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It is Sort Of Weird to be Watching Interrogation Footage Recreationally

Elizabeth Technology August 4, 2022

But Why?

It is very human to see something horrific and ask ‘why?’. Even moreso if the scale is small, and petty, if the stakes come down to ruining a handful of people’s lives for reasons that later seem transient. However, there isn’t always a good reason why… that doesn’t stop the asking.

Jim Can’t Swim and Similar Channels

I appreciate the work that goes into interrogation analysis videos, so long as those videos are made by people who know what they’re talking about. Jim Can’t Swim (often abbreviated to JCS) is a channel on Youtube that reviews and analyzes footage of interrogations released to the public. JCS is one of the biggest and most well-known channels following this premise; JCS’s narrator speaks with authority, is able to identify common tactics used by either the police or the suspect during the interrogation, and is generally respectful of the subject matter. While sometimes the subject matter is humorous because the suspect or the interrogating officer does something that’s weird or pathetic, JCS doesn’t turn serious crimes into jokes.

It also doesn’t devolve into ‘copaganda’, a term used to describe media that paints the police in an overly positive light. Copaganda may suggest that the police never make a mistake, or anyone who asks for a lawyer before speaking to the police is guilty, or that it’s okay for the police to break some of the rules as long as they ‘know’ the suspect is guilty – it’s a nasty trend that leads to well-meaning, otherwise innocent people giving up rights they are legally entitled to for the sake of not ‘looking’ guilty.  JCS often clarifies that the police are allowed to lie to you to get more info out of you during an interrogation because it so often works in the detective’s favor during taped interrogations.

Other channels mimicking his format began cropping up, and then the format began to turn into a problem.

Visibility Bias

There are two issues with the popularity of these channels. The first one is that, with the benefit of knowing how the case turns out, of course you can spot the tells of the suspect. It’s like watching a poker match when you already know who wins! For instance: many channels, JCS included, will point out body language or certain tics as indicators of lies. However, you can’t use those in court – many people tic when nervous, and it would never hold up because everyone tics a little differently. The focus on body language is for the interrogators, who are looking for certain clusters of behaviors as indicators that the person they’re interrogating might not be telling the whole truth. It’s an interrogation tactic to extract a confession, not a hard science that always yields results. While JCS and a handful of the other big channels that started after him will clarify this as they describe why the suspect is likely doing what they’re doing, many others do not – they simply point to a behavior and say “this is where they started lying” because they know how the case ends. The tendency to use big, flashy cases where the murder was gruesome and the suspect left behind tons of evidence worsens the effect, because every video ends in a conviction, giving the viewer a false sense of efficacy when it comes to certain techniques.

You don’t see the videos where the tactics lead to investigators pressuring someone for an hour because they struggled to make eye contact with the interrogator, because that’s not interesting or cool and the channels realize that. However, if every video you see where the suspect couldn’t make eye contact ended in a conviction, you’d be inclined to believe everyone who can’t make eye contact is guilty, and it’s not just something nervous people do – sort of an ‘every square is a rectangle, not all rectangles are squares’ deal. Channels have to be very careful what they’re pointing out as recognizable nervous or lying tics because it’s not a science, they know how the case ends and so may be seeing tells where there aren’t any, and there’s no frame of reference for ‘innocent’ behavior elsewhere on the channel.  

Speaking of which, the second issue is that it often ends up accidentally turning into copaganda anyway – at least, the copycat channels do. When you stop focusing on how inexact many of the tactics are because they always seem to work in the videos and the channel narrator always points certain things out when they happen, it can be easy to fall into the trap of [X] is guilty because when the cops interrogated [Y], this same thing happened. Almost every video on JCS with a few exceptions were cases where the murder suspect either took a plea deal or went to trial, meaning the prosecutors already had a ton of evidence against the suspect. In the one or two cases on his channel where the suspect had been pulled in and later cleared, he points out how not-guilty the suspect acts during the interrogation. The rest? The huge percentage of interrogations that don’t provide any meaningful answers because the police had more or less said ‘this guy was in the area and we’re out of ideas’ to drag that guy in? Those interrogations aren’t the ones that end up on the channel. Why would they? They’re boring. The convicted suspect’s interrogation was probably more interesting anyway, right? The five people investigators went through to get to the prime suspect are never seen, and so the police look hypercompetent on these channels, always nailing the right person and always managing to extract something incriminating related to the case within an hour or three. These channels end up stripping quite a bit of valuable context from the case. It’s actually built into the formatting of this style of channel, because all people want to see is the case and the interview. Nothing else.

Inexpertise

And then there’s the issue of the analysis itself. Many of these folks could be amateur experts (we don’t know what credentials the vast majority of them have), meaning they’ve done extensive research online for specific cases, and specific interrogation techniques… but don’t know much beyond that. While the internet is huge and useful, you can’t research yourself into a self-made Master’s degree. Usually, that’s fine. You don’t need to have a degree in botany to be giving advice on tomatoes, you just need some research from people who do that you can cite when someone asks you how you know something will or won’t work. The field of psychology is not quite this simple, and when mixed with matters of law, sometimes even people in the system confuse themselves into messing up a case! For an outsider to be able to just leap in and begin analyzing footage of two human beings interacting within a specific legal circumstance, and having that analysis be trusted because of an air of expertise despite few credentials and sometimes sparse citations, may as well be a television show.

The problem then is that there’s no official, end-all-be-all way to describe why a new channel’s videos aren’t as good at describing the interrogation as an older channel like JCS is. A huge chunk of these interrogation-analysis videos don’t have any official training, just ‘experience’. Experience is useful, yes, but when anyone can just start making videos on such serious subject matters, you’re going to end up with a lot of pop-psychology and bias making it’s way into the analysis. JCS, with scripters, can avoid some of it, but can a teen with no editor or scriptwriter avoid accidentally suggesting something completely incorrect because it just happens to pan out in this case?

Just like everything else online, you should avoid taking the word of an interrogation channel without a grain of salt. They’re there for your entertainment first – anything else comes second!

Jake Novak Wants to Be Cancelled… Just Not Like This

Elizabeth Technology August 2, 2022

Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live is a pillar of American TV culture. It has a lot of history, it has a very talented team of writers that still get laughs out of the target demographic, but it’s not afraid of resorting to the obvious joke in a given scenario because the point of the show is to be kind of rushed. It’s live, and they only have a week to plan it, and there’s no do-overs. When you consider the format and compare it to something like ‘The Simpsons’, which has continually gotten simpler and simpler with jokes until they’re barely jokes at all despite having more time to write the episodes, it’s honestly kind of impressive that SNL has been as consistent as it has over the years.

However, by the nature of the industry, they end up churning through cast members and writers at a decent pace. This does more good than bad, usually. The material naturally freshens up with new eyes on it, and outside of a few select incidents (the Elon-Musk-as-Wario episode truly lives in infamy) the show is able to keep marching despite the turnover. It’s still a juggernaut, and while there may be more good TV out there than ever, it’s still beloved by many.

Jake Novak

You don’t end up on SNL accidentally. The guests may be random one-offs from a variety of professions, but the core cast is entirely comedians with years and years of experience. Of course Musk and any other number of guests have sucked – the guests are usually famous for something other than comedy, and comedy is really hard. Especially when you have to rush it out in a week.

Jake Novak, who – if you know him at all – you likely know as ‘some guy on TikTok’, is better known for his singing and rapping. As many people in the comments of his videos and subsequent criticism videos have put it, he’s a theater kid. He’s heavily inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer and lead actor in the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, and it shows quite a bit. His songs might sometimes be funny, but other times they’re political, and many times they’re just telling a story.

Jake Novak has a TikTok and Youtube account, but has either purposefully or accidentally left out any sort of other experience that SNL would be looking for, like… a comedy career offline, or standup experience, or experience writing for a TV show. In his ‘audition’ song, he says he wants to be the next SNL cast member, but he doesn’t point to years of experience or tried-and-true comedic routines, he points out how similar he is to Lin Manuel-Miranda and that he’s good at songwriting. That’s nice, but it’s not what SNL does. It’s what Lin-Manuel Miranda does. He says he wants to give them the next big thing and that he’s good at acting (which he tries to demonstrate in the video) but doesn’t give anything else. He hasn’t released anything new since the SNL ‘audition’ video. It’s as of yet unclear if he’s going to abandon his TikTok altogether – he hasn’t posted since then.

I Want To Be Cancelled

Worse still was one of the first videos he ever posted to his TikTok channel, one in which he says he wants to be canceled so everyone will know his name and he can get enough recognition to be verified on Twitter. This is understandably the last thing any current TV show wants one of its people to say. It is a nightmare for a studio. Right now, DC Comics is trying to handle Ezra Miller getting themselves cancelled for a number of things they did while in Hawai’i, and it’s not going well. Jake Novak is obviously joking by listing out cancelable crimes that he’d never do, and at the end says he could get by with being canceled ‘just a little’ for something minor and stupid, but making the joke in the first place feels desperate if not tone-deaf.

