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The most unwell teenagers to ever use the internet

Read to the end for a very funny surströmming video

Explaining The Sex Discourse

Thanks to the weird quirks of Twitter’s For You algorithm, a couple tweets kicked off a multi-day argument about whether or not parents should have sex while their children are in the house. But let’s take it step by step because I think it’s a perfect example of how the most annoying behaviors on the site are now the completely dominant and driving force behind how the whole app functions.

On February 28th, a Twitter user named @sisterlelianas shared a TikTok video from a user named @part.time.milf. The video was about a young girl getting a little worried about her mom screaming and it turns out the screaming was because the mom was having sex. The video was meant to be a relatable mom problems kind of thing and it was viewed over 30 million times on TikTok and is largely in line with the other stuff @part.time.milf posts, which are all just, from what I’ve seen, harmless vlogs about her daily life. And most of the comments on the original TikTok are positive, with people thinking it was just sort of a funny thing. On Twitter, however, it was taken very differently.

The Twitter user that shared the video claimed that it could be traumatizing for a child to hear their parents having sex. But what really kicked the discourse into high-gear was another tweet from a user named @SHADOWlZED, who went even further and argued that parents should rent a hotel to have sex. The whole thing was a mess and has since been deleted, but you can check out screenshots of the resulting thread here.

Now, first, it’s not an accident that this is all happening around a video. In my own experiments with reverse engineering the Twitter For You algorithm, I found that the most powerful signal at the moment for “virality” is a heavily-replied quote tweet of an already-viral video. My hunch is there’s a bit of a circular effect happening here, where the video goes viral as it gets more quote tweets and replies, which then drives more video views which then creates more quote tweets and replies. And this explains why there are now only three tweets going viral at a given time.

It’s probably an important bit of context that @SHADOWlZED identifies as asexual, which may explain their tweet. But the reactions their tweet garnered go beyond that. In fact, they kind of dovetail in an interesting way with what I was writing about on Wednesday. One popular response to @SHADOWlZED’s tweet read, “Someone posting that it's traumatic for children if their parents have sex in their own bedroom would just be funny if it wasn't part of an environment that's becoming increasingly hostile to sex and sexuality and using 'threat to children' to punish sex and gender deviance.”

Which, read another way, is “this might be just a random troll baiting me with an outlandish opinion that doesn’t matter in anyway, but it must reveal something is true about something because if it didn’t, why am I looking at it and thinking about it?” Which is how everyone reacts to social media content now. Real or fake, there must be some kind of larger truth that this is revealing about sex-repulsed Gen Z puriteens.

The only good reaction I’ve seen from this entire cycle of discourse, in case you’re curious, was from podcaster Robert Evans, who wrote, “I hate to tell you kids, but part of being a human is encountering normal shit that impacts you forever in weird ways.”

Interestingly enough, though, at the same time that the sex discourse was happening, I noticed another TikTok-related controversy on Twitter playing out in almost the same way and largely due to the same algorithmic forces. People basically want to kill this girl now:

Above, I said that the content type that seems to have the most algorithmic weight on Twitter right now is video, but the second most-weighted content type is screenshots of videos. (Which are weirdly aesthetically similar to Whisper posts, but that’s a topic for another day.) But I know that TikTok screenshots are prominently being surfaced on the For You page because when I first switched over to the For You tab, the account above, “wild TikTok screenshots,” was every other tweet on my timeline. So I unfollowed it and it’s STILL every other tweet on my timeline.

Anyways, I looked up the original user this screenshot is from and her name is @spicy_trisha, she’s a teenager from Dubai and the video this is from appears to have been deleted. It’s obviously a joke and clearly not meant to be taken seriously, but the quote tweets on this tweet are downright violent.

I’ve been searching for a reason for Twitter to be curdling like this and, though I trot a new one out in this newsletter every few weeks, none of them really explain this stuff all together. Twitter has an aging user base, sure, but it’s also full of some of the most unwell teenagers to have ever been given an internet connection. So you can’t really argue that Twitter is for cranky old people or deranged fandom teens because both are using the site in largely identical ways.

