Posts Tagged

internet phenomena

Getting a Bit Too Casual With Data

Elizabeth Technology September 14, 2023

“Normal” Discourse

The internet is not and has never been a place of decorum and manners. Small pockets can be – big open areas accessible to everyone are not.

Direct, face-to-face society requires one set of rules, between strangers at the grocery store or family eating dinner together. Familiar, non-anonymous internet requires another – Discord servers and forums expect a certain level of politeness from members, but it’s a little looser than face-to-face. Jokes might be a bit ruder, and advice might be blunter, but that can be a good thing if users are trying to be constructive instead of destructive. Tone tags, a recent development that has been semi-successfully introduced in these tide-pool like communities, help ease communication further.

Past that, we get into public social media. To say people are ruder (both by accident and on purpose) is an understatement. While most people are nice just because they are, there is a small percentage of people who are nice to avoid social consequences, and once they think those consequences won’t apply, they start trolling. They may not even be doing it on purpose! The online public assumes bad faith. If something can be read wrong, it will be.

As a general trend, the bigger an online community or space gets, the worse the mood gets. Strangers get meaner to other strangers than they do to their online friends or strangers in real life. They’re more casual. They’re ‘stans’, hyper-fans of their favorite singer, who will defend them from any criticism to the death. They’re bizarrely obsessed with correcting information in forums that don’t have the space for nuanced discussions of the thing being corrected. In real life, they’re polite, but online, they don’t need to be. There aren’t any consequences outside of a potential blocking. That is, until terrible data security comes into play.

Bad Data Security

The online public is rapidly approaching the same information saturation as the in-person public. Trolls used to be mostly anonymous – now, when someone leaves a weird or mean comment on someone else’s Instagram or TikTok page, there’s a solid chance they’ve left their real name, video footage of their face, and possibly footage showing the outside of their home or major local landmarks somewhere on their profile. You could find that person. This is no longer a fuzzy, indistinct image of someone smashing on their keyboard from their parent’s attic – it’s a thirteen-year-old who just posted about their football team winning the regionals, and the guy in the Tiger mascot suit totally tripped and scraped up the head part when they all went to a local family burger joint named ‘Buckley’s Burgers’ on Swanrise Blvd. after the game ended at 8 PM, Eastern time. Their full name is in their bio, as well as their diagnosis of anxiety and their real age. Friends of theirs are shown on their profile. They probably even have their Instagram linked. Anyone could find this kid. It would be a matter of three Google searches to find the town that restaurant is in, schools in the area, and then which of those schools has a tiger mascot. That’s all it would take.

Nightmare Combination

Being so casual online about being mean, and also being so casual about the data they’re releasing, makes doxxing and cyberbullying easier than ever. The average cyberbully has enough semi-private information to send their target into a breakdown. Sure, everyone knows that people are mean online, but the data – that’s totally new. This upcoming generation of children has not been taught to avoid sharing this data. The generation of adults currently making up most of the internet does not care anymore. Constant whistleblowing about how Facebook is harvesting everyone’s data has made the average Redditor, TikToker, Instagrammer, et cetera complacent about what they’re sharing because ‘Facebook knows anyway’. Yeah – but Facebook is selling to advertisers, not giving this information freely to people who would just love to make a point out of showing up somewhere to bump into their nemesis in public.

Worse, some corners expect users to freely give out info that could put them in danger for safety’s sake. Age is a big one: labelling accounts run by minors as such is supposed to keep both adults and those minors safe, without forcing either of them off the platform. Adults can block minors, and minors can block adults, and both get to stay in their bubble and only interact with who they are ‘allowed’ to. But it doesn’t actually work that well. Firstly, kids lie about their age to get accounts with more permissions all the time, and secondly, adults do too! Having a minor marked as a minor is not a magic forcefield protecting them from harm. The same goes for mental illnesses, neurodivergencies, disabilities, and more. Demanding these labels be in a bio before a member is allowed to comment in a forum or on a video means that member now has to show the entire online public that they may be easy to lie to, that they could seize if DM’ed pictures of flashing lights, that certain pictures or audio clips might trigger PTSD episodes, and more.

If you’re a part of these platforms, remember – you don’t owe strangers anything more than base-level politeness!

Clapback Culture

Elizabeth Technology September 7, 2023

In Good Faith

The culture of the clapback has been around for far longer than social media. It’s the snappy one liner that turns an argument, the callout for hypocrisy or manipulation that makes it clear to passerby the other guy is a fool. It goes back far enough that it’s written into myth! For example: it is rumored that Diogenes barged into the philosopher Plato’s lecture with a plucked chicken, shouting “Behold! A Man!”, after Plato defined a human as a featherless biped. That could be considered a clapback.

Plato and Diogenes knew each other pretty well, and Plato’s students knew of Diogenes well enough to know he was a nuisance, albeit a funny one. He was a philosopher, but he was also mostly just some guy, and by poking holes in the way Plato and others were attempting to define the world, he was forcing them to come up with better answers to these questions of meaning. His approach fundamentally altered theirs, and they were forced to consider ‘what is Diogenes going to say about the thing I’m saying?’ when pondering before sharing their ideas.

How Does That Work Out Online?

