🆕 Never Post! NP x ICYMI: Everyone is a Journalish

Friends! Here it is! The second and final installment of our two part collab with Slate’s ICYMI! Listen on their feed, our feed, slate.com, neverpo.st and everywhere you listen to pods. And as always, ad-free cut is waiting for Members in their feed!

Mike talks with mis- and disinformation researcher Joan Donovan about the line between gossip and conspiracy; then ICYMI’s Candice and Rachelle join us to talk about what it feels like swimming in the wide open sea of monocultural event discourse. Also: C-SPAN’s earliest internet memories!

Special thanks to Candice, Rachelle, Se’era, Daisy and the whole ICYMI team! Please listen to them on slate.com and wherever you get your podcasts.

Become a Never Post member at https://www.neverpo.st/



Everyone is a Journalish



Never Post’s producers are Audrey Evans, Georgia Hampton and The Mysterious Dr. Firstname Lastname. Our senior producer is Hans Buetow. Our executive producer is Jason Oberholtzer. The show’s host is Mike Rugnetta. 

vertigo of too many nuances
don’t drown in their rapidity
choose the nuances you love
and settle down with them


Excerpt of #45 - butter colored slacks and rubber rum balls by Wayne Koestenbaum

Never Post is a production of Charts & Leisure

Episode Transcript

TX Autogenerated by Transistor

Mike Rugnetta:

Friends, hello, and welcome to never post a podcast about and for the Internet. I'm your host, Mike Rugnetta. And in this episode, we are continuing and concluding our multi part collaboration with Slate's Internet culture pod, ICYMI. So it is a huge honor and a privilege and a pleasure to have Candice

Candice Lim:

Hello.

Mike Rugnetta:

And Rachel. Hello.

Rachelle Hampton:

Hi.

Mike Rugnetta:

In case you missed it, get it, you can find episode 1 of this collab one episode back in our feed and theirs. But the long and short is this. Rachel and Candice and I have developed a framework for understanding the rise of monocultural events. News stories which dominate online discourse and encourage rampant speculation, gossip, and conspiracy theorizing. We've suggested that for an event to reach such stratospheric levels of discourse dominance, there must be, 1, an information gap.

Mike Rugnetta:

2, clear and recognizable characters who are, 3, preferably filthy rich or of otherwise extremely high status. 4, people trapped inside of something, either literally or figuratively. Optional commentary by Elon Musk, and finally, 5, a turn to tragedy. We then applied that framework to the recent saga of Kate Middleton, who, after disappearing from the public eye for some time and the publishing of a woefully shopped photo, eventually announced that she had received a cancer diagnosis for which she had already begun treatment. And we all had feelings about that.

Rachelle Hampton:

We're so excited to be here and to continue the conversation that we started over on ICYMI, answering the very important question of how bad should I feel that I thought Kate Middleton was getting a BBL.

Mike Rugnetta:

Rachel, we are going to hash this out in the second half of this episode. But first, all of this armchair theorizing has got me wondering, is there an edge we inch closer to when we do the kind of speculation that we've been talking about. It seems often when posting about these events, even jokingly, we do so within close proximity, rhetorically, or even in the feed, to actual conspiracy theories. Should we worry, I wondered, about providing any kind of legitimacy to the other more nefarious sets of theories about race replacement, world governments, shadowy cabals, through jokes about what could possibly cause a ship to crash into a bridge. To answer these questions, I talked with doctor Joan Donovan, sociologist, whistleblower, and world class expert on mis and disinformation.

Mike Rugnetta:

We're gonna chat with Joan about the potentially slippery slope from one type of conspiratorial thinking to another, and then we're gonna wrap it all up with the ICYMI team. How do we feel about ourselves engaging in this kind of discourse, making jokes, and even laughing at the expense of the powerful? How will we approach these situations in the future? But first, American political broadcast network, C SPAN's, earliest Internet memories.

C-Span Clip:

October 12, 1983.

C-Span Clip:

Bill McGowan has served as chairman and chief executive officer of MCI Communication Corporation since it was founded some 15 years ago. It is indeed my pleasure to present Bill Magal.

Bill McGowan C-Span Clip:

Think of the computers in our country as the factories. Think of memory as the warehouses of this new world. And think of silica as the practically inexhaustible and practically free energy source for what we're doing.

