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I’m putting together today’s issue from an airport in Lisbon while I wait for my connection on to the UK, where I’m speaking at a conference this week. Thankfully, Garbage Day researcher Adam Bumas is taking on today’s top essay. We’ve been tracking Reddit data for the last six months and we think we’re able to pretty definitively show how bad the social network has degraded since the start of this summer’s protests.
Take it away, Adam!
Reddit Activity Plummeted After The Protests
—by Adam Bumas
Last month marked the official end of the Reddit protests. Any subreddit that had changed its rules or gone dark — or forced its users to post exclusively about John Oliver — has now gone back to normal. On the surface, it seems like a complete victory for Reddit, but things aren’t so simple when a major element of that victory was forcibly removing moderators for dozens of communities. In fact, according to Reddit users, the protests have caused a major brain drain on the site. The question is: can you prove it? And the answer is: well, sort of, yes.
For the last six months, we've been tracking the top Reddit posts every month. When we first started, the subreddit with the most posts in the top 20 was r/OddlySatisfying, with three posts. As of last month, however, 10 of the top 20 posts all came from r/MadeMeSmile.
The fact that all of the top posts on Reddit are coming from the same subreddit, as far as we're concerned, means either people aren’t browsing as much or there just aren’t as many people on Reddit. But it was hard to tell which was which, since the actual number of upvotes on the most popular posts are pretty identical to where they were six months ago. But investigating that, I found that Reddit has always had certain caps on how many upvotes a post can get, which suggests that isn’t a good way to measure. Over on Subreddit Stats, however, we found a much better way of working this out.
Most major subreddits show a decrease of between 50 and 90 percent in average daily posts and comments, when compared to a year ago. This suggests the problem is way fewer users, not the same number of users browsing less. The huge and universal dropoff also suggests that people left, either because of the changes or the protests, and they aren’t coming back.
This chart from SubredditStats show the daily comments and posts for 5 major subreddits: r/news, r/facepalm, r/mademesmile, r/oddlysatisfying, r/mildlyinfuriating.
And that’s how we've now ended up with a Reddit full of r/MadeMeSmile. And, just in case you're curious about what that looks like — four of the top five Reddit posts were reposted TikToks.
Reddit was one of the last major spots online where you could expect to interact with people who aren’t making money off you. Which also why Reddit was able to completely replace its existing moderators since they were virtually all unpaid.
We’ve talked a lot about Cory Doctorow’s concept of “enshittification”, but he was only talking about individual platforms. Larger trends like AI and crypto (or even pivoting to video) have a cascading effect on the process. One big platform trying something is enough to legitimize it, and soon everywhere you can go has a noticeably worse user experience. If people stay off Reddit, then the site definitely didn’t “win” the protests, but neither did anyone else.
When Reddit announced the API pricing that kicked all this off, they justified it by talking about lucrative AI tools trained on Reddit data, saying, “we don’t need to give all that value to some of the largest companies in the world for free”. Ironically, that’s exactly what you do every time you go online, and it looks like a lot of people have decided to choose the same thing for themselves by staying off Reddit.
If you want to get more of Adam’s great analysis, you should sign up for the monthly Garbage Intelligence reports. They’re $150 for a year and you get all the other Garbage Day subscriber benefits when you sign up and, if you’re already a subscriber, you only pay the difference. Hit the green button to find out more.
Garbage Day Live Is Coming!!!
I am so excited to announce the first special guest for next month’s Garbage Day Live! It’s my dear friend Katie Notopoulos. She’s an incredible writer and, frankly, a much better internet culture reporter than I am and I won’t give away what she has planned for the show, but, folks, it’s real good.
If you haven’t picked up a ticket yet, head over here and grab one. This show is going to be an absolute blast.
A Good Tweet
Will you also take the B2B SaaS virginity pledge?
The Pop Crave Discourse Pipeline
Last week, I wrote about Joe Jonas’ bizarre PR blitz against his soon-to-be ex-wife Sophie Turner. I had speculated it could be that Jonas’ people had done the math (and demographic research) and assumed that deploying a weirdly aggressive drip-drop character assassination of Turner across legacy celebrity news publications and tabloids was a good way to reach the kind of adult person who is going to a Jonas Brother’s concert in 2023. I also wondered if it was part of a broader course correction among celebrities, who are slowly realizing that social media chatter doesn’t really hold them accountable — or maybe even matter — anymore. After sitting on that take for a bit, now I’m thinking something else is happening.
