a high-low split

the c*m pipe, and then: some other stuff

Yesterday, #TheCumPipe was trending on Twitter, along with #ThePissPipe and #TheGayPipe. Why this happened and how is at least a little interesting.

The first bit of context you need is this video I have not determined the origin of. It gets freebooted on meme accounts a lot, and it’s someone doing a bad Mario impression, stating, “The time has come for you to choose: the gay pipe, the piss pipe, or the cum pipe.” I hope you can figure out which pipe is which. If you can’t, ask the nearest adult?

It feels important to note that the image itself is also photoshopped. Super Mario 3D World, which was just rereleased, does not feature rainbow or translucent yellow pipes in the intro cutscene, from which this image is derived. Here’s a variant of the joke on DeviantArt, where you can clearly see the colors bleed.

Anyway, the Twitter account @EverythingOOC turned this into a Twitter thing using a form of engagement only available through Twitter’s ad product (you can see that identified in the footer). It looks like a poll, but when you click your vote, it doesn’t tally your selection. It instead prompts you to tweet out your pick and share the poll with your followers. This a “conversational ad,” where everyone who picks #TheCumPipe also encourages their followers to also join the conversation.

The same thing happened a few months ago, when a user set up an ad for #carp and everyone started tweeting #carp. What both of these scenarios reveal is an oversight within Twitter’s platform. It’s not exactly a vulnerability, but it is weird that this exploit continues to exist.

Yesterday, I spent about half an hour trying to determine the origin of #TheCumPipe tweets, and largely found the above post through a lot of brute-force trial and error. Only the original tweet notes it was posted using Twitter’s ad tool. No posts sharing the module contained the same disclosure. It’s kinda odd that Twitter’s “conversational” "advertising tool doesn’t make any effort to tell users who started a conversation, or that a user if interacting with an ad? Like, if I were an advertiser, I would want people to know, and if I made an ad product, I would make that disclosure happen automatically.

I guess the assumption is that tweets from the ads tool will obviously look… like ads. But clearly that assumption leaves it open to exploitation. Which in this case is very funny and I support it.

metapost about substack

In the past couple of weeks, Substack, the platform through which BNet reaches your inbox, has been the subject of some discussion regarding its growth strategy. Specifically, regarding the plum deals it has offered some writers to spin up newsletters on Substack. These are effectively seed investments for writers with — I hate to use this term — strong personal brands.

In a general sense, I care little about these arrangements because they don't really affect me. The current understanding of moderns platforms is that they are a never-ending competition. You are constantly fighting for your place in the feed, for more likes and share, and for a higher ranking from the algorithm. If you're in the top slot, someone else isn't — and vice-versa. Platforms are now understood as black boxes that can change the magnitude of your posts' distribution on a whim and the holders’ preferences. This has always been my problem with social-media platforms: not that the people in charge (and the systems they build) allow space for dubious content and shitty opinions and tonal excess that I object to, but that they clearly prefer those things and offer wider reach to them.

With email newsletters, however, I don’t really have to worry about reach. If you sign up for this newsletter, you are guaranteed to receive it. I don't have to worry about it getting buried through some mysterious automated evaluation in the way that someone might not see my Facebook posts or my latest dumb tweet. Someone else "winning" on Substack does not mean anyone else is "losing." Or at least, that's my understanding.

What I can say is that, from an editorial standpoint, Substack's approach to attracting writers is bad and dumb. And for clarity's sake, I'll say this: choosing which writers to grant startup runway to is an editorial decision, not a business one, as co-founder Hamish McKenzie wants to believe. Cutting a check is taking a proactive role in the creation of something. There's a reason the producers accept the Oscar for Best Picture.

As far as I can tell, Substack's recruitment strategy (both by directly subsidizing writers and by its co-founder tweeting dog-whistle bullshit like "defund the thought police") is to offer itself up to people who generate a lot of ‘chatter’ and outrage on Media Twitter. Basing your own publishing platform's recruitment on metrics derived from a platform like Twitter, where popularity is based on being loud, stupid, and ignoring context, is a great way to shoot yourself in the foot from the get-go.

The dopiest, most obtuse editors and writers I've had the displeasure of working with care too much about what happens on Twitter. In this sense, Substack's original sin is hitching its wagon to another platform’s definition of clout and to high-profile writers who are prone to using the same tactics that work on algorithmically ranked platforms — stultifying, simplistic arguments; venom; zealotry; stubbornness; feigned naivete — in a newsletter format.

On a personal level, I bristle at seeing people like Glenn Greenwald, Bari Weiss, Matt Yglesias, and Andrew Sullivan adopt the stance of persecuted writers who were "forced out" of some of the most comfortable perches in media for heterodoxy when, well, I did actually lose my job last year and run a Substack to cover some of my costs of living. I didn't get to instantly turn my meager following into a six-figure payday. (Sullivan in particular bugs me because the same editors who laid me off also condoned his decades of racism and transphobia until the last possible moment that it was publicly acceptable to do so, and then allowed him a graceful exit where he... encouraged people to subscribe to his Substack.)

For a company that wants to build its reputations on letting anyone build a stable independent business online, it sure seems like the people benefiting the most from Substack's efforts are the ones who need it the least. This is not a new phenomenon. The history of trying to make money on the internet has shown that the efforts are binary: you either rake in more money than you know what to do with, or you don't even earn enough to sustain the full-time effort. This is true of almost every platform. There is no middle class on the internet, and that seems to include Substack.

What a bummer to see the same issues appear again and again, as if nobody's learned anything. Or more likely: that the people in charge learned the wrong things. If Substack's plan is "Twitter, but where you can give even more detail about your bad opinions," I'm sure it's great for business. And as I said right up top, it has no material effect on my own work's ability to reach people. But there's no denying that it's also cultivating a bad editorial reputation, and that's a problem entirely of Substack's own making.


Thank you for reading BNet. I will be watching the Snyder Cut.