Bill McGowan C-Span Clip:

When it

Bill McGowan C-Span Clip:

comes right down to it I believe that we Americans have already opt for the changes deliverable from the information economy. I think we have said yes to the information technology and they're increasingly usefulness in our life. And in doing so, I believe that we have made the right choice because I believe the United States is uniquely qualified to win this international competition. And in revolutions there is dangers, there is great uncertainty, few times I guess some innocents get shot. Fortunately, I've never been accused of being an innocent.

Bill McGowan C-Span Clip:

I've been accused of a lot of things in my life, but never being an innocent.

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Mike Rugnetta:

Joining us is doctor Joan Donovan. Joan is a tech whistleblower, the cofounder of the Critical Internet Studies Institute, and an assistant professor of journalism and emerging media studies at the College of Communication at Boston University. Her work focuses on online extremism, mis and disinformation, and media manipulation. She's testified before Congress on mis and disinformation and has worked as a researcher at Data and Society, and at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she also taught until her position was conveniently eliminated, after she was critical of Meta, whose CEO Mark Zuckerberg had recently pledged $500,000,000 to the school via charity. Joan holds a PhD in sociology and science studies from UCSD.

Mike Rugnetta:

Joan, thank you very, very much for taking some time out of your hectic schedule to chat with us.

Joan Donovan:

Thank you. It's great

Mike Rugnetta:

to be here. So, Joan, my first question is, we have this big event, that happens online. It captures a lot of people's attention and, you know, of course, when there's an information gap, when we don't know the whole story, It also captures people's imaginations. And often, it seems like 2 parallel discourses develop. We get joking speculation, memes, armchair theorizing.

Mike Rugnetta:

But, alongside it, you also get this much more odious, kinda conversation about world governments, World War 3, tying it all back to the machinations of some minority group. And, I'm just I'm curious what that pipeline is like. How does one of these events go from a news story to conspiracy fuel?

Joan Donovan:

I think about this in 5 stages. So there's a rumor that gets put out there, and that's stage 1. That's the origin precipitating events. And then the second thing that happens is it spreads across media, Whether that's mainstream media, local news, or, social media. But the third part is the most important part, which is who picks up the discourse?

Joan Donovan:

Who else is talking about it? And it used to be that conspiracy theories, you know, you might talk about them with your pals and it's a good joke. Or you might gossip about celebrities, which sometimes can run into more conspiratorial thinking. But that third point about who responds is really important, because we saw a lot of, especially over the last couple years, stories that were imaginative, and wrong, But also, they spread pretty far and wide very quickly. And then, any response by industry to moderate them became part of the idea that they're being suppressed.

Joan Donovan:

The idea must be suppressed.

Mike Rugnetta:

Of course, they don't want you to know this. That must mean it's true.

Joan Donovan:

What they don't want you to know, and that they can vary widely. So I I describe this as forbidden knowledge. And this is something that, you know, you're more famous conspirators online. This is what they make their bread and butter on. Is this idea that somebody out there doesn't want you to know, and they are the only ones with this information.

Joan Donovan:

And it's both got 2 ingredients in it that is really important for stories going viral. They're novel and outrageous. And those elements of novel and outrage mimic a lot of tabloid journalism. So depending on who reacts to the story, whether it's a politician, a journalist, industry, like social media, celebrities, all of these things can drive attention to the conspiracy theory and then validate that point of view. And then if you get stage 4, which is mitigation, then any attempt to correct the record is seen as part of the conspiracy.

Joan Donovan:

And then lastly, the other thing that we note, and there's been great studies of the out of the University of Washington with Andy Beers and and Kate Starbird, about this idea of repeat offenders. So the 5th stage is when these manipulators adapt, and they just roll out the next conspiracy theory. Because usually, they're timed around the 24 hour news cycle. So you have to keep inventing or pushing this forbidden knowledge so that people stay entertained and they stay engaged. And and it's interesting when you try to break that, because their epistemology, their rubric for how they know what they know, it appears as research.

