The Batman of COVID TikTok

Read to the end for a real good thread about Ted Lasso

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The TikTok Anti-Vax Doxing Thing

I wrote about the TikTok user @rx0rcist back in April. If you’ve never seen her account before, she got big last spring for doxing antivaxxers. According to an NBC profile about @rx0rcist, whose real name is Savannah Sparks, she’s 31, she’s from Mississippi, and works as a lactation consultant and is a doctor of pharmacy. Her TikTok origin story is that she got sick of COVID misinformation on the platform and decided to start making her own videos debunking some of the dumbest and most dangerous pandemic content on the app.

All of this is understandable! TikTok has become a huge vector for dangerous COVID conspiracy theories and the app has some of the weakest and vaguest community guidelines of any major social app. But Sparks has branched out in the last six months, now going after, it seems like, any right-winger she comes across that she doesn’t like.

Three weeks ago, Sparks surfaced a video from Jessica Maiolo, a player on Team USA Paintball. I did not know the USA had a paintball team, but I guess there are international tournaments in Europe. Anyways, Maiolo had made a TikTok saying a kid on the news who was sick with COVID-19 was actually just in need of a “fucking treadmill.” Sparks dueted with the video on her account, which has half a million followers, and said that she’d be reporting the insensitive video to Team USA Paintball.

“I messaged them,” Sparks said in her first video about Maiolo. “And I’ll keep messaging them every day until you’re off the team because you are not a representation of this country.”

Maiolo was suspended and Team USA Paintball has released two different statements about how they don’t support bullying. And, by my count, Sparks has made at least four videos about Maiolo’s suspension.

A lot of the recent stories about what some would call “cancel culture” happening to random people tend to involve Sparks’ account. For instance, her videos were a big part of the push to identify the horrible New York City subway man. Sparks posted a full dox about him and contacted his family.

Sparks also has a network of other TikTok users who do similar kinds of content. Here’s a recent video that dramatizes Sparks’ doxing as almost like a Dragon Ball Z-esque power-up move. You can’t say it’s not compelling.

But all of this is, also, at least in my opinion, uncomfortable. The majority of Sparks’ videos are focusing on people who are somehow connected to the healthcare industry who are promoting pseudoscience or fearmongering or spreading straight-up dangerous conspiracy theories. Cyberbullying them into deactivating is, probably, as far as public health is concerned, ultimately a good thing. These users probably shouldn’t be on TikTok in the first place, let alone working in healthcare. The spread of anti-vax rhetoric within online spaces for nurses is both super common and honestly terrifying.

But, in a video from June, Sparks was actually accused of doxing and addressed it, saying it’s not doxing or against the platform’s terms of service to post other people’s Facebook profiles or court records on TikTok. Though, in another video, a few days later, Sparks posted a woman’s medical license number.

TikTok has anti-doxing guidelines, which were updated last December. They prohibit “threatening to hack or dox with an intent to harass or blackmail another individual” or causing “emotional distress and other offline harm.” And they define doxing as “the act of collecting and publishing personal data or personally identifiable information (PII) for malicious purposes.” TikTok also specifically prohibits sharing “an individual's account, personal data, or personally identifiable information for others to abuse, troll, or harass.” Which is basically Sparks’ whole schtick.

But Sparks is only the most visible tip of the TikTok doxing iceberg. Every action, every form of content, on the platform, becomes a trend. So as Sparks’ videos have begun to do better, as have the videos of others doing similar kinds of information warfare on each other, like mean commenters or members of opposite fandoms.

I think Sparks’ intentions are, for the most part, admirable. TikTok refuses to do anything about the absolutely malicious and dangerous medical misinfo spreading on their platform, which is extremely popular with young people, so Sparks and users like her are trying to police the platform themselves. But, also, if you believe that doxing is inherently an act of violence (which, as someone who has had photos of their own apartment sent to them by internet strangers before, I do) that fact doesn’t change if you don’t like someone’s politics.

Ultimately, this is TikTok’s fault. If Sparks is the Batman in this situation, TikTok would be the mayor of Gotham who refuses to do anything about the crime, I guess. Three weeks ago, TikTok overtook Facebook as the most-downloaded app in the world. And, if all of this is any indication of where its priorities are right now, it is absolutely not prepared for what that actually entails.

Donda Dropped

Kanye West’s Donda dropped this weekend. I wrote about Donda’s technological implications last week, arguing that the album’s bizarre livestreamed concerts were either an interesting way to explore our fractured remote hybrid online/offline world or just an elaborate way to delay Drake’s album (which is now finally dropping on Friday).

In terms of reviews, most places seem to be holding them until it’s clear whether or not the version of the album that’s out is here to stay. Though, it’s worth pointing out that The Independent’s Roisin O’Connor awarded the album no stars due to the album’s inclusion of DaBaby and Marilyn Manson. Also, Azealia Banks called it “music for hedgefund bros.”

I’ve only made it through the whole album like two times so far (it’s long), but my initial take is that it sounds like a bunch of B-sides and demos that West has tried to spin up into something more. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but, at least at this point, nothing on the album really stands out to me besides “Believe What I Say”. Donda feels like The Life Of Pablo, but without the edge or singles. One line from this Hollywood Reporter review of Donda has really stuck with me, though: “The only thing this feels apt for is listening to by yourself while scrolling Twitter. It’s disposable and completely forgettable, like so much of culture spat down to us during COVID.”