The spiritual identity of the clapback has not actually changed that much since Roman times. What has changed is the way we talk to each other in general. Social media makes reaching for clapbacks about a person’s background significantly easier than it was even ten or twenty years ago, and what people are calling clapbacks are becoming less like what Diogenes was doing to Plato and more like… doxxing, and/or bullying, especially now that the average Instagram user is much worse about data privacy than they were even five years ago. As a result, people online who think they’re making a clapback are given a huge arsenal of information to hurt the poster with, and end up overstepping a snappy comeback well into cyberbullying.

These two things have not combined well at all!

 TikTok is a shining example of this poor mix. It’s filled with kids, teens, and young adults who don’t think twice about edgy jokes and also don’t think about their posting history. In a world where clapback videos go viral on the app, it is inevitable that some of the people trying desperately to get internet famous off of the philosophy are going to completely miss the point. Instead of calling out hypocrisy, or forcing people to think through what they’re saying before they say it, they just point at something unrelated and say ‘haha, blue hair. Opinion Irrelevant’. It’s usually done to negative comments, but there’s a spectrum to how negative a comment is, and some don’t deserve what they get back in response. Especially since it’s so hard to tell when someone is actually saying something seriously, or if they’re just trying to be sarcastic and failed. There is a view- and like-based incentive to read things wrong and overreact. While commenting on a mental illness a troll has written in their bio stops them from commenting, so would blocking them.

One example: a user on TikTok made a video of a teen’s profile where a dove emoji and the phrase ‘fly high [name]’ were visible in their bio. That’s generally recognized online as a memorial for a dead loved one. That user made the video to make fun of the kid for daring to comment anything even slightly mean when they had a memorial on their profile. Another one came from ‘person A’ posting a video of themselves, and ‘person B’ leaving a vaguely impolite comment about their hair, not the subject of the video but certainly visible enough in it to comment on. Person A then proceeded to dig through a full year of Instagram photos to find a single image in which self-harm scars were barely visible in order to mock person B… for making a hair joke.

That is an insane thing to do! Worse, since neither of these were obvious grabs, it’s not even really a clapback. It’s just being mean.

Is There Room For Better Clapbacks on Social Media?

The thing about clapbacks is that they’re usually funny for most of the parties involved, even the person getting it. Someone has said something dumb or lacking self-awareness, and someone else points it out. The humor is in finding an obvious contradiction, not just saying something mean in return! For maximum effect, it has to actually be related. Diogenes storming in with a chicken, calling it a man using Plato’s criteria, is funny. Commenting on a dead relative being dead? Not really, once the shock wears off. Clapping back on someone for commenting on your hair when you both have goofy hairstyles? That’s funny. Digging through a year of photos for a 15 second response video? A lot of work for basically no real payoff.

When Does DIY Not Make Anything for Anyone?

Elizabeth Technology September 5, 2023

Do It Yourself (If You Dare)

It’s no secret that a swarm of content creation accounts have made huge empires out of making things on camera. The twist, however, is that the final product is either dangerous, flimsy, or not even useful at all. You can repair flip flops with hot glue! You can make secret shelves with hot glue! You can make little dinosaur planters with hot glue! Hot glue is like 3D printing for people who don’t have a 3D printer! Don’t even get me started on the microwave. Ignore all of the people maimed by hot oil or microwaved eggs.

The content is usually either deeply unhelpful, targeted towards people with specific fixations, barely possible, or moderately dangerous. Lipstick shoes! DIY oil popcorn cookers made out of soda cans! Microwaved poached eggs! Why don’t you go ahead and pop the transformer out of your microwave and use it to burn wood? It’s only like, what, 2000 volts? It’ll kill you, and it’ll hurt the whole time it’s doing it, but the burned wood looks so cool!

This is rage bait. Cheap content not meant for humans to actually absorb and make use of. It didn’t start that way – those channels used to produce content that was bad, but still doable. When they started getting bad, or when people tried to recreate them in a funny way, Youtube (and other social media platforms) started promoting them to the front page because they were getting a lot of views and a lot of interaction. Ironically, by trying to show people how dumb and un-useful the hacks were, commentary channels only gave them strength.

Ragebait is great for views. Ridiculous stuff that could harm people trying to recreate it is also great for views. They don’t think you’ll actually make any of the stuff they feature in the video, but hey, even if you do, you’ll credit them and film it. Right? So they don’t actually need to make videos about DIYs that work.

Good channels showing projects you can do yourself still exist, but the big content farms seem to go out of their way to avoid making useful things. Nothing online can be taken at face value.

Do It Yourself (But Don’t Copy Pls)

Even when the DIYers are showing people things they made that do work, sometimes they don’t mean for other people to actually Do It Themselves. Two DIY TikTok accounts run by people with similar visions for their homes have come into conflict on TikTok: Kaarin Joy, a DIYer, was recently accused of copying TayBeepBoop, another DIYer. Both have posted videos about turning their houses into their dream homes, and both are maximalists.

Maximalism as it exists today draws in a lot of bright colors and wacky, strange, and fun furniture. There are different flavors of it (There’s a sort of Victorian kind, a Boho kind, etc.) but these two both went to the Nickelodeon School of maximalism. One cohesive color palette, a commitment to squiggly lines, and a bunch of brightly colored plastic decorations. Tay received DMs from fans framing Kaarin’s work as “an exact copy” of Tay’s projects, and decided to go through Kaarin’s account and point out the similarities as well as blocking her in a callout video. Were there similarities? Yes. Both are maximalists. Both post DIY content explaining how they did what they did. Both like the color green. Both have orange couches and both created a furniture item that could be described as a ‘moss mirror’.

