Discover more from Infinite Scroll
Last Week in Discourse: Internet on Fire
There's unrest on the sites and we're all NPCs now
Coming clean - this column is six days late. In my defense, last weekend I was speaking at the New Liberal Action Summit when it would normally have been posted and things got hectic.
As penance, this week you’ll be getting a double dose of This Week in Discourse - one today and one over the weekend, both free! Of course if you want to become a paid subscriber that’s always appreciated as well, and gets you access to great posts like Rise of the Girlies.
🥺 Hit the button? 🥺
Elon Continues to Elon
There’s rarely a week when you can discuss trends in the social media business without discussing how Elon is breaking Twitter. I know, I’m not thrilled about it either. Last week saw the usual avalanche of absurdity:
Twitter somehow keeps breaking the thing that makes the site work - corporate advertisers saw their ads run without the correct graphics, links or copy. I’m sure this is no big deal, it’s not like ad revenue is down more than 50%.
Advertisers remain spooked by reporting that indicates a surge in hateful content on the site.
Elon sued a law firm because he’s mad that Twitter paid their bill. This is especially funny because this was the law firm that litigated for Twitter, against Musk, to force Musk to go through with his purchase of Twitter. Of course he hates them! And his actual legal argument is that he is a dumb guy and it was too easy to defeat him in court so they don’t deserve all the money. Astounding. 10/10. No notes.
Other than doomed lawsuits, Elon has been spending his time productively calling Mark Zuckerberg a cuck and proposing an actual dick measuring contest. You can tell Threads is the actual threat to Twitter because he’s never asked to compare penises with the CEO of Substack or BlueSky.
He also took the time to beg YouTube influencer MrBeast to also post videos to Twitter, telling him the money would be comparable (it absolutely would not be).
The Taliban endorsed Twitter over Threads.
Musk and Twitter were served with a half billion dollar class action lawsuit over not paying severance to fired employees.
Twitter has also been accused of ‘ghosting’ laid of workers in Africa and not paying mandated severance there.
Twitter began distributing cash payments to certain Twitter accounts that drive high amounts of traffic. Naturally a lot of right wing accounts are furious that Daddy Elon didn’t include them in the program.
Twitter changed rules for Direct Messages so that the default choice is that only Verified Users can DM you unless you follow them. Everyone seems to hate it, but you can switch back to the old setting.
It remains astonishing how much chaos Twitter experiences on a weekly basis. This is one week of news. There will be more next week. Perhaps the most insightful comment about all this came from a former Twitter engineer who admitted that the site “never really knew how the magic happened” and was thus cautious about big and sudden changes. Elon, to put it lightly, is taking a different approach. I view this as additional evidence for my theory that Elon Musk is John Hammond from Jurassic Park.
We’ve covered the chaos at Reddit many times here before on this blog. Probably the most important pieces are the Reddit Theory of User Power and Reddit Mods Go Full Malicious Compliance. The above links explore two key ideas that have made Reddit’s moderator revolt so interesting:
Because of how Reddit is structured, the site’s volunteer moderators have a genuine level of power that no other site’s power users have. They can actually disrupt the site in serious ways.
Reddit’s administration does not have any ability to manage subreddits themselves, or really even track them very effectively. Due to a combination of the sheer number of subreddits, the small headcount dedicated to community management, and some level of incompetence, Reddit’s just not good at managing the site’s communities when they’re disruptive.
The upshot of all this is my prediction from a month ago, with the crucial bits bolded:
Reddit isn’t going to be able to quickly or easily plan away these conflicts with moderators. This will drag out for a while. There are too many creative ways for mod teams to undermine them. And frankly, the amount of effort it would take to continuously monitor thousands of subreddits is not something Reddit wants to be involved in. The structure of the site and how much power is placed in the hands of moderators simply does not allow for any kind of fast resolution.
Ultimately, the moderators can’t win either. Reddit can and will do anything they want with their site. Most subreddits are already back open, and more will open with time. Users will eventually get bored with protesting and want their subreddits back. Network effects are far too strong and Reddit has no real competitors of any kind. There’s just no way for the mods to actually capture any kind of long term victory.
