If you can't stand the heat
This week: truth seekers, chess masters, singing tomatoes, brand flippers, bad cooks and algorithm scandals
A Facebook group left to its own devices is almost certainly a recipe for disaster. The New York Times appears to have learned that the hard way over the past two years, as its 77,000-person “Cooking Community” — once dubbed the “happy corner of the internet” — was overrun by dog pics, social distance shaming and politics. On Tuesday, the Times announced it would bow out and turn the group over to volunteer mods instead. Members, predictably, were pissed off. But if you can’t stand the heat …
This quandary isn’t limited to the Times, of course. This week I published a story in Elle about the “internet of Peloton” — the truly (!) amazing constellation of online fan communities that exist around the fitness brand and its instructors. But the mothership of the Peloton internet — the Official Peloton Member Page, with 412,000 members — is widely considered, at least by volunteer Peloverse mods, a four-alarm dumpster fire. When I spoke with Jayvee Nava, Peloton’s VP of community, I asked if the company planned to scale up moderation of the group this year. Their PR person cut me off and suggested that was some kind of trade secret. It struck me as … kind of weird.
Then again, I can imagine why mainstream, middle-of-the-road brands like the New York Times and Peloton might shy away from conversations about the current online environment. They got into this game with ambitions of building their “community,” and were met with the unpleasant and disillusioning truth that even people who like the same recipes or workouts still self-segregate into warring factions.
Does that mean more companies will pull an NYT and pull out of Facebook groups all together? It wouldn’t surprise me, particularly if they’re no longer seeing concrete financial benefits (as NYT food editor Sam Sifton has suggested).
“On one hand, this is about backbiting in the NYTimes Cooking community,” summed up the food columnist Adam Liaw. “But on the other I think you'll see more of this from institutions … as they rethink deploying resources to a platform that can so quickly turn hostile.”
P.S. This was a good week for Peloton content. See also: Amanda Hess in the New York Times (always read Amanda Hess!!).
P.P.S. Proceeds from this week’s classified ads are going to this GoFundMe for Randy Park and his brother. Randy’s mom, Hyun Jung Grant — “a single mother who dedicated her whole life to providing for” her kids — was killed in the racist attacks on massage parlors in Atlanta. PBS and NBC both have pretty comprehensive guides to other ways you can support Asian Americans, today and in the future.
If you read anything this weekend
“My Mom Believes In QAnon. I’ve Been Trying To Get Her Out,” by Albert Samaha in Buzzfeed. This is an *uncommonly compassionate* take on an emergent first-person genre wherein the author describes a loved one’s tragic descent into Q-flavored lunacy. This is so nuanced and loving, though — my heart really broke for Albert! I hope he publishes a part two. I’m dying to hear his mom’s reaction.
“The Young Political Spaces of the Internet,” by Nathan Taylor Pemberton in The New Yorker. I generally avoid like the *plague* any article that claims to reach sweeping, generational conclusions … and I did find myself questioning to what extent this story describes the radical politics of a narrow subset of Gen Z, as opposed to all 70 million of them. Still! It’s a fascinating synthesis of a lot of (often alarming) online political behavior I haven’t seen explained elsewhere. For further reading, check out the essay Joshua Citarella, the subject of this piece — published last fall in The Guardian.
“The Truth Seekers Are Coming,” by Kaitlyn Tiffany in The Atlantic. Kaitlyn is consistently great on conspiracy moms, and this piece gets at not only the surface rebrand that theorists have gone through, but also the larger evolution of the quote-unquote “movement.” “Social media was the perfect place for conspiracy theorists to dispense with the drudgery and complications of ‘theory’ … They share just enough to invoke some fear or shared sentiment.”
“The Culture Warped Pop for Good,” by Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding in The New York Times. We’re all familiar with the bummer argument that TikTok and Spotify ruined music. But this (extremely fun, interactive) essay from the guys behind the Switched on Pop podcast contends that social media and streaming have actually shaken up a staid style of songwriting that needed it.
“A Bird-Feed Seller Beat a Chess Master Online. Then It Got Ugly,” by Cecilia D’Anastasio in Wired. Have you guys followed the recent cheating epidemic in online chess? It is genuinely fascinating on its own merits (!). But this story throws in a 25-year-old international master, a brigading campaign, and a very nice-sounding retiree in Indonesia. The quandary: Do you trust this nice elderly chap … or the anti-cheating algorithm?
This edition of Links is powered by homemade sfinge, an extra hour of afternoon daylight, a children’s show involving both Michelle Obama *and* a singing, Sia-voiced tomato … and the following very wonderful sponsors:
Sonia’s Poem of the Week — Read more poetry! Sonia’s Poem of the Week sends you one good poem every Friday. Q&As with contemporary poets sometimes, sparkling commentary on why a poem is worth reading always. Join 1,500+ subscribers now.
A Most Unreliable Narrator — Slice of life newsletter from a Gen-Xer about town. I don’t live in Brooklyn nor did I attend a fancy college but I hope you find me charming just the same. May contain many swears. Sign up here.
Today In Tabs — You know when you buy a vacuum and then Amazon tries to sell you a million more vacuums? This is like that, but good. If you like Links I Would GChat You, you’ll like "Today in Tabs." NYT media critic David Carr called it "a cheeky look at content that is so bad it’s good"; Andy Baio calls it "excellent." Subscribe here.
📣📣 Wanna see your name/side hustle/shout-out here, while supporting the free edition of this newsletter?? Fill out this form; it’s affordable!!
Zoom Escaper. #BoatLife. “Big Cocaine Energy.” The Spotify black market for fake streams. How people work from home around the world. The best of Coursera, according to Reddit. This might be the article that finally converts me to voice messages.
This article is an NFT. And NFTs, it turns out, can be stolen! (Could I turn these newsletters into NFTs and … make more money from them??) The internet’s evolution, as seen through its archive. The Dutch algorithm scandal that forced a PM to resign. Last but not least, meet the the “brand flippers of Amazon” — quite likely the source of your latest thermos, dog bed or craft supply.
That’s it for this week! Until the next one. Warmest virtual regards.