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This Is What Replaces News On Facebook
Both Digiday and Axios this week published pieces about the cliff that digital media outlets have fallen off of this year. According to Digiday, the three publishers to lose the most Facebook referral traffic were The Sun, Business Insider, and The Guardian, which are all down around 80% from where they were last August. And while these are grim numbers, they don’t really tell the whole story of what’s been happening on the platform.
Garbage Day researcher Adam Bumas and I started collecting monthly Facebook data from Newswhip back in June for our monthly Garbage Intelligence reports (the next one is out this week) and have watched with morbid fascination as the platform has completely decomposed over the summer. When we first started tracking news articles on Facebook, the top five were all from US publishers. The top story in June was from an ABC affiliate, titled, “Army veteran from Compton celebrates 107th birthday with neighborhood block party”. It had about a half million interactions and around 12,000 shares. That’s incredibly low compared to what a top story on Facebook would have, say, five years ago, but still fairly normal for the post-COVID era of the site.
By July, though, the deprioritization of news content was much more apparent. Of the top five articles on Facebook that month, only one was from a US publisher, a CBS story about Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett. It had about 400,000 interactions and only 7,000 shares. In August, once again, there was only one US publisher in the top five, an Essence story about a black woman becoming the “second-oldest person in the country”. It had around 300,000 interactions and 8,000 shares. And, finally, as of last month, the only US publisher in the top five was an Associated Press obituary for Jimmy Buffet, which had around 300,000 interactions and an admittedly massive amount of shares, almost 50,000. Parrotheads are big on Facebook, I guess. But the really interesting thing is what is filling in the gaps left behind.
It’s easy to imagine that Facebook is now completely overrun by out-of-work magicians porn-moaning while they make bad casseroles and comment sections full of old people praying to potato memes. Which, yeah, is definitely happening. Both of the top posts on Facebook based on total interactions in August and September came from a page called Supercar Blondie, which makes videos about cool cars. But there are still news publishers growing on the site and third-party links to “news” content being shared in huge numbers. It’s just not happening in the US.
The biggest publisher on Facebook right now is a Nigerian digital tabloid called Legit. It’s been growing all summer and beat The Daily Mail in August, which was formerly the top publisher on Facebook. Legit is owned by Genesis Media Emerging Markets, a Ukrainian company that acquired a bunch of African digital publishers. And in July, GMEM’s Kenyan outlet, Tuko, overtook MLive, a Michigan-based news outlet, for the number five spot. Since then, no US publisher has cracked the top five.
And this shift away from US media is even more pronounced if you look at individual news articles. After June, there was a huge spike in content being published in countries like The Philippines, India, and Nigeria going viral. For instance, in July, the two top articles on Facebook were different stories about Filipino adults going back to high school to graduate. But, in September, things got real weird.
According to Newswhip, seven of the top 10 most interacted with “news” articles on Facebook in September — as in third-party links to “publishers” — all came from one domain: catholicfundamentalism.com. The top story from this exciting new digital publisher was titled, “Do Catholics find “Life” by being pleasing to God? The Psalms tell us! #17.” and it has around 400,000 total interactions and around 2,500 shares. Weirdly enough, just like the potato meme that people are praying to, the comments underneath the post are, also, just people writing “amen” over and over again. The only actual news stories in the top 10 last month, aside from the aforementioned Jimmy Buffet obit, was a story about Meta’s Messenger app getting the notes feature, which was written by Filipino news outlet ABS-CBN, and a story from Legit about Nigerian popstar Davido giving a TikTok user a new iPhone 14 Pro Max.
The point with all of this that Facebook can’t actually “give up on news,” as Wired recently put it. What they’ve really done is give up on moderating what “news” is on the platform. Bible verses or cool car videos, it doesn’t matter. Meta has finally given up pretending it cares whether its users are informed about the world around them or not. That’s what it’s doing when it stops tagging content as “news” in countries like the UK and France. Or block the content entirely, as it has in Canada, as it fights with various state regulators over whether or not it should pay publishers. Or when it turns down the volume on both legitimate outlets and trashy tabloids to prioritize video to compete with TikTok. Or when the company’s head of news relations steps down. Meta is saying, “we have decimated the American media, removed our competitors, built our advertising monopoly, and we are done pretending we care.”
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Hello fellow Garbage Day kids. Longtime reader, first time caller. As a fan of Ryan's writing (especially when he dunks on Reddit), it felt right to support the launch of the book I've been working on these last four years by advertising here in the Garbage Day newsletter where some of the most curious minds in online culture meet.
My book is called Which Way Is North: A Creative Compass for Makers, Marketers, and Mystics and it comes out via Penguin Random House on 10/10/23, World Mental Health Day. It asks: where does creativity come from? To answer, it explores through essay, memoir, meditations, and exercises the relationship between our anxiety and our creativity; ultimately suggesting that these come from the same place in our hearts. Yes...I said hearts and I mean that literally. Click here to learn more and order from your preferred retailer.
Thank you all for a moment of your time. I hope my book helps,
👀 Ugh, Great, Another Gross Food Video 👀
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lol jk It’s an ad for my live show lol. This video was made by my buddy Alan Haburchak, who was nice enough to let me get ice cream and cookies all over his car. You can buy tickets tickets for Garbage Day Live here. Grab one before they run out!
