Elections, espionage and eyeballs
Plus: an extended sale!
Welcome to this week’s free edition of The Terminal. Welcome to the new subscribers who took advantage of the little sale I ran last week.
Because the takeup was so good, I’ve decided to extend it for another week — so if you subscribe to an annual plan for The Terminal today, your first year is AU$50 instead of AU$70.
A few things I’ve published for subscribers recently:
A deep dive into one of my favourite weird online subcultures: FromSoftware lore hunters. (Unlocked for a few days — please, go wild.)
A look at the changing politics of the tech sector, and the way its allegiances are shifting.
OK, enough of the craven sales pitch. Rest assured, however: I will bother you again, in this life or the next. (Or the next time I have a sale.)
Whistling through the graveyard
Facebook released its latest Widely Viewed Content Report this week, which is intended as a transparency measure and to prove both that the company cares about misinformation and that it isn’t really that big of a problem. Functionally, it’s basically like a sad hospice doctor giving a palliative care update.
Some great takeaways:
The most viewed page, across all of Facebook, was LADBible Australia. Cam Wilson at Crikey has covered this incredibly weird fact recently. In short, the Australian outpost of the LADBible empire basically acts as a central clearinghouse for the company’s library of user-generated videos, which is mostly people falling over, animals being weird, and pranks which verge on criminal assault. (I believe this is of great geopolitical advantage to us somehow.)
Six of the top twenty links were blocked for violating Facebook content policies around spam. All of the blocked links were from one website, a viral content toilet named nayenews24[.]info.
The top link that wasn’t either the aforementioned spam or now locked is a short Covid conspiracy YouTube video named IMG 8238.
What you get with each successive content report from Facebook is the sense of a slowly decaying platform that young people have abandoned en masse, and only really continues through fading forward momentum. Everything there is basically the disgusting offal of younger, more successful platforms, and you can tell that the Meta rebrand is partially a surrender to the fact its once core property is probably just going to wither and die of its own accord.
That doesn’t mean people will stop using it entirely. I’m sure in five or ten years it will still have dozens if not hundreds of millions of notionally active users, but it’ll have the unassailable vibe of those ghost hunting forums which have been running since the 90s and are somehow still kicking along. Meta will bleed those eyeballs of ad revenue as long as is feasible.
I thought this was all quite interesting in the context of a new interview with Mark Zuckerberg at Protocol, which comes as Meta reportedly plans to axe jobs and projects in its Reality Labs — read: metaverse — division. He acknowledges a lot of people think it is stupid, and says this:
We've gone through a bunch of content transitions at this point. When I started, it was primarily text. Then we got phones with cameras and photos, and mobile networks got better. Now, the Facebook app is half video. The time that people spend on Reels is more than 20% of the time that people are spending on Instagram.
But that's just not the end of the line. You're going to keep on getting more immersive. Whether it looks like a big bet today or not, I just think it's inevitable that something like this needs to get invented. And I want to just make sure that we can help make that possible.
“I just think it's inevitable that something like this needs to get invented,” has to be the weirdest way of pitching the metaverse, or anything really.
OK, bear with me on this one. Above is an obviously NSFW clip from hip hop and pop culture podcast No Jumper, featuring a conversation with OnlyFans creator Kitty Lixo. In it, she claims that her Instagram account was banned — presumably for violating content guidelines — and she responded to this indignity by figuring out who was on the platform’s integrity team using LinkedIn, and then repeatedly sleeping with them until she got her account unbanned.
Obviously it’s tough to verify the extent to which this is actually true, but she tells a plausible story. Adult content creators are constantly playing a game of chicken with Instagram and TikTok, which are the top of their customer acquisition funnel but will instantly bring down the ban hammer if they post something too sexually explicit. These creators are always trying to strike balance between posting content salacious enough to get the most down bad among their followers to click through to their OnlyFans and subscribe, and avoiding a ban, which could instantly obliterate their audience and shut off their primary source of new customers.
As journalists, recruiters and analysts know, LinkedIn — as well as being the worst content sewer on the internet — is an amazing tool for reverse-engineering the internal org charts of companies and institutions. All the information is right there if you know what you’re looking for, and if you fork out for LinkedIn Premium you can then strategically message decision-makers within an organisation to try and achieve an outcome outside the usual channels. (Most would probably not go as far as having sex with the decision-maker in question, but that’s because they lack sufficient grindset or commitment to the hustle.)
