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Twitter invented a Clippy for cyberbullying

Read to the end for a troubling Morbius video

This Is What Friction Looks Like

Twitter released some really interesting research last week regarding that sort of annoying widget that pops up when you’re about to cyberbully someone on their app. If you don’t use Twitter and don’t know what I’m talking about, last year, Twitter rolled out a feature that will ask users to reconsider offensive or aggressive tweets before they’re published. I’ve, personally, never encountered it because I love to be nice online.

The findings were published in a study titled, Reconsidering Tweets: Intervening during Tweet Creation Decreases Offensive Content, and it has some fascinating takeaways. Here’s a funky little chart Twitter put together with their results:

So as you can see, about 70% of the users who received the “nudge,” asking them to be nicer just sent the tweet. And, at the bottom there, about 1% decided to go back and actually become more offensive, which is a funny little quirk of social media UX design. But that middle section up there is where things are really interesting. A little less than 10% of the users who received the warning just didn’t send the tweet at all, which I think we can all agree, is good. One day we can get that number up to 100. And about 10% of users made their tweet less offensive.

Now, you might read all of this and say, “wow, that didn’t really work great. Only about 20% of users made any meaningful changes to their behavior.” But that’s actually huge. Though, before I give some rare praise to Twitter, I do have to include some caveats.

Putting a “you’re about to be mean” warning on tweets, or whatever, is like having a seat belts in your car while you’re driving on a highway with no speed limit. You can be as nice as you want on Twitter, but that won’t change how aggressive other people are being, nor will it change how literally every other part of the Twitter experience is designed explicitly to make you want to respond aggressively to other people’s content. If Twitter wanted to curb harassment on the platform, they’d remove the quote tweet feature. I’d also remove likes and the trending topics section entirely, but I acknowledge I’m a bit of a radical.

But here’s where Twitter’s findings get really interesting: The prompt didn’t just affect user behavior in that one instance. It had a notable impact on long-term user behavior. “After just one exposure to a prompt, users were 4% less likely to compose a second offensive reply,” the study reads. “Prompted users were 20% less likely to compose five or more prompt-eligible Tweets.” It also noted that a user who received the warning received nicer replies, as well. And, from how I’m reading this, it appears that was true for all prompted users, regardless of how they responded to the prompt.

When we talk about community moderation online, there are essentially a couple key things that make an online space good or bad. The first, and most important, is the system people are using to communicate. The way people interface with one another on Discord is wildly different than a Facebook Group and that has an effect on how people socialize. The second is culture. Some social networks, like Tumblr or Reddit, have tools that help users not only build communities, but maintain a sense of history, which helps guide future decisions and actions. And, the final thing that you need are guardrails, which, if they work, keep an online community from spinning out of control when the drama gets too bad. Twitter has, essentially, none of these things.

Its interface is a mess. The social media equivalent of being dropped into Fortnite, but if you die in the game, you become a social pariah irl. There is absolutely no way to maintain any semblance of cultural history on the site, regardless of what community you’re in. And while there are a few things that will get you banned real quick, like doxxing, for the most part, there are no guardrails. Which is what makes this study so heartening.

It turns out that if you do even the bare minimum you can sizably reduce how horrible Twitter users treat each other. I mean, the fact Twitter, as a company, had to come up with a “please don’t cyberbully each other” warning for their users is a wildly embarrassing summation of how vicious they’ve allowed their website to become, but, hey, if it works, it works. If the highly-paid columnists, teenage anime nazis, crypto scammers, and unhinged fandom bloggers that use Twitter to wage war all day need a reminder every time they tweet to treat other human beings as human beings, then so be it. At this point, any friction is better than nothing.

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What Will Blockchains Look Like After Cryptocurrency?

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It’s an internet protocol used for following online updates. RSS 0.90 was first released by Netscape in the 90s and the last version of RSS was RSS 2.0, which was launched in 2009. Most people my age remember RSS as the thing that powered Google Reader, which was an app bored millennials used to read gossip blogs during their various unpaid internships.

Most news sites and blogs still have RSS feeds and I still use an app called Feedly, which offers, more or less, the same experience. But, for the most part, internet users have replaced RSS curation with social readers like Facebook or Twitter. In 2013, Google Reader was shutdown, taking with it any real chance of consumer RSS use making a big comeback. Except, that’s not true. RSS has actually become the underpinning of a massive industry over the last ten years: podcasts.

