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Two years of Discord
Read to the end for elevator butt
What Decentralization Looks Like
I first launched a Discord server for Garbage Day in the winter of 2020. I had only ever used the platform before the pandemic to track extremist gamers, but I had started doing Twitch streams with some friends and we created a Discord for our channel. I loved using it and a lot of the early channels and emojis (and some users) in the Garbage Day Discord came from that.
I basically wanted to do a couple things with it. I didn’t like how Substack’s comment system worked at the time. I was burnt out by Twitter. And, still deep in pandemic lockdown and, at the time, yet to be vaccinated, I, well, desperately craved human contact. So Discord seemed perfect.
At the time, I wanted to charge folks $10 flat to be in there, like Something Awful. If you’re unfamiliar, Something Awful’s community pays to post. It helps cut down on the “trashed bathroom” phenomenon, where users in a free online community don’t feel bad about being jerks and causing trouble. But, at least at the time, Discord didn’t have an easy way to do that. I also realized there was no way I could moderate a massive internet community. So I put an invite code in the email that Substack automatically sends out to confirm paid subscriptions and tied it into the general Garbage Day subscription. And I figured this would keep it small.
Nevertheless, the server has since grown to over 1,300 users, with an average of about 200-300 active users in it at any given time. The community in there has organized meetups all over the US and even in London. And I believe it’s facilitated two different pet adoptions?
But I also quickly ran into a problem that all internet communities run into. Things got real confusing, real fast. And so this morning I did the biggest redesign of the server since I started it. I hope I didn’t break it because it’s genuinely become a massive part of my life, but change is important. Especially if Twitter really goes down and the Garbage Day Discord becomes even more central to how I socialize on the internet.
Weirdly enough, though, thanks to Elon Musk, we’re having national and even global conversations about content moderation and internet decentralization. Obviously the reason for these conversations is sad and depressing, but the fact we’re having them is good. We’ve come along way from the AOL Instant Messenger vs. IRC debates of my childhood.
It feels like there’s been a lot of talk about decentralization over the last two years, but not a ton of discussion about what it actually would look like. Well, it looks like this. It looks like dozens of “Twitter alternatives” flying around. It looks like viral Substack posts coming across your feeds from writers you may have never heard of before. It looks like random videos from apps you don’t use being texted to you. And it look like screenshots of Discords you aren’t in. And as chaotic as it is, I think it’s generally a good thing. Of course, none of these alternatives will replace the exact experience we used to have on Twitter — and the ones that try will probably fail — but at the moment, you can go try to get your Twitter fix on Substack, Mastodon, Tumblr, Hive, Discord, or Post.news and see how you like it. There will also be new problems, of course. There’s already been a big anti-trans moderation controversy in a Mastodon instance for journalists. And there will be more stories like this as Twitter users migrate to smaller spaces.
But things are breaking apart and already reconnecting in really interesting ways. Matt Mullenweg, the CEO of Automattic, Tumblr’s partner company, said that Tumblr may soon integrate with ActivityPub, effectively connecting Tumblr to Mastodon. My mind buzzes about what could happen if more social networks do this. He’s also demanding that Twitter open up its API so users can bring their Twitter following list over to Tumblr. These are all really exciting steps towards an even more decentralized social web.
But even if you’re not running a Discord server like me, everyone in 2022 is a content moderator of some kind. Whether you’re participating in a group chat, running a team meeting on Slack, trying to talk to friends on Zoom, or organizing a group match on Fortnite, at this point, we’re all doing a bit of online organizing these days. And now there are enough of us taking the internet seriously to really start thinking about how we can do things better or, at least, do them differently.
People Have Asked About Black Friday Discounts
So I’m not doing a Black Friday discount for subscriptions this year, but I will have something fun for you on Friday. If you’d like to support Garbage Day, definitely think about subscribing. You get access to the Discord, which hopefully hasn’t imploded by the time this newsletter goes out, and you also get the fantastic weekend edition. Hit the green button below to check it out.
Ever Want To Know What A $10,000 Keyboard Sounds Like?
Watch until the end to find out! And, no, don’t ask why or how a keyboard could ever cost $10,000.
The Psychology Of The TikTok Iced Coffee
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This was dropped in the Garbage Day Discord by eportale. Back in September, I wrote about the weird TikTok trend where users stir elaborate iced coffees. I figured the clanging of the metal straw must be some kind of ASMR thing. And a psychology researcher named Steve Rathje addressed it in a recent video on his page (embedded above).
