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This Week In Discourse: Debate My AI, Bro
Plus: The cage fight we all deserve
You made it to the weekend! Here’s the nonsense that populated the internet this week.
*Programming note - I moved apartments this week, so this week’s discourse is a bit abbreviated. Moving! It’s hard!
Trump vs Biden AI Stream
This one is basically what it says on the label. It’s a stream with AI versions of Trump and Biden yelling at each other. I was quoted in Politico talking about it.
This isn’t the first experiment of this kind. It’s very similar to the AI Spongebob or AI Seinfeld experiments. All three take a predictable format and produce a through-the-looking-glass AI version whose humor is drawn from the unexpected directions it goes in. The Trump/Biden one is the first that I’m aware of using actual, consequential real life figures. So why do we find these so amusing?
On the surface, it’s just obviously very funny to watch Biden call Trump a ‘demented cock gobbler’ or watch Trump accuse Biden of not brushing his teeth and wanting to ban November. Funny is funny. But as with most social media trends, I think the real insight is a level deeper. There are a lot of people for whom politics is really just a tribal war, mostly divorced from policy. People can be Trump fans or ‘Dark Brandon’ fans they same way they’re fans of a football team or characters on a TV show. It’s politics as cheering for a comic book hero vs villain. It’s fandom.
Of course it’s funny to see Trump and Biden talk about weird internet meme stuff. But this stream also seems designed to play with idea of ‘politics as fandom’. It’s not Trump and Biden debating policies or values. It’s Trump and Biden profanely insulting each other, repeating catch-phrases, etc. It hits that cheap dopamine rush of dunking on the other side, and Twitch is a platform that’s already very in tune with ‘Debate Me Bro’ culture and tribal political wars.
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I’m interested to see the next direction that ‘endless AI generated content stream’ goes. We’ve had TV shows like Seinfeld and SpongeBob, we’ve not got the presidential debate format. There’s going to be a next evolution, but as of right now it’s hard to say what it will be.
This Week In Elon
Oh boy. So there’s the usual nonsense going on like how Australia is threatening to fine Twitter half a million dollars per day until they fix their hate speech issue, or how Elon is now claiming ‘cisgender’ is a slur. Those are basically par for the course with Elon these days. This week’s big Elon headline is that we might get a cage fight between Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.
The abbreviated version: Elon made a joke, Zuckerberg responded on Instagram, Elon responded again saying Vegas Octagon, and now the UFC’s Dana White claims that he’s spoken to both men and both are serious about it. The number of questions this raises is… well, it’s a lot.
Who would win this fight?
Mark Zuckerberg has a weight disadvantage, but he’s also 12 years younger, obsessed with fitness, and actively training and competing in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Elon, by contrast, does not appear to exercise and generally looks like this. Zuckerberg will annihilate him if they fight.
Would this be the funniest thing to ever happen?
Yes, yes it absolutely would be. In history. Comedy would be cancelled for several years in the wake of this event. Text on screen cannot adequately convey how very very very much I want to see this happen.
Are you cheering for Zuckerberg?
Everyone should be cheering for Zuckerberg. He’s got his flaws but also seems like a much more normal person than Elon. He signed the Giving Pledge to give away most of his fortune. Both of their social networks have been used for right wing disinformation and horrible stuff, but Zuckerberg actually seems bothered by that fact whereas Elon revels in it.
Would any athletic commission actually sanction this fight?
Under normal circumstances? No, they wouldn’t allow a sanctioned fight between two amateurs with no experience and significant age and size gaps. Under ‘these two men have more money than God’ circumstances? Yes, the wheels will be appropriately greased with money. And if one state commission objects you can just wave money at a different state commission, or do it in Dubai.
Will this actually happen?
Unfortunately, probably not. Despite Dana White’s insistence that both men are serious, prediction markets give less than a 30% chance it happens. Prediction markets can be useful as a tax on bullshit, and they’re calling bullshit here.
So if it doesn’t happen, who’s going to chicken out?
Almost certainly Elon. Reading the responses from each man, Zuckerberg seems to actually want to do this. Having your PR guy say “The story speaks for itself” is a no-nonsense, let’s-actually-do-this response. And this makes sense, because to reiterate, Zuckerberg would beat Elon into apartheid-flavored paste if they fought. There’s no downside for him. Elon’s posts here look more like a guy who doesn’t want to back down but is also keeping a very ‘jokey’ mood so that he doesn’t have to commit.
Links and Posts
Lots of people are mad that the Titanic submersible disaster got more media coverage than a migrant boat’s sinking. I want to point out two things here. First, when you see claims that ‘nobody is covering this’ for a particular story, there’s a nearly 100% chance that CNN, NYTimes, WaPo, etc have had that story as front page news. The complainer is telling on themselves that they only follow stupid things on social media, and thus didn’t see it. Second, if you’re making the more sophisticated argument that coverage is disproportionate then you need to look in a mirror. News sites ultimately give people what they want. The online mob will click 70 links in a row about the submersible, and maybe one link on the migrant disaster. This is what you, the crowd, asked for.
Reddit continues to set itself on fire. The site has been removing mod teams that continue protesting, including those engaged in malicious compliance. In one instance, they removed a subreddit’s mod team, brought them back, but then removed all their moderator permissions other than ‘responding to mod mail’. More on this to come.
RFK Jr. has exploded on social media recently thanks to an appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast. That he’s a dipshit is obvious - but what to do about it is less obvious. Noah Smith has a great piece about why fixing disinformation and confronting conspiracy theorists is so hard. He argues two things: it’s easier to produce misinformation than it is to disprove it, and producing misinformation is a job while correcting it is a hobby
Let’s Gooooooooooooooo! Slate has written up the definitive history of the meme phrase Let’s Gooooooooooooooo! I support this style of journalism and would like to see more deep dives on meme history.
Here is a tiktok about cinnamon toast that goes in an unexpected direction
Every historical event has been predicted on twitter
Every week we end with something happy and pure. Click below for some ducks with flower hats.