Has MrBeast peaked?
Read to the end for a cat in a Christmas jumper wandering around the shops
Welcome to Garbage Weekend. It’s the internet garbage you know and love, but in a format that’s easier to read while you roll around like a big slug made of turkey and stuffing.
NewsGuard’s X report dropped and things are even more dire than I thought. Seems like Musk and friends have been making a good amount of money off of X’s complete lack of moderation. Which makes sense, but at least we finally have definitive proof that bad moderation is good for business, at least, you know, until it isn’t.
TikTok now lets you sorta-kinda customize your For You feed. You can tell the app, in semantic text, what you’d prefer to see more of and it should, in theory, give you more of it. My first thought is that this is a clever way to distance itself from the TikTok moral panic happening right now, but I think there’s another trend this is linked to. People often forget that TikTok is owned by an AI company. And it uses pretty sophisticated machine learning to power the For You page. So the idea of a giving users a ChatGPT-style prompt to further tailor that page actually makes a lot of sense. And is weirdly similiar in theory to ChatGPT’s on custom GPT feature. As I see it, the next wave for social-AI platforms is getting a user to customize their own filter bubble and then selling it back to them (and to brands).
You can now download people’s Reels. It’s wild how long this took. It’s also extremely surprising how no American app has realized how powerful TikTok’s combo of downloadable videos and watermarking is.
WEB3 AND THE METAVERSE
Binance founder Changpeng Zhao, or CZ, stepped down and is pleading guilty to violating anti-money laundering regulations. X has also temporarily restricted his his account. I saw CZ speak at Web Summit in Lisbon last year. I did not find him impressive in the slightest and, according to my notes, he really loved saying the word “ecosystem” and could not answer a single concrete question about how a new crypto-powered era of the internet would actually emerge.
OUR ROBOT OVERLORDS
The crisis over non-consensual AI-generated nudes is getting worse. I started my career covering web 2.0 stories about cyberbulling on platforms like ask.fm and “revenge porn” gangs like Hunter Moore’s Is Anyone Up? crew. Every generation, it seems, uses a new piece of technology to harass and abuse young women and AI is no different there. Where it is different, however, is that with AI-generated images and videos, the abuse can literally be dreamed up out of thin air.
The lawyers behind the big ChatGPT lawsuit need to learn more about how AI works, I think. If I happen to have any lawyers reading this newsletter, here’s a very useful tip: Asking an AI if it committed copyright infringement is not the same as confirming it committed copyright infringement.
AI guys are buzzing about OpenAI’s Q* (pronounced Q star) project. Basically, right before Sam Altman’s would-be ouster, a project was circulating internally called Q*. AI evangelists think that it may be an AI that has reached artificial general intelligence, which is why the effective altruists inside the company panicked and tried to kick Altman out. We don’t know much about Q*, but according to Reuters, it achieved the ability to do basic math, which is something the current autocomplete-style AI tools we’re all using can’t really do.
Did the official Disney World account use an AI image in a Thanksgiving post? Possible! I also wouldn’t be shocked if Disney has an internal generative-AI tool trained on their own IP at this point that can just fart out stock photos for social platforms.
Lohanthony is in the military now, I guess. His real name is Anthony Quintal and when we last heard from him, he had become super religious and then vanished from the web. As a Reddit snark thread pointed out, it is interesting that he quit the influencer game right before YouTube stabilized as a place where you could really make a lot of money.
One Piece’s Luffy finally made it to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Sadly, his hat deflated.
There’s a new live action Pokémon show about PLAYING Pokémon. It’s a slice-of-life show called PokéTsume and it’s about an adult woman unearthing an old copy of Pokémon and trying to beat it as she goes about her daily life. It’s currently airing in Japan.