You want to be famous, and you’ll do anything to get it? Including being cancelled or doing something cancellable? You made a whole song about it because you’re ‘jokingly’ jealous of how much (negative!!) fame and press the cancelled people are getting for their very real cases of sexual harassment? And the ‘a little cancellable’ items he lists off aren’t exactly great either – ‘misgendering a tadpole’ rings a little too much like the right-wing joke of ‘did you just assume my gender?!’ for the audience he seems to be trying to attract. This is exactly the kind of video that comes back to haunt you after you ‘make it big’, and that alone may have made him too radioactive to hire, the kind of thing that would get you cancelled. Assuming he was ever actually a possibility in the first place. Which he wasn’t.

Misconception

There was a misunderstanding somewhere between skills he perceived were needed and what a TV show like SNL actually wants its staff to do. If Pete Davidson did a song about wanting to join SNL as a gag, it’d be funny… when Jake Novak does it, it’s just sort of cringe, because he seems to be assuming he’s on the same level as the staff that’s already on the show because he’s big on TikTok and he has flow. He perceives himself to be their peer, at least in the video. He is not.

This divide is the difference between ‘old media’ and ‘new media’. Old media is generally the stuff like newspapers, TV shows, movies, etc. that a team of people make and is generally regulated. New media, on the other hand, is the stuff you see on Youtube, made with minimal or no staff aside from the presenter, and not subject to the same rules about presentability or censoring. New media has made it possible for nearly anyone to become famous given a little luck – you don’t need to audition to be a Youtuber! But old media remains much as it used to, relying on certain markers to identify who will be successful in a given role and who won’t be. It’s rare for a non-reality show to be recruiting from social media because it doesn’t work as well as traditional methods of finding funny people do.

 If anything, the track record so far has been kind of bad, with new media stars being given shows they have to write for and discovering how hard writing is when you have to fill 22 minutes with something. A huge chunk of comedy is timing, so when you get used to being able to make the show as long or as short as you want, a hard time limit feels suffocating for both the viewer and the writer.The Annoying Orange, for example. Or Fred, or Jake Paul. All of them famous online, none of them capable of handling a TV show.

 TikTok is especially new – the set of skills to make a 45 second long song don’t clearly translate to the writing room for a 5, 10, or 15 minute bit. SNL rarely uses singing anyway. He addresses his videos directly to Lorne Michaels which might be for the sake of rhyming or getting his point across, but it comes across as incredibly arrogant, especially when the rest of the song seems to imply he’s auditioning for the show itself, to be next to all of the big important comedians, and not just a bit writer somewhere in the back. His one thing is the singing, and that’s plenty for new media online, but not nearly enough for a TV show. This is the kind of audition you’d make if you wanted to make a short with another Youtuber or TikToker, not a fully staffed old-media TV show! Formatting and content aside, this wasn’t a genius attention grab anyway. Famous online does not equal famous enough for TV.

All that said, don’t bully the guy – he was doing what he loved and the video blew up unexpectedly on him. His audience, wherever they may be now, was interested enough to follow him.

The Problem of Internet Points

Elizabeth Technology May 26, 2022

Upvotes. Likes. Digs. Internet points are common across the web, and used to signal agreement without needing to comment that. But with the massive growth of the internet, unforeseen consequences of using points to signal agreement have made many wonder if they were a good idea at all.

Youtube

Youtube removed it’s dislike button in an attempt to prevent brigades from happening. Allegedly. Before the button was removed, there was a common thought in Youtube’s creator community that the like button did nothing to actually boost the video. Youtube’s algorithm is pretty opaque outside of a few hard rules, so this rumor spread to the point where PewDiePie, one of Youtube’s largest creators, posted a video specifically requesting people dislike his video, and it seemed he was proven right – that video got nearly four times as many views as other videos he made that month did. That felt horribly counterintuitive: “are we supposed to hit the dislike button on creators we like so more people will see them?” but it’s actually a result of including the dislike button as a positive point in their website’s calculations for interaction.

PewDiePie’s video got so much traction because it asked for something new. Fans watching always hit the like button, right? And people who felt neutrally about the video or just had it on as background noise didn’t interact with it at all. However, by asking people to break their routine, he accumulated several times as many button presses, both likes and dislikes, as he normally did, thus telling Youtube that tons of people were actively engaging with his content and convincing the algorithm to share it far and wide.

While funny, it shows how so many conspiracy videos got shunted to the front of the Youtube Recommended page before and during the Covid-19 pandemic. Likes, dislikes, and comments are all interaction, right? So a ton of dislikes and a ton of arguing in the comments are equal to a ton of likes and a ton of praise for the creator, right? Obviously not. But the website, which was programmed to understand any interaction as good interaction, couldn’t tell them apart.

Reddit

Reddit treats downvotes as interaction, but it doesn’t do so in a way that rewards bad content… at least not directly like Youtube accidentally did.

If you go to Reddit, and you see an Ask Reddit post asking something like ‘What is Your Most Controversial Food Opinion?’, the top result is likely to be something pretty innocent, or even well-liked – maybe pineapple on pizza is at the top, goofy, but not an abomination. The comments then inform you that you should sort by controversial if you want to see the weirdos eating pickles and sardines together recreationally. Those people answered the prompt, and their food choice is probably the most controversial in the thread, but many people downvoted them anyway, leaving pineapple on pizza the winner.

Reddit ranks comments and posts with an up- and down-vote system. Upvotes carry comments to the top, downvotes carry comments to the bottom, and if a comment gets enough downvotes, the comment can even be automatically hidden. Reddit insists that you use the upvote button on comments that add to the conversation, not as an agree button, but only smaller and strictly moderated subreddits can really make that happen. Everywhere else, the ‘upvote’ may as well be a ‘like’ to the population of Reddit who barely skimmed the rules before making an account. Therefore, even though sardine man answered the question with something unusual and new, he loses to pineapple on pizza, an incredibly milquetoast combination that’s not offensive unless you’re from New York or Chicago.

This system means that the first few people on a post determine what comments appear at the top, because those are the comments that have time to accumulate upvotes.

 Reddit defaults to showing either the new comments or the top-voted ones to users, and while you can sort by other metrics, the path of least resistance is to browse what’s already the default. This sometimes leads to nice-sounding but incorrect information appearing at the top of the comments under a post, and anything contradicting that information may be downvoted because it doesn’t sound as good or isn’t written as well. That’s if the correction gets spotted at all! The top comment on a front page post may have hundreds if not thousands of threads and subthreads trailing off of it, so if someone spots some incorrect information and tries to correct it, the odds that they’re successful in doing so rely on them A) writing well, B) being spotted by enough people scrolling down, and C) commenting in the right spot, off a subthread on the problem comment, not the general ocean of comments where it will float to the bottom.

This system creates a culture where being likeable and confident over text is more important than being right. The now infamous jackdaw argument is a great example of this coming to a head. For context, a user with the username ‘Unidan’ would pop in with fun science facts on Reddit posts. Anywhere he posted, he’d get floated to the top of the comments, because he came across as a sort of ‘Bill Nye’ type, fun, educated, and cool. And then he got into an argument over what a jackdaw really is (in which he was pretty condescending, but hey, it’s the internet, and people found the condescension really funny when he was right) and got banned because it was discovered he’d been manipulating votes. Specifically, he’d been downvoting everyone who posted at the same time as him and upvoting himself with a number of throwaway accounts. The result was that his comment was on top first, granting him more visibility and more internet points.

As a result of his banning, people watching finally understood the problem. Unidan, who was well-liked, couldn’t be challenged by other less charismatic scientists, even if he was wrong or not precisely accurate, because people would dogpile any criticism of him. This is another issue with the upvote system! Users see comments with upvotes, they upvote. They see comments with downvotes on them, they downvote. Now, other users can see who’s ‘losing’ an argument by who’s being downvoted, and people like to side with winners even if the winner is, technically speaking, wrong, or at least oversimplifying. Unidan as a biologist is not qualified to be giving speeches on physics, the same way Neil Degrasse Tyson as a career physicist shouldn’t be talking about biology. People are willing to call Tyson out on Twitter, but they weren’t willing to call out Unidan on Reddit, partially because the anonymity made people absolutely vicious. The other person arguing with Unidan over the jackdaw thing got death threats.

Facebook

Facebook likes have a storied history. Facebook’s origin as a ranking site for college students is not the most graceful or morally upright a website has ever had, and it shed a lot of its original flavor and features to reach its current size and social stature, for good or bad. Sure, it’s a horrible monolith determined to spy on you and sell you things based on the info it gathers… but Farmville was fun, right?

The like system was incredibly straightforward, and worked quite a bit like Youtube does – comments and likes are interaction, and interaction is good, so more people should see a liked, commented post because it is good content. Of course, some people take ‘like’ to mean ‘I like this’ and some take it to mean ‘I’m interacting with this so I can find it again on my timeline’. When Facebook started sorting content feeds algorithmically instead of chronologically (meaning your more popular friends with more interaction would pop up first in your feed instead of whoever posted most recently) finding posts you wanted to share when you were back in front of your computer was unnecessarily annoying without it.

Unfortunately, as a social network, conflating the two meanings of the ‘like’ button could spark arguments, and so Facebook added other reactions. The conundrum of showing support for the passing of a loved one by ‘liking’ the post was memed on for years before Facebook decided to add sad and angry reactions to the mix. Facebook has no dislike button – every option is an input of emotion, not a vote or a simple ‘dislike’.