Joan Donovan:

It looks like research. I'm going online. I'm looking for evidence. I'm listening to the experts, but these experts are often influencers or top tier Redditors. And, unfortunately, they're not, you know, experts in that same type of way, but they

Mike Rugnetta:

do making a piece of media, which is compelling and

Joan Donovan:

Exactly. Exactly. Inspired conversation.

Mike Rugnetta:

You know, sometimes it feels like all paths around some event, which has captured our imagination, lead to some kind of awful conspiracy theory. You know, like, some people might make a joke about Kate having a body double. They're trying to they're trying to hide something. Like, you know, we're all in on the joke here. But then, it's only a matter of time, it often feels like, until someone says, well, here's how this ties into the great replacement theory.

Mike Rugnetta:

And I'm just curious, like, are these are these bad actors waiting for these events to use them as kinda like a Trojan horse to push these ideas, to the top of the discussion to get them out into the world? And like, does it happen in all of these scenarios? Like, all of these kinda, like, low information events? Or does it just happen in some?

Joan Donovan:

Yeah. It's definitely some. You know, when it comes to celebrity culture, we do see more gossip and rumor as sometimes they're not conspiracy theories so much as, worry. You know, where is she? How is she doing?

Joan Donovan:

What are they trying to hide? So that kind of questioning, I think, is probably very normal you know,

Mike Rugnetta:

you know Yeah.

Joan Donovan:

Or she's part of some pedophile ring and that, you know, it was her turn to babysit. It's just it that kind of stuff creeps in. And so it does run wild across the spectrum. But with the great replacement theory, what I've noted over the last, say 10 years of studying white nationalism online, is actually much more sinister in the sense that it used to be very fringe. It used to be something that if you were in a circle of other researchers, they would know what you're talking about.

Joan Donovan:

But if you talked in the general public about it, people would be like, I have no idea what you're saying. You're a crazy lady. Or they'd say, well, that's interesting, but it's so fringe. It'll never matter. Which is why it's so important to think about these networks as having certain people who are, let's say, switchers that that move the information around the network just like a switchboard would have done in the 19 twenties around the telephone.

Joan Donovan:

So there are people who make these ideas popular and circulate them and then look for opportunities to continuously bring them back up. But in a way that seems deracialized in a way that seems devoid of power, you know, that they're just asking questions or they just have an opinion on something. And, you know, why can't the richest man in the world just have an opinion on something?

Mike Rugnetta:

That's actually related to the next thing I wanted to ask you, which is like, is there some overlap? Is worrying and, sort of maybe a good natured skepticism about what Kate Middleton is up to the same type of entertaining as, you know, what these switchers do for making, the some of these theories more palatable to a broader audience? Is there overlap there?

Joan Donovan:

I think there's a lot of overlap, to be honest with you, because it's the curiosity that brings people back into the conversation. So you can imagine that being in a a tweet thread started by Elon Musk about the great replacement theory, and then some people start responding to you. You start throwing some memes around because it's funny. But then it's funny till it's not. Right?

Joan Donovan:

Because what people end up then wanting to defend once they're told that this is racist, is that they have a right to say it. And it goes from being funny, or jokey, or ironic into something much more rooted in someone's political identity. And once you tell someone that they shouldn't say something, then the, feeling is actually very visceral. It's like being told you don't have any rights here, and you feel subject to somebody's rule. And unfortunately, in these circles, it's not just that, oh, if you out someone as a racist, that they're gonna feel ashamed and and kind of walk away and correct themselves.

Joan Donovan:

Instead, they start to feel a kind of pride of race, and that can further entrench them into these subcultures. Not to mention, it's not just the opposition that they feel, but they also feel very welcomed by the people who they're speaking to. And so, when they're talking about race, they describe, in some instances, a feeling of freedom because they're finally talking to other people that think like them.

Mike Rugnetta:

Oh, now I can say whatever I want. Like

Joan Donovan:

Exactly.

Mike Rugnetta:

Yeah.

Joan Donovan:

I went to the American Sociological Association conference 1 year, right after the Unite the Right rally and saw a talk by Patricia Hill Collins. And she said, she was talking about the Unite the Right rally and about the rise of the alt right. And she asked the room full of sociologists, do you care as much as they do? Right? Because there is something about the politics of white supremacists, where they care a lot.

