You can't always blame algorithms
Read to the end for an interesting Venn diagram
Before we get into today’s newsletter, I just want to say thank you to all of you. Tonight, I’m headed to the Webby Awards. I won in two categories! It’s a huge honor and I really couldn’t have done it without you, my incredible readers. There are almost 25,000 of you reading Garbage Day now which is just very very surreal to think about. It’s been an incredible journey. So, seriously, thank you.
Big Tech Did Not Cause The Buffalo Shooting
I typically try to avoid writing about mass shootings in Garbage Day — not because I’m afraid to take the newsletter in darker directions if the news cycle calls for it, but because I just don’t really have the stomach for it anymore after years as a breaking news reporter. I’m not really convinced there’s much value in racing to dissect some asshole’s internet history after he does something awful.
But I wanted to zero in on this tweet from Sen. Tim Kaine because I do think it’s a very good snapshot of how our understanding of extremely online mass violence has actually become pretty scrambled over the last 20 years. After four years of Trump, I think it’s easy to wave off the kind of extremist violence we saw in Buffalo over the weekend as something that was invented in 2014 by “Big Tech,” when, really, the opposite is actually true. In fact, the extremism we associate with sites like 4chan isn’t algorithmic, nor is it even uniquely American.
Before the invention of websites with live updating feeds, users congregated on message boards. Around 2002, to get people refreshing the page and engaging more, certain boards tried to create a sense of aliveness that was not yet technically possible. The most notable of these sites was 4chan, which stole its design and two central conceits from a Japanese message board called Futaba Channel, or 2chan. The two real features that makes 4chan feel like 4chan are that users are anonymous and that threads disappear, or “404,” after a period of time. What this essentially does is create a space where users race to engage with threads and suffer no negative personal blowback for whatever idiotic thing they post. When we talk about 4chan’s race to the bottom culture, that’s essentially what it is.
Defenders of 4chan, myself included occasionally, typically argue that having spaces like this are important for the health of the internet. But that utopian ideal really only holds up if you think about 4chan in a vacuum. And making things more complicated is the site that 4chan stole its whole deal from has inspired its own terrorist violence in Japan, same with many international copycats like Ilbe Storehouse in Korea or Dogolachan in Brazil. Which, to me, is very good evidence that the 4chan model works well as a vector of extremism. But all of these websites are still just websites. There is no automation inside of them like Facebook or Instagram or even Reddit. No ghost haunting the machine turning young men into killers. The truth about 4chan and its ilk is that its not that the content is making extremists, it’s the other way around.
I’m not going to quote the Buffalo shooter’s manifesto or link to it, but here’s a responsibly reported thread with some basic summaries. For all the insipid internet in-jokes and meme references scattered throughout, the manifesto is mostly fixated on the Great Replacement theory, a racist idea so old that Great Gatsby character Tom Buchanan was retroactively cancelled on Twitter this morning for referencing it in the novel 100 years ago. These things aren’t new and they weren’t created by the internet. Even incel terrorism is just violent misogyny dressed up in new clothes. The only difference now is that we can see all of these very old ideologies more clearly. And it’s that visibility of America’s racist, violent, and masculine Id that has had a warping effect on the country’s culture.
Steve Bannon’s great innovation during his time at Breitbart was to hire Milo Yiannopoulos as the gaming editor, which really meant that Yiannopoulos was the 4chan editor. Breitbart, under Bannon, perfected a system where Yiannopoulos would amplify conversations that were happening on 4chan, package them in a CMS optimized for Facebook, and, thus, turn them into mainstream talking points. It was pretty much identical to what viral media sites at the end time were doing with the top-shared content from Reddit.
Soon the rest of right-wing media in America followed suit, chasing juiced up ad revenue they were making from Facebook’s algorithm, which seems to crave conflict. Now, not only are Tucker Carlson and his producers performing the same trick at the top of Fox News, so is most of the Republican party. They use the anonymity and speed of websites like 4chan to crowdsource ideas and then spin them out into wider and wider audiences. (From what I understand, 2chan has evolved over the years into having a similarly symbiotic relationship with Japanese Twitter, the country’s tabloids, and right-wing politicians.)
