I’m teaching a remote class about internet culture later this month! It’s cheap, like $25 for four weeks, and it’s basically a (slightly) more academic version of the kind of analysis I put in Garbage Day, but bigger. I’m conducting the course with Jamie Cohen, a cultural and media studies PhD who teaches at Queens College. Think about checking it out! It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Gumroad Has A Meltdown Over NFTs
If you’ve never heard of Gumroad before, they’re basically a one-size-fits-all paywall platform. A lot of music producers I follow use Gumroad to sell things like sample packs or VST presets. You can upload whatever to the site, stick a price tag on it, and send it out to your customers.
Gumroad found themselves at the center of an extremely predictable drama storm over the weekend, however, after a former employee tweeted out Slack messages that seemed to prove that the company was, at the very least, exploring an NFT line. Cartoonist Brian Box Brown, who was freelancing for the company up until recently, tweeted, “So the reason I've been ramping up my original art sales is because my former regular freelance employer has let me know they'll be...Embracing NFTs. So...we had to part ways.”
Brown then shared Slack messages between him and Sahil Lavingia, the CEO of Gumroad. In the screenshots, Lavingia mentions having an NFT project in mind that he was interested in Brown working on. “It’s coming,” Brown then tweeted. “We parted ways because I’ll never support NFTs and, well, they're ready to dive in.”
I’m sure a lot of my readers don’t need an explainer for why cartoonists, especially, hate NFTs, but, basically, many artists who live on actual fiat currency commissions for original artwork see the entire NFT boom as a massive predatory ponzi scheme.
After Brown’s tweets, Gumroad’s Twitter account, essentially, went nuts. Whoever runs their account typically responds to users in a lightly-snarky-fake-fun brand voice and decided to keep that tone going while being deluged by angry artists outraged that the company was exploring NFTs.
The account tweeted that they had no plans for NFTs in the near future, but then proceeded to, basically, just be a huge dick to people. A lot of the account’s posts are deleted now, but there are plenty of screenshots floating around at the moment. One particularly unhinged response from the Gumroad account was when it possibly violated the GDPR to snark back at a user who was upset about the company exploring NFTs. Which is definitely a choice!
Though, even more bizarre, according to the user they tweeted this at, Gumroad was actually lying and they didn’t even have an account with the site.
According to screenshots of the Slack conversations between Lavingia and Brown, it seems like Lavingia wanted Brown to create an NFT line for Gumroad. My read on the screenshots were that it seemed sort of non-committal and looked more like Lavingia was brainstorming projects to keep Brown working for the company. And Lavingia in replies to angry users has maintained there are no concrete plans for Gumroad NFTs at the time being. Though, he did tweet, “Knowledge is fungible, wisdom is not,” literally this morning and is promoting a Web3 Discord. Also, I should point out, on Gumroad’s website, under examples of what people can use their platform for, “Sell your crypto tips” is literally the second suggestion. Which feels pretty deliberate.
If I was a platform that allowed users to set-up flexible media-agnostic paywalls for digital content, I simply wouldn’t get involved in NFTs because I would be confident that I was actually already providing creators with the tools they needed to build businesses online. But maybe I’m different.
At one point over the weekend, the Gumroad Twitter account changed their bio to say, “We don’t support NFTs (yet),” seemingly, once again, just to be a troll. It has since been changed back. Also, combing through Gumroad’s replies from the weekend, it seems like the company’s social media manager couldn’t decide if they should be downplaying crypto projects to calm angry artists or use the backlash as an opportunity to flirt with NFT evangelists who were beginning to notice the controversy.
The whole incident is pretty indicative of where we’re at with the crypto culture wars at the moment. For many online artists and creators, even the suggestion that a company could be “exploring” Web3 projects is enough to go on the full assault. I’ve even noticed this with Garbage Day, actually. I’ve had a handful of readers email me over the last few months, bristling that my crypto coverage doesn’t feel negative enough for them. But digital artists and cartoonists, in particular, are extremely anxious about NFTs — and understandably so. Some artists have made an incredible amount of money from digital assets in the last year, but more have seen their art stolen or flipped into hugely expensive NFT lines without proper compensation.
