The doomscrolling is the point

Read to the end for a thought-provoking Twitter thread

We’ve All Apparently Agreed To Just Keep Using Twitter As It Gets Worse

This week, Twitter brought back the algorithmic version of its timeline. Unlike the previous iteration, which was the “Home” tab and was retired last summer after users complained, this new version is called “For You” (like TikTok) and can’t be turned off. Every time you close the app, it will open with “For You” by default.

I first experienced Twitter’s algorithmic timeline back in 2021 when I was, against my will, included in a beta test for it. I found it so overwhelming and abrasive that it was literally giving me migraines and I briefly considered looking up whether or not I could sue a social network for making me feel that way. The new version of it seems just as oppressive.

Opening Twitter this morning, half-awake, not realizing I had to manually set the feed back to chronological, I was shotgun-blasted by dumb discourse, reheated memes, awful takes, and news from 15 hours ago, all of which made me feel miserable. In other words, I was “doomscrolling,” to use the term made popular by writer Karen K. Ho. Which is the closest thing to a central strategy Musk seems to have for the website: A haphazard combination of whatever’s easiest to do with no real employees left — like rolling out features that were, assumedly, already built before Musk bought the company — and taking credit for random annoying things that are just happening anyways within a vacuum of coherent leadership. The comparison is made so often it’s basically a cliche at this point, but it’s the exact same thing Trump did during his presidency. And so, to riff on a Trump era-defining observation from writer Adam Serwer, the doomscrolling is the point.

Also similar to the Trump era, it can be hard to separate out how bad things are from how bad I perceive them to be. At a certain level of deranged discourse, your brain just assumes that things are happening even if they aren’t — or are, but not on a timeline you can palpably feel. This is how I felt living in London in the years immediately after the Brexit referendum. There was a creeping feeling of worseness, but it was hard to articulate what exactly in my daily life was causing me to feel that way.

Anyways, I’ve found the best way to track the deterioration of Twitter is through how many times in a given week I’m forced to see content from the Taliban.

In the years before Musk bought Twitter, there was a bunch of back and forth about whether or not members of the Taliban should be verified on the app. One of the few reliefs of the Musk era is that he is completely uninterested in that especially repulsive kind of neoliberal policymaking that defined social networks in the 2010s. Online platforms would hire academics and think tanks and meet with politicians and lawyers and publicly agonize over things like “should the Taliban get a little blue checkmark on our website.” The pageantry of it all was ridiculous, but I’m sure it made all the former Obama staffers working in Silicon Valley feel better about all the other human rights abuses their companies’ technology was facilitating.

Well, members of the Taliban are definitely verified on Twitter now because they subscribe to Twitter Blue for $8 a month. Take, for instance, Ahmad Yasir, a Taliban official reportedly based in Doha, who has a blue checkmark and is using his increased visibility on the site to troll Pakistan.

Taliban members, both verified and not, also recently participated in a Twitter Space in support of men’s rights activist Andrew Tate. The virtual event was organized by Sameera Khan, a former Miss New Jersey beauty pageant winner, turned self-described “anti-woke journalist,” who is trying to build an international movement to free Tate, who is currently in a Romanian jail cell awaiting trial on charges of rape and human trafficking, by uniting Islamic radicals and redpilled western men’s rights activists in their hatred of women.

It’s unclear who is running Tate’s account while he’s in jail, but it seems to be acknowledging the newfound interest in him:

Let’s be very clear. All of this is absurd. And, on a normal website, it just wouldn’t be a thing users would have to deal with. But this is what Twitter’s like now and I know it will get worse.

According to independent journalist and platform researcher Jane Manchun Wong, Twitter will soon be releasing “coins” and “awards,” which, based on the screenshots she shared, will likely work the same way those exact features currently work on Reddit. You convert real money into virtual money, buy awards, give them to other users. Like the addition of the “Views” metric which launched last month, these will be just another way of goading users’ worst behavior to power a simplistic and hateful algorithmic-by-default timeline.

