The witch hunt machine

Read to the end for a truly cursed Tumblr post

We, Regrettably, Should Talk About West Elm Caleb…

Welp, we have our first nonconsensual TikTok villain of 2022. If you haven’t been following all the West Elm Caleb stuff, you can click through the Twitter thread embedded above and scroll through it.

The gist is that a bunch of women in New York all realized they had been ghosted by the same guy, a man named Caleb who works at West Elm. It started as one of those classic digital serendipity stories, where a bunch of users realized they had had the same experience and started posting about it. Because it played out on TikTok, it then, of course, spun out of control incredibly quickly.

The real catalyzing moment in the West Elm Caleb saga was when Kate Glavan, a New York City-based TikTok influencer, learned that Caleb had slept with another Tiktok user hours before she went on a date with him. Users are now trying to dox West Elm Caleb and other users are using the trending topic as an excuse to dox other men who might be “the West Elm Caleb” of their particular city. It’s a mess and, also, totally par for the course when it comes to TikTok’s extremely young audience seeking viral vigilante justice while also iterating on whatever’s trending to boost their own follower counts.

Also quick aside: I think West Elm Caleb is a really interesting example of how there are now actual influencers in New York City. There have always been cool internet popular people in New York City, of course, but there really hasn’t ever been like an LA-style normie-friendly creator scene in New York. That’s weird and I imagine it’s connected to the city’s rising housing market. Anyways…

Glaven actually published another video about the West Elm Caleb situation yesterday, arguing that she never doxxed him and then complained about media brands who had picked up the story. This is actually a really common refrain from big TikTok accounts. TikTok influencer Michael Mc basically told me the same thing in an interview I did with him for a Verge piece last year, arguing that he’s being responsible with how he goes after antivaxxers and bigots and that he thinks his followers aren’t the people threatening to murder the nurses he features in his videos, but other users on TikTok who see his content out of context. And Sophia Smith Galer, a TikTok influencer and VICE reporter I interviewed for the same piece, made a similar argument about brands being irresponsible with how they cover TikTok drama. In fact, the top comment on Glaven’s newest West Elm Caleb video is from TikTok researcher-cum-TikTok-influencer Abbie Richards, who wrote, “Thank you!!! This is so complex and nuanced but you captured it well. The speed at which brands joined in was a bit terrifying.”

I want to be clear, I really like and respect Galer and Richards’ work and I don’t want to make it seem like I’m putting them on blast here. And, in fact, I think they’re mostly right. Media brands — whether they’re mainstream legacy outlets or late-stage digital publications — oscillate between mining TikTok for moral panics to freak out millennial parents who like to pretend they weren’t doing the same shit on Myspace 15 years ago and amplifying juicy TikTok drama for clicks. My friend Hussein touched on this idea, as well, tweeting today that West Elm Caleb is something “that has been reinforced through a digital culture journalism geared toward virality on social platforms, particularly the kind that forces conversations and discourse.” But, also, creators can’t really be surprised by this kind of thing anymore.

There’s no denying it anymore: You post about someone on TikTok, users are going to dox them. Though, solely laying blame on creators with huge audiences for things like West Elm Caleb isn’t quite right either. TikTok built a witch hunt machine and doesn’t really give a shit what people do with it. Its users have been trained to follow trending topics, forensically analyze each other’s content, and endlessly iterate and remix to build online clout that is now directly linked to actual personal wealth and success. The same mechanisms behind West Elm Caleb led TikTok users to try and prove Train Guy did or didn’t have autism, attack a trans woman making dance videos who they thought was creepy, accuse Couch Guy of cheating on his girlfriend, claim people were being punched in the face at a random New York subway stop, and speculate wildly about unconnected missing women being murdered by Brian Laundrie. And those are just a few examples from the last six months!

As for the morality of the West Elm Caleb situation, a lot of smart people have tackled its complexity. My friend Katie has a great thread on it, which you can check out here and the newsletter Embedded published a great post about it yesterday, arguing, “I truly hope Caleb reevaluates the ways he’s treated women. I hope he never sends an unsolicited nude photo again. I hope he feels genuine remorse and offers a satisfactory apology to the women he’s hurt. But I don’t know if 15 million other people need to be part of it.”

