Welcome to algorithmic rush week, bestie
Read to the end for a good Tumblr
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Welcome to Alabama Rush TikTok
I’ve seen multiple reports that everyone’s TikTok For You pages are filling up with Alabama sorority rush content. And it seems like this year, more than any year previously, sorority rush content has become super sticky inside of TikTok’s recommendation engine. I wanted to try and sketch out a theory as to why. Here’s what I’ve got for you:
Social media, as a whole, is deeply obsessed with young women, particularly white American women. Whether it’s through endless thinkpieces analyzing and scrutinizing young women’s interests and trends — the constant pop anthropology of millennial and Gen Z women — or, on the flip side, through the ubiquitous gendered harassment and abuse from male-dominated internet communities, college-aged women essentially are viral content. Although, interestingly, if you currently google “viral white woman” the results are all “Karen” stories.
Every single social network has, at one point, become the home of the “basic white girl”. Facebook, YouTube, Instagram (obvz), Vine, Snapchat and now TikTok, have all had phases where they’ve used the social power of young women and girls to make their website part of American pop culture. The MTV-ification of YouTube over the last five years is a great example of this. And, every time one of these platforms succeeds in capturing that audience, we typically end up with a new blast of viral sorority content.
TikTok is, now, the most important social network in America. But its algorithm seems to be different than Facebook’s or YouTube’s. It favors iterative content. It wants you to remix the content inside the app. Because of that, the platform’s users have burned through the entire history of internet content in the span of like three years. Every single meme and trend that has ever existed on the internet has been uploaded onto TikTok at this point.
Over the course of the pandemic, TikTok has become the dominant app for documenting real life for young Americans. The impromptu TikTok meet-up-turned-riot that was Adrian’s Kickback is a great example of how this plays out both online and off, as content influences irl behavior which creates more content, ad infinitum. Last fall, TikTok would have most likely been the theater through which the rest of the country watched Gen Z go off to college, but because of the pandemic, that didn’t really happen. Now, however, in parts of the country with fairly lax COVID protocols (like Alabama), TikTok is lighting up with college students share videos about heading back to school. All of this seems to have led to a localized viral content storm which is now hovering over the various sorority houses of the state of Alabama.
But TikTok isn’t a static social network, so the sorority rush content is happening in weird waves. First, students uncynically began sharing their content. TikTok in 2021 is a bit like Facebook in 2013, where a lot of users seem to be using it fairly earnestly still. Then, because, as I said, TikTok is an iterative content machine, there was a second wave of people on TikTok dueting and commenting on bizarre sorority videos. This first wave, based on a cursory glance, seems to have been mainly from people ridiculing these videos. Then, as the content has spread outside of TikTok and on to Twitter, it has ballooned out into an entire discourse cycle, as users debate whether it’s sexist to think that sorority rush content is weird. And, of course, all of this continues to make the content heavily promoted inside of TikTok.
I’ve been really curious about these localized trending content storms ever since my podcast co-host Luke noticed a weird thing where TikTok users kept sharing videos of people accidentally running into the actor Jason Segel. Suddenly Luke’s For Your page became nothing but various videos of people accidentally running into Segel, as if it was its own video challenge. On TikTok, any action, any aesthetic, any type of content, no matter how niche, can become a trend.
So, basically, my takeaway is that TikTok’s algorithm is insanely powerful and until it isn’t, weird random things are going to become completely unavoidable for periods of time, seemingly materializing out of thin air. Welcome to flash mob world!
The British Media And Incels
Six people were killed in a shooting in Plymouth, England, last night. The attack is the worst shooting in the UK in at least a decade. The 22-year-old alleged gunman took his own life following the attack, according to police. The news of the attack has sent shockwaves across the UK, both due to the fact a firearm was involved and because a police statement from Devon and Cornwall Police Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer said this morning, “We are not considering terrorism or a relationship with any far-right group.”
It didn’t take long for people to go through the alleged gunman’s YouTube history and discover he was a massive fan of far-right influencers like Count Dankula, Paul Joseph Watson, and Lauren Southern, but was also, according to the Guardian very active on incel-adjacent subreddits. All of this has led to a massive debate today in the UK about whether or not incels count as a terrorist group.
There’s also another uniquely British dimension to all of this — the country’s media and how it’s covering the attack. You’ve probably already noticed that I haven’t named the alleged gunman, nor will I, but his name and face are now plastered all over the major UK tabloids. Also, by my count, at least four major publications are referring to him as a “loner” and even the Guardian piece linked above looking at the alleged shooter’s internet history includes bizarre lines like how he “portrayed himself as a man in despair” and the sentence: “In two videos posted late last month he comes across as a man struggling with his mental health and full of loathing for himself and others.” Which feel weirdly sympathetic amid graphic depictions of the racist and sexist hate the alleged gunman was posting online leading up to the attack.
