Hellmaxxing, TikTok Tics, And Fake Dissociative Identity Disorder
This week, a fake screenshot of a Yahoo! News article started making the rounds on Twitter. The fake version of the article claimed that TikTok users were “hellmaxxing,” which was purportedly a viral trend where users tried to commit enough sins to not be able to get into heaven anymore. It was retweeted over 3,000 times and a lot of very serious people seemed to believe it! Even I thought it sounded plausible, the article claimed to be from Pennsylvania and that sounds like a weird thing a bunch of kids from Pennsylvania would do.
The actual article was about a trend called “beaning,” where British users would throw baked beans at houses, like egging. Equally stupid, I’d say!
One of my favorite takes on the whole hellmaxxing thing was from Twitter user @js_thril, who wrote, “A historian friend of mine explained to me one time that a big part of his job was to like figure out which things in history happened and which ones were like made up panics that 1800s newspapers just went on about for weeks with no basis in reality.”
And then, just yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published a piece claiming that teenagers across the world were developing physical tics from using TikTok too much.
None of this is new, of course. In 2008, Alice Marwick, then a PhD Candidate at New York University, coined the term “techopanic”:
“Technopanics have the following characteristics,” Marwick writes. “First, they focus on new media forms, which currently take the form of computer–mediated technologies. Second, technopanics generally pathologize young people’s use of this media, like hacking, file–sharing, or playing violent video games. Third, this cultural anxiety manifests itself in an attempt to modify or regulate young people’s behavior, either by controlling young people or the creators or producers of media products.”
A lot of this has been lost to time, but many of the same anxieties about TikTok were also true of Myspace 15 years ago. “Some of the most harmless aspects of MySpace would have crushed me at 14,” the writer Caitlin Flanagan wrote rather hilariously in retrospect now in The Atlantic in 2007. “Members get to list their ‘Top 8’ friends, a list they can change at whim. It’s an ingenious number, because it’s just large enough to make exclusion really hurt—eight people, and there wasn’t any room at all for me?”
There were also reports of Myspace-related fights breaking out between teen girls at schools. “The willingness to express oneself in public seems to mark a generational shift in attitudes to privacy,” The Financial Times wrote in 2006. “Younger generations raised on the internet have fewer qualms about revealing their secrets in public.”
And, at Myspace’s height, the British press launched a massive campaign against the risks of being emo. The Daily Mail declared that, “no child is safe from the sinister cult of emo.”
None of this is to downplay the very real issues young Myspace users had — predators, revenge pornography, cyberbullying, and being convinced that wearing a children’s extra-large T-shirt with a white belt and purple skinny jeans was a good look. But I want to put this new explosion of TikTok panics in perspective. None of these issues, or even the more outlandish nonsense about Satanic viral trends or compulsive tics, are new.
And what’s even more frustrating is that a lot of this stuff eclipses the new real problems TikTok users are grappling with, like being bombarded nonstop by conspiracy theories, cults actively recruiting on the app, content that promotes body dysmorphia, and that weird increasingly popular fad where some very young users are seemingly pretending to have dissociative identity disorder.
In many ways, these technopanics are the best indication that TikTok is dethroning apps like Facebook or Instagram as America’s main social platform. First, the cool new thing is discovered by teenage girls. Then it’s considered a punchline. Then, when it’s no longer a punchline, it’s a crisis. It happened with Myspace and it’s happening with TikTok and it will happen with whatever comes next. And every time we do this dance, complete with endless hysterical Good Morning America segments about what kids are secretly doing online, it just means we’ve missed another opportunity to actually make the internet better for teenagers. Which, I know, sounds like a revolutionary idea, doesn’t it?But I’d bet that the problems teenagers are experiencing on TikTok right now aren’t exclusive to teenagers, right?
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Facebook’s Real Bad Month Continues
Hoo boy, things are really spinning out of control over at Facebook these days, huh? Here’s where things are at right now.
First, Facebook announced that it was finally launching a digital wallet called Novi and it will run on a stablecoin called Paxos. Stablecoins are a type of cryptocurrency meant to be linked to the value of fiat currency. Basically, they don’t go wildly up and down in value. The plan was for Facebook to launch Novi with their own cryptocurrency, Diem, but that’s still tangled up in regulatory issues. US Sentator Brian Schatz published a letter yesterday demanding that Facebook stop the launch of Novi.
