade, researchers, journalists, and politicians have devoted a countless amount of energy to figuring out how the internet is radicalizing us, but what if it’s not the algorithms or the extremist groups, what if it’s just the feed? What if we just aren’t meant to consume an endless stream of content all jammed together into one place?
The other day, I put a shortened version of what I’ve written above in a Twitter thread. I speculated that there may just be a single cohort of around 5-10 million super-posters in the US who move from platform to platform causing trouble and cataclysmic moments like Tumblr’s porn ban or Musk’s purchase of Twitter act as an inflection point where they start thinking about moving elsewhere. And maybe that troublesome 5-10 million super-posters are also the people who have the biggest issues with feed-based internet platforms. Then my thread got a bunch of angry replies from people claiming I was saying we need to remove sex workers from the internet. Which, I didn’t say or mean in the slightest, but is honestly a very helpful way to illustrate the point I’m trying to make here.
I’m vehemently pro-sex worker and think they should be as free and open to post and able to monetize as the rest of us. But also sex workers’ livelihoods shouldn’t have to rely on singular feeds because no one should. In the same way I shouldn’t have to spend time on a website constantly worried that Ben Shapiro could accidentally see what I’m posting and sic his followers on me. And maybe using one feed for everything is why a bunch of people I don’t know or follow read my tweets, interpreted them in a way I never intended, and then became enraged over it. And I’m going to guess everyone reading this has had some version of the experience I just described. That’s because feeds suck!
The centralized feed experience across platforms works the same way: You follow people and brands and groups you’re interested in. Their content populates your feed. And then additional content is shared or recommended into your feed from either other users, via a sharing function, an algorithm, or both. I think there are a lot of users who are both very easily addicted to this kind of thing and also react extremely negatively to content they don’t agree with entering their feeds. I know this because this is me. I can now recognize that my first impulse when seeing internet content I don’t like or agree entering my feed is to react really violently to it. I mean, Twitter’s brief experiment with an algorithmic timeline gave me literal migraines.
I’ve seen arguments on Twitter from liberal users this week saying things like, “Twitter is a public square and the front page of the internet, we must stay and fight the Musk fans and conservatives for it.” lol with all due respect, but why? The main benefit of the internet is that it’s infinite. There doesn’t need to be a public square! And there can also be many! If a bunch of fascistic middle managers who use social media in ways that are imperceptible from bots want to spend their precious time on this planet simping for billionaires and conning each other with elaborate pyramid schemes, why do we have to stay? The answer to a Walmart choking out all other businesses and public spaces in a town is not to keep shopping at the Walmart to make sure it continues to stock your favorite cereal. It’s to burn it down (in Minecraft lol) and open some local businesses. This is doubly true for the internet.
Twitter, though smaller than other platforms, still monopolizes our culture more than any other. And very soon it will be owned by the richest man on Earth, a man who is desperate to leave Earth and will presumably use Twitter to rule us from space. But we don’t need to stay there. There’s nothing keeping us there. And I’d argue we can take it further. We now know that centralized feeds are just easy targets for despots and oligarchs (and whatever Mark Zuckerberg is) to capture and control. We need to throw it all out. Make websites and message boards and Discords and become ungovernable. Kill the central feed.
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A Very Real Video Of The Moon
I saw this ridiculous video of the “moon” trending last night. Twitter had a small fact-checking widget for it provided by a third party which I was thought was amazing because, I mean, c’mon lol. But I got curious about what kind of account posts this sort of thing.
The user that shared the video is named @BeachDog15 and I couldn’t gleam a ton of info about who runs it, but it shares a lot of French and British content and posts seemingly original photos and videos from the seaside, so I’m going to guess they’re maybe based in Brittany? Anyways, the account is kind of interesting because it’s clearly a middle-aged guy who uses Twitter to share pictures or random “cool facts” he’s come across around the web, like a boomer man Pinterest. I’m not totally clear how his moon video jumped to 60,000 retweets, but it’s offered a fascinating window into someone who is using the platform in a way that feels very different from other users.
He tweeted a reply to all the attention his video got which I thought was pretty funny too, writing, “Laughing at some of the replies to the moon video. Some people need to lighten up. It’s Twitter! Like it or don’t like. It’s a great clip and very clever.”
