The internet, once a source of incredible interconnectivity, has slowly turned into a terrible source of interconnectivity. Much like the TV of the past used to unite the baby boomers, memes could be recognized by any millennial as long as they were online. Things were still sort of separated into cubbies, but you could find things if you looked for them. And just like TV, those memes gave way to splinter cells upon splinter cells of image memes and communities until everything is small, and everyone is in everyone else’s business unwillingly. The cubby walls no longer exist. Certain online groups are downright offended by the sight of an Among Us crewmate or Sans from Undertale. People who aren’t interested in calculus get shown Tweets of calculus equations with lively discussions in the subtweets, and clutter it with ‘lmao I can’t do math why did I get this in my feed’. Young Earth Creationists are encouraged to offer their take on a recently unearthed fossil, whose picture has been tweeted by a museum. Atheists and fundamentalists get shown each other’s worst examples until both are convinced that the other is beyond saving… but not beyond arguing with.
The entire world is an open-concept office on Twitter, and different departments with no mutual interest are getting shown eachother’s work by the big boss, the algorithm. “Why am I seeing something from Marketing?” Accounting asks. “What, am I not interesting enough for you? I’m sorry you don’t understand it. Loser,” Marketing replies. Everyone laughs. Marketing is subliminally encouraged to be hostile because the feeling of everyone else laughing at their ‘joke’ now overrides the politeness they would normally use if they and Accounting were alone. Twitter’s algorithm might not have been made to cause strife, but strife is really good for engagement – and so it does it’s darnedest to keep that strife and the hot takes coming alongside inspirational posts and posts that get you to linger.
Hot takes are easiest to execute on smaller creators who don’t have a large fanbase to rally behind them in defense, leading to endless streams of arguing in their comment sections or Twitter feeds.
For example, the channels frosting cakes. Cake is delightful. Cake is a joy. Many people, maybe even the majority of people, like cake. Cake decorating used to be its own little ecosystem, until content aggregators turned it into an industry alongside ‘life hacks’ and ‘recipes’. This content generation creates some pretty strange outcomes, not all of them edible, and understandably people grew concerned with food waste. Channels like HowToBasic (famous for incredibly messy, foul ‘recipes’) compensate for the food they use by only purchasing clearanced-out, about-to-expire food from places like dollar stores, which aren’t exactly bastions of freshness anyway. Larger commercial channels simply ignore the comments, make some donations, and eventually the comments go away.
The inbetweeners, the content generators who also run side businesses alongside their demonstrations for decorating techniques, get caught in a pinch-point – they want to engage with the audience to please the almighty algorithm, but some of the comments demand things that don’t align with reality. Considering day-old, already-mixed frosting “food waste” and then asking the creator to stop making so much of it is one of those demands. The small amount of butter, eggs and sugar that went into the video-portion of frosting could have been something besides frosting – but who gets to decide what other people do with food products they purchased? Especially when those food products also serve as advertising, and may create excess that can be used in other batches of edible food, the way royal icing and the like often does? Content creators use cake forms and frozen, weeks-old cakes that nobody wanted to demonstrate certain techniques, which cuts edible waste down to nearly nothing.Food waste is a complex, multi-faceted issue that comes with every stage of food processing, so boiling it down to “people throw away too much frosting”, and correcting with “make less frosting”, is not the way the country is going to solve this problem.
Paranoia And Bad Faith
Somewhere along the line, commentors began asking questions. That’s totally fair. There’s been a large push to consume content critically, and analyze what motivations a piece of content may have for being a certain way so you don’t accidentally consume propaganda. Ads, for example, will never show the downsides of their product, because they’re trying to sell it to you; big tobacco paid money to look harmless until the law said it had to admit nicotine was addictive. Ads are very convincing. And now they’re everywhere.
However, consuming content critically doesn’t mean consuming it with the intent to critique no matter what, like so many people interpreted that to mean in the late 2010’s. Articles talk about paranoid readings vs. reparative readings, or the idea that even bad content can have good notes in it and vice versa (PDF link). Paranoid readings assume the worst about the author, and hunt for clues that the author intended bad things with their work; reparative readings search for the good intentions behind a piece of media, even if it’s clumsy, even if it’s not a masterpiece. Even if the author didn’t intend any deeper readings!
Paranoid reading makes experiencing the online world harder. It’s so exhausting to critique every piece of media that the quality of these criticisms degrades into criticizing people for making simpler and simpler mistakes, until they’re attacking things that aren’t actually issues at all (or are so minor compared to other, bigger issues that they may as well be meaningless). The internet has watched as paranoid readings start to come as a knee-jerk reaction – the first thing they can identify as a ‘problem’ is what they comment, and then they move on, leaving a petty argument missing context and nuance behind, ironically completely missing the point of critical consumption in the first place.
This is also why they don’t go out of their way to comment on the megacorps that are responsible for the largest amounts of edible food being wasted or research shelters with serious animal husbandry issues – these organizations aren’t putting out content, and so they’re invisible to the casual critic who only sees what the feed wants them to see. Someone else would have to shine a light on it for them to actually see it.
“I Didn’t Ask”
Before social media, you only had so many outlets to discuss things. You could talk to your friends; you could write to an editor for a local paper; you could read what the critics said about it. Conversely, there was only so much to consume. There was news, and there was TV and magazines, and games. Now, everyone is consuming everything. And I do mean everything, even things they aren’t interested in. Combined with the above point, the internet has turned into a nightmare!
In the case of the cake decorating videos, part of the issue is that those videos come into the harshest critic’s content consumption unwillingly. Especially on TikTok, algorithms will occasionally toss a video or piece of content that’s doing well in its own circle into other circles, and so it ends up in front of someone who has no context or familiarity with cake decorating.
They might not even really want to be negative – but they’ve been trained by social media to comment on everything, and especially to find harm in things that didn’t mean any. “What’s the catch? Where’s the downside? How Is This Bad TM?”It’s not exactly slacktivism – they just don’t want to encourage bad things by accidentally dismissing something that might be harmful even if other content is caught in the crossfire, to everyone’s detriment.
They also didn’t want to see things that they weren’t interested in, and innocent hobbies with smaller, more insulated communities are being forcibly shown to the entire rest of the internet ecosystem with no say – and no way to stop it.