“I did not expect one of the best descriptions I’ve ever heard of being a Dangerous Professional reverse-engineering org charts to get a compliance decision reviewed to be as NSFW as this was,” writes Patrick McKenzie, who does comms at Stripe. “Seriously though, this would have been exactly my process right up to the point of attempting to offer a quid pro quo to the discovered named individuals with review authority.”
In a more specific sense, it’s also a great reminder that the faceless processes and algorithms that govern what is and is not tolerated on social media platforms are by and large overseen by real individuals, who are as fallible and corruptible as they are in any other institution.
Whinge below 👇👇👇
Unfortunately, the unspoken price of subscribing to this free newsletter is you occasionally have to endure me sounding off about Australian politics. Call it a tax. I’ll keep it brief.
The federal election is this weekend, and we’ve just endured one of the most unedifying campaigns in recent memory. It was terrible largely as a product of its palpable lack of actual content. Part of this can be blamed on the fact both major parties were committed to offering a target so small you could drown it in a bathtub, but it’s also the case it has been by and large the worst covered election of any I can remember. The media’s approach has — with some exceptions — been shockingly bad, in a way that has been incredibly annoying to behold.
In 2019, few saw Labor’s loss coming thanks to a now infamous polling failure. This led to plenty of soul-searching among pollsters about whether their methodologies had kept up with a changing electorate, and they’re hoping the process improvements they’ve made have led to a more accurate count this time around. But the bigger, unspoken problem was that, once the horse race element was revealed to be based on faulty polling, there really wasn’t much of substance left in the media coverage. If I may quote one comment on CNN political reporter Chris Cillizza’s brutal Reddit AMA: “Are you aware that real, actual horse races exist? … Why not just ‘cut out the middle man’, so to speak, and cover an actual horse race?”
And yet, it’s playing out exactly the same way. The vast majority of coverage has been centred around the narrowing and widening of polls, with policies discussed solely as little levers to make the polls go up and down. Even coverage of the teal independents, one of the more interesting developments of Australian politics in recent years, was quickly subsumed into an endless run of minute polling variations. It becomes easy to forget that people are actually going into a polling booth with a view towards effecting an outcome rather than vindicating or not vindicating prior phone polls.
It’s not even being covered particularly accurately or interestingly. AFR political reporter Phil Coorey covered one poll result earlier this month by arguing Labor “could win government in its own right” if it were reflected on Election Day. Poll expert Kevin Bonham clarified that it would in fact be “the most lopsided result since 1943”.
The tone was set in this campaign early, when Anthony Albanese was unable to quote the official interest rate. This was undeniably a slip-up— least of all because the rate had remained the same for a long while at that point. However, what followed was a several week pursuit of that phenomenal high by sections of the press pack, who decided the best use of their highly stage-managed access was to identify other numbers and figures that Albanese might have forgotten. Whether anybody in the country actually cared about this, or whether they think rote memory recall is the most important trait for a prime minister, didn’t seem to matter much.
Plenty of commentators criticised this as ‘gotcha’ journalism, but it honestly speaks to a much deeper rot. Both Albanese and Morrison are obviously too skittish to articulate actual vision for a country of 25 million people, but nobody seems much interested in forcing them to do it. Like so much of Australian political and cultural life, there seems to be an agreed compact across the establishment that things should drift forward on autopilot, preferably with a steady hand poised at the wheel, whatever that means in practice.
OK, that wasn’t that brief. Mi scusi. Here’s something to chew on:
Andreessen Horowitz put out its 2022 State of Crypto report. Keeping in mind they’re heavily invested and obviously very pro, there’s some interesting numbers in there.
On that: thought this was a good thread from Ethereum co-creator Vitalik Buterin on his current, contradictory thoughts about the project. I generally find him to be an interesting and self-critical thinker in a space that often lacks that impulse.
Last week I wrote about the deep weirdness of the content economy developing around the Amber Heard / Johnny Depp defamation trial. Here’s a story about the lawyers building up online followings by commenting on the case on YouTube, and one on how the same dynamic is playing out with Twitch streamers.
Something further to the above story on novel OnlyFans economics: this story on ‘ventriloquists’ who post, market and respond to fans on behalf of adult creators.
Fascinating on Yandex, the Russian search engine which is also the country’s biggest tech company. Goes into the company’s weird relationship with the government, and why search engines are of geostrategic value.
On the “hearing voices movement”, which is attempting to demedicalise solutions for people who experience auditory and visual hallucinations and rebrand those delusions as “nonconsensus realities”. The headline got dunked on, article is worth a read.