Joan Donovan:

And they're out there every day saying crazy shit like the holocaust didn't happen. And what's interesting about the technological environment that we're in is that all of the algorithms are trained to pick up what's fresh and relevant. So settled history, like the holocaust happened, just isn't popular. It's not something that someone's going online every day and posting about. Or that, like, vaccines stop the measles.

Joan Donovan:

Right? So these kinds of ideas that we've settled on that are scientific, that are based in method, and and have been tested. These ideas do not circulate online because who's gonna post that kind of stuff?

Mike Rugnetta:

It's like cool, exciting of the moment stuff happening right now.

Joan Donovan:

Exactly. It's just the case. And you also have built into a lot of these systems, the capacity for broadcast. And as long as you're consistent, that is if you're show up every day at noon, when you say you're gonna go live, your audience is gonna be there.

Mike Rugnetta:

I think it's easy to be someone involved in a bunch of conversations online, and to be joking around with your pals, you know, in the feeds or even, like, you know, in the group chat and be making jokes and sort of having this skepticism about what Kate Middleton is up to, what actually happened at the Key Bridge. Like, I think about my grocery store guy who I see, like, most days, even he was like, what do you think about this Key Bridge thing? Like, they're not telling us everything. Right? And he's like a very normal dude.

Mike Rugnetta:

You know, I know him as well as I know my grocery store guy, but, like, I have a pretty good sense of who he is after a few years. Like, that was surprising to me. I was like, oh, interesting. Okay. And I think that it's easy to do that, and it's easy to say, like, I see me on this side of the divide.

Mike Rugnetta:

And on the other side of the divide are the people who have weird ideas about what's going on and who are the actual conspiracy theorists. Mhmm. And I wonder if you see the group that's doing the joking and the seemingly good natured thinking about these things as being closer to the second group than they see themselves?

Joan Donovan:

I think it's actually very normal to think about conspiracies. On my research team, I worked with a couple of researchers, Brandy Collins Dexter and Myra Michale, about this very subject, and we hosted a conference on conspiracies and communities of color. And this idea that there's something wrong with the water in Flint. Right? That sounds like a conspiracy until some scientific tests were run and there were some problems with the water in Flint.

Joan Donovan:

There are ways in which different communities might talk in conspiratorial ways as a kind of protection from the state, from other entities that would do them harm. I mean, there's probably no more canonical example of that than the kinds of stories that black people were telling each other about what was going on with Tuskegee. And people having knowledge or feeling knowledge about something without a way to confirm it. And so what it really taught me and it taught a lot of other folks in that space is to, as a researcher, really try to dig in and figure out, well, what is the driver here? Is it that there is, you know, cultural historic reasons why someone might be making up, you know, stories about the government because, you know, x y and z had already happened.

Joan Donovan:

With some of the disinformation campaigns, it's just obvious that these things are meant to trick you. And so you might see some playful trolling around certain ideas, particularly Kate Middleton or the, Taylor Swift as a skeptical of the government's purpose and design, and you have people who are very skeptical about the medical establishment, big pharma, little pharma. When we have those kind of names for things like big government or big pharma or big tech, we're already signaling that we think there's something nefarious going on here. There's something about it that seems off.

Mike Rugnetta:

I've read just a little bit of research and, scholarship about combating misinformation, conspiracy theories. And it seems like there's a thing that has come up a couple times in the things that I've read, which is like, what is a conspiracy theory? It's an idea that there is some group or groups that are colluding to make it so that something is the case. And they're doing so in secret. Mhmm.

Candice Lim:

And

Mike Rugnetta:

what you have to realize is that that's almost a defining feature of contemporary life in America. That there are all kinds of groups that are colluding in order to make something the case and they're doing so hoping that a lot of people don't figure it out.

Joan Donovan:

I mean, yeah. It's, you know, capitalism is a really small world.

Mike Rugnetta:

Yes. Yeah.

Rachelle Hampton:

That's a really good

Mike Rugnetta:

way to put it. Yeah.