From 2013-2019, there was a well-established media formula in the US (and a few other countries) that went like so: A thing would happen, internet users would react, which was then repackaged by digital media outlets as roundups, which would then bubble up into broadcast and cable news segments and, eventually, be laundered to cultural elites via big thinkpieces in glossy magazines.
In my opinion, this entire thing started with Miley Cyrus twerking at the 2013 VMAs. And, 10 years later, parts of this are still happening, but thanks to mass-layoffs among digital media newsrooms and a Twitter that is, increasingly, hostile to publishers and much less representative of America (because it’s filled up with weird cringe nerds), this whole engine has started to break down. The fact late night shows and SNL, which, in America, were sort of the last stop on the content train, are shuttered due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes is making this feel even more pronounced.
In this gulf, Pop Crave and its many imitators have risen up and are beginning to change the way this whole structure functions. Pop Crave, the biggest of the platform-native celebrity news outlets, was started by a 20-something J-school dropout from Miami named Will Cosme. It has 1.5 million followers on Twitter and even has a website (which it is now occasionally linking out to). And unlike the viral aggregators Pop Crave has replaced, which figured out that if you wanted that sweet, sweet third-party link traffic on Facebook you had to publish something that could hack the news cycle, Pop Crave is much more straightforward. It largely focuses on bite-sized breaking news and fandom-specific updates and spends its energy packaging them in ways that work best on Twitter and Instagram.
And all of this has led to a much more fragmented sense of pop culture. Everyone is cutting ties with Scooter Braun? That’s weird. But Doja Cat’s fans are mad at her for making fun of them. But she’s in her villain era and just had a big hit. But Joe Jonas caught Sophie Turner doing something on their Ring camera. So they’re getting divorced. And Ashton Kuther and Mila Kunis did an apology video in their mansion for writing letters of support for Danny Masterson. And new videos of Topher Grace have resurfaced where he talks about That 70’s Show. Until it just sort of washes over you until you can’t keep it all straight anymore.
I’m not sure this is better or worse than what we had before — viral near-instantaneously crystallized cultural moments without any room for nuance or perspective — but it’s definitely harder to keep up with.
Musk Accidentally Does Something Good
Quote tweets are no longer a separate metric on the extremely crowded tweet interface. Instead, you have to click on a thing to click on another thing to see them.
I wholeheartedly agree with video game writer Cohen Edenfield, who wrote, “‘It held people accountable!’ Bullshit. It turned every day into an easter egg hunt for people to farm engagement by perpetually showing me the most terrible shit possible. Ninety variations on ‘this guy sucks!’ over some guy saying stuff that sucks, which means I see it 90 times.”
I’ve written about the quote tweet before in Garbage Day, but I’ll repeat it for the new folks: The quote tweet, as a metric, might be the most toxic social media feature that has ever been created. It immediately made Twitter a more abusive and annoying place and hiding it is a very good idea.
For those who might ask how the quote tweet is different from Tumblr’s reblog, the answer is easy. Reblogs crate a tree of responses and replies, which anyone can add to or modify. Clicking on quote tweets basically created a burn book for people’s content.
Bidenghazi Is Here
Conservatives are launching an impeachment inquiry in President Joe Biden, blah, blah, blah. The specifics do not matter. What does matter is how the impeachment inquiry will be used over the next six months as it becomes clearer exactly what kind of jail cell Donald Trump is headed for.
Todd Zwillich, VICE’s DC bureau chief, has a really good thread about the Biden impeachment inquiry, comparing it to the #Benghazi Hillary Clinton frenzy. Which is why I will now be calling this Bidenghazi.
You should read Zwillich’s whole thread, but this is probably the best tweet from it:
Let’s Check In On Linda Yaccarino’s Cyber Hell
On September 9th, X/Twitter CEO(?) Linda Yaccarino tweeted, “X opposes antisemitism in all its forms. Antisemitism is evil and X will always work to fight it on our platform. And X is also always open to proactively working together in that fight with all groups.”
Then, this week, on September 11th, the antisemitic “dancing Israelis” conspiracy theory became one of the top trending topics on the app. To the point where far-right influencers like Nic Fuentes were bragging on Telegram about how they “control the narrative.”
Yaccarino has not mentioned any of this in her tweets this week. Instead, she shared a tweet about the Christian Siriano Spring 2024 collection and a blurry photo of 9/11 first responders that she appears to have quickly downloaded off Google without getting the full-sized image. Then, yesterday, she promoted the Apple event hours after it had already ended. Great stuff, Linda. Thank you.
People Keep Asking If He’s Been Lifting Heaps Lately
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Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s some scrumbling.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***