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This Week In Discourse: Taylor Swift's Bad Reputation
Plus: SCOTUS saves social media and Elon is Elon
Welcome to Friday! You survived the week! Here are the most fascinating and awful things from the past week of internet.
Do Swifties Need to Calm Down?
About a month ago, Taylor Swift and her long time boyfriend Joe Alwyn broke up. Recently she’s been romantically linked to the lead singer of English band The 1975, Matty Healy. The Swifties (along with everyone else, it seems) have feelings about this.
Healy, to many Swift fans, does not seem like the greatest of guys. He’s got a long list of controversial incidents involving racist jokes about the rapper Ice Spice, jokes about how he masturbates to porn that involves black women being brutalized, and a whole mess of other incidents. Taylor Swift’s online fans are furious, saying that she’s platforming someone awful and that she’s the embodiment of ‘white feminism’ (the latter being said in the same tone of voice as ‘Nazi’).
I’ll be honest with you, dear reader: I can’t really bring myself to care that much about Matty Healy’s existence. Does he seem like kind of a douche? Sure! I guess! But Taylor Swift dating a moderately problematic guy is not really news for me - it’s not even the first time she’s done it.
Subscribe now to become Taylor Swift’s next problematic relationship
The social reaction, however, is deeply fascinating. I’m left with more questions than answers. Questions like:
Why is Matty Healy suddenly blowing up as a controversial figure? He’s been famous for years, and he’s dated Halsey, FKA Twigs, and numerous other celebrities. Why are these things coming out now instead of before?
Why are Healy’s controversies blowing up in a way Swift’s previous boyfriends never have? I don’t recall Jake Gyllenhaal or John Mayer, both of whom have similar controversial backgrounds, getting this much flack while they dated Swift.
How much should we blame someone who hasn’t done anything wrong themselves, but associates with a bad person? Virtually every celebrity has worked with someone problematic at some point in their career. How do we draw those lines?
Why would Taylor Swift, who is known to carefully curate her public image, take the Brand Risk of dating Healy?
Will any of this translate into real life - unhappy crowds, lower ticket sales, actual IRL incidents? Or is this an instance of social media being unhappy but normal people not caring?
What’s up with this theory that pro-Matty-and-Taylor twitter accounts were registered well before news even came out that Taylor and Joe had broken up?
It will be interesting to see how Swift’s fanbase behaves going forward and how Swift herself manages them. Audience capture is a fascinating phenomenon. We typically think of celebrities and influencers as having sway over their fans, but their fans sometimes have just as much power over them. The need to keep getting those hits of public approval drives people to change their political views, change their style, and overhaul their content to keep their fans happy. That’s the question moving forward - essentially, can the Swifties bully Taylor Swift into dumping Healy?
The Supreme Court Supports Posting
Boring but important! The Supreme Court was facing a case that could have ended posting on the internet as we know it. Luckily, they ruled against blowing up the internet.
I’ll attempt to give you the short, massively simplified and probably legally inaccurate version of how this went down: Twitter was being sued for hosting ISIS content by the family of a terrorism victim. The core legal idea in play - are online companies responsible for illegal material on their site? This could be defamatory messages, copyright violations, terrorist groups, harassment, etc. Taken to its logical conclusion, if social media sites were legally liable for all of this kind of stuff in the same way that newspapers are, social media simply couldn’t exist. Sites would have to have content moderators pre-checking every post before it went live, which simply isn’t possible at scale.
Clarence Thomas - not a great guy normally! - wrote a very sensible decision pointing out this was a terrible idea. Quoting Thomas:
“It might be that bad actors like ISIS are able to use platforms like defendants’ for illegal – and sometimes terrible – ends,” Thomas wrote. “But the same could be said of cell phones, email, or the internet generally.”
The current state of affairs where companies are shielded by Section 230 remains - it is individuals who are liable for their speech and crimes online, not the websites they post on. Section 230 is the bedrock that makes the modern internet possible - check out this podcast I’ve done on the topic if you’re interested.
The good news for us all: The posting can continue, and we are so fucking back.
This Week in Elon
As always - I wish we weren’t talking about Elon so much. I get it. But there’s no way to cover the social internet without reporting on the man. Last week he announced a dozen new features for Twitter, engaged in numerous instances of racism and conspiracy, threatened to purge older Twitter accounts, and more. This week in Elon and Twitter:
Animal gore videos started being recommended by Twitter’s algorithm (link is SFW, does not show gore)
Twitter’s new CEO was confirmed and the conspiracy right melted down because she was supposedly part of the Woke Globalist Cabal
Elon was subpoenaed in a case involving Jeffrey Epstein
Elon engaged in further anti-Semitism and conspiratorial nonsense, including a bizarre TV appearance where he said there’s no evidence the Allen, Texas shooter was a Nazi (despite the, uhhh, swastika and SS tattoos?)
Advertisers continue to flee the site
I know the deluge of Elon content is exhausting, but if you’re going to read any single essay on Elon, this from Defector might be the one to pick. One quote comparing Elon and Trump:
It makes sense that these users would be drawn to Musk, even to the point of posting like him, because he resembles them in his sour incuriosity, and is aspirational in his impunity and wealth. As it happens, that type of rich authoritarian—distractible, idly vicious, relatable in his proud pissy cretinousness—already has an avatar in American politics. Musk sought out this population of blowhards and temporarily embarrassed grand inquisitors and armchair genocidaires, and they invariably found him, but this is a tough crowd. Where Musk has struggled to keep that constituency happy, it reflects less on his seemingly sincere receptiveness to their hair-trigger credulity, bigotry, and vengefulness and more on the fact that these people are fundamentally unappeasable, and fundamentally opposed to being appeased.
The comparison to Trump has obvious roots in both men’s politics. But the more interesting link is in how Elon seems to be running the Trump controversy playbook - flood the zone with shit. During the 2016 primary, everyone assumed that Trump would be brought down by the weight of his many scandals. What they didn’t expect was that by virtue of having so many scandals, none of them would stick. It’s hard to get angry and stay angry when there’s constantly a new scandal. Elon is also basically having a new controversy pop up every single day. He’s running the Trump model of controversy - never apologize, double down on everything, keep doing crazy things so nothing ever sticks in the news cycle more than a day or two. Is it working? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Bad Tweet of the Week
I have no words:
Links and Posts
A professor input his class’s work into ChatGPT and asked if ChatGPT wrote the essays. ChatGPT (which has no way to know that) said yes, and the professor tried to fail every student in the class.
A chess YouTuber had the AIs ChatGPT and Google Bard play each other in chess. It does not go the way you’d expect.
In the comments: tag yourself on this list of actual 17th century Quaker names. I’m claiming ‘Gey Poope’
I am feeling personally attacked by this tweet
Zelda fans are recreating Oppenheimer in the game
We talk about a lot of insane things here, so every This Week in Discourse ends with a happy thought. Here is a very happy penguin.