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Last Week in Discourse - Back from the Dead
Lil Tay's family keeps exploiting her, China loses control online, and we finally get some good PR
Welcome back to the discourse, gremlins. Between a week of travel, speaking at the Manifold Markets conference and getting sick with maybe-COVID, we had a week with no new posts and no new discourse. Now the discourse is back to ruin your day once again. The internet slows for no man, so jump right in.
Obvious, terrible PR stunt was indeed a PR stunt
Don’t really even want to cover this much, but feel obligated to update you all: Lil Tay is back and dropping new content. Two months ago I wrote about her supposed ‘death’, in The Wreckage of Virality which even at the time seemed like it might be a PR stunt:
We can see the wreckage of Claire Hope’s life pretty easily. She was a nine year old girl when she became famous. She was pushed into fame without having any idea what it would do to her. She was pushed to perform a role that obviously wasn’t who she actually was. She was exposed to terrible influences, used for clout, fought over as an asset rather than a person. Just a few years later, she might be dead. And even if she’s not dead, this still isn’t a happy story. It’s nearly as fucked up if her brother or some other enabler is pushing her to do a fake-death-hoax in front of tens of millions of people in the same year she should be a freshman or sophomore in high school.
We learned in the days after the death announcement that it was a hoax, and while there’s no definitive proof, it looks extremely likely that Tay’s brother and mother were behind it. It’s awfully convenient for a teenage influencer and wannabe pop starlet to have a fully produced pop song and a slick music video out less than two months after being the ‘victim’ of a fake death hoax. How do we know the mother and brother are the masterminds behind this?
Well, maybe it’s because they appear multiple times in the music video:
I honestly can’t think of anything weirder than being a momager and inserting yourself into your 15-year old daughter’s sexy pop video. The whole thing is gross and exploitative, but at this point it seems like Lil Tay is fully on board with her own exploitation, I guess?1 She was live on Instagram to blame all her woes, including the death hoax, on her father. The father appears to be the only one in the family who didn’t want her to be a profane blaccent social media sensation, but I guess Lil Tay does want to be that. Which is likely why the dad is catching all the blame now.
It’s all very transparent and I can’t even save it by saying “at least the song is a bop”, because sadly it’s not.2 I’m hoping to never write the words ‘Lil Tay’ ever again, but doubting that’ll be the case because she remains a picture-perfect archetype of the worst kind of viral fame.
China loses control
A great rule for being a character in a fantasy novel is “Don’t unleash mysterious magical forces you don’t fully understand and have limited control of, lest it turn around and, you know, fuck your shit up in a very ironic and literary way”. This rule also applies to less magical organizations like the Chinese Communist Party, who found themselves in an interesting social media dilemma last week.
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Chinese netizens frequently get Very Super Mad at western corporations and celebrities for incidents they feel are disrespectful to China. This could be a company mentioning anything about Uyghurs, a celebrity accidentally saying Taiwan is a country - you know, normal stuff to get mad at. Wrestling star John Cena is a favorite in China and even speaks passable Mandarin, but even he had to give a groveling apology when he dared utter the Taiwan word. China is A: very nationalist and B: very online, and this leads to a lot of firestorms about China’s honor.
The CCP doesn’t usually start these intentionally, but they do take advantage of them. I chatted with Foreign Policy’s James Palmer, who told me “These firestorms are usually started by independent ‘nationalist entrepreneurs’ on social media, but in many circumstances the Party will stoke the flames and encourage anger, because that anger directed in the West’s direction is politically useful.”
China’s social media politics are such that it’s rare to be punished in China for being too nationalist, but easy to be seen as not nationalist enough. That’s useful for the CCP, but it’s now coming back to haunt them. The most recent firestorm involves Apple, and an employee featured on Apple’s site who Chinese netizens felt was a racist caricature of a Chinese person
The focus is on the hair braid, which resembles a ‘queue’. That braid has been used in racist depictions of Chinese people before, so the initial reaction is perhaps understandable. But in this case the employee in question is Native American and is actually wearing a traditional Native hairstyle. The employee also features not just on Apple’s China website, but on the Apple sites for many countries worldwide, so there’s no evidence any of this was intended as anti-Chinese.
Nonetheless, Chinese social media worked themselves into a frenzy over the picture, convinced it was evidence of anti-Chinese racism from Apple. And in this instance, the CCP actually didn’t want to stoke that anger. Despite rhetoric about gaining independence from Apple’s iPhones, they remain enormously popular in China and Apple is still a huge employer there.