Next up, The Verge published an exclusive last night that Facebook would be renaming the company as early as next week. Imagine if they renamed it “The Facebook” lol. Damn, that’d be crazy. Has anyone tweeted that yet?
And, finally, just this morning, Karl Racine, the attorney general for Washington, DC, named Mark Zuckerberg personally as a defendant in a lawsuit over data protection. idk seems bad!
TikTok Crowns A New Most-Listened-To Mountain Goats Song
Long-running folk project, The Mountain Goats, founded by singer-songwriter John Darnielle, has been a mainstay for moody college kids for decades now. It is largely agreed upon that their song “This Year” is their best. (Though, my personal favorite is split between “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out Of Denton” and “Autoclave”.)
Their song “No Children,” however, just dethroned “This Year” thanks to TikTok. The audio is currently trending on the app and the reactions from young users is very funny. If you’ve never heard the song, it tells a wildly depressing story about an incredibly toxic relationship. Which — look, to echo a point I made above — there’s nothing new about teenagers on the internet rediscovering an anthemic indie rock song, but what is new is how users on TikTok are engaging with this one. For instance:
There’s A New Gorilla Pellets Guy
One of my favorite subgenres of internet content is when deeply unwell men on the internet eventually start eating monkey food. Last year, there was a guy on Mastodon who was eating gorilla pellets and now, we have a new one. A 4chan user earlier this month posted a thread about how he eats “monkey chow” that he orders from a “zoo supply company” for about half of his meals. Other users were, of course, very interested in this because everyone on 4chan is emotionally disturbed.
The 4chan user claimed that he eats a special kind of primate food that’s meant for “male great apes to get large and fuck,” but warned that it’s pretty flavorless and recommended pairing it with hot sauce. You can read screenshots of the whole thing here.
Wall Street Is Getting Weirder
There’s a Harambe statue on Wall Street now. It faces the bull statue. It’s an installation by Sapien.Network, a finance-adjacent social network. It’s meant to represent, “the millions of everyday people who struggle under a system that enriches wealthy elites and leaves the average person behind.” Uh huh, ok.
While we’re on the subject. The SEC has finally released a report on the GameStop pump from earlier this year. So, what did they find? No short squeeze, no collusion, and “underneath the memes are actual companies, with employees, customers, and plans to invest in the future. Those who bought GameStop became co-owners of a company through a system of mutual trust and participation that sustains our economy.” Wow, who would have thought!
The Enduring Legacy Of The Homestuck Fandom
Earlier this week, Oculus made a short video promoting the game Resident Evil 4 in virtual reality. In both the tweet and the video they use the term “kanayophobia,” which they define as a “fear of chainsaws.” Except, that’s not actually the word for that. The real word for a “fear of chainsaws” would probably be “trionigophobia,” or “fear of saws.” So where did Oculus get “Kanayaphobia” from?
Well, Kanaya Maryam is a character from the web comic Homestuck whose main weapon is a chainsaw. (I think. I refuse to read Homestuck.) As Twitter user @oathscharm2 pointed out this week, in 2013, a Homestuck fan posted “Kanayaphobia” on Urban Dictionary as a joke for other fans of the comic. Although, now the Urban Dictionary listing for “Kanayaphobia” has a new definition:
Jenny Nicholson Versus Dear Evan Hansen
YouTuber Jenny Nicholson, whose epic teardown of the movie Dear Evan Hansen I included last week, was hit with a copyright claim. At first, it seemed like the copyright claim was automated, but according to Nicholson’s tweets about it, AMRA, the copyright service behind the takedown request, is actively going forward with the claim. Interested to see where this goes next.
At Burger King With My Burger Queen
There’s a pop punk “song” about Burger King traveling around TikTok right now. The original audio was created by a user named @savageprincessz last week. @savageprincessz’s video was viewed over 6 million times. The “song” was then “covered” by an e-boy influencer with over half a million followers named @itslildevo earlier this week.
And then, finally, a user named rickyjab has been putting actual music underneath it, which rips.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good video about making ramen.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
Hi Ryan, the SocialMedia-induced Tourette-like symptoms are real, here're the papers: https://movementdisorders.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/mds.28778 and https://academic.oup.com/brain/advance-article/doi/10.1093/brain/awab316/6356504
I call them Meme-Tics, which I think is half clever, half stupid. ;)
“no child is safe from the sinister cult of emo.”
I mean, were they wrong??