Other than Spotify, which uses a janky non-RSS caching system that sucks and I hate, most podcast apps still use RSS. It’s a fascinating twist of history. The protocol spent the majority of its life as a way for users to keep up with written content and then, quietly, turned into something that was actually perfect for audio updates. Which begs the question: how can we use blockchains beyond how we’re using them now?

Matthew Green, a cryptography professor at Johns Hopkins, recently published a piece called “In defense of crypto(currency),” that is a good and really reasonable look at what blockchain technology can do and how far it’s evolved over the last few decades. Green acknowledges all of the current problems, points to some real solutions, and, I think, if you’re looking for a way forward with all of this, his piece is a good place to start. Here’s my favorite part:

I’m only a computer scientist, so I’m going to let someone else answer that question. I can only tell you that what we have right now is not functioning properly: I suspect that legacy industry and regulators have smothered two generations of technological improvement, largely (I suspect) by building a (mostly) closed and permissioned financial system. And this is a big deal: payments are too important to our economy to entrust them to 1970s-era technology and an extractive industry. We don’t even know what novel applications — Googles, Facebooks, Wikipedias, Instagrams — we’re missing out on because the industry simply won’t allow them to exist.

A Good Video

For real though, I tried remixing this song last night and I don’t think Kate Bush recorded it to a clicktrack. It was a pain in the butt to line up!!

More 4chan A.I. Shenanigans

Last week, I wrote about the YouTuber who made a bot that posted tens of thousands of times on 4chan. Well, it seems like we’re not done with the intersection of 4chan and artificial intelligence, yet. Twitter user @funnycats22 used the GPT-3 language model to generate 4chan greentext stories.

If you don’t know what a greentext story is, they started appearing on the site around 2010. They’re usually a way for 4chan users to tell a short story or anecdote. I’ve always assumed the format was parodying a text-based RPG, where the 4chan user provides a story that other users are meant to imagine navigating. It’s why most of the stories start with the prompt “>be me”. It’s an elaborate way of asking other 4chan users to practice something normal humans call “empathy”.

The A.I.-generated greentext stories are honestly extremely funny. Which really just goes to show how hard it is to tell the difference between an average 4chan user and a racist automated language model. Wait, do you guys think 4chan users are sentient?

Anyways, data scientist Max Woolf generated a bunch more greentext stories, if you’re into this sort of thing.

What’s This Dude’s Deal?

If you’ve spent any time on either TikTok or Reddit recently, you’ve probably come across this guy’s videos. He goes by the username @yayayayummy. He comes up with an utterly repulsive recipe or “food hack” and then makes a video about how it actually tastes very good. This is clever, you see, because we can’t taste or smell videos (yet).

I will say, he seems to have pivoted in more recent videos, but you don’t have to scroll too far back to find really odious combinations like “frozen Twinkie + ketchup,” “chocolate-covered cheese,” or “onion, peanut butter, and raisins”. If I had to guess why his videos do so well it’s because the food pairings he does sort of sound like they’d be good maybe. He also intersperses his gross videos with a lot of genuinely good food, particularly from Korea and Japan. In a recent video he’s eating sea moss dipping sauce. He seems to be aware of the fake outs. His bio reads, “Let me earn your trust!!”

So, in one video, he’s having delicious Japanese barbecue, and then, in another, he’s putting mustard on a watermelon, so, you’re like, “well, maybe this will be good because his last video was pretty great.” But it’s not. It’s ingenious and sort of evil. Or this guy is being totally genuine. His first video was in May 2021, so maybe he has like severe COVID damage to his tastebuds and, really, his TikTok is just a long-form project chronicling what that’s like. Who knows!

Little Victorian Boy Using An Oculus Rift

A Beautiful Reddit Love Story

A Reddit user recently confessed on r/FanFiction that she met her girlfriend because they both read horny fan fiction about the same obscure cartoon character. I had to google it, but apparently the character is literally called “Bowler Hat Guy,” and nothing, I mean, NOTHING can prepare you for what he looks like.

And here’s one more adorable fanfic meet-cute from the comments:

I had a very similar way of meeting my GF too! Not smut but still fanfic. I was the author, they were the reader and one day I put my insta in an authors note for shits and giggles. They were actually too shy to DM me so they just commented on a few of my posts not expecting a reply and I ended up DMing them to say thank you. My desire to ignore stranger danger and talk to random people on the internet ended up with me in a beautiful relationship!

A Good Tweet

Some Stray Links

P.S. here’s a troubling Morbius video.

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

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