But having the same style (maximalism) is not the same as copying. Tay’s moss mirror and Kaarin’s moss mirror are both the results of improvising around different problems, and they look completely different for both being the ‘same thing’. The people who tattled on Kaarin for copying were correct on a surface level, but not any deeper. Of course there’s overlap: they both like the same style. It’s like calling out a minimalist for using a lot of white in their decorating.

Even if Kaarin was copying, Tay is a content creator who shows people how she put together her home step by step! If she’s not creating stuff she intends for other people to DIY themselves, she’s doing a bad job of warning them off of it. Tay said she wasn’t even aware of Kaarin until the DMers offered her up as a copycat. Tay then went in expecting to see a shameless copier and didn’t give benefit of the doubt. Tay seems reasonable most of the time, but in this case she was pointing out years-old maximalist trends and furniture colors as evidence of copying. Furniture colors! If you were to buy an orange couch, and put some art behind it, you might be copying Tay. If you were to buy Tay’s wallpaper, which is not only in her house but also something she sells, then you’re definitely copying. Again, I want to believe the person doing the call-out didn’t actually look at what they were calling out. If she was actually saying ‘this wallpaper is copying’, she would be tacitly saying ‘don’t buy my wallpaper’. That just doesn’t make any sense. The drive to create content trips plenty of people up across all genres.

This conflict is almost inconsequential, a result of many thousands of people running out of freshly made TV drama to watch thanks to a strike and turning to online drama instead, but at the same time, deciding that using the same trends to get the same rough vibe in your house is somehow wrong is indicative of a deeper problem with creators. She knew it was petty (she says so in the video), but instead of blocking and moving on, she made a video about it. Personal twists on a larger idea are essential to style movements, not a problem with them.

DIY For Who?

Most DIY content is made, liked, and saved aspirationally. There are so many people with so many cool tips for fixing drywall, or painting a table, or doing something cool with pictures on a wall. The average person is not buying tables every two weeks and patching drywall every three days, though! The DIY content treadmill is a strange place to be, full of strangers who are looking to the creator for tips and tricks on things they may do later, or even admit in the comment section that they have no use for at all, and simply watched because the process was cool.

Grimace’s Birthday Was a Marketing Success

Elizabeth Technology August 22, 2023

Chaotic videos of teens and mascots across all sorts of brands trying the Grimace shake only for something indescribable to happen to them litter social media. Why? Why does the Grimace shake inspire such a reaction?

And why did it make people want the shake more?

TikTok Advertising

It’s no secret that songs with trends attached usually do better on TikTok. Drake’s song “Kiki” started a somewhat dangerous trend of dancing beside a moving car. Tessa Violet’s “Crush” inspired a trend of makeup videos. We have evidence it works for stuff outside of music, too – Martinelli Apple Cider containers blew up big time when teens on the app discovered that they sounded sort of like apples when crushed. Not really, but the incredulity only sold more apple cider.

If you can get something to trend on TikTok, you can sell tons of it. However, this comes with a downside: once the trend is over, the sales go back down. Pink sauce comes to mind – once it was no longer a spectacle, the desire to buy it went out the window for most. Now it’s at Walmart. In many pictures, it’s in the clearance section, a rainbow of inconsistent beige-pink sauce dominating the shelf.

Grimace Shake

Knowing that, a limited, never-been-done before promotion for Grimace’s birthday was a great idea. The McRib? Shamrock shakes? Who cares, those are things the adults talk about when they come back. The real killer is something new to the teens who go to McDonald’s, and by golly the Grimace Shake delivered.

It’s purple! It’s allegedly blueberry flavored. It comes in a special cup. It’s the sort of cutesy, visually appealing, and easy to imagine beverage that social media loves. It was destined for success. But something bizarre started happening.

TikTok loves horror. They love liminal horror, they love personal horror, they love dreamlike Subway orders and nightmarish song generator accounts both featuring clever editing and implications never outright stated. In this environment, the thought “hey, wouldn’t it be funny if the grimace shake was secretly evil or something?” came to multiple creators almost at the same time. Predictably, the results were completely bizarre. The Grimace shake took on an almost Eldritch status, and consumers of it would do everything from chugging it to bathing in it to cutting to themselves in the Family Guy arm-behind-the-back death pose after drinking it. Truly, it was a phenomenon.


Ultimately, the marketing was a huge success. Teens made funny, trendy videos with the milkshake, kids enjoyed the taste and usually never saw those videos, and since the campaign had a clear ending time, it didn’t have time to start turning cringe. People didn’t run out of ideas before McDonalds stopped selling the shake, at least. As a marketing campaign, it was about the best McDonalds could hope for from a generation of ever-more jaded youngsters looking for something fun to do. Why not make a video with a McDonalds product for the internet? That sounds fun. And it was fun. Something weird happened to a business’s product and everyone just kept running with it. It’s wholesome in comparison to the treatment brands normally get online!

Game Lore in an Online World

Elizabeth Technology August 10, 2023

You’ve probably seen at least a screenshot of a Five Nights at Freddy’s lore video stretching an hour or more. The game is so extraordinarily good at producing theory content that people will gladly sit down and watch the content creator draw lines between a serial killer, a defunct Chuck E. Cheese style restaurant, and you, playing a security guard.