But all of this leads to an uncomfortable conclusion: The internet’s worst websites aren’t algorithmic. That’s just a fact. The overwhelming majority of the violent extremists who were “radicalized online,” were not radicalized by Zuckerberg’s products, but by other angry men online using simple websites to trade hateful, evil ideas and then do horrifying things with them. There is absolutely, definitely an amplification that can happen when the bile that gets posted on a site like 4chan hits an automated social feed, but the internet didn’t invent American racism. People uploaded it. And facing that head on is a much harder thing to do than just blaming it on a bunch of companies or recommendation widgets.
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MiamiCoin Might Be In Trouble
The account embedded above is a really good one to check out if you want to watch people’s incredibly bad leveraged crypto trading go horribly wrong. From what I understand, the user here who had their leveraged LUNA/USDT trade liquidated now owes like $20 million? Incredible stuff.
Anyways, Quartz has a great story containing emails from the Miami Mayor’s office which seem to show that the city was concerned Mayor Francis Suarez may have “tripped sone regulatory wires” while doing interviews about the city’s crypto coin. Fun fact: If you bought $100 worth of MiamiCoin when it launched, you’d now have $5 worth of MiamiCoin. Isn’t that fun!
But don’t worry, if you’re looking for a good investment opportunity, have you thought about buying an NFT that depicts a robot centipede crawling out of Madonna’s vagina? Because, uh, she is selling those now…
And one last crypto thing before we move on. Here’s a Reddit thread full of LUNA investors who lost everything in the crash. The top advice in the comments? “Focus on exercising. Being in good cardio shape will make everything better. You can always make more money.” Wow. Great stuff.
Jollibee Dancing To “The Chain” By Fleetwood Mac
A Redditor Has A Litter Box Problem
See, what I like the most about Reddit is the need for the “it’s not a sex thing” there at the end. The above post has since been deleted, but you can read a backup here. The TL;DR is that the girlfriend has a fennec fox. It doesn’t like the boyfriend. The girlfriend thinks that if he pees in the fennec fox’s litter box, it might recognize him as part of the pack. The boyfriend feels uncomfortable peeing in the box. But it’s also weird that no one involved thought to just pee in a cup and throw it on the litter box? It’s a scent thing not a watching him pee in the box thing.
Luckily, the overwhelming reaction from commenters is that the boyfriend should actually probably dump the girlfriend because what kind of person keeps a fennec fox as a pet and in an apartment no less?Get the fox to an animal welfare organization and break up!
Some Incredible Amazon Reviews
A company called Nature’s Bounty is selling “Brain HP” jelly beans which offer “brain support” for “gaming”. Which is all extremely funny and, while I am not a doctor, I am going to go out on a limb and say that none of that is a thing. Though, weirdly, they did partner with streamers like breebunn and AvaGG, who made genuine endorsements for them last year, which seems not great tbh.
But I did come across two extremely funny reviews a couple users left which I had to share here:
“CRACKED OUT OF MY JORTS! Dropped a 27 bomb while fighting with my ex wife about child support, next game 23 bomb, absolutely bonkers.”
“Bought these for my bf (a semi-pro gamer) and his gaming buddies have told him, ‘you have been weaponized’ because he is getting 2X the kills vs. his average play prior. He also likes to announce, ‘I'm on the BEANS boys!’ when he logs on now lol.”
Damn, think about how good this newsletter would be if I wrote while I was on the beans.
An Outside Perspective On The American Suburbs
This is a fantastic post from Reddit’s r/urbanplanning. A user from Slovakia had recently seen a video about biking in the US and had a bunch of questions about how American suburbs worked. Here are few things that they found really confusing:
“What do you actually do? Are you always stuck inside? What did you do when you were a child and couldn't drive?”
“Why is there no public transport? It seems like the only thing is the yellow school bus, idk.”
“If I lived in such a place, I'd just buy a house next to mine and turn it into a tavern or a convenience store or whatever. Is that simply not possible and illegal?”
All good questions! The comment section is worth taking a scroll through. There’s a bunch of bickering, but also a lot of really insightful explanations for why American suburbs are so horribly laid out and designed. Also, a screenshot of this post went viral on Twitter and there’s a bunch more chatter about this over there.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s an interesting Venn diagram.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***