So, yeah, the particulars of the West Elm Caleb situation are all very complicated, but what’s not complicated is TikTok’s role, as a platform, in facilitating this kind of behavior. Both TikTok, the company, and its biggest influencers can’t pretend they don’t know this kind of thing is happening on their platform. There is just simply no way to use TikTok without being influenced by its extremely aggressive algorithm which we’re learning trends towards violence. And as the platform becomes more popular these stories are only going to become more frequent and, I’m afraid, more dangerous.

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Rebecca Black Is Playing Berghain

“How is she going this hard?” asks music critic Anthony Fantano, in a retweet of a video of Rebecca Black performing at the Bowery Ballroom last week. The sentiment is of a type that might strike anyone investigating the artist’s recent output for the first time: wait, HER? HOW??? 

I’m sure you know who Rebecca Black is. If you were an internet user in 2011, “Friday” was impossible to miss. But it’s possible you might not have picked up on the fact that over the past few years Black’s been slowly but steadily working on turning her one-time viral fame into a sustainable pop-music career. ICYMI, her rebirth as a queen of slicked-up, glitched-out hyperpop has been covered by all kinds of music outlets. The remix of “Friday” featuring Big Freedia, 3OH!3, Dorian Electra, and produced by Dylan Brady (of 100 gecs) has over 3 million views on YouTube. And most iconically, she announced a Berghain show for this upcoming May. It seems like she is having a lot of fun and I’m happy for her! She’s got a good management team around her (shout out Kenny Consor!) and as evidenced by the Fantano tweet above, the music-critic establishment is finally taking her seriously as an artist.  

The fact is that I, too, pulled some shit on YouTube when I was 14 which my name was subsequently attached to permanently, at least as far as Google results go. With that in mind I directed myself towards areas of study and employment where All That would be an asset and not a distraction, or worse. Would I have ended up in a more stable/normie situation if I hadn’t blasted my geekery all over the internet in 2010? I’m not sure! It’s a question of determinism. If you figure your past will forever be casting an outsized digital shadow on whatever you choose to do as you grow up, is it not just far easier to lean into it by recognizing it as the basis for your life to come? 

We’re going to be seeing a slightly evolved version of this unfold as TikTok teens become adults, on- or off-platform. The process of developing a digital brand has become so much more streamlined and easy in the last decade. One knows exactly what to expect, what to aim for. And it happens so much faster, too. One dallies, dithers, experiments at their peril. The ten-year span between Black’s “Friday” and “Read My Mind (feat. Slayyyter)” would probably elapse in less than ten months today.

Some discomfort with TikTok comes from the fact that videos on the platform are, for the most part, intrinsically connected to the (often very young) creator’s face and voice. Which, if you dig into it a bit, doesn’t quite track. Kids have been getting up to nonsense on YouTube for as long as some of these teens have been alive and most of them turned out okay. Look at Bo Burnham! It’s true, the sheer scale of the platform and ease of creation means that more people are producing more content. But the reverse of that is how the churn of TikTok and the increased speed of virality since the early YouTube days means everything but the most extremely outsized sensations will be forgotten about in weeks, drowned out by new ones. If any given phenomenon really desired it, digital amnesia could be induced by just shutting up and disappearing. The real question is, why would you when there is money to be made and a brand to be built?

This Is Apparently What A Metaverse “Rave” Looks Like

This tweet has a lot of quote tweets dunking on it, so I won’t dwell on that. Instead, I just want to use this as an opportunity to say how much of a bummer it is that the current Web3 push is being led by either platform monopolists like Mark Zuckerberg, who want to use VR and AR technology to hoover up every last piece of biometric and emotional data about you, and hypercapitalist crypto investors who want to turn the internet into libertarian casino.