Doing all of this takes a surprisingly long time.

Lore wasn’t always such a major source of content, so what happened when FNaF hit the scene?

Online World

Lore didn’t used to be so easily accessible to people who hadn’t played the game. Lore also used to have to be somewhat straightforward, so the less observant and less obsessive players still had a shot at understanding what happened in the background of whatever they were playing. Now, in the age of the internet, you can watch people explain it for you! Game developers can build layers upon layers of complexity and know that people will put all of the pieces they have together in a fan forum, so not everybody needs to get all of the pieces to see the finished picture. In some cases, this is great! The people who can play the game for 50 hours and the people who only got to play it for 5 can now collaborate, so nobody is missing out just because they don’t have the time to get super deep into the game. Players don’t have to play through a game twice, thrice, or more just to get some little piece of the lore puzzle that appears based on RNG – someone else may have gotten it first try and shared with the class.

Because mysterious lore encourages sharing and collaborative puzzle solving/theorycrafting, it also tends to be good for content engagement. Heck, I’ve never even played a FNaF game, but I get the gist of what happened lore-wise because so many people are putting out videos and articles about it.

Speaking of which, FNaF changed the way indie games looked at lore – if you can get an interesting enough mystery going, your game may get picked up and incidentally advertised as people try to crack it, even if the actual plot is simple or the gameplay weak.

Plot Vs. Lore

I’m going to use FNaF as a common thread, because FNaF is one of the origin points of the deep and heavy lore trend in Indie Games. The first Five Nights at Freddy’s game is very simple, in terms of lore. The first ‘hour’ you play (which is really only several minutes IRL), a man on an answering machine is explaining the mechanics to you. “The animatronics get a little quirky at night”. That’s plot. Later, he mentions the Bite of ’87 – which is lore. Lore used the way the internet uses it is sort of peripheral to the game, stuff that becomes plot when it directly affects you. Bite of ’87 is used to warn you that the machines are dangerous, yes, but it also references a specific event that you have no context or additional information for, a little bit of flavor that doesn’t affect the plot of the game any more or less than the other numerous warnings you get about injury does.

Lore in this sense of the word includes things like what Princess Peach’s favorite flavor of cake is, or where the cars are made in Burnout. It’s stuff you may have found in a game that doesn’t interact with the plot at all, or does, but only barely, and not in a way that removing it could change the plot. If there came a game where you had to learn Peach’s favorite cake, then in this case, it’s plot!

These aren’t the exact definitions of these words – lore, as in folklore, refers to shared knowledge and tradition passed around a community. That said, people online understand what you mean when you ask about FNaF or Mario or Metroid lore, the stuff that’s happening behind the plot that the community has worked to assemble and share with each other. Online, the words have taken on new meaning.

Plot OR Lore…?

The issue with stories modeled after FNaF is that they sometimes sacrifice solid plot for mysterious lore in hopes of generating engagement online. While this works for a little bit, and while it works better for big games with lots of eyes on them, it doesn’t work consistently! If anything, it tends to irritate fans who joined the community to spend less time finding pieces and more time analyzing the content, which they now can’t do because 50% of the content is outside of the game in the form of lore.

Look at Silent Hill’s P.T. – the lore enhances the game, but the game never sacrifices anything within itself to clarify that it has an ARG attached to it and there’s more mystery afoot. Meanwhile, Hello Neighbor was so desperate to generate mystery that the outside content about the ‘mystery’ is longer than the content within the game.

Part of this is the difference in experience between the two development studios, but another part is that P.T (a demo) is okay with only being an hour long where Hello Neighbor was not. While lore is fun, it can also be used as a cheap trick to lengthen the time the player spends in the game by offering up little tidbits that either trigger randomly or after a certain number of playthroughs. A compromise is the FNaF 2 minigames, which you get to play after every ten or so deaths. You’re going to die a lot in the early game, but if you want to get (or see) all of them later as you get better, you either have to die in-game or watch a Let’s Player do it.

All this to say that lore can take the importance of plot in a game if the development studio isn’t careful!

And then, there’s theorycrafting, which has always existed, but turned into a special kind of hell in the late 2000s/early 2010s, and has held steady since.

TheoryCrafting and Lore

People theorycraft because it’s fun. What if Ash from Pokemon accidentally made a wish to a Pokemon that grants wishes in the first episode, and that’s why he’s been 11 for over a decade now? What if Lost wasn’t set on an island, and all of the characters are actually dead and this is just purgatory? What if Rey was related to a Skywalker? What if she wasn’t? But wait, what if she was again? What if Superman is secretly telekinetic, and he doesn’t even know it himself, and that’s why physics seems to break down around him when he lifts things that should fall apart under their own weight like airplanes and yachts?

Theorycrafting is a fun pastime, but it got to a point (especially on Tumblr and Twitter, in the seven or eight years around 2010) where superfans would send death threats to a media creator because their personal theory didn’t pan out. More on that later.

Theorycrafting often goes hand in hand with lore, especially when the lore’s a little obscure, or incomplete. For example, to go back to FNaF – we knew nothing about the Bite of ’87. Until the next game came out, people liked to theorycraft what exactly that bite was: did it kill the kid? Did the animatronics gain sentience after tasting human blood? Were you involved in the bite, and this game is you having a nightmare about being in control of the situation, but not really? And then, we got a few bits more of lore with some strategic tweets and the second game, and we learned another animatronic called Mangle was responsible for the bite. All that theorycrafting went out the window, and new theorycrafting slid in to take its place.