Comments, as interaction, boost a post the way likes do even if the content is atrocious or dangerous and the comments are simply calling the poster out on it, which is obviously not ideal and mirrors the Youtube issue from before. Conspiracies with lots of vitriolic arguments are better for engagement and so they’re what get spread. The quality of the content on Facebook is suffering because longer, worse content (looking at the people who are mixing drinks in a toilet or dumping food all over a counter) gets more angry reactions than good content does with likes. The same goes for Instagram, even though it only has likes and comment counts – to argue, to clarify, to warn, etc. counts the same as to compliment or praise in the algorithm’s eyes. Speech filters designed to detect angry language are in the works, but it might be too little, too late. A culture is established, and arguments are good for interaction.

Tumblr

Tumblr’s like and reblog system is perhaps the best system you can make on a chronological website. The few algorithmic systems in place cater to you based off of previous interactions like any site does, but no other major social media website is willing to offer a purely chronological option like Tumblr does. You can turn every suggestion off. All of them. While the chronological system still rewards interaction and engaging content, it allows users a ton of freedom to see what they want to see, not what the website thinks will get them to stay. I give all this backstory because Tumblr has had likes and reblogs for forever, with a very recent update that includes the ability to comment on posts without requiring that reblog like it did before.

Tumblr’s like system is fairly unique – likes work like they do on other sites, with a separate page to come back to so you can find them again, but you can turn off the option for anyone else (except for the original poster) to see your likes. Some functions like the ‘in your orbit’ function allow your followers to see what you’ve liked, but only if you have those likes visible and only if they have the ‘in your orbit’ turned on. While all internet points systems have their flaws, this is probably the most capable and least manipulative out of all of them, at least on the website’s side.

That doesn’t mean information can’t be spread on numbers alone. Most famously, a post suggesting that it was possible to get infinite chocolate out of a chocolate bar by just cutting it a certain way made the rounds. People tried it, and got the ‘free’ square suggested by the GIF, freaked out, and then posted about it, further spreading the rumor. The reblog system, while less manipulative than any algorithmic feed could ever be, still has a pretty sizeable flaw in that corrections also have to be reblogged for you to see them. If you follow Blog A, and Blog A is an aesthetic blog focusing on sweets, they might have reblogged the post about the infinite chocolate. When the correction comes out alongside a criticism of everyone’s internet literacy (Tumblr was the first web site a lot of preteens used, so ‘people can lie on the internet’ wasn’t immediately obvious to them) Blog A might not reblog the correction because it didn’t fit their aesthetic… or because it just straight up didn’t come across their dashboard in the first place.

At least users have to build their own echo chambers out of other blogs and blocked tags on Tumblr and Reddit – Twitter and Facebook do that for you, and you might not even be aware it’s happening until you log out.

True Crime Isn’t Always True

Elizabeth Technology May 24, 2022

With the rise of True Crime podcasts, some cases become little cultural touchstones. Beginning podcasts and long-time Youtubers alike flit to cases like the Black Dahlia murder, the death of Natalie Woods, the Tamam Shud man, the mystery woman found partially cremated at a beach with all of the tags removed from her clothing – these cases are super interesting, and there’s a lot of detail to cover. This means that if, say, Buzzfeed unsolved covers Tamam Shud, there’s still uncovered content left for other podcasters to harvest, and Buzzfeed likely heard about the case from other podcasters, fans, and content creators in the first place.

However. There is a danger to having cases be popular touchstones, especially when they feature real people and real events. The lore of the case becomes more important than the case itself. Fans are watching carefully to see how your show does it, how you cover the police report, how you describe the body. They’re also watching to see if you break rank with the other true-crimers as far as the facts go. While cross-verification is important, it only happens if everyone is looking at the original sources. Not everyone does. They want to move fast when a case breaks, and for older cases, they can make their episode faster if they rely on other teams who have already done the research. If the first team to look at a case overlooked a detail, and the second team to look at it didn’t notice because they didn’t pore over the original source, that detail may as well poof out of existence in podcast world! A great many people after that are going to do the equivalent of citing links off the bottom of the Wikipedia page without verifying the information inside (Wikipedia is a great resource, but you do still have to consider the sources!) People who break rank after that and notice it get scrutinized, because surely, some of the big teams would have noticed first, right? When it’s revealed the big guys overlooked it, it’s just another opportunity to release more content clarifying.

Gathering accurate data is hard, so many people would rather piggyback off the people in front of them who do it first. The goal is to present an entertaining story, as well, and sometimes strategically omitting details makes it more ‘interesting’ if less accurate. Remember to take anything you hear off a podcast with a grain of salt, and just because people keep repeating it, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true!

Elisa Lam – The Big One

Elisa Lam was famous for a short video that showed her entering an elevator that refused to shut for a minute or two while she moved slowly and strangely, like she was dancing. Her body was later recovered in a water tank at the top of a hotel she had been staying at after multiple people complained that the water pressure sucked and the water itself smelled/tasted funny. That elevator security video was the last video of her alive, and it went viral after the police released it while she was still only known as missing. These are the bare minimum, true facts about the case.  

Other information came later, when it sparked discussions online, because it looked like she was peaking around the elevator doors to look for something – like something was after her. Some people began to speculate that Elisa had been followed, killed, and then dumped in the water tank by an unseen party, others believed she’d been targeted and possessed by something that told her to kill herself, and helped her lift the heavy doors of the water tank – either way, the death just felt wrong and weird.

This is not true, of course, and there’s no evidence to support another party’s involvement. What is true is that Elisa had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression (which we know from her blogs), and she was under a lot of internal pressure to do well in school. She was in college, and a major mental health event had forced her to drop some of her classes, which hurt her a lot. Some of the people around her said she tended to skip her bipolar medication accidentally or purposefully (we know she didn’t have the prescribed amount necessary to control symptoms at her death at least, from the autopsy report) – which is more likely responsible for the dancing and the looking around. While certain disorders, like depression and bipolar disorder, don’t cause hallucinations in and of themselves, the medications used to treat them sometimes can as a side effect, and withdrawal often caused Elisa to struggle with hallucinations herself. The Wikipedia article features some interviews of people who said they saw her, and found her behavior strange – eyewitness accounts on such a public case aren’t often useful, but she was removed from the audience of a taped show due to erratic behavior, which was recorded and lines up with what other hotel guests said.  

As far as being found in the cistern, the truth of the matter was that the tank wasn’t actually too heavy for one person to open, and it might have been open already when she got there anyway. She also didn’t close it behind her, and employees looking into the maintenance hatch were able to see her immediately. The door, while small, was not too small to fit an adult inside – the process of removing her from the tank required some equipment too big to fit through the hole, which is why they had to cut the tank open. People could move in and out of it just fine. Getting up to the top of the tank to access the door is the real mystery, as people don’t know how she did it to this day, but it was 19 days before they found her. The hotel was actually found not liable for her death because it was so unexplainable – if it were a matter of tripping and falling in, they’d be liable, but as it is, all we have is theories. Theories that state Elisa went out of her way to get into the tank, and whatever she used to get height to get into it was moved in those 19 days.

The Murder of Kitty – AKA the Bystander Effect Murder

If you’re an American, you’ve probably heard the case of Kitty Genovese, which is often touted as a case of the bystander effect leading to the death of a woman. Allegedly, 38 or so witnesses heard or saw her screaming for help… and nobody did. American psychology textbooks would use this case as an example for the next few decades, and as True Crime grew as a genre, Kitty’s murder would be featured in podcasts galore, often as a warning to women. (Warning of what? That’s for the podcasters to decide!)

There’s a handful of problems, however. Everybody who cites the case goes back to the original Times story where it’s stated that these witnesses heard or saw her and did nothing, even stating that people shouted down to the murderer, who was scared off and then circled back when they retreated to their apartments. Multiple people allegedly stated they didn’t want to get involved. However, the real number of people who actually saw what happened and also didn’t do something to stop it was two – one couple thought it was a lover’s quarrel, most of the others who could have seen what was happening from their windows didn’t even wake up. Kitty worked at a bar and was returning home after work, and it was the wee hours of the morning in a quiet, day-shift community. Not to mention, it was March in New York. Most people had their windows closed because it was still getting cold at night.

Two people failed Kitty, not 38. Kitty’s case was one of the ones that finally got the 911 system pushed out to New Yorkers, as the instructions for calling the police weren’t consistent or as easy as the simple 911. One of the people who didn’t do anything actually called a friend for advice, which seems bizarre now, but he was likely in shock as he did actually see the stabbing take place – it might have been the only number he could remember in the moment.

Bianca Devins

The true crime community spends almost no time at all sincerely listening to the family of the deceased because it’s just not what pulls in viewers. If anyone’s offended by the lighthearted treatment of their loved one’s death, you won’t hear it from the people doing the treatment in the first place. If you know of the Bianca Devins case (use discretion when looking her up – many of the results are of the crime scene and that’s not how her family wanted her remembered) you’ll know that her family specifically requested that the pictures of her taken after her death were not shared, and the True Crime community did it anyway: gruesome details are shocking and horrifying and engaging. This is treated with a sort of dramatic irony because it’s a misconception that Bianca wanted to be internet famous. ‘Well, she wasn’t famous in life, but she will be in death’. The problem is that she didn’t want to be internet famous.