Joan Donovan:

Once you start to realize, you know, certain people have made, you know, upwards of a $100,000,000 when you're in that category of people, you realize the world is very small. And that not always are the dealings on the up and up. There is something about the secrecy, but also there's something about the actual inequality that is created by this kind of secrecy or not knowing how the law works or ignoring the law and just paying the fines. And what's interesting about it, I think, is that the more these groups try to remain secret, the more journalists and others start to dig in and want to know more. That kind of journalism is becoming harder and harder to access and fund.

Joan Donovan:

And it's really the only thing that scares these folks that do have their meetings and are working in secret. Yeah. But it's an interesting thing to think about. I've been really toying with this idea that everybody needs journalism education these days and we should be teaching it in high school. I have this joke that everybody's a journal ish as a result of, you know, social media is participatory media.

Joan Donovan:

So you should teach people in high school that if they're gonna pop off on social media about something, they should at least know how to get a source. They should at least know how to do some fact checking. I often talk with my journalism students about how they're the 1st generation that have been asked to be both producers and consumers of media. And that's why I'm excited to be in a journalism department as I I do wanna make journalism become a general education credit. I think everybody in their freshman year should be learning about participatory media, and how to have the benefits and how to mitigate some of the costs.

Mike Rugnetta:

Joan, thank you so much. This has been fascinating and illuminating. Really appreciate you, coming on the show and talking to us.

Joan Donovan:

Anytime, Mike. Thanks.

Mike Rugnetta:

And let us know where can people find you and the work that you're currently doing online.

Joan Donovan:

They can go to public interest Internet, which is put the dot between inter and net. So public interest inter.net, and that's the website for the Critical Internet Studies Institute. And, you know, you might catch me at a college near you. I do a lot of talks.

Mike Rugnetta:

Nice. Okay. We'll put some links in the show notes. Thanks again to Joan. It feels like where this leaves us is with an understanding that while speculation and gossip, especially around public figures, is a very normal thing to do, There's a point at which we gotta walk away.

Mike Rugnetta:

We gotta accept that we know enough, that we know as much as we will ever know. We gotta accept what we see and what we're told. The danger is in this infinite and ever expanding dissatisfaction, continuing to go back to a story again and again and again, looking for more, and more that might not be there. It's then that someone becomes susceptible to the more unraveling kinds of discussion. In the next segment, we're gonna bring some of this to the ICYMI crew.

Mike Rugnetta:

We're gonna see what they have to say.

Bill McGowan C-Span Clip:

They will have grown up using it, having fun with it, learning from it, and living very comfortably with it. These are the people who will ultimately complete the process we are undergoing now. They are also the people who are in the process very soon of entering your schools. Their affinity for technology will have a substantial impact on the organizations they choose to work for. And those organizations in turn can take advantage of this predisposition to use technology and the widespread availability of it to improve their own operation in several ways.

Bill McGowan C-Span Clip:

Many corporate staff and corporate staff reporting functions, for instance, are really message switching or information cooling devices contained within a person. But by their very nature, the information technologies obsolete these very functions in a business. Because the information technologies deliver data where it is needed with a total disregard for the niceties of any organizational charge. The lines we used to be able to draw between the telephone industry, the post office, the overnight courier, the telex and personal pager, the data transmission business, the database information business, office automation business are all disappearing.

Mike Rugnetta:

Welcome back to the amazing folks from IcyMI, Candace and Rachel who are here with me again.

Candice Lim:

Hello. Hello.

Mike Rugnetta:

Hello. Hello. It is great to be back face to face with you.

Rachelle Hampton:

We're so excited to be here.

Mike Rugnetta:

Also joining us for this segment from the never post sign is our executive producer, mister Jason Oberholtzer.

Jasob Oberholtzer:

Hi, y'all. Great to be here.

Mike Rugnetta:

Okay. So we just heard from doctor Joan Donovan, who took us through sort of what speculation and conspiracy theory look like when they're done in the pursuit of more kind of like, heinous, villainous ends. And, you know, she also gave us a sense of our proximity, to that territory. And so in this segment, what I'd love to do is to just have a conversation between the 4 of us, a big debrief, and talk about how we feel about how we've behaved contributing to the discourse around these various monocultural events. You can get swept up in a lot of ways.

Mike Rugnetta:

And I think, you know, wake up the next day with a very different kind of social hangover. A social media hangover.

Rachelle Hampton:

Mhmm. Sounds great.