It’s also possible that everything about Donda changes over the next few weeks. Who knows! Being a Kanye fan is basically a prolonged exercise in learning to accept how annoying it is when someone has, seemingly, a complete authority over their own art.

Anyways, it’s sort of hard to really talk about the album until we know for sure that this is the actual version of the album that will stick around. So until things have settled down, here’s a funny thing:

Vanessa Carlton Has Some Explaining To Do

I came across this on Twitter the other day. A very observant Redditor noticed something that really throws a wrench in the entire narrative of Vanessa Carlton’s absolute banger, “A Thousand Miles”:

So in Vanessa Carlton's breakthrough 2001 hit, "A Thousand Miles", she clearly is bargaining with fate regarding her love interest saying, "You know I'd walk a thousand miles if I could just see you tonight." But she ignores the obvious fact that it is physically impossible to walk a thousand miles and still see someone that same night.

Excellent point! How could Carlton walk a thousand miles in just one night? Well, according to the top comment, there’s actually a way this could work. “Simple solution,” u/mephistomichael wrote. “The love interest has a dog named A Thousand Miles that she must take on a walk to tinkle before she can see the owner.”

There you go. All fixed!

Oh God, What If Flashmobs Come Back?

If you haven’t watched this deeply cringe James Corden video, please do. But, also, prepare yourself. It is pretty much a non-stop rollercoaster ride of secondhand embarrassment.

It also raises a very important and unsettling question. The biggest tech trend of 2021 is going outside and posting about it. There have been a ton of recent viral events that seem to support this, most recently, Adrian’s Kickback. Also, brands seem desperate to latch onto anything remotely uplifting because it’s very hard to advertise amid a prolonged mass casualty event. So, the question is, how long will it take for all of this to result in branded flashmobs again?

Also, here’s a good tweet about James Corden.

A Redditor Proposes To His Girlfriend

It’s not often you can call a post “delicious,” but this post? This is delicious. Let’s open it up and see what’s going on, shall we? u/HandHoldingClub wrote:

I found something that made my jaw drop. It was an NFT with significance to our life that she would love. I rushed to buy it with almost my entire life savings because I know this is a good one that could be worth a million when we're older.

I got down on one knee and presented her the NFT and she started crying. She said I was TA and that how could I do this. I explained to her that in ten years we could buy a mansion with this and it's a symbol of my love and devotion but she sees it as selfish and foolish.

In a TL;DR a little further down, u/HandHoldingClub explains that his girlfriend doesn’t like crypto because he “lost a significant amount of money” from trading already. Weird that she would be mad you got her an NFT instead of an engagement ring! The post was yanked down before I could send out my newsletter, but here’s a backup. Alright, let’s see what the comments say:

  • “She’s made it clear she doesn’t like your online dodge coins or whatever you do. And you propose with something like that??? UNBELIEVABLE”

  • “you have an addiction and need help”

  • “After losing repeatedly. Face it, you are a sell not a keep”

I went through this person’s user history and as much as I’d like to say this is a troll, all of their other content seems pretty earnest. And they’re very active in investment subreddits. So… 😬

The Rapping “Rick & Morty” At Someone’s Grave Meme

I’ve been following this meme for a little while now, but it’s been pretty hard to write about. Also, I wasn’t totally sure it was a meme, but now I’ve seen three examples of it, so, it’s a trend, baby. Basically, you go to a famous person’s grave and you rap the lyrics to Soulja Boy’s song, “Rick & Morty”. Why is that funny? Well, here is the chorus to “Rick & Morty”:

Rick and Morty, Rick and Morty (Yeah)

Rick and Morty, Rick and Morty

Rick, Rick, Rick, Rick

Rick, Rick, Rick, Rick, Rick

Rick and Morty (Yeah), Rick and Morty (Yeah)

Rick and Morty (Yeah), Rick and Morty

Rick, Rick, Rick, Rick

Rick, Rick, Rick, Rick, Rick

Rick and Morty, Rick and Morty

Rick and Morty, Rick and Morty

Rick, Rick, Rick, Rick

Rick, Rick, Rick, Rick, yeah

Anyways, in the video above, it’s someone rapping it in front of H.P. Lovecraft’s grave. But I’ve also seen people do it in front of Woodrow Wilson’s, as well. Here’s what I can’t figure out. Is this meme popular with actual Rick & Morty fans, is it being done by trolls who are making fun of Rick & Morty fans, or has the Rick & Morty fandom reached a level of weirdness and cringe where those two people are the same person?

A Good Tweet

China Cracks Down On Fandoms

Last week, I wrote about how the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has drafted a fascinating set of regulations for recommendation algorithms, which include easily accessible browsing history records and the ability to opt out of personalized online shopping results. It appears those regulations are actually part of a larger move from the CCP against the excesses of the digital era. The country’s online media and gaming watchdog, the The National Press and Publication Administration (NAAP) has put out new rules limiting the amount of gaming time for underage players — one hour a day on Fridays, weekends and public holidays.

Also, as Variety reported, celebrities are now being scrubbed from Chinese social media and the CAC has issued a notice that it was cracking down on “harmful information” inside celebrity fandoms.

This is interesting because it’s seemed like for a long time the general attitude from the CCP was that Chinese social media use was good as long as it was kept inside the firewall and properly censored. Also, since 2016, there has been a solid pipeline between online fandoms and Chinese troll armies. That attitude, though, seems to be changing and I’m curious to see how this develops.

Another Good Tweet

Some Stray Links

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