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When the traffic firehose is pointed at you

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Unmasking The Most Viral Page On Facebook

My podcast co-host Luke Bailey and I are back with a new content investigation. This week, we took a whack at answering a mystery that’s been bothering us for months. According to Facebook’s Q3 Widely Viewed Content Report, the most widely viewed page in the US, and the page responsible for the most viewed, third-most viewed, fourth-most viewed, and eighth-most viewed pieces of content on the site is called Thinkarete Lifestyle. Which begs the question, who or what is Thinkarete Lifestyle and how did this post become the most viewed piece of content in the US on Facebook this year:

We aren’t the first people to ask what the heck is going on with this page. My fellow Sidechanneler Casey Newton mentioned the page in a great piece on Facebook publishing last week and Benedict Nicholson, head of research and editorial for NewsWhip, has puzzled about the page’s absolutely gargantuan amount of engagement, as well. We think we solved the mystery of what exactly happened here.

The Thinkarete Lifestyle Facebook page was created in 2013. According to Facebook’s Page Transparency, it’s run by a business from Utah called TASTY MEDIA ONLINE LLC, which lists a woman named “Marcela Caminos” as its former director. TASTY MEDIA ONLINE LLC was dissolved in 2018.

Thinkarete Lifestyle has two million followers on Facebook, which is weirdly small for the amount of impact it’s getting. It’s posting a lot of text-prompt posts like the DUI post screenshot above, but it’s also sharing links to an E-commerce site called Lyndas Kitchen, which is a barely-filled out Wordpress store full of Lorem Ipsum, selling cookware and home decor likely drop-shipped from China. Thinkarete Lifestyle is currently sharing links to Lyndas Kitchen three times an hour, 24 hours a day. Based on our previous research on shady Facebook publishers, seeing an E-commerce store take over a once-viral Facebook page isn’t uncommon, but this is easily the most aggressive version of this we’ve ever seen. But Thinkarete Lifestyle is not running on autopilot. The page is commenting and reacting. It’s not a zombie page.

Thinkarete Lifestyle also links out to a viral food site called allfood.recipes, which, according to a corresponding Instagram page, describes themselves as a “food blogger” and links to both Lyndas Kitchen and the Thinkarete Facebook page. There is also a group run by the Thinkarete page called “All Food Recipes,” which appears to be affiliated with the website and Instagram.

There is also a thinkarete.com website, which is another barely-filled out E-store template. It lists a phone number with a Bangladeshi country code and, most bizarrely of all, if you click on the “Available on the App Store” button at the bottom of its homepage, it takes you to a Target.com search for “apple store++now”. But, according to tweets from around 2013, thinkarete.com was actually publishing recipes.

According to a Google domain search between May and September 2021, the Thinkarete Facebook page was already sharing Lyndas Kitchen links, albeit at a much lower rate. But after the May DUI post, on May 29, the page shared another text-prompt that reads, “You get to invite 1 person to a function. If they’re late you win $1,000,000 who you inviting?” Though, interestingly, the post was not made by Facebook’s native text graphic tool. It was a photo post. Which makes us think that the page hadn’t quite figured out what was causing the traffic spike yet. But it still blew up, being shared 173,000 times.

A few weeks later, the page tried it again, though, this time, they used the native text graphic tool (screenshot above). This post was shared 252,000 times. The page has posted around two of these text-prompt posts a month ever since. The most recent one is being engaged with at a much lower rate, though. Seemingly the viral frenzy is over.

We had a breakthrough about what exactly is going on here after we put “thinkarete.com” into WhoIs Domain Tools, which listed “thinkarete.com” as “ThinkaRete.com”. It’s a small difference, but after we googled “Thinka Rete,” we came across a Utah-based Flickr user named Thinkarete Lifestyle, which listed the name “Marcella Pintafun” as its owner, who also had bylines in 2014 on a food blog called Tasty Kitchen. Pintafun doesn’t appear to be her actual name, but we’re not trying to dox her here. We were able to find her actual Facebook and can confirm that all these accounts and projects are being operated by the same woman.

So let’s put it all together.

