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The dumpy frog was enlarged
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What Are Twitter’s Values?
On Saturday, Kanye West posted antisemitic content on Instagram and then had his account briefly frozen and some of his posts taken down. So West then went to Twitter to angrily tweet about Mark Zuckerberg. Elon Musk replied to West’s tweet with, “Welcome back to Twitter, my friend!”
Now, unlike some, I don’t think Musk is actively engaged in anything enough to know that he was tacitly endorsing West to continue being antisemitic on Twitter. I think Musk is just a desperate nerd who wants people to think he’s cool. But, sure enough, West continued being antisemitic and had his account frozen and his content deleted there, as well. The question on a lot of people’s minds right now is whether or not West would have been locked out of Twitter if Musk had already purchased the site. Maybe? Although, if we go by what Musk has said in the past, maybe not.
But West’s Twitter suspension and the murkiness of what Musk’s ruling would have been is happening amid a larger strategy shift for Twitter’s content moderation. Last year, the platform began experimenting with a new crowdsourced factchecking tool called Birdwatch. And in September, Twitter began showing Birdwatch widgets to more users. The tool takes a Wikipedia-like approach to viral content, adding a “context” widget underneath viral tweets, sorting out misinformation that lives in gray areas between the site’s policies. But as The Verge recently found, it’s largely being used to deal with COVID misinfo. Well, COVID misinfo and the dumpy frog that was enlarged.
Now, I was not on Twitter when this video of an artificially enlarged frog was being shared, so the factcheck of its inauthentic dumpiness — which was written about by both the Associated Press and CNN — was surprising. Also, apparently, the frog’s name is Dumpy. It’s not just a weird adjective people are using to describe it. Anyways, according to Birdwatch, the big frog was altered to “appear much larger than actual size.” The widget also, fittingly enough, links to the Wikipedia article for Australian green tree frogs. Lucas Peterson, the TikToker who made the original video, has not apologized for fraudulently enlarging his frog yet. But I personally think he should go to jail for deceiving us.
Now, there’s two ways to look at Birdwatch. You could view it as a fairly smart way of allowing users to self-police their communities, suggesting additional context every time that video of the big moon goes viral. But you could also argue that putting a factchecking widget on the bottom of a freebooted frog TikTok that has 300,000 retweets is like peeing on your house after you set it on fire. In fact, the entire moderation philosophy that Birdwatch was born from is likely already over.
In this week’s Garbage Weekend, I highlighted a recent study from Pew that looked at “alternative” social media sites such as TruthSocial, Gab, and Rumble. One thing that I found interesting is that most of these sites, even though they’re predominately used by far-right users, actually do have some kind of moderation. In fact, there’s actually been a lot of drama over the years over how overtly Christian, and thus cringe, Gab’s moderation policies are.
But we’ve reached a point where there are enough of these far-right Twitter and YouTube clones that, if you don’t agree with — or were banned from — a mainstream platform, you can go somewhere else. You won’t be given access to virality like you would have on a large platform, but you can post about drinking bleach to protect yourself from the Flat Earth’s 5G radiation to your heart’s content. Which, as I wrote over the weekend, sort of reveals an uncomfortable truth that has always been true about the internet: All content moderation is ideological.
This is not something that platforms like Facebook or Twitter, and the factchecking orgs that get hired to help clean them up, like to admit. Even though, as Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel wrote, “the free market demands content moderation,” it is not good business to have clearly defined values. Instead, when writing about their various efforts to remove “coordinated harmful activity” or when they provide factchecking widgets next to misinformation on their platforms, big tech companies tend to apply the same view-from-nowhere anti-bias LARP that mainstream American media — and Wikipedia — likes to pretend is both good and even achievable. These companies want us to think that by doing their very least they’re doing their best to protect us from the great digital wilderness beyond their walls. When, in fact, they’re all just one of many options we have now for places to post.
Which is why when someone like Kanye West posts something hateful and repulsive to his huge audience, it is easier to say, he was “locked for violating Twitter's policies,” without defining what those policies actually are, as a Twitter spokesperson said to the Washington Post, than it is to clearly say, “Twitter does not allow antisemitism and calls for racial violence and we believe that’s what happened here.” Just as it’s easier to add a little worthless factcheck widget on posts about big frogs and COVID conspiracies, than it is to rethink why fake big frogs and fake big moons and thousands of bad posts about the pandemic keep going viral on your site. Because you can’t hide behind a cloak of “objectivity” if you acknowledge that moderation decisions are editorial decisions, and thus deeply subjective, and that each one defines the values of the company that makes — or doesn’t make — them. Which is why it’s time to ask these companies not what their policies are, but their values are.
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Guess We Know Why Podcasts Feel So Tired Now
Following layoffs at Spotify-owned Gimlet and Parcast, the unions for both companies, released a joint statement that has some really eye-opening details in it about the current podcasting landscape. According to the unions’ statement, Spotify made many of Gimlet’s and Parcast’s shows exclusive to Spotify, which caused as much as a 75% decrease in audience for those shows. Not only that, but the unions said that the marketing for those exclusive shows was next to nothing.
This is particularly interesting in light of the current malaise growing across the podcasting landscape as a whole right now. I think the lesson here is if you start to feel like a certain kind of digital media is boring or becoming irrelevant, just ask yourself, “who is currently trying to monopolize it and would I feel the same way if that suddenly stopped being the case?”
The NFT Restaurant Actually Happened
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lol ok so I am, uh, about six months late to this, but I recently came across a TikTok about the NFT burger joint in a Reddit thread. We’re so deep into the current crypto winter that I had completely forgotten that Bored Ape owners were using their NFTs to launch a burger pop-up. A few observations: The fact I forgot this was even happening is definitely telling. Second, that one shot of the burger looks pretty bad, but not like bad enough that I wouldn’t eat it, I guess. Third, my favorite part of this video is when they say at the end that maybe one day they’d accept crypto as a payment option. Feels like an important detail that the NFT-themed restaurant isn’t accepting crypto.
Notepad Runs Doom
This is obviously impressive, and you can click through to read a bit more about how it was done, but I think the fact that it’s playing sound is what’s craziest for me. For more on my ongoing coverage of Things That Can Run Doom, see Archive Of Our Own and 6,039,018,500 Crabs.
Cyberpunk A.I. Thomas Kinkade Paintings
I’d say the A.I. feels bit more human that Kinkade’s original work.
Here Comes The Ayer Cut
Welp, I suppose it was only a matter of time before this happened. DC Entertainment Universe fans, who spend a lot of time on Reddit agonizing over a failed edgy and grimdark interconnected universe of movies based on DC Comics, have been begging for an “Ayer Cut” of David Ayer’s absolutely terrible 2016 Suicide Squad movie. And it looks like some version of it now does exist.
It’s fascinating to watch how filmmakers, upset with large movie conglomerates, are using the possibility of Snyder Cut-style director’s cuts to rally fandoms to campaign for them. It’s sort of the double-edged sword of making all entertainment fandom-entertainment. It gives a lot of power to fairly unpredictable groups of internet users who tend to follow whoever has the shiniest carrot to dangle in front of them.
Either way though, I say release the Ayer Cut. Anything to see more of Jared Leto’s Joker.
Meanwhile, here’s what’s going on in the Marvel fandom right now.
A Good Video
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a big chicken.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***