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This Week In Discourse: Reddit Chaos Continues
Plus: Scammer is real, we repeat, Scammer is real
Reddit’s Blackout Blues
Reddit’s had quite the week. Just a few days ago I covered why Reddit’s users have more power than the typical social media site’s users. To recap briefly:
Network effects and incumbency advantage are so strong that social media users virtually never have any power to effect change on their sites
In the rare scenarios where sites fail, it happens because the core functionality of the site is threatened for normal users. (e.g. Digg’s redesign killing functionality)
Reddit is much more dependent on a very small slice of power users than any other site to moderate content and build communities. Consequently, they’ve given these power users actual power over important parts of the site’s functionality.
These power users are also unusually highly networked with one another.
This leads to a perfect storm where a tiny slice of pissed off Reddit power users can actually cripple the site’s functionality and impact the experience for normal users of the site. That’s what happened Monday and Tuesday, as the majority of the site’s subreddits went dark in protest of API policy changes.
How has Reddit reacted to all this turmoil? They seem to be in hunker down mode - waiting for the turmoil to pass with the assumption that mostly it will. CEO Steve Huffman has given a series of sometimes contradictory statements internally and externally. On Monday he sent an internal email saying that “There’s a lot of noise with this one. Among the noisiest we’ve seen. Please know that our teams are on it, and like all blowups on Reddit, this one will pass as well” and that the blackout “hasn’t had significant revenue impact”.
Despite that rosy message, trouble lurks. Adweek reported that some advertisers have paused spend, and Reddit is scrambling to re-allocate ad orders for subreddits that for now, don’t exist. Admins have stepped in to remove the head moderator for at least one large subreddit (although it’s disputed exactly how this went down - this may have been a moderator vs moderator dispute).
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Most subreddits that went dark reopened after the 48 hour blackout, but discussion among the site’s power moderators continues. A significant minority of large subreddits have pledged to stay dark indefinitely, including giants like /r/Videos, /r/nba, /r/Music, /r/me_irl, , /r/DIY, /r/futurology, and /r/chess.1 Many subreddits that have reopened are discussing the idea of Touch Grass Tuesdays, where they would go private once every week on Tuesday indefinitely as a form of protest. For Reddit, the worst has passed but they’re not yet out of the woods. Many power users are still angry and significant subreddits are still dark.
Huffman and Reddit have given out confusing signals. A fact sheet claims that Reddit is not ‘unilaterally reopening communities’. But Huffman has also loudly criticized the moderators involved in the protest, comparing them to ‘landed gentry’. He’s also pushing for new rules that would allow more moderators to be removed. Huffman casts this push as being pro-user and pro-democracy, but it’s also pretty clear that he’s only concerned about this issue because moderators have done something he didn’t like.
Where does this end up? Who’s got the more reasonable point of view? At the risk of being a squishy centrist, I fall in the middle on both of these questions.
For the most likely outcome of all this - I think by far the most likely outcome is that Reddit survives this easily, but with a moderate blow to site culture. There’s no alternative for Reddit waiting in the wings, and the site is large enough to survive some large subreddits going dark forever. But losing such large subreddits is a blow, make no mistake. There’s no way to force them to open that doesn’t have significant downsides. And the site’s always testy relationship with its power users has been harmed to a significant degree, which could have toxic long run effects on power users’ willingness to contribute to their subreddits.
Who should we blame for all this? Again, I think both parties have reasonable complaints here. Reddit is fully within their rights to make these API changes. The status quo was for-profit third party apps getting completely free API access, which no other major social media site allows. If Reddit says they can’t afford to subsidize profitable apps while they themselves aren’t making a profit, that’s completely fair. But it’s also fair for Reddit users to note that Reddit’s official app is much worse than those third party apps, and to be pissed that those apps are dying. It’s also fair to criticize Reddit’s party line that they’re not trying to kill third party apps, when the listed API pricing would very obviously have that impact. And as always, Reddit leadership seem to have no idea how to handle a rambunctious user base and their PR strategy seems to make the situation worse at every turn.
(one final note on Reddit - this situation has been leaking into the wider web, as people have noticed Google results getting worse because Reddit is dark.)
This Week in Elon
Every time there’s a Twitter/Elon section, I almost feel the need to apologize. I don’t like it any more than you. But Elon’s bizarre performance art experiment with Twitter remains one of the most important things happening on the social web, and he keeps doing bizarre shit. This week’s pile of stuff:
Elon announced an upcoming policy change where only verified users would be able to DM users that don’t follow them. This sucks for journalists, artists taking commissions, and other people who depend on open twitter DMs for their job.2
Related - Twitter is considering limiting the number of DMs one can send per day if not verified. Rather than provide new features for paying Twitter Blue users, the strategy seems to be to put basic features of the site behind the paywall.
Elon seems mad that AI chatbots can access Twitter via the web.