Too Much Involvement

Again, theorycrafting is fun. It’s also one of the hardest parts of asking for fan participation, because in order to get fans to make theories, the information has to be incomplete! On one hand, you want people to theorycraft because it generates interest in what you’ve made. On the other, theorycrafters may figure it all out before the creators get to explain it, which many game makers seem to hate. Creating a puzzle that took hours to make and five minutes to solve would be frustrating for anybody, but especially for people trying to generate a lot of engagement out of said puzzles. On the third, theorycrafters, with the power of crowdsourced, forum-based discussion, can sometimes create something deeply unhinged that gets accepted as fact within the community based on disjointed, incomplete information.

If the community is particularly green and young, they may be so disappointed in what actually happens next in the show that they stop participating altogether, or… start behaving erratically. For example: Johnlock, and BBC’s Sherlock, which Youtuber Sarah Zed has a very good video on (here!). It’s long, but her video collects a ton of fan reactions. It shows exactly the pitfalls of asking and poking and teasing fans with clues and little bits of lore online without expecting them to take it seriously. The showrunners, known as Mofftis at the time, encouraged the fans to go after every little detail, every obvious red herring, until eventually those fans had convinced themselves as a collective that Sherlock and Watson were going to be together as a couple at the end of the series for sure. The showrunners should have known that by the time people were putting together Johnlock couple cosplays based on a handful of semi-ambiguous lines in the show, they’d gotten in too deep.

Fans were sure Watson and Sherlock were going to end up in a relationship together and got very upset when that didn’t happen, ending in death threats to anyone even remotely involved in the show if they could be found online. It got so bad that Lucy Liu, who played Watson in the American TV show Elementary, a totally different adaptation of Sherlock, was getting harassed online because of a British-made show that premiered a few years earlier.

If you encourage the wrong kind of theorycrafting or attract a community that hasn’t learned these lessons yet, you run the risk of the fandom overpowering your original vision for something a small majority has decided it would rather have instead. Again – it’s sort of bad to let lore, a secondary part of the story, interfere with plot, the concrete, primary threads of it.

Lore Isn’t Inherently Bad

Lore isn’t inherently bad. What makes lore bad is overuse and overreliance on the fans to put together a good story out of little disjointed pieces of lore. Bad lore is essentially crowdsourced story-writing and collectible fluff, where good lore enhances an understanding of the content in question, giving viewers a better feel for the world without robbing them of essential plot if they choose not to pursue it.

It comes down to skill and demand. The original Sonic lore is mostly unknown because people just didn’t want it. FNaF lore, on the other hand, was written fairly sparingly to it’s own benefit. Finally, games like P.T., Resident Evil, Death Loop, Hades, etc. all benefit from their lore bringing the player in with little interactions and bits of flavor text they want to see, without dragging their attention away from the core content itself.

Lore is good! But it has to be done well to be good. Being complicated alone doesn’t make anything good.


Fake Podcasts: Why Bother?

Elizabeth Technology August 8, 2023

Podcasts As A Visual Art

Podcasts are everywhere. They’re a more relaxed, theoretically less-edited form of content that’s fairly easy and cheap to get into. However, getting into podcasting and actually turning a profit for the work put into it are two totally different things! Spotify pays famously terribly – while podcasters make more money than musical artists, the money earned per stream is still not sustainable for most. Specialized groups like the Maximum Fun network may lessen the load by acting as advertisement and hosting, but they have their own requirements for members on their platform.

Podcasts are not an easy source of passive income unless the creator is already established. New podcasters may spend years trying to get something off the ground and never succeed! It’s an incredibly competitive field filled with many skilled people.

As such, it sort of makes sense that creators who already have an established fanbase would have an easier time putting something together, and of those established creators, creators who do something almost like a podcast – making Youtube videos – would have an easier time learning the language. If the creator is a Youtuber and they already have cameras available, they may as well film what they’re making and put that up so that listeners listening from Youtube have something to watch. Ordinary podcasters don’t tend to have a nice space they can film in, but most Youtubers at least have a desk or something. Some shows go full circle to talk-shows and play clips, even. Shows that didn’t start with video start filming to follow the tide. Podcasting now comes with video as often as it doesn’t.

Fake Podcasts

There’s a visual language to these filmed podcasts. Two or more people are wearing headphones. There’s a microphone, maybe multiple. The cameras used to film are angled in such a way that you know who is facing who if the entire cast isn’t caught in a shot (often, podcasts with visuals are edited to cut to a zoomed in shot of the person who’s talking). And, most importantly, the cast is almost never looking at the camera. They’re looking at each other, an artifact from previous podcasting eras where looking at the camera wasn’t strictly required. Looking at the people you’re talking to instead of the camera turned out to be more natural not only for the hosts, but also for the audience watching the show.

If you know the tricks, you know how to fake it!

The question is: why? Why fake it?

The majority of podcasts aren’t that prestigious, as mentioned before. However, while a podcaster could be anyone, a guest has to be ‘worthy’. To say ‘I’ve been interviewed’ and to post videos from the podcast is an affirmation that the guest is interesting and worth listening to at some level. Posting clips of an interview gives the interviewee clout and perceived status.