My best guess is that what’s happening to Twitter right now is similar, in a sense, to what happened to 4chan around 2011-2012. Like Twitter, 4chan was never a place for mentally healthy people, but it began to lean into its worst impulses as it became increasingly fixated on what supposedly “normal” people were doing on sites like Twitter, Tumblr, and eventually Instagram. And one theory I’ve always had is that that initial anger and resentment was actually a quality of life thing. 4chan users could see that the site they were using was broken, janky, unpleasant, and quickly racing to the bottom culturally and it created a radicalization loop that set the groundwork for the full far-right takeover a year or so later. So, in that same way, maybe Twitter users are obsessed with TikTok right now because it’s, at least from the outside, a nicer app full of seemingly happier users. Or, at the very least, users that are more earnest, which is the worst possible thing a Twitter user can be.

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Sam Altman Had The Horrifying Email AI Revelation

Slightly excited that I beat Altman to the punch with this. At least publicly. I came across a few tweets in January outlining this same idea, which I still find very troubling mainly because of how insidious it feels. Communicating with other people is hard enough. And communicating with other people on the internet is doubly hard. The idea that people are sliding an AI in the middle just really rubs me the wrong way. And, also, it sort of circles back to my overarching belief which is that, for the most part, if you can use an AI to “speed” something up, it’s probably not a useful activity in the first place.

The Jack Dorsey Twitter Followup Is Out

The Twitter alternative Dorsey’s been building is finally on the App Store, but it’s still invite-only. The gimmick with Bluesky is that it’s decentralized, which, in this case, means that it runs on the Authenticated Transfer Protocol, which, best as I can tell, is almost exactly like ActivityPub, which is the protocol that powers Mastodon.

All of these Twitter alternatives are fun little exercises, but the only thing that will determine their success is who uses them. And what’s sort of interesting to me is the continued resistance to admitting that what determines who uses a social network of any kind is a subculture. Myspace quickly found its footing with emo kids. And Facebook, conversely went after people with a “college email address”. Twitter early adopters were journalists, bloggers, furries, heavily-divorced male college professors, and guys who owned Google Glass (which sometimes all the same person). Instagram was the app for “hipsters,” before becoming the app for “influencers”. Tumblr was for fandoms. Reddit was for guys who work at GameStop and their taxidermist elf wives. You get the idea.

But because people in Silicon Valley, and particularly white guys in Silicon Valley, are uncomfortable thinking of themselves as members of a subculture, they end up making these kind of bland blank-slate social networks that are, you know, fine in the abstract, but kind of pointless and for no one.

What I’d love to see is an existing fandom or internet community build their own platform for their own needs. Or, better yet, a “founder’ with the resources and knowledge of how to do it reaching out to a community and building something for and with them.

But the funniest possible thing someone could build right now is a way to connect ActivityPub and the Authenticated Transfer Protocol and just make all of this stuff the same thing.

Envisioning Dilbert As A Far-Right Hate Symbol

Artist Rob Dobi mocked up a right-wing Dilbert/Punisher symbol for MAGA dudes to wear now that the comic’s artist Scott Adams has canceled himself by going full mask-off racist. Though, unfortunately, because Twitter is crawling with bots that turn any T-shirt design into a listing on e-commerce sites, Dobi’s shirt is now very real all across the internet.

Whoops! Expect to see a guy vlogging in a pickup truck on Facebook wearing one of these bad boys in 5-10 business days.

Millennials, Owned

Tumblr’s Livestream Feature Is Live On Desktop Now

Tumblr has been working on a live video feature which, up until now, has been on mobile only. You can now watch it in your browser right from the dashboard. I’ve clicked around and watched a few folks go live on Tumblr and while it’s not what I, personally, use the site for, it seems sort of nice? It has a raw, unprofessional vibe that feels very retro in a good way and it makes you realize how gamified and growth-hacked livestreaming is everywhere else on the internet.

A Really Good Facebook Group

I came across this thanks to Twitter user @garageflowrr. It’s called the Dull Men’s Club. It’s got over 18,000 members and everything in it is extremely boring. You can check it out here. This is what social media is all about — sharing painfully tedious updates about the world around you in a pleasant and happy way. That said, I’m little worried that users like Tim, here, getting a little too rowdy:

Some Stray Links

P.S. here’s a very funny surströmming video (Warning: there’s a lot of vomiting and gagging lol).

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


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