Elon makes a habit of not paying vendors, and they’re now being evicted from their office space in Boulder, Colorado for unpaid rent.
Elon makes a habit of not paying vendors, which apparently includes Google Cloud. The company is refusing to pay Google, which handles much of Twitter’s bot-fighting apparatus.
Elon makes a habit of not paying former workers3. Twitter is facing thousands of arbitration cases from workers who say they haven’t been paid properly after being laid off.
Twitter has been sued by the music industry for $250 million for widespread copyright infringement, and the case appears fairly solid
That’s sure a lot of legal trouble! Who has Twitter chosen to lead their global legal strategy? Why it’s a lawyer with only four years of legal experience, who in 2018 was still a ‘summer associate’.4
A new and brilliant legal strategy from Twitter - use chatbots to respond to vendors demanding payment
And finally, free speech absolutist Elon Musk’s Twitter has apparently blocked promotion of a video because it advocated for legal abortion.
Elon’s efforts to flood the zone with shit continue. It’s almost impossible to get worked up about any individual story because the hits keep coming. Every day there’s a new feature being degraded or put behind a paywall, a new legal issue where Twitter is clearly in the wrong, a new culture war Elon decides to fight while denying that he’s fighting it.
These are not the actions of a healthy social media site, to understate the situation. We’ve talked before about how ad revenue is down almost 60% and the company internally doesn’t expect it to increase any time soon. I’d normally say that things can’t continue like this forever… but honestly they might be able to continue like this for quite a while. Elon is very, very rich and can run the site at a loss for a long time. Whether he destroys Twitter in the long run is the question.
Frequent readers will know of my fondness for Caroline Calloway, scammer extraordinaire. I’ve written about her several times already. She’s a known scammer who completely leaned in to the brand of ‘Scammer’ and has been promising for more than three years to release a memoir titled ‘Scammer’. As I said last month:
Calloway is now proclaiming the book will ship in mid-May. Nobody knows if the book is real. She’s promising bonuses and extras for the people who pre-ordered. I’m enthralled by the idea that the entire thing could be a multi-year piece of performance art. Nobody knows! I almost hope the whole thing is a scam. If you pre-order a book called Scammer from a known scammer, you have to at least take that into account, right? On second thought, the funniest possible outcome is that the book is once again ‘delayed’ and she strings this out for another year of ambiguity.
The book was delayed past mid-May, and is now reportedly shipping between June and July. But a Rolling Stone reviewer has gotten their hands on a digital copy, and confirms that the book does actually exist. She actually wrote the book! It’s real! The reviewer even appears to have enjoyed it!
I don’t know what else to say here except that as commentary on our New Age of Social Media Celebrity, Caroline Calloway’s existence is wonderful. To recap, this is a woman who years ago
Scammed a book advance out of a major publishing house
Then never wrote that book, and had to pay back the advance
Then spent the next few years defrauding landlords, holding fake/scam events, and selling literal snake oil
And has come all the way around and actually written a book called Scammer
If there’s one thing I can safely predict with Calloway, it’s further drama. Her antagonist/victim Natalie Beach has her own book coming out later this year. And I’d bet almost anything that there are still delays and further snafus in the process of getting the book out. Calloway is posting cheerful Instagram Stories about shipping the book, but I can’t help but notice she is shipping several thousand books by herself and she is… not well known for her responsibility or ability to complete tasks in a timely manner. I hope she ships 20 books, flakes on the rest, and the 20 become incredibly valuable collector’s items.
Links and Reads
The author of Eat Pray Love cancelled her upcoming book because it was set in Russia, and people got very angry about that. As far as I can tell it’s not actually problematic in any way. It’s just set in historical Russia. A bizarre decision, and frankly the author should have doubled down and told her critics to pound sand.
Here’s an interesting profile of YouTuber Mr Beast, who we’ve covered here before. It’s fascinating how often people are ‘grossed out’ or in some way bothered by a YouTuber who by all accounts just wants to splash money around helping people.
Twitch streamers routinely seem to have the worst stalker issues of any major platform. Streamer ‘justfoxii’ had a fan drive 700 miles to her house and set her car on fire. This seems to happen to streamers at a level that it doesn’t for TikTokkers, Insta models or Twitter personalities. If I had to venture a guess, it seems that the parasocial bond between a streamer and viewer is much stronger than between any other those other influencer types.
Medieval people talking about the best way to abbreviate a laugh in text. They’re just like us!
Here’s a fascinating story behind the origin of a meme
Also - Medieval dick jokes
This week’s bit of cuteness to replenish your soul - a bunny who decides to be best friends with a Shiba Inu.
It’s also funny that Elon bought Twitter saying he would ‘defeat the bots or die trying’, and has now basically given up, saying that the bots are impossible to defend against.
Technically this news isn’t from this week, but I just learned it this week. And it’s absolutely wild that a 20 Billion Dollar company would just plop a 4th year associate into your Head Of Legal For The Entire World role.