Basically all of this has come to pass. Reddit has been mostly functional for weeks now. The site’s admins have won… mostly. But for some reason they’ve been unable or unwilling to get full functionality back. Some of the biggest subreddits on the site are still actively trying to subvert the site and damage it. /r/videos is probably my favorite, in that it is now exclusively a text-based subreddit for describing videos (also, ALL CAPS and profanity are mandatory). The front page of /r/gifs has only two posts from the last two weeks - the rest are weeks old John Oliver gifs. /r/pics is still in John Oliver mode as well, as is /r/creepy. The ‘interesting’ twins, /r/interestingasfuck and /r/mildlyinteresting are both still locked and not accepting submissions.
All this to say - despite the very large majority of subs returning to normal, there are still significant pockets of anger. These are not small subreddits. All are among the top 25 or so largest subreddits on the site. It seems like a genuine blow to Reddit that mods have either shut down or crippled their own content in these communities. Reddit’s response has been very odd because it’s well documented on the /r/ModCoord subreddit that the site has sent threatening messages to all sorts of small subreddit moderators, demanding that they re-open normally or be removed. It’s bizarre that they would bother with that campaign but leave a gigantic subreddit like /r/videos crippled. Either they’re too overworked to handle it, they’ve decided to cool it with demands, or something else weird is going on.
Of course, Reddit’s management in all their magnificent wisdom decided now was the time to kill the existing Reddit Gold system of awards for some type of blockchain bullshit. Surely there could be no user pushback to that. And they’re apparently bringing back /r/Place, the joyous and unique community art experiment from years past. Place was always extremely cool for how communities battled, collaborated and ultimately created very cool art by placing one pixel at a time. Let me place a no-brainer prediction: I will be stunned if it isn’t dominated by protest messaging this time around. I can picture giant profane messages, logos and links to competing websites, or just a refusal to play the game via blackout.
Ice Cream So Good, Gang Gang
Imagine you had a doll. A very realistic doll, and it’s free! It has 15-20 preset phrases, and you can push certain buttons to get the doll to say each of the phrases. There’s only one catch - the doll is free, but the button pushes cost money every time. And you have to share her with thousands of friends.
Welcome to the bizarre world of NPC Streaming:
Enable 3rd party cookies or use another browser
This has to be one of the more insane trends from TikTok that’s blown up recently. NPC streaming started as a trend where TikTokkers would go live and pretend to be a ‘Non Playable Character’ from a video game, acting in bizarre formulaic ways similar to how those background characters from video games behave (and responding to donations in a robotic, pre-set manner like an NPC). It went viral due to the user PinkyDoll and her bizarre responses to donations like Ice Cream So Good, Mmmmm, Gang Gang, Slay. The video above is the way it is because PinkyDoll has become very popular and is getting constant donations, leading to constant NPC catchphrases.
This is all just… something? Some creators go live and spend hours staring dead-eyed into the camera and repeating catchphrases like a robot. I’m tempted to give a “This says a lot about society” and back away slowly while I try to figure out what the hell this all means. I’m genuinely curious - what kind of person is watching these live streams for more than a handful of minutes? Who is repeatedly donating to get another round of Gang Gang? The crowd here is more interesting than the streamer. PinkyDoll caught a weird trend and is riding it as long as it will maker her money, I get that. But who actually pays for this?
Posts and Links
Remember Colleen Ballinger of ukulele groomer apology song fame? It turns out that there might have been an insane genius to the ukulele: the ability to claim copyright. The ‘song’ was uploaded to various music streaming services and various YouTubers reported that their reaction videos were getting copyright strikes for including snippets of the song. Ballinger denies that it was her who uploaded the song, but… you know… are you gonna believe the ukulele groomer blackface racism lady?
Ballinger was angry enough about the accusation she uploaded the video and did the copyright strikes that she sent commentator Ethan Klein a threatening legal letter. Only two notes: Her lawyer sent the letter to an Ethan Klein fan channel, not to Ethan Klein. And the letter didn’t spend any time denying the accusations that, you know, she groomed children. Just that she didn’t upload the song to Apple Music. Curious.
All the posters over at BlueSky have exited the honeymoon phase and are now furious at BlueSky.
Superforecasters are much less likely to believe AI will kill us all than AI doomers.
Wired Magazine predicted the future of tech scarily well 25 years ago.
Every week, because we endure so much insanity on these internets, we end with something cheerful and lovely. Here is an Apple Mouse.