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2 Discourse 2 Furious: Celebrities, Just Like You
Hating social media, Getting mad at reddit, and Trump's urge to post
Welcome to a bonus edition of This Week in Discourse. We’ll be back to our regular schedule next week, but there was simply too much fascinating parasocial content this week for one update.
Celebrities - They’re just like you?
I’m always on the lookout for interesting commentary about the nature of social media, because *broadly gestures at the entire reason for writing this substack*. And this week, an interview between Jenna Ortega and Elle Fanning certainly fit that bill. Check out the two TikToks embedded below:
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These are incredibly fascinating. Here Ortega talks about how young actors are explicitly coached to optimize for the algorithm - post this kind of thing, this often, at this time of day, on this social network. Grow your brand with these hacks. Social media is often a way for young people to be creative, explore their identity, and find community. But for Ortega, it was a business from an early age. A grind, a burden. You can hear the resentment in her voice.
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This one is a whopper - Ortega still clearly resents her social media presence, even though she won the game. Hollywood is fundamentally a brutal, long-odds game where tens or hundreds of thousands of beautiful young people compete for fame and maybe a couple dozen of them at most will actually become stars. Ortega beat the odds and became a megastar with an incredibly bright future. She’s as big a winner as anyone is in that industry. She has 40 million followers on Instagram, and she still hates it.
Ortega and Fanning both feel as though they can’t actually be themselves on social media. They’re afraid of backlash from fans, fearing that something they say could be misinterpreted or that a moment of vulnerability would be mocked or exploited. Ortega is visibly emotional, and gets so frustrated that she begins crying! The whole interview exposes on a raw level how celebrities can feel trapped by social media fame, unable to authentically be themselves or say what they’d normally say. As a side note, more publications should do this ‘actor interviews actor’ format. Incredibly good stuff here, and more evidence that celebrities have similar dysfunction around social media as the rest of us.
Reddit invites the pain
Last week we talked about how Reddit’s API changes are going to kill third party app developers. Yesterday Reddit CEO Steve Huffman decided to do an Ask Me Anything about the process, and it very predictably went down in flames.
A recap: Reddit has long had a number of unofficial apps like Apollo or Reddit is Fun that are simply better than the official Reddit app. Reddit, likely under pressure to cut costs and raise revenue ahead of an IPO, is set to begin charging those apps a huge amount of money to access the Reddit API. The rates are so high that it would effectively kill most of the major third party apps. Apollo, Reddit is Fun, Sync and others have all announced they’ll be forced to shut down.
Users are furious about this, and walking into an AMA in the middle of that fury is certainly a PR choice. Huffman’s comments are all heavily downvoted, and the whole episode made Huffman come off as out of touch with the userbase’s anger. They probably expected a tidal wave of frustration and downvotes, but this was fairly extraordinary. If anything users are now more angry after the AMA. The site’s communities are staging a mass blackout on Monday to make subreddits private and stop all engagement with the site for 48 hours. (That’s a link to the BBC! The BBC is covering subreddit drama! Modernity!)
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A few thoughts:
I think Reddit would have a better time if they just admitted they want to kill third party apps. It’s clearly what the goal of this whole episode is - the apps cost reddit money via huge numbers of API pulls and also cost them in lost revenue. But they’re not brave enough to say it outright, which only leads to embarrassing mealy-mouthed PR snafus like this AMA. If they just outright said “We’re going public soon and third party apps cost us a ton of money with no real benefit for the business”, people would be quite mad but I think it’d be better than this.
A well-worn rule of social media is that 90% of people are lurkers who never interact with anything, 9% are occasional or low-volume commenters, and 1% are actual high volume posters or content creators. Reddit is big enough there’s an even finer grained 0.1% - the power users and moderators that make the site possible. Reddit is strange in that alone among social media giants, it is incredibly dependent on the free work users do to build communities. Reddit moderators do the thankless work of moderation, they build custom bots for their communities, they create special features and visual designs and events for their subreddits, and so much more. In a real sense, they create what makes reddit valuable.
The number of people using third party apps is small - probably a rounding error for the site overall. But that group is heavily tilted towards the 0.1% of power users that make reddit what it is. Power users love their unofficial apps, and they’re absolutely furious about this decision. Normally sites don’t really have to worry what users think about site policy. Facebook can make a change to the timeline, people can say they’re mad, but Facebook doesn’t have to care. They’re just users, they don’t matter that much. But no other site is as dependent on such a small slice of users as reddit is, and so there might actually be a real risk for reddit here that they drive away the people that make the site what it is.
Bite Sized Internets
More Elon! Did you think just because Elon had an entire section to himself 24 hours ago we were done? We’re never done talking about Elon! Flood the zone, new crazy shit every single day! Yesterday Elon announced that Twitter will pay some posters a share of the ad revenue generated by their tweets. The catch - you must be verified and paying $8/month to be eligible, and only ads served to verified users count. In practice, this will heavily bias payments to the political right wing and Elon fan boys, who are verified at much higher rates.
Dictators are continually making Joe Biden look cool. This has usually been China, which continually pumps out propaganda where America seems very bad ass, but now Russian propaganda is doing the same. I’ll probably do a deep dive on this at some point, because it’s a fascinating phenomenon that America’s adversaries can’t help but portray them as awesome.
Trump was indicted! Again! You can read all the details or get political opinions on that in a thousand other places, so I won’t bore you with that stuff. But what does fascinate me is how Trump just showed off the documents to random staffers and passers by. One of the foundational theories of this blog is that Posting is The Most Powerful Force In The Universe. People will do anything to appear cool on the internet. We already know Trump is a huge poster. We know he desperately craves attention and validation. Apparently this extends offline as well. Seriously, go read the linked tweet above again - Trump is showing off to insignificant nobodies! He was President of the United States, he has millions of rabid followers, and he still can’t help but try to look cool by showing off state secrets to whatever schmuck happens to be in the room with him. Astounding.
Last week we talked about rage bait as influencer tactic - bad content on purpose to drive traffic. An interesting variant from this week, with Twitter user ‘bossbratbimbo’ getting ratio’d for a rude social situation. In this case, I don’t think the post was intentional bait. But as soon as it started to go viral and get heavily ratio’d and quote tweeted, I couldn’t help but notice that the user in question is an aspiring influencer/creator/model/something, and has a site where they sell their own mugshot picture on a sweater. Sometimes it’s on purpose, but sometimes you just have to take advantage of the moment? The rule, as always: check to see if the person going viral for the Bad Post is just an influencer grasping for clout.
Bad Tweet of the Week
Links and stuff
An incredible social media dunk - after a user posts they’re not going to share where the best bagel sandwich is, GeoGuessr pro Rainbolt finds the exact shop from a pipe on the ceiling and shares it with the world. He also called the bodega in question and got them to name the sandwich after him just to shame the poster in question for gatekeeping. Just phenomenal posting, I am in awe.
A fascinating chart. On which sites do social media trends and memes originate? Twitter used to be dominant, but TikTok is trending up sharply
Because there’s so much negativity on the internet, we try to end every This Week in Discourse with something light and good and fun. See if you can guess what’s behind the door?