Mike Rugnetta:

I wanna just continue the conversation as it ended on IcyMI. And I wanna say, Rachel, I do not think you should feel guilty at all about speculating around Kate Middleton's whereabouts, the BBL, being skeptical of official statements by the royal family. I don't think anyone should really feel guilty in those scenarios for wondering what's going on and making jokes about wondering what's going on.

Rachelle Hampton:

Well, thank you so much for alleviating my psychic burden. This was cheaper than my therapist. But I agree. Candace and I have a colleague over at Slate, one of our legal writers, Marc Joseph Stern, who tweeted in the aftermath of the video that Kate Middleton put out announcing that she had cancer. And he basically tweeted, I will not be made to feel guilty about wondering about the whereabouts of a head of state when the apparatus around them that has been funded for centuries should have done a better job of managing the speculation around this figure.

Rachelle Hampton:

When you think about the history of the British crowd, and when you think about the history of colonialism, when you think about all the money they have amassed, at the bare minimum, you would think they would do better crisis management than

Jasob Oberholtzer:

they would have like

Mike Rugnetta:

yeah, like a pretty okay PR firm. Exactly.

Jasob Oberholtzer:

It's kind of one of their few jobs.

Rachelle Hampton:

Maybe their only job.

Mike Rugnetta:

They're also in charge of all of the swans. You're right. All of the swans in the UK belong to the royal family. So Apologies. Crisis management and swans management.

Rachelle Hampton:

The swans were clearly going through something at this point because they weren't focused on crisis management. I think,

Candice Lim:

Rachel, I also absolve you of how you feel because I'm very curious about the reaction that happened once Kate Middleton dropped that video, which to me, so much of what the this was such a moment of showing how antiquated that type of thinking is, especially when your PR strategy was created before the Internet. You don't know what you're doing when you are dealing with sources that honestly are allowed to care about you. And here's the thing about the Kate Middleton of it all is that there is one person queen Elizabeth could not fight and her name is Deuxmois. DeuxMoi, which is a Instagram account where people would send them blind items about, like, this celebrity was out with this celebrity at Carbone, and then they would just publish it without checking their sources. And I think that really changed the ecosystem of not only how we talk about celebrities, but how we talk to them.

Candice Lim:

Because when I think about Dumas, like, they are not even close to the first person to do this. Right? We have Lipstick Alley. We have Crazy Days and Nights, and there is no way the palace knows how to control something like that. All they know is how to deal with their royal rota.

Candice Lim:

So that's the Daily Mail, that's the independent UK, that's the guardian, all the people that they have in their pockets. And it is so clear to me how the royal family was never ever gonna be able to win this one. And the worst part is I sometimes wonder if they did because of the video that dropped that kind of turned everyone on their heads to be like, oh my god, I'm blaming me. Where it's like, there is blame to be put elsewhere.

Rachelle Hampton:

I think you're getting to a kind of interesting point, which is that we live in an era where access is democratized in a way. You don't have to go to the Palace Insiders in The Sun or in the daily mail to find out what's going on with Kate. You can log on to Twitter and some person will say a royal insider said this, and that feels just as true if you read it in the sun. There's a real kind of context collapse of the information I see on my feed from verified news sources is presented in almost exactly the same way as it is from unverified news sources. And so in a way, truth and the ability to wield truth has been democratized, but I don't necessarily know if that's a good thing.

Rachelle Hampton:

It just feels like a true thing.

Jasob Oberholtzer:

Yeah. Yeah. Is it is it the ability to wield truth or the ability to present like you are wielding truth?

Rachelle Hampton:

I think the latter. Yeah.

Mike Rugnetta:

Gather a bunch of shiny things together and say, look at all of this truth that I found.

Jasob Oberholtzer:

Yeah. It makes me wonder if that's all we were ever after. It seems very noble to be in the search for truth, but how much of that is really just a search for some place with some imprimatur of veracity to say, you're right.

Rachelle Hampton:

Mhmm.

Jasob Oberholtzer:

And the best version of that is the long shot, is the thing you were worried about that they were covering up. And if you're right about that, that's the best feeling ever.