Is YouTube feeling boring recently? Well, maybe it’s, as The Game Theorists’ MatPat recently argued, because everyone figured out how to be the MrBeast of their own niche. I’ve definitely noticed this in my own corners of the app. I’ve also seen more than few music YouTubers, or geartubers, reporting burn out trying to maximize their content a la MrBeast. YouTube has been, historically, pretty good at de-emphasizing macro trends like this when they get annoying. The question is will they algorithmically intervene in this case, which would, also, in theory, affect MrBeast’s traffic, as well. That said…
MrBeast’s view counts are dipping. You can see this if you spin through his videos. His peak was clearly a year ago, when he released his own version of Squid Game, which has around half a billion views currently. But about six months ago, his views started to dip. So it’s possible YouTube is also tweaking things. It’s also just as possible that MrBeast has peaked.
You’ve got to read this batshit Netflix story in the Times. CTRL-F “dogecoin” to skip to the fun part.
André 3000’s album is part of an interesting muzak trend across Spotify right now. First, let me just say, I’m happy for André 3000 and I wish him the best. But I do not like his new album. And I’m someone who really likes experimental ambient music. But his new flute-focused instrumental album is part of a trend that includes bands releasing lofi remixes of their albums and artists like Mac DeMarco’s recent B-sides chill loops album.
MEMES AND TRENDS
I find Matt Rife “interesting” from a content perspective. I first encountered his terrible comedy about eight months ago when YouTube started blasting my homepage with his Shorts. A lot of people claim that he’s only popular because he looks like a photoshop an incel would make of themselves, but he actually uses a much more obvious content hack to go viral: Crowd work. And his viral crowd work hack has cannibalized the online comedy scene to the point where I’ve seen comedians get a second camera for specifically filming the audience, as well as get accused of planting actors in their crowds. So why does crowd work do so well on platforms like TikTok? For the same reason food videos work. A thing happens with an unexpected outcome — a comedian talks to the audience — and you can’t know how it’s going to turn out unless you get to the end of the video. It’s very simple and, as we’re quickly learning following Rife’s Netflix special, it can’t really sustain entire comedy set. In the same way you wouldn’t want to eat Facebook food.
I found the bottom of the right-wing TikTok rage bait rabbit hole I think. Turns out it’s mainly being used to sell e-books lol. One of the main accounts behind the “let’s use this one video of a random young woman to prove western society is crumbling” is a guy named Josh Lekach. He’s an American living in Costa Rica and blogs nonstop about redpill shit and, from what I can gather, was also the producer of the massive Paris Hilton flop The Hottie & The Nottie. He uploads TikToks to X and then in the replies advertises his podcast and, of course, his shitty e-book, which is called The Manual.
AROUND THE WORLD
India’s still-rising Hindu nationalist movement is causing havoc for western streamers trying to make content there. btw if you want to watch an absolutely great Netflix show produced in India that definitely could not be made now, check out Ghoul. It’s a horror mini-series set in a near-future India controlled by a Hindu nationalist fascist police state. It rips.
A wave of far-right violence is spreading across Dublin right now, egged on largely by Conor McGregor’s X account. The inciting incident was a knife attack outside of a primary school. Several children and two adults were injured. McGregor’s been posting about the attacker being a “non-national” and that the attack was due to over-immigration in Ireland. Though, Irish law enforcement haven’t confirmed a terror link or shared anything public about the attacker’s identity or ethnicity. Irish hooligans were quick to use it as a reason, though, to tear apart the city and clash with police. Of course, the ultimate irony here was the attacker was stopped by a Brazilian Deliveroo driver.
The Dutch far right finally got their big win. Geert Wilders, the Trump of The Netherlands, and his Party for Freedom (PVV) are bad news for the country and an ominous sign for Europe, considering Italy’s hard-right pivot a few years back. The PVV, after this week’s election, is now the biggest party in The Netherlands. That said, the country’s political system is very unique. I covered their 2017 election, where Wilders made a big international name for himself. And after talking to voters there, I learned a lot. There are around 26 parties usually on the ballot, many of which represent very specific political interests. The votes then give them seats which they can use to build coalitions with other, bigger parties. So, yeah, it’s bad that PVV did really well, but, at least right now, no one wants to work with them.
SOME FUN STUFF
P.S. here’s a cat in a Christmas jumper wandering around the shops.
***Any typos in this email are purpose actually, but with more of carefree weekend vibe***