To the algorithm, we're all just content
Read to the end for a bad joke by Jeff
I’m doing another live event! It’s another installment of the Meme In The Moment at Caveat in New York City. This next one is going to be Halloween-themed. It’s on October 27, which is my birthday. Also, Garbage Day subscribers get a discount code! Click here to grab it. And click here to buy tickets. Not a Garbage Day subscriber? Think about it! It’s cheap and you get lots of fun stuff.
When Algorithms Meet A Missing Person’s Case
On Sunday, police discovered in Teton County, Wyoming, what they say are human remains “consistent with the description” of 22-year-old Gabby Petito. This morning, the FBI began searching the home of Petito’s fiancé, Brian Laundrie. He is not currently charged with a crime.
Petito is a #VanLife influencer and her and Laundrie were on a road trip across the country, visiting national parks and documenting the whole thing on her Instagram, on a YouTube channel they shared, and on her TikTok.
The couple reportedly had a physical fight in Moab, Utah, and police had to get involved. Petito’s parents received a final text from her on August 30. And, on September 11, Petito’s parents reported her missing, 10 days after Laundrie returned home to Florida without her. He is not speaking to investigators or the press at the moment.
In the days since Petito was officially declared missing, she has transformed into gargantuan trending topic. Her Instagram, which only had around 1,000 followers at the time of her disappearance is on track to cross over a million followers soon. There are users registering every version of her name on social platforms, and the tag for her name on TikTok has almost half a billion views.
TikTok and Instagram users are scouring Petito and Laundrie’s social media profiles for “clues” and one TikTok user, Miranda Baker, posted a video saying she had picked up Laundrie. North Port police told Fox News that they interviewed her and her information is being added to their official timeline.
But, of course, the jaw-dropping virality of the case has also meant that things have spun completely out of control. Like the TikTok witch who claims she can find her using tarot readings. The crowdsourced nature of the open-source intelligence (OSINT) being compiled by users right now is also creating a tremendous amount of misinformation. Users on Reddit kicked off a mini-manhunt for Laundrie yesterday, after they claimed he had tried to escape police by running off to Puerto Rico (which is still a US territory so…???). TikTok researcher Abbie Richards has a great thread about all of this, which you can check out here.
“The way true crime turns real people’s trauma into entertainment for profit is already disgusting. But watching it unfold in real time with Gabby Petito’s case is nauseating,” Richards tweeted. “TikTok’s algorithm means any video can go viral and thus any video that ‘might help solve the case’ can go viral.”
That last point by Richards is really important I think. This is “signal boost” culture turned up to eleven, with every random idea that could be “useful” being accelerated by TikTok’s users, and, in turn, the app’s incredibly powerful recommendation system. Which has given the whole case a deeply uncomfortable gamification. As The Guardian’s Moira Donegan tweeted, “Everyone knows this already but it’s very jarring to see the way a woman’s murder in a likely domestic violence situation is morphed into entertainment in real time.”
What’s unfortunate though is that Petito’s situation is kind of a perfect storm for this kind of TikTok-fueled frenzy. At 22, she’s right in the app’s target demographic, the details that have been made public about her disappearance feel like a quintessential true crime story, and, most importantly, she has a huge social media presence, which gives users the illusion that if they watch her vlogs close enough or analyze her boyfriend’s Instagram photos deeply enough, they can figure out what happened, and then, of course, be rewarded for it in internet clout.
What’s happening around Petito’s story is also not dissimilar from what happened around Alabama Rush Week last month. TikTok’s young users get exited about something, it triggers the apps extremely powerful For You Page, the content starts trending. Only, this time, instead of weird videos of sorority girls, it’s a possible crime. Though, to the algorithm, it’s all just content.
Buy The First-Ever Trump Football, Which May Actually Be A Rugby Ball For Some Reason
Former President Trump is currently selling “the very first hand-signed Trump football”. This is an extremely normal thing that very rich people and former presidents who aren’t secretly completely broke and buried in debt do all the time. Here’s what the football looks like, apparently:
The picture used in the promotion looks more like an old rugby ball than a football. Like I said, this is all very normal and something that lots of former presidents do. Trump definitely knows what a football looks like and also has lots of money. Excited to see who wins the football.
The “A Brother’s Wife Is Family” Bumper Sticker
Another Twitter user has shared a photo of the car with “A brother’s wife is family” bumper sticker. This has happened before. In late August, Twitter user @car1ygoodman posted a similarly confused tweet about it.
Well, it turns out, the bumper sticker was created by the sister of Marisa "Missy" Dabice, the vocalist and guitar player for punk band Mannequin Pussy.
Wes @WesWeaverI've been walking by this car almost every day and I need to know more https://t.co/eGzR6H2Xly
Why? It was a birthday present and she thought it was funny. A brother’s wife is family.
This Weekend Was The 13th Anniversary Of The Trollface
I am going to assume that the majority of my readers are late-20-somethings/early-30-somethings that are also grappling with feelings of confusion and nostalgia after living two-thirds of their lives online. So most of you should feel equally old at the news that the trollface meme turned 13 this week.
The meme was created by a teenage 4chan user named Carlos Ramirez in 2008. I actually didn’t know this (or had forgotten it), but apparently Ramirez’s parents helped him trademark the image in 2010, which turned out to be very profitable for him over the years!
And This Weekend Was The Three-Year Anniversary Of Bowsette
Three years ago this weekend, DeviantART user ayyk92 introduced the world to a genderbent version of Bowser, permanently solidifying Nintendo fans as the horniest video game fandom. You can check out the original DeviantART post here.
If you have no idea what I’m talking, basically, Nintendo introduced a new mechanic for the game New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, called a Super Crown, which would transform Toadette (a female version of Toad, the little mushroom man) into a character called Peachette, which looked like a mushroomy-version of Princess Peach. So users assumed that any character that gained the Super Crown, would be Princess Peach-ified. So ayyk92 drew “Bowsette,” which has gone on to inspired SO MUCH pornography. If you’re up for it, google “Booette” 😕.
Here’s the thing that’s always bothered me about this. Toadette becomes Peachette with the Super Crown. So wouldn’t the Super Crown-version of Bowser be Peacher? Wouldn’t Bowsette just be a female Bowser?
Finally, An EDM Tribute To Ronald Reagan
This was sent to me by Garbage Day reader Erika and it rips.
A TikTok Tour Of A Basic White Lady’s House
A TikTok makeup artist named @johnmichaelbaker has been doing a video series called “Welcome to my basic white sister’s home” and it’s extremely funny. You can check out all four videos here. (Sorry, non-TikTok country people, I haven’t seen these on any other platforms.)
New Good Doom Mod Dropped
It’s called Thatcher’s Techbase and it’s a video game that will finally let you live out your dream of sending Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher back to hell. From the game’s description:
The world has heard a mysterious broadcast, a threat of revenge in the sinister voice of the late BARONESS MARGARET THATCHER. Faced with the return of one of humanity's greatest threats, you have no choice but to head to THE TENTH CIRCLE OF HELL: THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND and investigate the underworld fortress known only as... Thatcher’s Techbase.
You can check out more info for the game here. It launches later this week. Unclear if any of the demonic lairs you shoot demons in are a Wetherspoons or not.
Among Us Halloween Costumes Are Coming
There are now official Among Us Halloween costumes. They’re being sold at a bunch of places, including Amazon. Do with this information what you will. Should I wear one on stage at the next Meme In The Moment show???
A Really Good Naval Academy TikTok
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a bad joke by Jeff.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***