After that, even though the faker can’t attach a name, they can hint at the quality of the show they were allegedly on by using high quality filming and audio equipment visible in the shot. More expensive show? More expensive stuff. Therefore, they were asked on to interview at a prestigious, well-run, and profitable show with a lot of listeners eager to hear their wisdom. The “set” behind them gives hints too: Is it a podcast run for sports? Does it appeal to drama-loving gossip hounds? Are they on a comedy podcast, or a serious one?

Also, it’s just really easy to fake! The interviewee doesn’t have a name or a watermark to attach to their video, but whatever; a lot of clips of popular podcasts just expect viewers to know the names of the people in them, and they don’t really tag their Shorts or TikToks with the show’s full title. It doesn’t tend to affect how realistic a clip looks. There are hundreds if not thousands of podcasts, many of which are super popular within their niche but nowhere else, which is why the equipment quality trick works at all – being on a super popular zoology podcast doesn’t mean that any true crime podcast listener would have heard of the guest, and vice versa. If someone posts a clip of themselves talking about animals or true crime, the listener just assumes they haven’t heard of the show they were on, not that the clip itself is fake.

How To Spot It

Spotting fake clips is tough, but not impossible. Hosts rarely take snips of just themselves or just the guest. If the “guest” doesn’t have any footage of the “host”, then they can’t include it, which means it’s probably fake. Similarly, if the “guest” is not treating the equipment or environment like it needs to be treated to get the audio (touching microphones or turning their head too far away from the mic on their desk, etc.) there’s a solid chance that’s a fake.

As long as they aren’t “borrowing” someone’s image or credibility without actually being on their show, there isn’t much harm in these fake podcast clips. It’s just a weird little quirk of the internet today that fake clips are being made to sell soundbites easier.

What Will Switching to “X” Actually Look Like?

Elizabeth Technology August 1, 2023

There are a lot of theories as to why Musk would go from the widely-recognizable “Twitter” to a single letter name like X.

Much like colors, brands can “own” letters, but only in certain markets. UPS owns their distinctive shade of brown in the shipping industry, but if Hershey chocolates decides they want brown and yellow wrapping on a special edition bar, UPS can’t tell them not to. Why? Nobody is going to confuse Hershey chocolate for a product of UPS. Tiffany owns their robin’s egg blue within the jewelry and fine glasswork market, but again, if Hershey wants to use robin’s egg blue on their Easter candy, Tiffany has no legal way to stop them even if they wanted to. And they don’t!

Letters are much the same: many social media sites own a stylized version of the first letter in their name to maintain recognition even in teeny designs like app icons, including big ones like Facebook and Google. So, on the surface, switching to a single letter follows a cogent line of logic. The problem? Tumblr owns the letter “T” for social media. Twitter’s app icon is a bird because the two are so similar they can’t both use the letter T (both blue, both blogging or microblogging sites, etc.). The equivalent would be UPS trying to switch to “F”. FedEx would have something to say about a choice that obvious even if they didn’t touch their colors. Twitter wouldn’t try.

So why X if not T? Easy – Musk owns That’s why they’re going to X.

Notably, Musk used to work at PayPal and tried the same thing there, but they parted ways before he could convince anybody. The times have changed, and the era where Musk worked at PayPal is very different from the era today. For example, Microsoft now owns copyrights around the letter X as it relates to communications and Threads/Meta have copyrights for X relating to software. Twitter is also now visible in many more places than PayPal is. PayPal only appears when money needs to change hands – Twitter is (or was) considered essential for businesses of any size, from the biggest shipping companies to the smallest boutique newsletters. Everyone knows of Twitter, and that would make rebranding incredibly difficult even if it wasn’t to a single letter.

Execution Gets Them Every Time

Firstly, the UI of the site is still coated in Twitter and Tweet terminology as of this article’s writing. That means it’s still Twitter. There just aren’t enough staff on hand to do one big update/rollout for their new X branding like they might have liked to, and as a result Twitter is still Twitter until users recognize X to be Twitter, which won’t be complete until everything says X. Making a big deal about the switch (so customers are less likely to become confused when something isn’t where it used to be) is only a part of the equation for success; another huge part of it is getting people to stop saying the old name. Hard to do when the microblog posts still go live as ‘tweets’.

Brands who feature ‘Find us on Twitter!’ notes on their packaging will have to switch over to the ‘X’. This alone may take weeks, both because the process of getting the new label on the packaging itself will take a while, and because the old packaging needs to cycle out at the grocery store. Websites using Twitter links will have to change their icons. Twitter has been a bird for so long that some of them might have forgotten how.

Elon owned That’s the easy part. But everywhere else, even if big names like Meta and Microsoft don’t pitch a fit over the copyright issues Twitter is creating for itself, and even on The Website Formerly Known As Twitter, X/Twitter’s branding is incomplete and rushed. The entire launch seems to be the result of an impulsive decision in a morning meeting. Twitter didn’t own the @X handle on Twitter before it made the switch. Someone else snatched it up immediately. The Japanese rock group X Japan had the X handle they would have used to stay in format with Twitter Japan, and so they just can’t use that handle for Japan.