Virtual and augmented reality provide real opportunities. They could allow us to be anyone we want, whether that means freely changing your age or gender at will or, you know, depicting yourself as 10-foot-tall dragon with a huge dong. Whatever! The internet is an infinite and completely malleable space and, god, do I wish that beyond just making fun of this stuff the people who were opposed to Web3 were also trying to make some kind of third option to point to. We need to imagine more than an investment banker’s lifeless avatar wearing slacks in a Habbo Hotel waiting room. But maybe it’s out there and it’s just being drowned out in all the NFT nonsense. Are you building a Web3 product that isn’t lame? Let me know!

Twitter’s NFT Clown Car Goes Live

You know, I really respect Twitter’s institutional inability to please any of its users. It takes a very special kind of company culture to be so removed from the daily user experience of every single community on your site to roll out a product that pisses off both the people it was made for and the people who are vehemently opposed to it. But, somehow, Twitter has done it again.

Last night, Twitter rolled out NFT profile pictures. They appear as a hexagon (lol why?) and are available to users who pay for Twitter’s paid feature set, Twitter Blue. Obviously, the news was not taken well by Twitter users who hate NFTs. A large section of the website think their very existence is an offense to both art and also our climate. Fair enough!

But what is really amazing about this new feature is how NFT evangelists are also unhappy! Even more hilarious, when Twitter rolled out the new feature, it timed up with an OpenSea crash, meaning no one’s NFTs would load on Twitter. I love decentralization.

As for what NFT collectors don’t like about the new profile pics, Twitter didn’t make it clear at first that this feature was only for paying users, which folks were pretty miffed about. (Though, you’d think that a community predicated on speculative digital scarcity wouldn’t mind that.) But the biggest issue with the new NFT profile pics is that it allows you to use any NFT you own, not just ones that come from verified collections. Which means you could very easily right-click and save someone’s monkey JPG avatar and then make it your monkey JPG avatar and it would look just as official. Wow, that’s crazy. I love decentralization.

The Meat Piano

Alrighty, this was a fun request. I was asked to figure out the story behind a barbecue meat piano video that’s been going viral on Twitter recently. The TikTok account that posted it was deleted, but I did find the full original version on YouTube. The guy behind the video goes by “Handy Geng” and he makes cool, weird stuff. He recently built a wheelchair that is also a lawnmower. His real name is Geng Shuai and he’s based in Hebei, China.

Alright, What’s The Deal With The Big Emo Vegas Show?

Guys, I was so ready to shell out $200 for a ticket to this. There is literally nothing I want to do more in the entire world than get absolute blacked out on casino pool margaritas and then go flail around in the dirt to My Chemical Romance in Las Vegas. This is lineup is essentially the equivalent of just playing one of my old iPod playlists from start to finish. But here’s the thing, there are a lot of very sketchy details about this show!

  • There are no refunds available that I can see and even though the show is not until October, that’s still worrisome just with COVID variants alone.

  • There are no sponsors listed yet.

  • Buddy Nielsen, the lead singer of Senses Fail, posted a very strange string of Instagram Stories basically saying he didn’t know they were on the show. And All American Rejects tweeted a similar thing.

  • It’s run by the same company behind Astroworld.

  • And it’s 63 bands that are meant to play on three stages — maybe more? — during a 12-hour festival. That’s a logistical nightmare.

Though, Paramore has confirmed they’re playing. So idk! It’s all very weird. That said, if it is real, I will happily go to this and report back for Garbage Day. You know, for journalism purposes.

A New Garbage Day YouTube Video

Hoo boy is it tricky to turn around YouTube videos regularly, but I’m going to keep trying to give it my best shot. This video collects a lot of the reporting I’ve done on DAOs and specifically Cryptoland. Check it out if you want to see some fun explainers for how Web3 communities work and stay to the end for a good video of my motion graphic artist Jon’s dog!

Good Swear Map

I love etymology! I love linguistics! I love swears! So this is a great map for me. I spent a while going through it this morning trying to decide on which one was my favorite and I think it’s a tie between “I don’t give a frostbitten onion” and “It interests me as much as a kilogram of shit,” which has a real impact to it that the other ones don’t. But this map also makes me very curious about Estonian desserts. You can check out the Reddit thread that surfaced it here.

Some Stray Links

P.S. here’s a truly cursed Tumblr post.

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


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