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The TikTok slot machine
Read to the end for a Twitter thread I somehow wrote in 2017
Allegra Goes Viral On TikTok
I’ve heard from a lot of sources that the best way to be successful on TikTok is to “pick a niche and stick to it” — an identifiable brand will drive relevant segments to your page and help maintain engagement. Broad appeal is not what TikTok is about — judging by my FYP, you’re either a crocheter, a mommy vlogger, a man splitting logs shirtless, or a Brooklyn thrifting fashionista… Anyway, “picking a niche” would never work for me because I simply cannot be contained to a niche, and am far too lazy to make separate accounts for all my 100,000 interests and passions. A quick look at my page will tell you as much. I pretty much post whatever I want and have been posting more frequently, partly out of dopamine addiction and partly out of wanting to build up a following under my real name outside of Twitter, because of, you know. But I’m not actively trying court virality or anything like that. Just shitposting, you know.
Anyway, I hadn’t been able to hear out of my left ear for a few months, so after a lot of dilly-dallying I dragged myself to an ENT, a man strongly resembling Eric Bogosian in appearance and accent who proceeded to excavate at least a decade’s worth of gunk from my poor neglected canals. PROBLEM SOLVED. But it was a really painful experience, and I didn’t want to end up so traumatized by it forever that I’d avoid going back for the routine maintenance I so clearly needed, so as I was strolling towards the coffeeshop afterwards I made a silly video, reframing the experience as positive: “The doctor said i had the most impacted earwax he’d ever seen in someone so young” flashing a smile and peace sign.
It was just stupid and lowest-common-denominator enough that I suspected it might do okay, but I did not expect for it to blow up the way it did. Twenty-four hours after posting, it hit 250,000 views; a day after that, it was sitting pretty at over 500,000 views, and thousands upon thousands of comments along the lines of “My Dr called me a ‘waxy girl’ when I was like 6 and I will never forget” and “my orthodontist told me i produce more saliva than any patient he’s ever seen 🥰”
My friend Kylie Brakeman, who has racked up nearly five million likes on her TikTok page doing front-facing comedy videos and now writes for the Tonight Show, told me that the first time she went viral with one of her videos, she had to “get up and take a long anxiety walk.” Wanting to get a sense of exactly how well my video had done, I asked her around what number of views that moment of “oh, this is really something different” hit her — hedging that this was back in 2020 during peak pandemic, and numbers might mean something different now, she said it was at around 100,000. So mine was definitely up there! Cool?
But I doubt I could spin my one successful video into a career like Kylie’s. I’m not trying to become a medical gimmick account. I’m not trying to become an anything gimmick account, so much the trouble. Refusing to contort myself into a single niche is a resistant act that renders my presence unmarketable and precarious, relying solely on the appeal of each individual video for reach. Praxis!
TikTok feels uncannily like sitting in front of a slot machine; I’m sure this is on purpose and they have a thousand people in their office studying casino architecture and statistics and stuff like that. I think the reason mine hit it big was because of its simultaneous relatability and optimism: pretty much everyone’s had weird yet relatively innocent medical experiences that they’re eager to overshare about in the comments section, thereby raising engagement rates through the roof.
Its impenetrability and unpredictability goes some ways towards making it seem like a great monolith, with us just the dumb monkeys screeching and hopping around it in a frenzy. There is nothing like a mystery to make people worship. But if this week’s Twitter Events have shown anything, it’s the real and genuine fragility of the systems we take for granted. A foul and pestilent congregation of vapors! Anyway, until we get a publicly regulated social media made possible by contributions from Viewers Like You, this is the best we’ve got. Resist the niche, stay weird, and go get your ears cleaned.
This Week’s Garbage Weekend Is Dropping On Sunday
Tomorrow is a travel day for me, so expect Garbage Weekend on Sunday, not Saturday. I am very sorry, this will never happen again. Please don’t hate. If you haven’t checked it out yet, think about it! It’s for paying subscribers and it’s a bit more buttoned up and comprehensive. It’s $5 a month and you get Discord access along with it. Hit the green button below if you’re interested!
What Does Verification Actually Mean?
This week Substack released a slew of Twitter-like features. There is now a way to mention other Substackers. It looks like this: Hi,. I'm pretty into it. So far, in my opinion, Substack's best features have been modern reimaginings of older blogosphere hacks, like Substack Recommendations, which is basically a super-charged blogroll. But Substack also released a verification tool of sorts this week. It comes in purple, orange, and white, which corresponds to the amount of paid readers you have. I'm not a fan of this — and neither is the community based on the overwhelmingly negative reactions in the comments of the announcement post — but I think it speaks to how many people still don’t get why verification matters.
Verified accounts, regardless of how you delineate it, help people separate shitposts from official content. A verified account means that politicians can use your service, it means that your service can be reliably cited in news reports, and, most importantly, it means brands can feel safe using it. It is not, as both Elon Musk and, I guess, Substack see it, a status symbol. But it continues to be mistaken as one. So what’s the deal?
Well, I think it’s because early on various social platforms tied verification to security and moderation features. The first accounts to be verified were ones that were already notable or famous and the thinking was that those people should get a better experience online so they’d stick around and keep using the site.
During the whole Bean Dad fiasco last year, I got made fun of a bit for arguing that Twitter’s verification created, or reenforced, a class structure on the app. “Verification is only given out to the site’s most prominent users, granting them special permissions and behaviors, which creates a class structure and user inequality,” I wrote. “Verification also ties a user to their real-life identity. Which means verified users are more interesting to attack than non-verified users. There are real world consequences for the site’s verified class. You can cancel blue check @WaPoJeremy, it’s much harder to cancel @DiaperGoku69.”