What is X? Outside of a domain Elon has been sitting on forever. What is ‘an X’? X by itself means nothing. It’s an exit. It’s the top right of the screen when you want to leave. It’s the mark over treasures and mines on maps, but nothing itself except a marker. It’s the thing you replace when you first start learning algebra. It’s a cool letter, but maybe going with “Twitter X” would have been more comprehensible vs. what the site has going on now. What, tweets are now called X’s? They’re… exes? I’m no longer tweeting, I’m exing? Did you see that X that The Rock posted? I can’t believe some guy is leaving X. You know, X? Like the letter? It used to be Twitter.

There’s no meat on it, no associations to make with it, not a fanciful mark or a made-up word. It’s a letter. Just a single letter is expected to carry all the weight of a brand like Twitter.

WebP Images

Elizabeth Technology July 27, 2023

Google Images

Google Images is one of the most powerful image-finding resources in the world. In the early days of the web, you could quite simply just copy and then paste an image from Google Images into your project and call it a day. This wouldn’t work for publications, and it opened up a gigantic legal nightmare for anyone caught using copyrighted images in their advertising “by accident” after an intern did that (copyright is one of those laws you can’t say ‘I didn’t know you couldn’t do that’ and get off), but for personal and internal use, Google Images could do what you needed it to.

However, the internet is a tricky place, and a website who used a picture (legitimately or not) could appear before the original source of the picture did. While this still didn’t affect the most basic use of an image, it had the potential to turn into a problem when content reposting got really popular on Instagram, Pinterest, etc. and online news sites wanted to use an image they found. They’d end up asking the wrong person!

Secondary to that is images that are free to use, but poor quality. The website supplying the image doesn’t want people to use the worse 300×300 px version of it if a better-quality version exists.

WebP images solve both of these problems, both intentionally and accidentally!

Websites Run on Google Properties

Image-loading speed has been an unbreakable barrier for websites with images on them for forever. Pictures are a lot of information, and pulling that information from the server makes the entire page slower. The bigger the image, the slower it goes.

The earliest days of the web only had JPGs and other weak, lossy formats to supply the web with the images, and even those took forever on dial-up internet. Now, we have dozens of formats to choose from, although JPGs and PNGs are the most common for both size and convenience of use. PNGs are also capable of being transparent, although they take up more space than JPGs do due to their lossless nature. Thus, in Google Images, a WebP image will likely be both the smallest and best copy of any particular image.


However, WebP has thrown a wrench in many a meme – the file type can’t be converted to a JPG or a PNG with the default software on your Windows computer (yet). When they come up in Google images, you can’t just save them straight off the site (which you shouldn’t have been doing anyway!) anymore and expect that same file to be uploadable to a meme website or your art program. Sketchbook and GIMP can’t handle WebP images!

Of course, nobody at all would be using these if it was all downsides. WebP images are faster to load, smaller, animatable, and can handle transparency, fusing all of the best traits of JPGs, PNGs, and even GIFs. When making a website, every single second the user has to wait is a second they’re less likely to continue to wait, unless they actually care about the content they’re looking for. Waiting even five seconds for a webpage to load wipes out a huge chunk of potential views! PNGs have been a pinnacle online image formats for a long time, but they can delay loading times, and can even be used to DDOS a website if that website doesn’t have size upload limits. WebPs can do that too… but only if the website allows WebP uploads, and only if the format of it is lossy. It’s weaknesses are it’s strengths – it’s difficult to use, difficult to steal, and difficult to alter (again, for now – as it becomes more common, many of these problems should subside given Google works with developers).


New Top-Level Domains

Elizabeth Technology July 25, 2023

Google recently released some new top-level domains for purchase.

What is a Top-Level Domain?

A top level domain is one of the most important parts of a website’s internet address, after the ‘root’ zone. A URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is made up of several pieces. The first part, usually http:// or https:// is the ‘scheme’, which tells your device which application it should use to open the URL. ‘www’, the part right after that part, is a subdomain – it gives your device additional information about the website, and can even be swapped out depending on the website being used (although www is very common). After that is the domain – in a website name like www . example . com, ‘example’ is the domain. In www. Google . com, Google is the domain.

After that is top-level domains – the last part of the address that use .com, .org, .gov, and others, which are just below the domain name in importance. If you type in the wrong top-level domain, you will not land on the correct website, just like if you mistyped the main domain name. Some top-level domains are controlled (only U.S. government bodies can use the .gov ending, according to CISA, and only websites in the United Kingdom use the .uk top-level domain) but others are open and available to whoever wants to use them. They don’t have to be three letters or less, either – .pizza , .tube, and .online are just some of the top-level domains one can buy. Truly, the world is an oyster!

Trouble Afoot

With all that out of the way, what has Google done this time?

The thing about top-level domains is that they have to be for sale first! There are a limited number of domain vendors, and not every domain vendor can sell every type of top-level domain. However, any established organization in the world, public or private, can apply to create and then operate a new top-level domain. They have to prove their capability, because doing that takes a lot of money and server space, but it’s possible for large companies like Google.

The problem is that a few of Google’s cool new top-level domains are A) already in existence elsewhere, and B) exist in a place where they can overlap. Google released eight new top-level domains, and two among them are also file types: .zip and .mov.

For convenience, many websites will turn links into hyperlinks. Typing in into Word, for example, will create a hyperlink. The same goes for Outlook and Teams. This is the core of the problem – trying to reference a file you’ve saved elsewhere in online communications channels is creating an opportunity for the recipient to click on a link they didn’t mean to.