What's most interesting about the Gumroad drama, though, in my opinion, is that these Web3 anxieties were focused around a company that not only decided to continue their snarky Twitter brand voice, but actually decided to weaponize it against users. It makes me wonder if this is what branded Twitter accounts tweeting like people were always heading towards: An internet-literate attack dog ready to defend tech CEOs who have their feelings hurt when people don’t immediately think every single idea that pops out of their head is a good one.
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A Good Tweet
I didn’t know other people’s bags also had… The Sand.
Are We Ready For When The Convoys Come?
Since the beginning of the “Freedom Convoy,” or the “People’s Convoy,” last month, it’s been difficult to get a good sense of how big and real it is. The anti-critical race theory playbook is now being deployed for any and all “grassroots”-feeling news stories that conservatives can use to push their interests. So from the moment the very first trucks started driving last month in Canada, right-wing influencers have claimed this was a massive global movement that was spreading everywhere.
In fact, a bunch of right-wing accounts over the weekend started bragging that another “freedom convoy” was spotted in The Netherlands, though, it seemed like it was actually only about 60 trucks circling a roundabout in the middle of nowhere. And the movement’s spread on Facebook appears to be just as illegitimate. According to Caroline Orr Bueno, a behavioral scientist at the University of Maryland, there are a huge amount of pro-convoy groups and pages, all with thousands of members, that popped up on the platform within the same day or two.
That said, several radicalization researchers and antifascist activists I follow have been sharing screenshots from inside one of the bigger Telegram groups organizing the protest movement and it seems like they have their sights on an American demonstration next.
And the increasing intensity of the Telegram activity seems to mirror the movement’s escalating potential real-world violence. An Ottawa resident posted a horrifying thread alleging that convoy participants tried to burn down a nearby apartment complex over the weekend.
Even with all the wildly inauthentic online hype around the movement, I think there is a very real chance this, at least, spreads south to the United States. And, like the months leading up to January 6, we know this is coming. We know platforms like Facebook and Telegram are allowing this movement to organize and we know that right-wing commentators and politicians are using it to whip people into a frenzy. So now what?
Joe Rogan’s Big Weekend
Over the weekend, close to 100 episodes of Joe Rogan’s podcast were deleted from Spotify. Many of those episodes contained moments where Rogan said the N-word or interviewed especially violent right-wing extremists. You know, typical podcaster problems. Rogan then apologized again on Instagram. And then The Rock apologized for accepting Rogan’s initial apology before he knew about the racism stuff.
Spotify announced that they’re still sticking with the show, but are now going to donate $100 million to produce content for “historically marginalized groups”. Spotify’s stock price is 24% lower than where it was last month.
Look, I am not the CEO of a massive tech company. I am just a guy who writes my funny little emails every day. So I want to acknowledge that there are many things I don’t understand about the business world. But surely it can’t be “good for business” to buy the exclusive distribution for a show you never really listened to and have no editorial control over, right? Also, in what universe is it a good thing when your $100 million investment ends up costing you another $100 million to apologize?
Like I get that tech companies love to do this little dance about how they’re just platforms that don’t censor people. In fact, Netflix is doing this whole thing again right now. This time, they’re bravely standing up for British comedian Jimmy Carr’s indelible right, apparently, to say it was a good thing that Nazis tried to exterminate Europe’s Roma population.