The “Thinkarete” online brand appears to have been created by a food blogger from Utah. Between 2013-2014, there was a flurry of activity around the web — a website publishing original recipes, the launch of the Thinkarete Lifestyle Facebook page, and bylines on other blogs. The Thinkarete Facebook page, however, slowly became more and more important, as the other parts of the Thinkarete brand atrophied. The Thinkarete Facebook even went through a period where it was posting freebooted BuzzFeed Tasty videos, likely to capitalize on the Facebook video boom. The Allfood and the Lynda’s Kitchen domains were both registered in 2014. And, in 2016, the operation incorporated.

Navigating the Thinkarete Facebook page is impossible now because of the spam from Lyndas Kitchen. In fact, CrowdTangle couldn’t even generate a decent report because of the amount of links being shared to the page. But, after scrolling through Thinkarete’s videos section and the Allfood Instagram page, what seems clear is that the blogger running these pages was experimenting — food videos, Pinterest-optimized recipes, E-commerce links, vaguely conservative memes. We even found what are likely family photos and videos buried deep in Thinkarete’s socials, which, we obviously aren’t linking to here, but they seem to have been forgotten about amid all the optimizing. The entire Thinkarete brand seemed to be this woman’s online side project, which had largely morphed over time into a drop-shipping scheme. Then, last summer, the Facebook firehose was pointed directly at the page.

This is an objectively terrifying idea. To pass no judgment on the blogger who was playing around with these tools — you know, get that passive income — but imagine if you woke up one day, posted something to your Facebook page, and suddenly had more viewers than the Super Bowl. Because that’s what appears to have happened here. Facebook flipped a switch, favoring comments and reactions over shares, and suddenly a food blogger from Utah became the largest publisher in the country, if not the world.

If that bothers you, now imagine if, instead of being a random woman, you were a company with employees, and the same thing happened. Imagine if Facebook allowed you to reach inconceivable levels of scale and then, one day, they flipped a switch and made it all disappear. Pretty messed up, right?

The one mystery we weren’t able to figure out is why any sane person working at Facebook would feel comfortable publishing a content report that admitted that the most viral publisher on its platform this year was a barely active drop-shipping scam page full of stolen video content run by an LLC that doesn’t even exist anymore.

If you want to listen to us do this research in near real-time, you can check out our episode from this week.

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The “Amish Bitch” Post Turns Five

Five years ago this week, Tumblr user marcitlali unleashed a legendary beast, in the form of their famous “Amish bitch” text post. Beginning with that classic command “imagine,” the post gets extremely good, extremely fast, in a way I will not embarrass myself by attempting to objectively analyze. It is transcendent. It is in a class of its own. Although, rural imagery is a popular subject for viral Tumblr posts; I see “God I miss the days...” as a sort of younger sibling of “Amish bitch,” and then, of course, there’s cottagecore

2016 was not necessarily a high-point in Tumblr-land—many people would think fondly on 2012 as the site’s peak, with 2013 representing the start of the general curdling that ended up dispersing out into the wider internet, and thence to the world, in the form of the “other” side of the culture war: SJWs, adult cartoon discourse, problematic faves, and all that. 

But at any given time pre-2018 — and even to this day, as any follower of the legendary 11,000+ Tweet long thread of good new Tumblr posts can tell you — people were out there cranking out good shit. What the “Amish bitch” post shows off so well are the properties of the Tumblr post as unit. As legendary as the OP is on its own, it’s the cumulative effect of the kickoff plus its follow-up comments that make it a work of art. The symphony is so complete that every time it’s been reblogged by someone I follow — its total notes (likes + reblogs count) surpassing 475,000 — it has been accompanied by the subsequent additions displayed above. Basically, nobody reblogs just the original. 

Elsewhere, the kinds of collaborative posts that “Amish bitch” exemplifies have limited means of creation and circulation. Basically, a Tumblr user writes a dumb thing, hundreds of other users pile on, creating a crowdsourced piece of internet content with hundreds of new entry points. It’s kind of like the text-equivalent of a multi-layer TikTok remix. Compare that to the contextual paucity of a retweet, a retweeted QRT, or a set of screenshots of a thread. Both a Twitter thread and a reblog chain both work off of the basic digital affordance of “I am responding to you publicly,” but diverge wildly after that. The fact that a line of responses can congeal organically and then be shared as a memetic unit in its totality is the vital factor here. Yes, this is all very complex. I know that I’m talking about a Tumblr post. But stick with me here.