But while Chinese authorities seemingly know how to stoke tensions and inflame nationalist social media anger, they don’t seem to have any idea how to cool it off. The state-run Global Times released a mealy-mouthed article trying to play both sides, which seems pretty transparent in motivation. They can’t just come out and say all the nationalists getting angry are idiots because this person is Native American, because they don’t want to piss off the nationalists who are pro-CCP. But they also want people to drop the subject, so there’s a lot of “Well the anger is totally reasonable but also it probably wasn’t intentional soooo….” signalling.
Despite being an authoritarian country, Chinese leadership is still concerned with public sentiment. And because they don’t have democratic feedback from elections, this kind of social media response is one of the few ways they can judge the mood of the public. I’m sure viral nationalism is very useful for them at times! But now they’ve unleashed a force they barely understand and can’t cool it off. Kids, never unleash the force you barely understand and can’t control.
Finally, some good PR advice
I talk a lot about celebrity and social media PR campaigns. Mostly because the people involved are so very, very bad at it. Whether it’s Reddit, Matty Healy, Linus Tech Tips, Joe Jonas or Colleen Ballinger’s ukulele, I’m frequently amazed at how bad people are at basic PR strategy. Half the time the problem could be solved by just shutting up, and it seems like the other half of the time the problem is some bizarre video that someone decided was a good idea.
In the midst of all that, Rolling Stone comes out with some actual good PR advice - ditch the apology video. This is excellent, fantastic advice. Videos where you stare sadly into the camera and recite your wrongdoings are cringe. They’re also easy to do incorrectly, hard to edit sympathetically, and more likely to go viral in the way that you don’t want.
Instead, stick to text. Whether you’re using the notes app, or just posting something on Twitter or Instagram, have a PR flunky write down your apology and post that instead. Text doesn’t go as viral as audio/video does. There’s much less opportunity to be cringe in text. When you’re apologizing, you want it over and done fast, and you want people to forget about it. Text makes that happen. Nobody likes to read. Just slam out a basic “I’m sorry” in the notes app and move on, people.
Time for your weekly Twitter update. The site is still running! Most of us are still using it! Haha! This is all fine and nothing is unusual.
Twitter is still throttling links to any site that Elon personally dislikes.
Linda Yaccarino had one of the saddest and most uncomfortable interviews I’ve ever seen. Heavy warning to people who get strong second-hand embarrassment. She was repeatedly unable to answer questions about what the hell Elon means when he says things, and generally gave off ‘Nothing to see here’ vibes
Hilariously, Yaccarino at one point held up her phone and accidentally revealed that Twitter/X is not on her phone’s front page
In other Yaccarino news, she’s having to personally soothe the bankers stuck with devalued slices of Twitter. Elon is the majority owner of the site, but sold minority slices of equity to many banks, who are now stuck with gigantic losses. As the former president would say, “SAD”!
Elon went to the border to, I dunno, do some citizen journalism? He was livestreaming his time there when Twitter’s livestream function simply broke, and he was forced off air. He then sent a three word, company-wide email: “Please fix this”. Sounds like Elon.
And in the midst of it all, Elon may have accidentally revealed Twitter’s numbers are dropping.
Links and Posts
Democrats (mostly Ro Khanna) did a livestream with streaming personalities Keffals, Destiny and Vaush. This isn’t the first time this has happened,4 but I’d expect major politicians going on big Twitch shows to be a thing that happens more and more frequently in the future.
An interesting look into the guts of what makes a good intro for a YouTube video, and how much YouTubers obsess over the little details like thumbnails, titles, intros and more.
AI nonsense results are beginning to infect Google Search
MrBeast offers half a million to live in an isolated room for 100 days
A fake steakhouse opens for real, for one day
Very important world record set
For your moment of zen - My favorite video and reddit post this week
Which makes it marginally better? I guess? Is it less gross to pimp out a 10 year old to become a social media star if they agree 5 years later it was a good move?
The song is a bland, cookie-cutter party pop thing and the video is in the uncanny valley of someone you can tell isn’t an actual star trying to do an imitation of one.
I’m honestly a little skeptical of this finding - TikTok is insane and packed with nonsense. Facebook is still a hellhole. Etc.
I’ve even hosted some congress critters on Twitch myself!