Besides the obvious issues with the treatment of her case, there’s also several issues within the basic description of the girl that true crimers reach for: that she was pretty, that she had tons of Instagram followers, that she was liked by everyone who knew her, a textbook popular girl. It’s only partially true, however. She often fought agoraphobia as well as general anxiety, and while she was known for being exceptionally friendly and standing up for the little guy among those who actually knew her, she did spend quite a lot of time lurking online, not promoting herself. Only her friends had her Instagram handle. She was just a pretty girl who liked to lurk in forums and got catfished by an older man who then murdered her, and people took leaps from there.

Dyatlov Pass (May Be A Bit Graphic – Read at Own Risk)

The true facts about the case are that a group of young hikers ventured out onto a trail, set up camp for the night, and then were found dead later after they seemingly cut their way out of their tent and fled into the night.

This is where the story gets a bit fuzzy. The bodies of the hikers were found scattered around the site, in various states that didn’t seem to make sense together. Most of them were not dressed correctly for the weather, 6 were officially declared to have died of hypothermia, and the rest seemed to have died from physical trauma, including to the chest and head. Adding to the mystery was radioactivity discovered on their clothing. Their tent was slashed open with something sharp – some theorists say it was from the outside looking to get in, but it’s generally accepted (and marks inside the tent from incomplete cuts also suggest) that the group inside the tent, for some reason, cut their way out and then fled into the subzero night.

There are numerous theories, from Sasquatch encounters to supernatural forces at work to murder sprees to blizzard conditions and infrasound to smoke, and the real reason why they cut their way out of the tent may never be known. But. Other true facts about the case aren’t nearly so mysterious.

Firstly, finding the bodies with soft pieces (eyes, tongue, etc.) missing isn’t unusual for bodies discovered out in the wild. Animals go for what’s easy to eat first, as morbid as that sounds! As far as physical trauma goes, the area was rocky and difficult to climb – an avalanche was declared the official cause because the damage to the relevant bodies was too severe for another human to have done it. Before you get excited, two of the hypothermia deaths were discovered next to a large cedar tree, which had broken branches all the way to five meters above the ground, quite some distance away from the original camp, and the lethal injury deaths were found in a ravine filled with rocks (and rock-hard ice in the coldest part of winter). Slipping or having the snow avalanche out from under you, without the proper clothing, is a better explanation than space weapon or radiation monster.

Secondly, speaking of the radiation, two of the people at the scene had worked or were working for facilities with radioactive materials. The radiation levels on the clothes are often severely overstated when podcasts talk about this case, they want it to sound like those pieces were scattered everywhere and that they were glowing. The truth is a handful of articles, when closely measured, showed radioactivity. The radioactivity was vaguely above baseline, as well. Thirdly, we’ll never know what really happened for them to slash their way out of their tent, but there are multiple good theories, ranging from the official statement “they heard an avalanche a ways away and they panicked” to the slightly less believable “the loud, howling wind’s infrasound triggered their fight or flight reflex”. It’s entirely possible for otherwise competent hikers to make mistakes, as well! Acting like these totally normal people who did regularly hike would never make mistakes is convenient for people trying to sell a mystery, but it’s not realistic.

If you’d like to see more, this is the video I originally saw on the incident, one of the things that inspired this article in the first place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8RigxxiilI

I’m not certain how believable it is that it was the stove’s fault (Lemmino, the video’s author, suggests the camp stove is to blame), but from the picture, the description of cooked food, and their state of undress, it’s at least passable as a theory that the stove got too hot or reignited in the night and smoked them out. Choosing to walk a mile away afterwards to get to a forest sounds to me like something you’d do if you feared an avalanche coming down where you just were, but neither of us can prove definitively either of these things happened – either theory would prevent them from coming back to their tent for their stuff right away, either for the smoke or the instability of the snow. The remaining hypothermia deaths being found at different distances away from the tree with the snapped branches suggests that the three of them were trying to get back to the tent, while the other two stayed behind next to the fire – all of them, being dressed improperly, froze to death.

Sources: https://www.nytimes.com/1964/03/27/archives/37-who-saw-murder-didnt-call-the-police-apathy-at-stabbing-of.html

https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-55994935

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8RigxxiilI (and sources)

TikTok’s Censorship is Bad To Convey Ideas

Elizabeth Technology May 19, 2022

“Unaliving” and Other Such Words

TikTok started out pretty rough when it was introduced to the US. Much like the old internet of yore, it was possible to stumble across something pretty disturbing, graphic, or violent just by using the app. However, upon introduction to the Apple app store, which required a stringent series of reviews, the app began censoring. Users, too, began self-censoring upon pain of being blocked or simply showered with hate comments. Eventually, the TikTok environment adapted to become more like the pool of the general internet plus some extra chlorine to stay in Apple’s good graces.

However… this has had some pretty bizarre side effects. The changing of words, for example! TikTok doesn’t want to do what Tumblr did when they first started and accidentally encourage the negative mental-health boards common to dark corners online. However, moderating such a large userbase is incredibly difficult. Instead, Tiktok relied on auto-shadowbanning (shadowbanning refers to banning someone or something without alerting them/it that it’s been banned) certain words instead, even if they technically didn’t violate guidelines. Two tiers of ‘bad’ words existed, in essence: words you couldn’t say at all, and words you couldn’t say and still appear on the FYP (for-you page) algorithm for. However, not every discussion featuring a banned word was encouraging it – for example, ‘suicide awareness’ has the word ‘suicide’ in it, but the bot couldn’t tell the difference, and you’d get that video shadowbanned from the algorithm’s front page queue anyway with no way to appeal it.

Instead, users began swapping words. At first, it was “Sewer Slide”, and then the more general “Unaliving” came in to replace killing, murder, suicide, etc. Every word that involves loss of life simply became ‘unalive’. And it worked. Where metaphors might have been inappropriate, the different word worked.

And Then It Got Cutesy

If you weren’t on Tumblr or Reddit during the ‘Heckin’ Pupper’ phase, you may be missing some context for how annoying this got – it was a way of baby-talking things no matter what they were, serious or not. One of the Heckin’ subreddits was Heckin’ Chonkers, a place for owners to post pictures of their obese pets. Many people understood this was unhealthy and were posting pictures of their rescues before they started their diets, but an alarmingly large amount of people saw that subreddit and thought ‘Wow! See, my pet’s just a ‘chonker’, it’s okay!’ when it wasn’t. But instead of having this serious conversation in a serious way, commentors had to fight through the ocean of ‘he’s just heckin’ chubby, lol!’ to get the original poster to understand that this was a problem.

Mixing a joke into something that’s actually serious can really screw up people’s perception of it.

 Back to ‘unaliving’. Consider replacing ‘murder’ with ‘unaliving’ or any other metaphor for what that means. When describing a murder, do you want the words to be said with a wink and a nudge? It didn’t start like that – it started as a way to describe crimes, threats, and real cases without losing too much of the case’s integrity to TikTok’s censorship, but as more people piled in, you saw phrases that were still allowed being replaced with ‘unaliving’. Phrases like ‘passed away’ were getting replaced with ‘unalived’. Even worse, some of the people doing that thought it was funny to do so – it was no longer a way to evade a ban to share info, but a way to share info and also signal in-group membership to other TikTok true-crimers. It depersonalized the issue for the people reading it out. You’re not describing a murder, suddenly, you’re describing an ‘unaliving’. A ‘nighty night’. A ‘fishy sleepover’. This is a stranger who died and simultaneously entertainment for their listeners. A real human life and just more words on a paper, just more audio on a website.

Swapping words for cuter ones when not strictly necessary is a cousin-problem to oversharing details while hiding others to make the case seem more mysterious, and otherwise fumbling the handling of a sensitive subject for likes and laughs. Who’s to say anybody wants to be described as ‘unalived’ when they die?

Others

Other words including slurs and targeted swears were also commonly censored… but some slurs aren’t really slurs unless they’re used as slurs maliciously. Additionally, words relating to the LGBTQ+ community that weren’t slurs were also censored, and that required people who wanted to talk about the community to swap words or censor weirdly too. The most egregious example was “Lesbian” being converted to “Le$bean” in text, which didn’t trigger the algorithm and couldn’t be read correctly by the autogenerated voices, leading to people pronouncing it like ‘Le-Dollar-Bean”, the way the computer reader did as a joke.

People tried to cash in on this in a way they hadn’t for ‘unaliving’. Natural crowd movements are something you can market so long as you’re ‘chill’ about it, so it’s not necessarily a horrid idea. However, trying to make a meme localized to a group of people accessible to everyone often kills the meme. People outside the community use it wrong, they use it to be mean, they use it to laugh at the people using the meme, not with them, and the Le-Dollar-Bean song soon became cringe because it was spreading to people who were making fun of the singer and the meme itself in bad faith.

It’s not just because it was LGBT, either, although the meme wouldn’t have happened in the first place if TikTok hadn’t considered that a controversial issue. For example, the same thing happened to the phrases ‘smol bean’ and ‘cinnamon roll’ on Tumblr, which were ways of describing characters who were innocent and cute. Eventually, people started using it to describe real people, and characters who didn’t fit the description but were conventionally attractive (mostly men). Stickers of mainstream actors with the phrases around them were made, even when it didn’t apply, and then those phrases became cringe too via overexposure.