Maybe when Twitter finally dies I’ll reinvent myself as an iced coffee influencer.
What Happens If Trump Can’t Tweet?
It seems more and more likely that the closest thing Musk has to a strategy for reviving Twitter is to turn it into a drama factory that you pay to access. And reinstating Donald Trump along with a bunch of high-profile trolls and extremists was central to that. But what if Trump, easily the biggest account to come back, can’t actually tweet?
Scott Nover at Quartz looked into this, writing, “There’s a contractual barrier to Trump posting again on Twitter — even if he keeps posting on Truth Social. According to an SEC filing from May, ‘President Trump is generally obligated to make any social media post on TruthSocial and may not make the same post on another social media site for 6 hours.’”
Which means Trump may not be able to actually post anywhere other than Truth Social, the desolate right-wing Twitter clone that is currently owned by Trump Media & Technology Group and is trying to go public via a SPAC.
I think there’s this real urge to assume that Musk will complete a successful right-wing takeover of Twitter, but between this and the news reported this week by Semafor that Sam Bankman-Fried may own a large stake in Twitter (which Musk denies), it’s also just as likely that the whole thing just crashes and burns after it runs out of ad revenue.
Is This Bad Food Lady A Magician?
This was also dropped in the Garbage Day Discord by ppyajunebug and I was asked whether or not the woman who made this is connected to the magicians who make disgusting food videos and bizarre pranks to get viral traffic from bewildered and angry old people on Facebook. From what I can tell, this woman is not a magician.
She’s posting content on Facebook and TikTok under the name @myjanebrain. She went viral a few weeks ago after she upset Gordon Ramsay with a video where she cooked a chicken in a pumpkin.
Unlike the prank magicians, who are primarily based in Las Vegas and tend to have started their pages during the height of the pandemic, @myjanebrain seems to be based in Canada and didn’t start uploading cursed food content until May of this year.
My best guess is that she figured out that you can consistently go viral if you make disgusting food in a nice suburban kitchen while wearing athleisure and is now just doing it as a content strategy. Many of the gross food videos on Facebook, and more recently, TikTok, are a growth-hacked evolution of those top-down quick recipe videos that were all over the internet five years ago. As the algorithms got more aggressive, the food got more disgusting. Now we’re seeing creators not being influenced by the original content hack, but the content hack of the content hack. Which is actually something I hadn’t considered before. At what point does this just fully degrade into a weird fetish video where someone is just rolling around in raw ground beef for views?
Speaking of algorithmic deterioration…
Facebook Is Trying To Clean Up Its News Feed
Jeff Horwitz in the Wall Street Journal has a fascinating look inside Facebook’s year-long project to make its news feed less awful. The platform set-up a “Content Quality War Room” (they love war rooms) and has been actively trying to get the site’s algorithm to surface higher-quality content. So, how’d they do?
I took a spin through the site’s newest Widely-Viewed Content Report and, as someone who has dug through all of the ones they’ve released so far, I can say it looks less bad than usual. The interesting takeaways for me are:
The majority of the widely-viewed domains are either other mainstream social platforms or legitimate news publishers.
The majority of the widely-viewed links are also from legitimate news publishers, with a couple of harmless viral posts in there.
And, conversely, the most widely-viewed pages and individual posts all seem to be from lifestyle or meme pages. Which makes me think that, instead of being a conspiratorial rats nets, the site is morphing back into a meme platform for user-generated content.
The entire idea of “fixing” Facebook is an interesting question to consider, though. It seems unlikely that even with all the Musk drama on Twitter that new users will join Facebook in a sizable way. Instead, it feels all but certain that the app will become something of a digital senior citizens home at a certain point. Which is fine, but I wonder how long a massive company like Meta will care about a platform predominately used by an aging user base. And it’s a question we’ve never really had to grapple with before. Up until recently, the assumption has been that old people either aren’t online or age out of it. But that’s not true anymore. Nor should it be. So exactly how long will Meta keep trying to make Facebook work before just letting it fall apart completely? And, more generally, when do we start seriously talking about what aging users both need and deserve from social platforms?
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Look, I’d love to write more about what happens in this video, but the ending is so utterly confounding and upsetting that I can’t in good conscience spoil it for you. I don’t know what TikTok’s algorithm is doing to our relationship with food, but it can’t be good. (Here’s a Tumblr mirror.)
Another Good Tweet
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s elevator butt.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***