The only good news here is that people are leaving Twitter. Contrary to how The Guardian has interpreted it, Mastodon, the leading Twitter alternative (which I still find both confusing and slow), more than tripled its user base since October and has now stabilized into a much bigger network than it was before. Anecdotally, it feels like the same is true for Tumblr, as well.

Meanwhile, Twitter will increasingly feel like 4chan. Every day a new trending topic will rocket to the top of the site that feels like a sociopolitical mad lib and piss everyone off. And I know it will all get worse because, very simply, it’s the easiest thing for Musk to invest time and resources into.

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Ryan Reynolds Wrote An Ad With ChatGPT

It’s pretty good! Though, it still has that sort of overall boring quality to it that all A.I.-generated content has. The fact that Reynolds asked ChatGPT to write it in a style that sounded like him is also notable. I think the ability for ChatGPT and Microsoft audio A.I. VALL-E to reasonably imitate celebrities is going to cause a lot of problems very soon and make early fun experiments like the one above age really poorly.

Or, more depressingly, we end up with a situation where celebrities basically sign deals with brands to let an A.I. generate a sponsorship message from them and passively collect residuals on their likeness. Who knows, maybe both things can happen!

A Good Album

Binance Is Not Doing So Hot

According to Forbes, in the last two months, over $12 billion has left Binance, which is still the biggest crypto exchange in the world and one of the last remaining big crypto exchanges to not completely implode. Binance also recently announced it’s going on a hiring spree in 2023.

The real story here is that Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao, or CZ, as he’s known, is credited as the main architect of the FTX collapse (he routinely denies this). CZ essentially called FTX’s bluff last year and broke the exchange, but in the process, sent the entire crypto market crashing down. And that fear, uncertainty, and doubt, or “FUD,” as crypto evangelists call it, is now impacting CZ’s own exchange. It’s the central irony of the cryptocurrency space. Everyone is a competitor, but everyone is also completely entangled with each other.

What Do You Call This Sort Of Thing?

There have been a couple viral tweets about this specific kind of video over the last few weeks and I realize we don’t really have a good name for it. If you’ve never seen a video like this, allow me to explain what’s happening here.

On short-form video apps like TikTok and Instagram, a lot of channels try and game the algorithm by combining random video clips and sounds to catch users’ attention. The video above is a good example. It’s the video and audio from a scene from Family Guy, stitched together with footage of a pleasing sensory video and a playthrough of mobile Temple Run-style game.

I’ve seen some people call these YouTube poops, which is a style of absurdist video content where you mash together a bunch of clips and effects, but that’s not what these are really. First of all, YouTube poops are on YouTube. And second, YouTube poops are meant to be funny. This is just meant to mesmerize you and fill in empty space in a feed.

The seemingly earnest popularity of these videos, especially among younger users, is part of an untethering of video content from coherent meaning that seems to be happening on short-form video apps. It feels like the longer people make videos for an algorithm the more the videos start to degrade into just random visual stimuli, which is unnerving, but also kind of interesting.

A Quick Note On The Breaking Up With Your Friends Lady

Everyone’s real mad at a psychologist named Dr. Arianna Brandolini who makes TikTok videos under the user name @answeranxiety. In a recent video, Brandolini goes through a legitimately unhinged step-by-step guide to firing a friend like you were some kind of human resources manager. Brandolini released a followup video not addressing any of the points about how cold and corporatized her weird language was in the initial video and instead blamed everyone else for just not understanding what she meant, which you can watch here if you feel like wasting your afternoon.

The thing I’m struck by more broadly, though, is how similar TikTok outrage cycles play out to how they used to on Facebook, but with one key difference. Ten years ago, there was a new person (usually a upperclass white lady) who would post something sociopathic on Facebook and go viral and the whole internet would yell at them for a while. But they never had to turn a camera on and read their own words out loud with their own face. Now, on TikTok, they do. It just feels like social platforms are asking a lot more of us and all that we seem to get out of it is a more personal barrage of abuse when it inevitably goes wrong.

But, also, if your psychologist makes TikTok videos, they should probably not be your psychologist anymore.

A Good Tweet

Some Stray Links

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

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