There’s a political statement to be made about the censorship of gay issues that lead to this whole situation – the Le-Dollar-Bean song, a brief mark from people who just wanted to say the word, and ended up co-opted by people who trust corporations that put rainbows on shirts and bracelets with one hand and then funnel money into anti-LGBT bills with the other, is not that statement. Somebody got a little too serious about the joke and overused it, and now Le-Dollar-Bean is cringe, and the reason it’s like that has been forgotten in favor of the song that started the cringe around actually using Le-Dollar-Bean unironically.

The Ethics of Censoring Your Captions

The goal of any translation should be for the receiver to receive it as directly as possible, with some nuance allowed for things that other languages just don’t have. The Japanese don’t really have sarcasm, and may interpret a sarcastic comment as though you were being literal. Similarly, saying something like “I Love You” during a quiet moment comes across as bizarrely direct, so some Japanese may instead reference a poem or a common phrase as shorthand, which can be translated either literally or figuratively in media. Spanish, too, does something similar: if you watch Spanish soap operas, you may hear te quiero, instead of te amo, but both will be translated as “I love you” in the captions (te quiero being literally “I want you”, but understood as “I love you”). (This triggered a huge debate in the Supernatural fandom when the international dubs of the final episode came out, but that’s another story).

So, what does this have to do with English captions on English videos?

Creator-generated captions often censor swear words, or change what the creator is saying, which is not what those are used for! Captions are not the place to hide jokes. It’s an accessibility issue. While hearing viewers may find the dissonance between what’s in the captions and what’s being said funny, the deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers who don’t have that extra context may be confused. If you can’t swear in the captions for fear of censorship, then your interpretation should be ‘I can’t swear in this video’, not ‘I can’t type this swear in the captions’. It’s not ideal, obviously, to have to censor everything, but that’s TikTok’s problem and you should be complaining to TikTok about it, not giving the deaf audience a cleaner version of the video involuntarily.

It’s not all the creators’ fault – some mistakenly believe the app can’t hear them, but will be able to crawl the captions, and thus censor them so they can still be viewed. Others rely on the auto-generated captions, and sometimes it just doesn’t understand the word that’s being said, and mistranslates it to text. Still, effort should be made to convert the audio as closely as possible to the captioning. Don’t baby-talk, don’t misuse them to hide jokes, and don’t intentionally mistranslate!

Tumblr’s True Stories Are Stranger Than Fiction

Elizabeth Technology May 17, 2022

Now that Tumblr’s back in good graces thanks to Musk’s purchase of Twitter, it’s time to unearth some of Tumblr’s ancient history. Why are so many of the verifiably true Tumblr stories so very weird?

A Tumblr user suggests it’s okay to remove bones from grave sites because she didn’t actually dig them up herself.  

Another Tumblr user justifies the use of child labor by saying it’s normal for their home country.

 Yet another has removed her toe and sent it to a user to be made into a jar.

With all the fake stories on Tumblr, surely these are fake too, right?

No. They’re not. All of these are verifiably true, at least as verifiable as anything online can be.

The Bone Witch

Aside from religion, most people just want their bodies to be treated with respect once they die, and a lot of laws reflect that – graverobbing is illegal. Stealing things off of bodies is illegal. Improper disposal of a body is illegal. I probably don’t have to explain that even if it wasn’t, taking something off of a deceased person you don’t know is both weird and deeply impolite. While some cultures and religions expect family members to keep some of the deceased’s remains (and some people do outside of any cultural or religious purpose for comfort, especially for cremation – see those mini-urn necklaces) all of that is done with respect for the dead and permission of the living family, if there is any.

This is not what the Tumblr Bone Witch did. The post, now known as Boneghazi, started as a callout post where one user accused another of digging up graves. She’d spotted the user offering up human bones in a Facebook group for other indigenous religion practitioners. The accused replied to clarify that no, they weren’t digging up graves – bones had washed out of the cemetery (the bone collector lived in Louisiana where flooding is common) and Bone Witch had picked them up, fearing they would be crushed or swept away.

However, instead of returning the bones to the cemetery… the Bone Witch kept them, by their own admission. I can specify that the bones were then placed on an altar for religious reasons, so it’s not as bad as it could have been, but it was still not ideal – who says they’d agree to be put on an altar? What if they were Catholic, and didn’t want to be used in that way? Besides, Louisiana-specific witchcraft and voodoo, by most accounts, doesn’t offer human remains on the altar, instead preferring animals (which are sacrificed quickly and as painlessly as possible, and often eaten afterwards), money, and food items, so offering these bones was out of the norm already. According to sources online, if you do offer human bones, you don’t make them stranger’s bones, at least in the style of witchcraft practiced in New Orleans. The religion (like most religions, actually) doesn’t endorse robbing the graves of strangers.

To make it worse, the grave site they’d been pulling the bones from was Holt Cemetery. For context, in New Orleans, you want to be interred in an above-ground tomb if you can help it because the in-ground plots flood, and the ground can behave unpredictably, resurfacing coffins and bones if it gets bad enough. If you and your family are poor, you can’t afford the concrete and the plot of land needed to do that. Historically, this affected the black communities in the area far worse than it did the white ones. These people couldn’t choose to be buried somewhere else. The bone witch was taking from the most vulnerable grave sites in the state.

But then the bone witch offered them up in a witchcraft Facebook group, as long as the other party paid for shipping. The altar was one thing, not to excuse it – shipping parts of the bones out was an entirely different one. There is A) taking the bones from their resting place after they’d already been disturbed by weather and B) potentially moving them out of Louisiana altogether!

Back online, the Facebook group where that offer happened was imploding. In an effort to be accepting of unorthodox witchcraft, the leaders of the group came to the realization that they’d been supporting an argument that boiled down to ‘these corpses are okay to steal from because they were buried somewhere that made it easy’, upon prodding from several POC witches in the group who were not okay with bone theft. One of the original founders resigned after apologizing for picking the wrong side, but the group still could not be saved.  

And the police agreed. When people who recognized their username spotted the post, they contacted the police, and their house was raided in the search for remains. They did get arrested, were unable to pay bail, had a hearing, and then left the state.

The Toe Taxidermy

A Tumblr user’s removed human toe was sent to a taxidermy hobbyist who then preserved it. Weird, and potentially criminal if postage laws weren’t followed, but not disrespectful since everyone involved agreed enthusiastically to it, so in my opinion it’s not as bad as the bone witch.

The post that blew up was the one where the toe haver communicated to the toe giver that the toe had arrived safely, and the toe giver was very excited. She was going to make a pendant out of the toe and then send it back. At that point, the post began circulating free from it’s context, which does make it a little better, but not a lot: people assumed this was a gift from a girlfriend, a gift from a boyfriend, an amateur’s idea, etc. And that it wouldn’t end well. In reality, the original user had her fourth toe removed for medical reasons many years back, and the receiver made art with assorted taxidermy pieces alongside wet and dry specimens. This was a commissioned project because the fluid the toe was stored in was about to expire and she was sentimentally attached to the toe.

Again, a little weird – still much, much better than the bone witch.

The Sixpenceee Child Slavery Case

Sixpenceee was known as a post thief and a scammer long before people knew them as ‘The Blogger Who Had A Child Slave’. They live somewhere in Southeast Asia. I couldn’t find a source specifying either Bangladesh or India, although both are mentioned, and the laws of both places directly clash with what Sixpenceee stated about school to justify the labor. India, for example, provides free and compulsory education up to age fourteen, where Bangladesh provides five years of grade school and five years of high school.

One day they posted that they had a child living in their house as help. People were confused – child labor? They surely didn’t mean that, did they? No, they did – they specified that school became expensive (the phrasing implied the schooling itself was no longer free) after grade school and as a result, many kids from poor families stopped getting an education very young. Some children in this situation are pushed into child labor: factories, domestic positions, etc. so really, it was good for the kid they had helping their family that he had gotten a domestic position instead of a factory one. In another post, they talked about their uncle’s ‘domestic servant’, a young girl named Priya (young as in approximately eight years old) who was overjoyed to be working in a house with AC and indoor plumbing instead of a factory, where children may be crushed to death.

They then attempted to gaslight people who recognized this as child labor by saying that a lot of South and Southeast Asian countries did it and it wasn’t weird. That’s a logical fallacy. Just because it’s not weird doesn’t mean it’s right. Sixpenceee is known to have a savior complex from another project they started online called ‘SixPenceee Heals’ where they charged money to ‘be a shoulder to cry on’, before they got called out about it and then stopped advertising their service. The same thing is happening here. Bizarrely, some of the posts under their #India tag are a child marriage awareness project and posts about the pipe slums, so they know the kids don’t have another option, they just choose to defend the slavery anyway.

As you’d expect, it’s not sunshine and rainbows for everyone who got a maid position instead of a factory one. There is a lot of potential for abuse and human trafficking, and a lot of the domestic servants are women. The family may or may not plan on actually paying them a livable wage, instead exchanging room and board for real money and locking that maid into a position they can’t leave.