I’ll be honest, I felt a bit silly about writing about it that way at the time, but I think I was right. I mean, why can’t you just… be verified if you want to be? First instance, Facebook already has a system where it scans your ID for account security purposes. The minute it does that, you should be verified on the site and get the stupid little checkmark. Simple as.
Right now, Twitter is completely awash in spam, scams, and verified fake accounts like fake George W. Bush and fake Tony Blair waxing about how they miss “killing Iraqis” — which, I want to point out, Twitter algorithmically tagged as “Gaming”. And Eli Lilly and Company has had to issue a statement saying that they didn’t actually make Insulin free. It’s chaos. So much so that the paid verification was put on pause today. Musk is prepping employees for a possible bankruptcy and it seems like an FTC investigation is imminent. And, you know, what? Good! I hope this ends up being a massive referendum for all the sad Silicon Valley Clubhouse dorks that have insisted on giving better moderation, better visibility, and better tools to the users they believed were more important. I don’t think you should have to be popular or famous to earn the privilege of not having your identity stolen and I don’t think you should have to pay for it either. Because it shouldn’t be a privilege! It should be the bare minimum that a social platform can offer because if they can’t then what makes them any different than 4chan? Twitter is being eaten by its own obsession with fame and status and, honestly, right now, it’s the most fun it’s ever been.
The Great Paid Verification Debate
Thanks to everyone who came out to Bad Posters Club in London last night! It was great meeting you all and I hope I timed my pints out right so I was still coherent by the end of the night. This week on my podcast The Content Mines, my co-host Luke and I sat down in our favorite pub and really hashed out the paid verification debate. To my surprise, Luke is pro-$8-a-month verification and I am vehemently against. I think our debate was fairly civil. You can listen to that here:
The Curious Case Of Japanese Twitter
Musk’s Twitter purge has created all kinds of bizarre ripple effects across the whole world which are both interesting and confounding. For instance, Japanese Twitter users have noticed that the site’s Trending Topics in the country no longer have any news in them and have filled up with topics like anime and video games. The tweet above from Business Insider Japan reporter Ikuko Takeshita who explains that media outlets in the country were making Twitter Moments to promote their stories, which were then boosted by the Twitter’s curation team, which no longer exists
But, also, Twitter in Japan, at least as of my last time working there around 2018, functioned a lot more like Reddit. Users, including even journalists, don’t typically use their own names or faces. And the site is still overwhelmingly male with a big overlap with the country’s version of 4chan, 2chan. There are even leaderboard-like websites that allow you to view all tweets in Japanese sorted by popularity. So without any active curation, Japanese Twitter seems to be turning back into 2chan.
The mutants over at r/KotakuInAction think this reveals some kind of weird conspiracy about how Twitter manufactures Trending news content, but news publishers making curated Twitter Moments was not exclusive to Japan. UK newspapers are particularly aggressive about Twitter Moments. Also, RSS-based news reader apps in Japan are still pretty popular, like SmartNews, which has millions of monthly users. So I don’t think it’s surprising that Moments were particularly popular in Japan. And I’m not surprised that Twitter was trying to, you know, have a useful Trending Topic section that reflected Japan’s actual news cycle and not just a bunch of misogynistic otaku junk.
If Twitter is breaking down in strange ways in your country, let me know. I’m definitely curious about how this will play out over the next few days. I say “days” because I’m not sure we have much more time left with the site.
The FTX Stuff Has Gotten So Much Worse
It’s not just Twitter that’s prepping for bankruptcy. FTX, the large crypto exchange I wrote about on Wednesday, seems like it’s done for. Binance backed out of buying it, citing “mishandled customer funds and alleged US agency investigations.” Which, I’m no financial expert, but I think that sounds bad.
FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried posted an achingly millennial thread responding to the crisis, which included this very reassuring tweet:
He also apologized for being “slammed with things to do” and not properly updating FTX’s community about the fact that he, uh, lost all their money. Also, fun fact, this is the same guy that played League Of Legends on an investor call.
Remember how like five years ago no responsible or important adult with any money would ever take millennials seriously? They’d spend all their time talking about how we like brunch and how we aren’t mature enough to be considered functional members of society? Maybe that was better than whatever this is.
In case you’re wondering what all of this has done to the crypto market, Bitcoin as of Friday morning is hovering around $14,700, which is where it was around December 2020, which means that the last two years of gains have been completely wiped out.
Tumblr Launched Two Checkmarks
You know what’s cooler than one checkmark on Twitter? Two on Tumblr. See, this is what I want to see from a social platform. No tap-dancing around it. I want to spend money to be more important than people who don’t spend money. If I pay $8 on Twitter and just end up with one checkmark, just like all the normal celebrities, but I want to pay Tumblr $7.99 (what a deal!) to have two checkmarks so everyone knows that I’m extremely cool and also normal.
Here’s a Staff post about the new verification system.
The Only Thing Better Than The Chocolate Man Is This Guy Reacting To The Chocolate Man
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(Here’s a Tumblr mirror for folks not on TikTok.)
Where Should Garbage Day Be Looking Next?
Looking at my metrics, it seems like Twitter has really slipped in terms of its relevance for Garbage Day traffic. Last year it was regularly the first or second source of referral traffic for me and as of right, its number three for the whole year, but number four as of August.
I’ll be digging into this further when I drop my big End Of The Year metrics issue in December, but I’m currently thinking about whether to focus my efforts elsewhere. I’m not super bullish on Mastodon as a promotional space, but have been thinking about TikTok or Instagram (or putting Instagram Reels on TikTok or whatever). But I’ve also had a few other interesting ideas including a Tumblr blog or even a subreddit. Let me know where you’re spending more time right now!
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a Twitter thread I somehow wrote in 2017.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***