At certain point, with all of this stuff, there really does only seem to be three possible explanations: One, the people who run companies like Spotify or Netflix are just not good at business. They just, straight-up, have no idea what they’re doing. Possible! The second possibility is that, after a decade of right-wing incel extremists using online spaces to redpill the white men who work in STEM fields, tech companies are now just totally radicalized from within. Also, possible! Or third, and maybe the most likely possibility, is that tech companies call themselves platforms to avoid both regulatory and editorial responsibilities and believe that it gives them a free pass to nakedly profit off of content that would be otherwise unacceptable to associate with normally. They have the data tools to prove exactly how hateful users are and as long as they aren’t a “publisher,” they can feed on that as much as they please and not feel be accused of being hateful themselves.
Or, who knows, maybe all three are true.
Anyways, if you’re looking for even more Joe Rogan discourse, we went long on the whole thing in my podcast this week.
John Green Publicly Mentioned Tumblr
Last week, YA author John Green posted a TikTok about what happens after the end of his book The Fault In Our Stars. In the comments, a user named Lisa said that she had thought that the main character died after the book ended and that Green had, years ago, confirmed this as canon. Lisa said she thought this because she had read a post on Tumblr a long time ago.
Green then responded, telling her not to believe everything you read on Tumblr.
This little interaction was noticed by Tumblr users, who are extremely excited that Green has publicly acknowledged the existence of the site. Why? Well, you see, Green played a very important role in the development of the site. Namely, he’s the reason you can’t edit reblogs anymore.
Long ago, you used to be able to reblog someone’s post and edit what they had said. This was a supremely dumb feature that was abused constantly, but it wasn’t until an incident with Green that things really blew up. Users, incensed at Green’s presence on the platform following a Your Fave Is Problematic callout post, edited one of his posts into a wildly graphic depiction of giving someone a blow job. Green’s blog went quiet after that and a rumor started that that he, personally, asked Tumblr to change the reblog feature. Though, he later refuted that.
Anyways, following Hank Green resurfacing on TikTok last year, people have been waiting to see if either Green brother would acknowledge the reblog editing scandal. Based on the TikTok comment, I’d say it’s not something he’s forgotten.
This YouTube Video About Niall Horan Seems To Be Stuck In Google Lens
I was tipped off to this by a reader named Cam. Last month, I discovered that my normal right-click to reverse google image search feature in Chrome had been replaced with a new and terrible service called Google Lens. Luckily, a reader helped me figure out how to disable it.
Well, it turns out, that for whatever reason, many people’s Google Lens results keep returning the same weird YouTube video. The video above was published in 2016 and is titled, “Fakets Of Niall Horan”. The comments for the video are full of very confused Google Lens users and there’s even a Google support ticket for it.
One guess from the comment section is that Google Lens is surfacing any YouTube videos with the word “fake” in the title.
A Good “Not Wordle” Joke Finally
The Guy From The Darkness Is Wilding Out On YouTube
A few months ago, I started seeing videos on YouTube recommended to me made by an insane looking man with long hair and mustache. I clicked into a couple and they were entertainingly unhinged, but I just figured he was just some weird YouTube musician.
Turns out Justin Hawkins is the lead singer of the band The Darkness! He’s posting on YouTube almost daily now and his content is… not terrible? Hawkins also has a whole series of videos where he calls different bands overrated, which is the kind of low-stakes drama I want out of my passive YouTube entertainment.
I sort of put him in the same category as Christy Carlson Romano, who suddenly started blowing up on YouTube out of nowhere last year with bizarre — but captivating — vlogs. I think a lot of celebrities of a certain level ended up with more time on their hands than normal during the pandemic, which led a bunch to realize that after years of working in the entertainment industry, they have the exact right kind of psychic damage to be really good vloggers. Excited to see what mildly famous person pops up in this space next.
A 4chan User Plays The New Pokémon Game
Is this real? Who can say. But Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a great game and it’s fantastic being able to play it anywhere thanks to the portability of the Nintendo Switch!
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a really good dog photo from 1875.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
Great edition today, the Joe Rogan analysis has been insightful and blessedly calm. Two things: I can’t believe that Niall Horan video is now in my YouTube history, nor that other people’s bags have The Sand. What does it mean??