Sixpenceee continues to post, and continues to block any user who questions them about their child servant to this day.

Sources: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ryanhatesthis/a-tumblr-user-mailed-another-tumblr-user-her-severed-toe-to  (read at own risk – pictures of the toe in question inside)

https://www.vice.com/en/article/vb4m4a/boneghazi-how-a-grave-robbing-controversy-tore-an-online-witch-community-apart

(original post is still up on Tumblr, if you’d like to search their username)

https://sixpenceeeharms.tumblr.com/post/161256846293/koopashell-coffee-clerk-inkskinned (note – this is a callout blog post. As Tumblr is a social media site, and you can block people from viewing your account, screenshots of controversial posts are easier to spread than the original post is, because the original poster can prevent users from interacting with their posts. While screenshots can be faked, (and you should consume all such content with caution) the original poster has made it as difficult as possible for people to find the original post where they defended having a child slave, perhaps even deleting it, and direct links can be blocked by the blog owner anyway. So screenshots it is.)

TikTok and New Radio Pop

Elizabeth Technology May 5, 2022

Choruses, generally, are catchy. When you only hear a song once, the chorus may be the only thing you remember about it. Songs can be written as mostly chorus and still turn out good – Dua Lipa and Elton John remixed a couple of already-good songs into a chart-topper using mainly the choruses. Songs can be written with extremely limited choruses, too – early 21 Pilots didn’t feature a ton of chorus and the hardcore fans still love them, even though those songs didn’t really hit the car radio.

However, there’s a growing trend of TikTok noise where the song is written for a really catchy, easy-to-snip chorus, and the rest of the song is just kind of neglected.

Songs made for TikTok don’t sound like the normal pop or indie stuff that comes across the radio and Spotify’s curated playlists, no matter the size of the band or musician. They’re designed for soundbites of a minute, maybe less, and the integrity of the song itself changes when you’re not really meant to listen to the whole thing.

Cultural Relevance

TAFKAP (Prince) famously wrote “Party Like It’s 1999”. This song still hits. It’s a classic. It taps on fears about the end of the world, most literally that the turn of the millennium would end the world. It was also made by an artist with a well-established career and published on an album full of unique hits. Making songs about current events isn’t difficult, but it requires a certain amount of finesse for the song to come out well, and a certain amount of timing for it to be Grammy-levels of successful.

You see this end-of-the-world song across eras – Matt Maltese covers the topic in “As the World Caves In”, a song about nuclear annihilation, and Lord Huron in “Until the Night Turns” by unknown means. And yet, “Party like it’s 1999” stands out among these because it did everything it needed to.It struck a chord with people listening to all of these doomsday predictions about the turn of the millennium, which was supposed to be a good time. Humanity made it to 2000, yay! Right? The Cold War has passed, right? So why is everyone flipping out?!

COVID, a Defining Cultural Moment

The first songs to come out about Covid did hit – “F*ck 2020” by Avenue Beat was musically interesting and clearly came from the heart, capturing the bedroom pop vibe that so many radio hits just don’t have. There was a lot of buildup to the year because of the repeating 20’s, and after the mess of the 2016-2020 presidency, it was supposed to be a brand new start. Instead, we got Covid. Yes. Screw 2020, that was supposed to be our year. Covid made her life go off the rails – she’s singing about herself first and foremost, and how she feels about that stolen year. The music is easy to sing along to and the moment it represents is clear. I had never heard anything by Avenue Beat before, and I first heard the song on TikTok, but the song itself is a complete thought about an era of American life from an artist who put the work in to make more than a snip. It’s coherent.

And then we got “Mad at 2020” by Salem Ilese, a reference/parody to her other song “Mad at Disney”, which some call her breakout hit on TikTok. (They have identical beats, and this is on purpose, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it). Alright – strike while the iron is hot and save yourself the effort of writing a new beat, whatever, other artists have done worse with songs that weren’t even theirs. Whatever. It’s not exactly musical genius, but what pop is? Especially TikTok pop?

She then released a second song, “2022”, which starts with “I’m Twenty-Twenty-Done”, a pun off of 2021. While these songs are aiming at a cultural moment, they don’t really strike it the same way Avenue Beats did. Both of Salem Ilese’s songs about the pandemic era are weirdly generic – she lists a bunch of things that happened in both songs, but never goes into detail about it or how it makes her feel. The song is just sort of there, and you listen to it if you like her or ignore it if you don’t. But it doesn’t have to be that way – Bo Burnham’s song “That Funny Feeling” from his special Inside saw a lot of use on TikTok even with his inclusion of his own emotion. And so did “F*ck 2020”!

Many of Salem’s songs lack the emotion needed to make them real, to make them hit. That’s either the result of rushing songs out as soon as all the rhymes fit, or intentionally done to squeeze the maximum amount of possible uses out of the material. You can make a trend to the lyrics “I think we’ve had enough/ Of breakdowns every month /Pandemic season 3 /With Omicron cast as the lead” and have it be funny, sad, quirky, or anything else, but “F*ck 2020” trends were almost always bitter disappointment at how poorly the year went. The same goes for the Bo Burnham and Matt Maltese songs – the cost of writing with real emotion is that the real emotion can’t be spun in every direction. The cost of making your songs for TikTok is that the songs have to be usable first and musically interesting second, a distinction you can hear in any number of songs that an artist tried to blow up on TikTok.

 That’s not to say this is necessarily a failure on Salem’s part. She has made herself a good career out of doing this, and if you define success = money and recognition, then by golly has she succeeded. The now-famous meme about the PS5 came from her indirectly, and she is objectively a talented singer, but the music she’s singing is deliberately made to be background music, something you’d hear in a movie as exposition instead of something you’d listen to.

Managing It To Hit The Radio

Salem did do one thing right on TikTok, and that was to not beg for views. Like I said earlier, she’s pleasant to listen to even if the music itself lacks weight. Begging for views or complaining that your content doesn’t have enough views is a surefire way to get everyone to hate or ignore you. I watched this tank someone’s account before it even got off the ground, although for the life of me I can’t remember who the artist was outside of her spinning upside down in a bed in the TikTok video, and that she looked like a Billie Eilish type with blue hair instead of green.

However, if you beg for views in an encouraging or groveling way, you may be able to get them. The artist of “ABCDEFU” got a big boost from TikTok in this way. The artist was confident, and talked about TikTok as a platform of kids who could do great things together if they worked at it – together. (This mentality famously fueled Dashcon, a failed Tumblr convention). This includes streaming her song together and purchasing it on iTunes together. “ABCDEFU” has a great chorus. It’s immediately recognizable, the feeling is easy to identify, and the singer herself sounds somewhat similar to Dua Lipa. However, the song got so much support because it was easy to use for TikToks, which then boosts its recognizability on other platforms. Every cut of the song I have ever heard naturally on the FYP came from the chorus.

The Snip-Song

Hearing the chorus so often makes sense. The actual meat of “ABCDEFU” is mostly chorus. You look at the lyrics, the chorus repeats four times, the interludes only happen twice. I think there’s more than double the chorus when you include total lines. That’s because this song was made off of TikTok memeability – it’s a 40-ish second segment repeating over and over crammed into 3ish minutes. If it had been made before the invention of TikTok, it’d be a two-minute 30-second song and it’d have something happen in the second half. Instead, it’s all about that chorus, first and second. That’s it’s best, most recognizable feature. That’s why people shared it, that’s why people made trends out of it and response songs to it using a pitched-down version of the chorus melody. This is exactly the perfect song to showcase what kind of song a song has to be to blow up on TikTok before it goes anywhere else. All chorus, predictable enough that adding it to a playlist wouldn’t be tossing a head of garlic into a smoothie, and generally easy to vibe to and share. Anything else a little niche or weird, like 100 GECs or other niche bands, have had a surge in popularity thanks to TikTok but haven’t hit the radio as a result.

The opposite issue comes into play too when the songs are made free of TikTok’s influence! Users hear a song they like a lot, go to play it on Youtube or Spotify, and then discover the song sounds wildly different than the snip that was used online. It can be so jarring that the listener may think they’re not at the right song. Mother Mother’s “Wrecking Ball”, for instance, has a segment in a major key where the rest of the song is in a minor key. The one major key segment got really popular on TikTok, and the rest of the song was rarely heard.

Or, take the singer Mitski – for all the depth and lyrical intricacies that go into her songs, the small snips heard the most often on TikTok give some people an odd impression of what she’s actually singing about, turning an incredibly complicated relationship with being mixed race and womanhood into easily-compressed ‘sad girl music’. This happens to a lot of artists, yes, and it happened before TikTok (Fortunate Son, for example) but TikTok speeds up the process because nobody wants to make three minutes of content to a song anyway, so 30-second bites are all you get unless you take the time to actually look the song up before you add it to your playlist.  

Pop has always been a place where fluff music could make it – now it has TikTok to throw some new artists into the mix.

The ‘Slap a Teacher’ Trend Wasn’t Real

Elizabeth Technology May 3, 2022

Facebook paid for those ads and it’s weird.