 If you mean to tell someone that they should check out the photos[dot]zip file attached to the email you’re sending, and they mistakenly click the auto-hyperlink instead of downloading the file attachment, they’re left visiting an unknown (potentially malicious) website. Or, if someone in a Teams chat group says the new photos are ready in the photos[dot]zip file in the company OneDrive, then they’ve opened their team up to accidentally clicking a link thinking it leads to the shared files. Simple statements that weren’t issues before are now security risks! A particularly clever scammer could set up auto-downloads for .zip files named the same as the website, so the victim doesn’t even realize they’re downloading malware. If their browser throws a warning, they’re likely to trust the source if they don’t know that this is a possibility. The same goes for .mov files, but those aren’t as common as .zips are.

Google has basically opened the door to a new kind of scamming, and their reasons for doing so are unclear.  

What is Going On With Social Websites Lately?

Elizabeth Technology July 13, 2023

A bunch of websites are metamorphosing into new and unrecognizable shapes. Outside of Twitter (it’s own major disaster), what’s going on in these social media sites?

Reddit Kills Apollo

Reddit’s decision to start charging for direct access to their API has resulted in Apollo, alongside a number of other third-party apps meant to work with Reddit, shutting down. It’s simply too expensive to keep running. Many subreddits (which are like forum pages for niches under the Reddit umbrella) shuttered their doors, some for 48 hours, some indefinitely, only for Reddit staff to threaten to de-mod the moderators who made that decision and replace them with more agreeable users who would open the subs back up. Why would anyone scab for arguably one of the worst online jobs available on a volunteer basis? The power to control the ‘vibe’ of the subreddit, and therefore the mood of whatever hobby or niche that subreddit represents if Reddit is a big enough part of it. Some hobbies and communities only exist on Reddit – outside of the easy pre-made forum format that Reddit provides, these people would not be able to come together and share information with each other. That’s a lot of power!

As an aside, Apollo (and many of the other third-party apps designed to read Reddit on mobile) work with accessibility tools, while the primary app… struggles. Shutting down Apollo means a sizable chunk of the population just won’t be able to use Reddit on mobile, full stop. Reddit doesn’t seem to have plans in place to address that!

From most angles, Reddit’s decision is a transparent grab for more ads. Third party sites don’t do the ads like the official app does, so Reddit will get more money if everyone is forced to either use the mobile site or the official Reddit app. Many moderators have chosen to reopen their subreddits, but flag them as NSFW pages, which Reddit can’t monetize with ads.

Discord Changes Their Username Policy and Freaks Everyone Out

Discord used to work by giving everyone a name and a number discriminator that would allow people to pick out exactly the name they wanted without having to add a bunch of special characters or numbers into it. It was elegant! It was clean! It was easy to use and easy to learn! You could change your name on a whim, add or remove pertinent info, and goof off with holiday-themed usernames without risking losing the “real” username.

Now, everyone just gets a username. A username with numbers permanently built into it, since many people are not getting the username they wanted (or even the one they already had). And, thanks to a bad rollout, Discord is watching with their hands up in the air as people grab names like “Markiplier” and “PewDiePie”, which are both social media handles belonging to users already on the site with huge followings elsewhere! Both had their names with the discriminator attached until that change happened and locked them out of using the handle they already had, due to the staggered rollout Discord is doing.

Just names is worse. It was always worse. It is still worse now. An old system that could handle emojis and names written in non-English characters is simply gone for the sake of a more Twitter-like system, allegedly to ease confusion… but the rollout really screwed up any chance this change had to land well. People are grabbing up names they know were already in use, not to mention that Twitter’s system really struggled with scammers up until the verification checkmarks were introduced to kick impersonators.

Twitch Threatens Sponsorships and then Says it Didn’t Mean To

Twitch has had a rough couple of weeks or months. Initially, Twitch announced that it would be downgrading some users from 70/30 to 50/50 money split: where the streamer used to get 70% of the bits and subscription money their viewers spent on them and Twitch would get the remaining 30%, now they’d get half. Smaller streamers were very upset – many were on contracts that kept them from dual-streaming on sites like Youtube or Tiktok, which would allow them to supplement the income twitch had just announced it was cutting. Clarifications came out later, some users were exempt, but it was a bad look.

And then Twitch said it would be limiting the screen space sponsorships could have during a livestream to 3% of the screen, and that it would be banning burnt-in sponsorship panels altogether. Tickers, icons, and all sorts of other shout-outs to brands were going to be taken out of action. AFK screens, the screen a streamer sometimes puts up when they take a break to use the bathroom or get food, were now nerfed. Sponsors would have very little incentive to pay money to people if those people couldn’t show their logo in high definition, and as such this would have killed a lot of sponsorship opportunities.

The website flipped! Immediately, almost everyone was angry in a way they’d never been before!

Many of the largest streamers make their money off of sponsorships. Where big streamers didn’t care so much about the 70/30 or 50/50 split change, they cared a lot about the sponsorship change. Sensing the enormity of the mistake they made, Twitch went back on it almost immediately, but trust in the site as a money-making opportunity for content creators is damaged if not dead. ‘What’s next? What will Twitch do next?’ Rings through chatrooms and Discord servers. Streamers, big and small, are now wary – this kind of behavior points to Twitch needing money badly and not looking hard enough at the consequences before they announce their ‘plans’, letting the audience puzzle out what could go wrong for them.