Viral Media’s Final Form
This week, I went to the launch of Taylor Lorenz’s extremely good book Extremely Online. The thesis of Lorenz’s book, and also the last decade of Lorenz’s reporting, is that women and people of color created what we now call internet culture and were, basically from the beginning, derided and harassed and overlooked by mainstream media. They were dismissively labeled “influencers” and during a panel at the book launch this week, Lorenz talked about how, in spite of near-constant mockery, many women influencers, in particular, were able to build pretty solid long-lasting businesses. Traditional media? Well, read the essay above for how that turned out.
So I thought it was fitting that, this week, I kept seeing this ad on Twitter for a viral chumbox site called funfactsdays.com:
I’m struck by how clear it is now, in retrospect, how the entire era of “viral media” that defined the 2010s was really just the death gasps of 20th-century mass media. These sites dressed themselves up as something new and bold and hired a lot of talented young people who “got the internet,” but it was just a temporary solution. And that’s especially clear now that many of the big sites of the 2010s are replacing human writers with AI and many of the formats that defined Peak Facebook have now turned into their own form of spam.
To use a comparison from an older technological shift, the further we get from the 2010s the more I’m convinced that the creator economy was the VHS and digital publishers were the Betamax.
This Guy Kicking A Gator Is Following Me Around The Web
I’ve seen it on Twitter, Reddit, and Tumblr, with many people seemingly not realizing it was AI-generated. The photo was uploaded to a Facebook page called Uncle Mike’s Photography, according to Know Your Meme. I tried to reverse engineer how it was made to figure out which model generated it and based on the fact the Facebook page that made it has pumped out a ton of similar images featuring the same dude, my guess is it was Stable Diffusion. It doesn’t have the usual Midjourney color palette of blue and orange and the picture was published before DALL-E 3 launched to the public.
As for the page that posted the picture, it’s run out of the US and launched in May and seems to be primarily advertising a weird eBay store for diesel truck parts. Most of the AI pictures it’s generating are, uh, let’s say, low-key problematic. It also posts a ton of AI pictures of Trump meeting Jesus. Underneath one of the Trump/Jesus pics, a woman named Kathryn wrote, “HERE IS THE MOMENT THE RUSSIAN WAR WAS OVER,” which has nothing to do with anything, but I thought it was a fun detail.
Big Drama In The Red Scare Subreddit
So, the “Dimes Square”-adjacent “dirtbag leftist” (god forgive me) podcast Red Scare has a subreddit that has sort of become the Gen Z 4chan, in the sense that it’s full of deeply unwell reactionary misanthropes that are pathologically unable to stop posting and are obsessed with convincing each other that they have internet-induced schizophrenia. And three days ago, a user named u/hey posted in the subreddit, writing, “I found this sub on accident when searching for shoes, and I've spent the last hour trying to figure out what it is about.”
Here’s what’s weird. Reddit is 18 years old, the u/hey account is 17 years old. And it’s never posted or commented before. If you don’t feel like reading the original thread, here’s a good r/SubredditDrama summary of the reactions to the post. There seem to be four theories as to what’s happening here:
It’s the CIA.
It’s a journalist’s burner account.
It’s a long-time Reddit employee that discovered the sub and is now going to ban it.
It’s “a grim omen, like a crone wandering into your village from the high desert to announce a coming plague.”
The users in the subreddit are, obviously, always this paranoid, but I think they’re especially on high alert right now after Mid Lord Jack Antonoff roasted their entire scene in a recent interview.
MrBeast Got Turned Into Cheese
A YouTuber named Max Fosh secretly swabbed MrBeast and KSI at a charity soccer match and turned their sweat into cheese. I hate this and my life is worse for knowing that this is even possible.
MrBeast was also turned into an AI, which is now running an iPhone giveaway scam on TikTok. He seems pretty upset about the whole thing, asking on Twitter recently, “Are social media platforms ready to handle the rise of AI deepfakes?”
MrBeast was also assigned a green cuck line by infamous pickup artist Rivelino. He seemed pretty confused about that, though, writing, “This green line makes no sense.”
This has been your MrBeast update. Thank you.
Let’s Talk About The Fleshlight Video
Uh, so, if you aren’t on Twitter anymore, this video of a fleshlight captioned, “I will forget you exist” went super viral on there over the weekend. After seeing it for the 50th time, I decided to find out if it was an ad.
It was shared by a rap producer named Kenny Bear. He’s verified and it’s a video, so I assume that helped push it around the app. He does not appear to actively shilling fleshlights, though. OK, but what about the original video?
It was posted to TikTok by a page called @queencarryusa, which is, yes, an account that exclusively promotes fleshlights made by a company called Lurevibe. It seems like, as a way of getting around TikTok’s moderation policies, the company is using the same audio on all of their videos, telling users that these fleshlights are for massaging your fingers.
They Figured Out How To Do Watch For Rolling Rocks With Zero A Presses
Last week, I wrote about how a bunch of Mario speedrunners finally figured out how to race through a level that was essentially thought to be impossible to skip. Well, apparently, this week, a bunch of speedrunners figured out how to “Watch for Rolling Rocks 0xA,” which I don’t totally understand, but I think it’s like a level where you can complete it without ever pressing A? Which was, also, thought to be impossible? Anyways, congrats, I guess.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s the garfarious anglerfish.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***