TikTok Trends

Most of the TikTok trends you see reach ‘the outer world’ are pretty harmless. Some have the potential to be dangerous – the one I remember causing the most problems was the dance for ‘Kiki’ by Drake, where the participant walks alongside a car while doing a dance, and not all of them figured out that somebody else was driving the car before they did it themselves – but most are inoffensive because most people are normal humans who don’t want to be annoying. If they don’t realize that what they’re about to do will be annoying, their comment section will usually call them out on it. If their commentors don’t realize or don’t care, then the content creator may get a twenty-minute Youtube callout post from an outsider, reserved for the most annoying individuals on the platform.

This bizarre chain of watchers means that generally, people want to be nice, or at least harmlessly annoying. You don’t hit people. You don’t shove things in their face. You can startle them, but not too badly, and only if you know them from class or something. You don’t do things like grab onto someone’s cart and take it from them or walk up to someone and start moaning in front of them while making eye contact. You don’t disrespect teachers unless they disrespect you first, and by extension you generally don’t have a good excuse to disrupt class. All of these things are not only rude, they’re cringe. You’re cringy if you don’t know you’re not supposed to actually be mean. It is cringy to think that you’re the main character, that you can disrupt class for 39 other kids. Believe it or not, many teens do have a grasp on empathy, and as a large group, tend to reject things that aren’t harmless fun. (Individually and in small groups is a different story).

Which is why this ‘Slap a Teacher’ thing was fishy to anybody actually on TikTok, outside of the boomer meme circles.

Are Kids Degenerates?

In TikTok’s early days, I watched a creator get told off because he’d brought a microwave to his college class, walked up to the front of the lecture hall full of students when the teacher asked him to stop disrupting class, and then told the teacher his new career was being transgender for some reason (allegedly, he was retelling this story via voiceover on footage from the incident, and he could have said anything that got him kicked out of class). People in the comments started ragging on him immediately, pointing out that other fully grown adults had paid to be there, and his shenanigans were interrupting their class time. This is the video I remember as the turning point of the Wild-West TikTok into the Social Media TikTok – the final transition from 4Chan to Twitter. The antics that used to be funny no longer were, and you’d have to get new ones if you didn’t want people criticizing you for your meanspirited jokes. We want something funny, not shocking! Any idiot can be shocking! Was the general consensus.

Of course shock artists tried to stick around, but few of them were coming up with anything new to say about stereotypes – the jokes were old, they got buried, they were briefly resurfaced for TikTok, and then TikTok got bored of them too. This meant any trend that could be boiled down to “look how mad these people got when I inconvenienced them” or “haha, that’s politically incorrect but I said it anyway” were doomed to die out from the start.

Facebook Hates TikTok

Facebook haaaaates TikTok. Facebook experienced real subscriber count decline for the first time in forever, and part of that can be attributed to better entertainment sources elsewhere. People don’t trust Facebook, or they trust it too much – Facebook insists on taking as much information about a person as it can and has a profile on you even if you’ve never used it ever. Facebook runs ads as a company, so it does the same thing any third-party ad company does and follows you around. Of course, TikTok is harvesting information on its users and adjacent non-users as well, but the effects of this haven’t really been seen yet. It takes time to build a database as extensive and far-seeing as Facebook’s is.

Plus, the era in which people signed up for each site was different. Users felt betrayed when it came out that Facebook was harvesting their data, but all but the most tech-illiterate out there knew TikTok was going to be consuming their data when they signed up. Facebook was invited into people’s home’s as a guest, and it’s been behaving like it’s at a bar. Meanwhile TikTok was invited to a bar, and it’s behaving like it’s at a bar. People expect annoying or creepy behavior from TikTok before they decide to sign up – they didn’t for Facebook.

Facebook is Actually Pretty Soft on Terrorists

Facebook has had its fair share of issues relating to genocides in other countries – The Rohingya Genocide, for example, can be partly blamed on a combination of inaction and deliberate stoking for engagement on Facebook’s part. They didn’t delete what they should have in time for it to matter, and a literal genocide took place as a result. Is it entirely their fault? No. Is enough of it their fault for a lawsuit to get off the ground? Yes. Facebook is also a notorious source of false and dishonest information. Users had become so accustomed to it that Facebook’s labeling of posts matching disinformation criteria was called censorship, even though the posts were allowed to stay, just with the label! An absurdly small amount of people were allowed to circulate tons of disinformation, and there was nothing in place to stop them from doing so, up to and including the company itself.

While TikTok also has disinformation, it has a better auto filter and a less forgiving algorithm for controversial videos. Shares and comments reward content, but blocking the user, saying ‘show me less videos like these’, or otherwise expressing displeasure with the content means it’s not going to get put in front of everyone on the For You Page. Facebook’s algorithms are murkier. Users who post, say, Covid misinformation are not blasted out to the wider userbase like they’d been on Facebook, instead generally corralled into their own echo chamber. Is that good? No, but it’s better than nothing. During the BLM protests in 2020, TikTok also moved very slowly to remove videos of the protests, for good or bad, which earned a lot of favor from the mostly young userbase – videos of police using extreme methods to disperse crowds who weren’t legally overstepping their right to protest went far and wide in part thanks to TikTok.

As a result, the younger demographics using social media had a better perception of TikTok than they did Facebook, and combined with the first loss of subscribers in some time, Facebook took to an advertising firm to try and ‘fix’ this. Specifically, a right-leaning one, or at least one that didn’t care who its clientele were as long as they could pay the fee. This lead to a right-leaning bias, and left-leaning ad campaigns sought different firms, leading to this firm ending up with a mostly right-leaning portfolio. Facebook may have chosen this firm for many reasons, including a slack attitude when it came to content (this ‘Slap A Teacher’ trend is entirely fake news), but we don’t know for sure that it was because it leaned right – the already existing contacts with right-leaning news may have been all Facebook wanted out of that firm.

Slap A Teacher

The firm they hired to advertise targeted reactionary channels with a fake story to rile up the most reactionary viewers. Allegedly, slapping a teacher was the hot new trend on TikTok, and this firm was going to make sure everyone watching TV knew. The firm focused most of its efforts on the farthest right channels available to the U.S., but the demographics work out such that the largely young audience of TikTok wouldn’t see (and therefore wouldn’t deny) the marketed trend, while the older adults who were watching said right-leaning channels had never been on TikTok (or had been, but got funneled to the previously-mentioned echo chambers). Meaning neither side would challenge the assertion, so parents ‘knew’ this was happening, but kids had never heard of it. The perfect crime to trick gullible or tech-illiterate reactionaries into believing TikTok was a site for violent children, or that it would turn their children violent.

Of course, this was never a thing, as I said earlier.

Anything relating to any violence (even red paint in the wrong spots can trigger the automated filters) is either removed or tagged with a banner at the bottom, a few months after the peak of the BLM protests passed. Incidents with real violence can’t be shared on TikTok anymore. Any video of a singular incident wouldn’t have been shown to many people, and even if it did somehow escape the filters, the user themselves would have likely been challenged on it via the watching system described at the very start of this article. The campaign never made sense if you understood anything about the website, and it’s unfortunate that that was used to Facebook’s advantage!

Fake news that amounts to advertising is a new phenomenon on Cable TV – it seems disinformation used to push users into buying a specific product over another has come for us all with Facebook (now Meta’s) funding.

Sources:

https://www.wavy.com/news/national/facebook-paid-gop-firm-to-run-campaign-against-tiktok-report/

Gray Markets Online? It’s More Likely Than you Think!

Elizabeth Technology April 28, 2022

Believe it or not, virtual items can become real money when it comes to games. A new economy of buying cosmetic items in-game soon turned into a gray market of sorts, where real, actual money was traded for the real, actual labor that went into getting the items. Grinding, the process of repeating tasks over and over (and over and over and over and…) to gain experience and in-game currencies isn’t exactly fun. Not as fun as completing quests and such, anyway. It’s also not usually possible to run a script to do it, if the grinding is something like hunting down enemies, or fighting other players. Look away and the AI might do something unexpected and kill your character!

As a result, people would rather pay money to have the fun parts of the game made easier and more fun with the advantage of other people’s labor. Plus, allowing users to trade or sell skins makes them less reluctant to buy them in the first place – if you discover a skin doesn’t work with your preferred weapon, the time and effort you spent getting it can still be converted to money, so it’s not all bad.

World of Warcraft

The game allows in-game trading, but real time is often worth real money. Side-trades and in-game negotiations to make in-game items worth real money have been a factor of MMORPGs ever since their early days. In some cases, trying to get rare or ultra-rare items without other players helping you was a nightmare, but real money could persuade other players to trade their loot where virtual items couldn’t.

As a funny side note, WoW players are not always the most ethical when getting items from other players. ‘Duplication glitches’, leading someone to a PvP area because ‘it would make trading easier’ and then killing them in-game, the list goes on. Really, the in-game trading makes things a little less brutal!

However, you’re not allowed to trade things with real money – you have to buy gold and then exchange that for items, and then if you get the gold, that you can exchange for real money after the transaction has been completed. In a way, it’s sort of like cryptocurrency, as an unregulated currency that has real worth due to people converting it in and out of US currency to buy things they can’t with traceable money.

The gray market economy for WoW has fallen a little as other MMORPGs (and other game styles in general) have become more popular, but it’s far from collapsed – as long as the game lives, the market lives too.