Fiverr For Metalcore Song Features
I came across this thanks to a recent YouTube video from Finn McKenty, a writer and podcaster who does great content about the business of the rock industry. According to McKenty, this website was causing a lot of drama in the “Djent shitposting Facebook group,” which is very funny.
This is basically a service that matches up bands with featured vocalists and guitarists. It’s called FeaturedX and while there are some rappers on here and other kinds of jobs associated with the music industry, it seems to be totally dominated by the lead singers from various metalcore and hardcore bands.
A lot of users in various heavy music communities were passing this around, claiming it was an example of musicians selling out, etc. Which is all dumb, of course, and I agree with McKenty that this is actually a cool idea. Furthermore, I think heavy music subcultures like metalcore, hardcore, and related genres are actually very interesting spaces for tracking advancements in internet culture. This music can’t really ever be mainstream, so they heavily rely on the internet to connect, share things, and collaborate. And hardcore message boards are especially fascinating in how they connect local social networks to digital ones. Unfortunately, they have been, also, historically, populated by the worst people to ever live, but it’s cool nonetheless. So I think it’s interesting that a bunch of heavy music artists have figured out how to make an online marketplace for features, which seems to be line with trends in rock music right now where vocalists, guitarists, and even drummers like Travis Barker are operating more like rappers and DJs or influencers and finding new ways to create content as solo operations.
But beyond all that, here’s a very important question: Should I hire the guy from Matchbook Romance to record a Garbage Day theme song for me?
The Province Of British Columbia’s Various Welcome Signs, Ranked
Justin McElroy, the municipal affairs reporter from Vancouver, not the podcaster, is currently ranking all of the welcome signs of British Columbia. He has a whole rubric for how he’s ranking them and said he’ll be doing this over the course of several days in the thread embedded above. If you didn’t know, the two Justin McElroy’s, the Canadian reporter and the goofy podcaster behind shows like My Brother, My Brother, And Me, get mixed up on Twitter a lot because their names are the same. And it’s usually funny because they have very different jobs. But weirdly enough I could actually picture both Justin McElroy’s doing this welcome sign ranking.
My Favorite Scene From The Batman
When Will The Supernatural Fandom Finally Know Peace?
If you’ve missed all of this, Supernatural fan favorite Misha Collins, who played the angel Castiel on the show, seemingly came out as bisexual at a fan convention this week. This lead to a huge celebration from the show’s very queer fanbase. Fans for more than decade shipped Collins’ character Castiel with another character named Dean (the ship name was known as #Destiel). Collins was also viewed by fans as someone who was on their side when it came to pushing for increased representation on the show for queer people and women. So this was a very big deal. Except, several days later, Collins had to explain that that’s not what happened at all.
I don’t know what this means really, but the thread continues on, with Collins explicitly saying he’s straight. As you can imagine, the whiplash within the Supernatural fandom, which is still reeling from the show’s series finale in which the #Destiel ship was finally confirmed as canon minutes before Collins’ character was killed off and sent to what fans describe as “super mega gay hell”.
Here’s a good video which was dropped into the Garbage Day Discord by user the other allegra, which summarizes the entire fallout and also incudes Collins’ bizarre convention speech which started this whole thing in the first place.
A Good Tweet About Whisks
Some Stray Links
“Facebook Doesn’t Know What It Does With Your Data, Or Where It Goes: Leaked Document”
P.S. here’s a really good GIF set.
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If twitter is the public square why are they so determined to maintain control of it? Doesn’t sound public to them.
Loved the Twitter write up, and I've been looking for one like it since Twitter started melting down over the Elon news. Some people seem to think it's the worst news ever--like Twitter was some bastion of free thought now under attack. Other people seem to think it's the best news ever--like Twitter was a cesspool of censorship that is being set free. The truth is Twitter just doesn't matter as much as all of these people think. Who owns it--or whatever you scream about on it--does not set the trajectory for Free Speech in the universe.
When I first became active on Twitter last year, I thought it would be a silly place, full of laughs. But almost every thread where I see someone make an obvious joke is immediately followed up by 1000 comments from people who took the joke seriously--people who could not see through VERY THINLY veiled sarcasm. Where'd the fun go? Why are we all so serious all the time?