British podcaster and close friend of mine Hussein Kesvani has spent the last several years covering toxic masculinity in the UK and is one of the few researchers who, rightly in my opinion, make connections between far-right white nationalists, incels, and Islamic fundamentalist terrorism like ISIS. He has been pretty vocal this morning about the British media’s absolutely abysmal handling of Thursday’s attack.
“News outlets don’t have people working on ‘internet’ beats,” Kesvani said. “So when they’re hit with something like this, they'll send out a home affairs reporter, or maybe a crime reporter, who will repeat police press releases and basically say ‘this person was part of a shady, anonymous online cult where he was poisoned with violent views and groomed into becoming a murderer’ and, often, this will be used as the basis to support more surveillance and policing measures (something that the UK government is actively trying to do anyway).”
Kesvani said that the fact that most mainstream news operations in the UK don’t have anyone really focusing on internet — or more likely, has recently laid those writers off — is ironic because internet culture is more influential on British society than it ever has been.
“But there’s little interest in how the internet works, and how it could be better,” he said. “So it’s still treated as this separate entity, where it’s either an alternate environment that doesn't warrant any attention, or this dark, dangerous place that is inherently untrustworthy and harmful.”
Please Get Vaccinated So We Don’t Have To Do This Anymore
President Biden showed up in a photo today on the @dudewithsign Instagram account. This is part of the same “influencer army” campaign the White House is using to try and get people vaccinated. Earlier this week, I wrote about the Benny Drama Instagram video which is part of this, as well.
If you’ve never heard of Dude With Sign, he has 7.5 million followers on Instagram and the account is managed by Fuck Jerry. Sorta related to this, I once heard from a viral content creator that photos of text are one of the most inherently viral things you can post: pictures of signs, pictures of receipts, pictures of notes. People love that shit.
Anyways, as I said on Monday, this is cringe, but if it gets people vaccinated, that’s cool. Just please, for the love of god, get vaccinated so we don’t have to see Jen Psaki or Biden pop up in a photo with the Balloon Wall Guy next.
Ted Cruz Wishes Dream A Happy Birthday 😕
Today is the Minecraft YouTuber Dream’s birthday. If none of those words make sense to you, here’s a Polygon piece I wrote recently with even more words about Dream that might not make any sense to you, but are good, I assure you.
Apparently, Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s daughters are Dream fans and asked him to wish the YouTuber a happy birthday on Twitter. Weird stuff! There were a lot of really good replies to Cruz’s tweet, which has been thoroughly ratioed now. If you have the time, I highly recommend clicking through and reading them all, but I think I’ve decided this one is my favorite, simply because of the simplicity:
A Good Tweet
Here’s A Fun Spotify Playlist
Another Good Tweet
According to a translation from the account @unseenjapan, this tweet reads, “A collection of my son, who always becomes elderly when we go for a stroll.”
You Can Run DOOM On 16,039,018,500 Crabs
I’ve had this on my list forever and it’s a Friday in August and it’s hot, so I’m going to include it in today’s issue. According to an incredibly fascinating thread from Wharton professor Ethan Mollick, scientists were able to build a logic gate using crabs. A logic gate is essentially a single unit of a digital circuit. So as Mollick points out in his thread, 640,000 crabs would be able to store the data of a tweet. Which is extremely fucked up to imagine. And even worse, 100 million crabs could operate enough logic gates to load 156 tweets.
What is Twitter if not hundreds of millions of awful crabs generating content?
Twitter user @normalhoroscope then did the math and figured out that it would take 16,039,018,500 crabs operating logic gates to run a copy of the game DOOM.
Oh, while I have you, here’s a weird crab fact: pollution is making crabs horny.
Trampolines Are So Hot Right Now
I want a trampoline thing! I watch these videos all day and it just seems so free? I want to carelessly float through the air. I want to give my body over to gravity. I want to experience the beautiful oblivion of a trampoline.
A Cool Substack Experiment
Adventure Snack’s author Geoffrey Golden sent me his Substack project following my interview with Substack CEO Chris Best last week. In our conversation about the future of the platform, Best said he’d love to see more fiction being published on Substack. And Golden’s project is a super neat example of a fun fiction idea. It’s called Adventure Snack and each issue includes micro-choose-your-own-adventure stories. You’re given a prompt, like wrestling a bear, and then you click through on different links to learn your fate.
It’s a really neat project and also is exactly the kind of thing I think you’d come across on a blog (or a Tumblr) 10 years ago, which, in my opinion, further cements the idea that newsletter publishing is just blogging again. Which reminds me, the “newsletters are just blogs again” discourse has always bugged me, but I couldn’t really put my finger on why. I think I’ve finally nailed it down. Email newsletters pre-date blogs by decades, but when blogs started popping up, people then used technology like RSS to track when blogs would update. If you only look at the last 20 years of the internet, it might look like newsletters are now replacing blogs, but if you look at the internet over the last 40 years, what you actually see are newsletters basically staying fairly consistent and then a weird decade and a half where people tried to recreate newsletter publishing without email, failed, and then went back to newsletters.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good Tumblr.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***