CS:GO

The skins market in CS:GO is honestly kind of incredible. You get skins worth thousands of dollars just by virtue of being hard (or impossible) to earn. It’s sort of like NFTs but if NFTs weren’t being endlessly generated, thus making each exactly as unique as it is common. You get your skins primarily from loot boxes while playing the game, and you can buy skins off of Steam MarketPlace, but actually finding someone who has what you want is tough. So you go elsewhere, where browsing by category, rarity, etc. may be easier.

The skins market is split across a number of websites, and each website promises different things. ‘We’re the oldest skins website’, claims one. ‘We have over 160,000 skins’, claims another. ‘We’re trustworthy’, and ‘safe skin trades’ says a couple of others, which wasn’t something I’d worried about until I saw those taglines. That’s about the time you note that these outside websites aren’t officially endorsed by CS:GO, meaning that game support can’t help you if something goes wrong with your trade – only the website can enforce penalties. While WoW trading has some problems, the ability to chat and barter in-game makes it harder to get scammed out of stuff because support can see those logs.

CS:GO, just like WoW, allows you to grind in-game to get the stuff you want. You can fuse skins in-game to get a rarer skin, but the process of doing so is tedious and doesn’t promise any one skin at the end of it. As a result, offsite trading is generally people’s second choice to get a skin they want, after however long they’d spent in-game trying to get it. It also doesn’t force you to convert real money to gold, but whether that’s a plus or not is up for debate every time the WoW gold market hits highs. Plus, the currency not being in-game makes actually proving something fraudulent happened more difficult.

Roblox

Roblox, an open gaming platform made up of official and user-generated minigames, uses Robux to function, an in-game currency worth roughly a tenth of a US cent. Like the games before, it also has skins, trading, chat, etc. but by virtue of its size, it’s got more gray-marketry going on than many games like WoW and CS:GO, even games that are older. By virtue of its young-leaning audience, it’s also got a ton of scams, everything from impersonal clickable ads advertising free Robux to personal attempts to mislead kids via ‘duplication glitches’ like the WoW ones listed above.

Roblox as a site can’t do much to combat this except copyright-strike ads using the term Robux and warn kids that trading off-site for stuff with Robux can be dangerous – unfortunately, for very determined youngsters with limited adult supervision, that doesn’t always ward them off of sites that will steal their account and/or Robux.

Overall

The real shame about gray markets is that they offer services that users demand, but their efficacy is based entirely on how the community and game itself respond. CS:GO players, for example, will warn people off of certain sites in the subreddits or just in general, if asked, unless they’re part of a scam.  Reputation matters, and people want to be able to buy stuff without gambling for it. CS:GO and WoW understand that, even if they wish their players wouldn’t. Most of the people on those games are old enough to understand the risks associated with trading offsite.

And then you have Roblox, which paints itself as kid-friendly and ends up flying under the radar by doing so. Scamming someone in Roblox feels like scamming them in Mario Maker, it just seems like it shouldn’t be possible. Having an in-game currency that can be bought with real money, combined with a platform that allows players to trade, means it’s not only possible – it might be inevitable. Any game with these two conditions is capable of supporting complex scams beyond the ‘click here for free gold’ ones.

Currency, the community, and the visibility staff has of trading all come into play for gray market culture. When in doubt – search up forums and see what their opinion of a site is. It won’t be completely foolproof, but it will help you separate the eBay analogs from the AliExpress ones.

Sources:

Online True Stories… Or Creative Fiction?

Elizabeth Technology April 11, 2022

You think somebody would do that? Just go on the internet and tell lies?

Tumblr

Obviously, some of the stories you see online are fake – some are more fake than others. Tumblr’s large audience of tweens and young teens meant that stories they found funny and stories they couldn’t compare against real-life experience tended to blow up, until adults with experience in the relevant fields started chiming in, and then the people reblogging the fake story would either double down or act like they knew it was fake all along.

For example, the Tumblr post where the OP worked for a calling service with autodialers that generated numbers instead of pulling from a list.

The responses and reblogs are full of people laughing at the story, at how funny it is that Some Guy stumbled into a classified number, just like a movie. As mentioned before, Tumblr’s young audience meant very few of them knew about stuff like the CAN-SPAM Act, or how call centers worked. Adults with relevant jobs started responding to the post, turning reblogs from sincere to ironic.

Just in case readers also don’t know and don’t feel like Googling, autodialers have to pull from a list – OP seems to be American, so if their org called someone on the DNC list, they’d be fined at least five digits if that person decided to complain to the FCC. It’s simply not worth the risk to just dial up people out of the Yellow Pages or ‘generate numbers’ even for allegedly Harvard. Besides that, generating numbers instead of buying a list is a completely asinine thing to do. The likelihood of getting a real, working number for however many calls you make to get to it makes just buying a phone list with valid numbers, that aren’t on the DNC list a much better investment of time, if not money.

With the benefit of hindsight, this all seems obvious – but at the moment, people fell for it.

Tumblr’s fake writings are interesting because they vary both in length and believability, but the really fake ones that get a lot of notes still get the youngest parts of the site to this day even though the posts themselves are ancient – “somebody put weed in the vents at our rival high school and now everyone is slowly getting high” (https://nongrace.tumblr.com/post/76165748868) for example, makes perfect sense to the kids on Tumblr who’ve only ever encountered cannabis via in-school drug programs or age-appropriate media. Some people are reblogging because of how obviously fake it is, some are reblogging because they genuinely believe that’s how cannabis works. Either way, it’s still funny, so it still got shared over 400,000 times (notes can include ‘likes’ which don’t spread content and ‘reblogs’ which do).

Luckily Tumblr’s grown a lot as a site, but unluckily that means no more ‘weed vents’ and ‘accidentally contacting the White House’ stories.

And On Reddit

A huge number of writing subreddits with the aim of sharing user experiences gradually turn into creative writing exercises instead – which is how you get callout posts where the OP is a writer, a doctor, a high school student, 60, and also a married atheist and a devout single missionary at the same time. To give the benefit of the doubt, some users will want to chime in with their friends’ or relatives’ experience, but don’t want to sound like they’re giving the classic “my uncle’s girlfriends’ friend’s cousin’s dog…” waffle when they don’t mean to, so instead they take on a character to tell the story.

Some are looking to add spice without having a story exactly fitting the prompt themselves – others still know the thread could turn really juicy if only people could be swayed to share. People don’t generally like talking to an empty room, so some people take it upon themselves to seed the thread with stories to get the rest of the stories flowing.

Some are simply looking to harvest as many fake internet points, reblogs, retweets, and likes as they can, but don’t have or do anything that would earn them that gratification organically, so they lie. (Or, they’re trying to sell their account to an account farm, and thus don’t want to tie personal info to an account that will eventually leave their control).

Most of the stories on subreddits R/TIFU (Today I F’ed Up), R/AITA (Am I The ***?) and other assorted true-story subreddits desperate for juicy, barely-believable content have fallen to these urges. There’s another subreddit called R/ThatHappened that picks these stories up, dusts them off, and presents them to a crowd of skeptics to laugh at. Which later spawned the subreddit R/NothingEverHappens, when some of said skeptics realized some of the outrageous stuff was only outrageous to people who doubted that strangers would argue in public or that kids would say something profound accidentally.

Nothing is provable – even texts and chat logs aren’t as solid proof as they used to be in a post-photo-editing app world. The internet has allowed people to lie to other people on the other side of the world, so long as they share a language, so if you find yourself really stressing about how you’d ever identify the truth in these stories, maybe it’s time to get off Reddit.

To Make Somebody Else Look Bad

There’s one more twist left to fake Tumblr stories on Reddit – one guy had edited a handful of screenshots of Tumblr stories to post to Reddit, many of which bled over to Tumblr and other social media sites because of how clearly fake they were. He really did a great job of making something that hits every interaction button – cultural references, unbelievable characters, an unreliable narrator who seems to believe other people will buy these stories – and to this day, some people still believe those ‘screenshots’ were real. (Youtuber Sarah Zed has a well-researched video on this, but it’s long: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiU7aGZ-o68).

He picked an easy target: Tumblr kids. He wrote from the perspective of the primary demographics on Tumblr because picking on Tumblr kids was easier than picking on Reddit or 4chan ones. Tumblr was a liberating website, so the main demographic was often open about being young, overweight, underweight, having self-diagnosed illnesses with varying levels of reliability, etc. (there are a lot of people of color and LGBT+ kids as well, but his stories didn’t really touch on them so much as they did the average young white woman on the site) so reading these stories that are clearly fantasy allegedly by these people on Tumblr was ammunition and a sort of Schadenfreude for the people seeing them on r/thathappened.

Some guy with a hankering for fake internet points starts making stuff deliberately designed to hit the front page of r/thathappened, and then disappears off into the sunset with these stories becoming more famous than he anticipated, spreading “back” to Tumblr and then going viral from there until the blog world-heritage-posts did some digging looking for the original post, at which point heritage-posts and their collective sphere of Tumblr documenters realized something weird was up.It seems to stop there, and he stopped making these fake Tumblr posts long before the deception was ever revealed.

Remember, you don’t know anyone online!