Whereas, at one point Tumblr represented the horror of decontextualized circulating images, their attribution system has greatly improved over time—as the site’s text posts have increased in importance—while those of other sites (such as the fiendish Pinterest) have meanwhile taken up the mantle of the Frustrating Picture Platform. Screenshots emerge as disconnected commodity; users become alienated from their shitposting labor, as cheekily acknowledged by the popular genre of “I saved your meme” memes

An explanation of what makes any given Tumblr post “good” is not within my meagre powers; but I do think it, at least, in part, has to do with the site’s identity as formed over the last decade. Any given post exists within the cultural matrix of the dashboard; as a mere screenshot, or even a permalink, some of its aura is stripped. There is still yet something incredibly satisfying about a legendary post in its natural habitat.

A Real Good Video

A DAO Goes To Sotheby’s (And Gets Outbid)

Welp, ConstitutionDAO didn’t successfully buy a copy of the constitution. According to a message in DAO’s Discord, the bidding had reached a point where they would have no longer been able to afford the upkeep for the document if they had successfully purchased it. The DAO was able to raise $43.2 million, which will now been given back to members of the community.

As goofy as this whole project was, I do think it’s fitting that 2021 started with the GameStop pump and end with a crypto Discord actively bidding on Sotheby’s. Even if they got outbid. In early October, I tried to sketch out what I thought was and was not a fad within the crypto space and I feel increasingly confident on my predictions. I think NFT art will be looked back on as a stepping stone to DAOs, which will become more sophisticated as they evolve. The next test for this community is if they can move beyond Web 2.0 platforms like Discord to function.

Speaking of NFTs, there’s now a Pirate Bay-esque website where you can torrent every single NFT on the Ethereum and Solana blockchain. Interesting! And, earlier this week, Glitch CEO Anil Dash, a co-creator of the original NFT project, reflected on the state of the crypto market and, specifically ConstitutionDAO, in a really interesting Twitter thread. Dash was ultimately hopeful about what ConstitutionDAO, specifically, means for DAOs going forward (as I am tbh).

“Many are just doing this for the meme value. They’ve gotten crypto rich and don’t mind burning some of their riches on a stunt. But a substantial cohort are very sincere about wanting to learn how self-organizing could work; the rhetoric closely matches that of the early web,” he wrote. “I’m curious to see how it plays out. I also hope people realize they can still just do an old-fashioned crowdfunding for things they care about. We’ll know how it goes soon.”

An Extremely Good Meme

(Click through to see the whole picture.)

Some Brief Thoughts On Parasociality

lol I am aware that what I’m about to say is weird, but I’m just going to go for it. I think I’m proud of a YouTuber? Let me explain. During the height of the pandemic, I came across Alex Melton’s YouTube channel. I’ve featured his videos a few times in Garbage Day. He does pop punk covers of non-pop punk songs and he also does country covers of pop punk songs (he calls these “y’allternative” versions, which is very clever). I’ve never communicated with this guy and really don’t know much about him, but during the worst days of the pandemic, his channel was a nice distraction! Melton announced this week that he had signed with Pure Noise Records and is now actually putting out a full-length album.

Obviously, being a fan of punk bands, I’m used to the feeling of having some kind of pride (but also suspicion) when my favorite bands become successful, but this is the first time I’ve had that feeling virtually. It’s a very weird experience! But regardless of my own neuroses, this is very exciting and cool to see. It does feel like a lot of people who spent the pandemic making cool stuff are finally getting a chance to blow up and run with it properly, which is a nice ray of hope that the world is coming back online finally.

Another Good Meme

(Click through to see the whole picture.)

Sigh, Let’s Talk About Gothfield

Look, my job is just to tell you what’s going on on the internet. You know, if it’s a big enough trend, I’ll cover it, ok? So, in that spirit, a bunch of Twitter users have reimagined Garfield as a goth girl.

There’s also scene girl Odie.

Why is this happening? Well, it seems to have been kicked off by this viral screenshot from a 2018 Garfield collection titled, Age Happens: Garfield Hits the Big 4-0, which reveals that Garfield briefly had a goth phase. Why are people making Garfield…a sexy goth girl?

Well, I’m going to take this opportunity to call this an example of the “Bowsette Rule Of Fanart,” which I just coined. Bowsette was fan creation that depicted Bowser, the big lizard from Mario, as a sexy, kinda goth human woman. So I’m going to say that if given enough time, internet users will eventually draw a sexy goth girl version of whatever it is they’re interested in. You can see more Gothfields here (NSFWish).

Some Stray Links

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

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