Rachelle Hampton:

Mhmm. Oh, if Kate got a BBL, I would have been levitating. I mean, the course of human history doesn't really suggest that humans are on a noble pursuit of truth. They're in a noble pursuit of being right. The Internet has just given us more and more and more access and more and more ability to prove that we're right and to not just say, I feel it deeply in my chest that Kate is getting a BBL.

Rachelle Hampton:

You can now have thousands of people saying, I think she's getting a BBL, and here's a little nugget of a fact that might be proof.

Candice Lim:

I honestly sometimes think that all of us online might have a betting addiction. Right? Like, what is the currency online? That idea of like, if I'm going to bet on being right, if I'm going to bet on having the best opinion, the right opinion, and I get to be famous for 15 seconds, I want it. I want it now.

Mike Rugnetta:

Yeah. I think the royal family exists in this really interesting place between politics and celebrity. Like celebrity is, is infecting politics, obviously all over the world in, in a lot of places, you know, the United States not accepted, but it feels like they occupy a really particular area that makes gossip, speculation, all the things that sort of exist around celebrity culture, make a lot of sense. And This is something that Joan mentioned in the last segment that I that I think is is really true. It's like it's really, really natural for an audience.

Mike Rugnetta:

In this case, the citizenry of an entire country to gossip and speculate about famous people when there are mysteries surrounding them. And the lingua franca of social media, really, in a lot of ways, is Dunks. So, of course, that's where it all goes.

Jasob Oberholtzer:

Mhmm.

Mike Rugnetta:

I also think it's natural to think, especially in 2024, that large organizations, especially states and corporations are hiding things from you. And what is the way that, we as just tiny individuals have to fight back against that, if not equip here and there on social media?

Jasob Oberholtzer:

Yeah. This is where I always run into sort of my own tangled knot of thinking my way through this. Because on the one hand, gossip is the tool of the disempowered to exchange information and kind of level the playing field, at least in societies where one's reputation matters.

Joan Donovan:

And I

Jasob Oberholtzer:

think part of the challenges we're having in America right now is that the reputations of the powerful don't really matter anymore and shame stopped being a lever. But historically, when shame was a lever, gossip was one of the tools that the disempowered would have. And so, gossip is important and good and speculation is a natural part of gossip. Where I went into my own knot here is that there are things that are very healthy to be skeptical about. And yet we are left to our own devices to weigh the extent to which ours is the good skepticism.

Jasob Oberholtzer:

Because it is good to be skeptical of government, but I believe that the last election happened the way it happened. But the people who don't agree are being skeptical of government, a thing that I also think is good. I believe we should be skeptical of big pharma for a variety of reasons which are well documented, and yet I believe that the vaccines are effective. Mhmm. And so if my only real barometer is myself and the extent of my research, is really what I'm doing saying that my research is better because I am using better sources that actually show their work and prove a point to me and that I have enough facility to decide if they have expressed their point in such a way that is believable?

Jasob Oberholtzer:

Possibly. But doesn't everyone think that about themselves and their sources?

Rachelle Hampton:

Yeah. I think what you're kind of pointing at is how both polluted and wide our information ecosystem is right now. There's this real feeling now that we are so familiar with the Internet and with all that we have access to that if there's an answer to a question, I can find the answer to that question. And that if the answer to that question isn't satisfying, then I can find the answer that is satisfying to me. There's kind of an endless amount of answers to every single question you have, and you can always find the one that feels good to you.

Rachelle Hampton:

But that doesn't really work when we're talking about the science of vaccines or election results. So there's this real kind of question of what is the dividing line of an event where maybe we leave it to the experts to kind of parse through the large amount of information and distill it down, and where do we as citizens need to look for further information?

Mike Rugnetta:

So we started this conversation thinking about how many of our jokes we should retract because we felt bad once the news broke of, you know, Kate's cancer diagnosis and what had actually happened. And I wonder like, why? Why did that happen? And, like, in what situations do you think it's more likely to happen? Because I think we've confronted it a lot in the last couple years.

Mike Rugnetta:

Like, we confronted it with Kate. We confronted it with with Ocean Gate where there was a lot of discussion about, like, you know, should you really be laughing at the death of these people, which a lot of people were. We confronted it. This is not really the same kind of event, but we confronted it with Henry Kissinger when he died. And a lot of people were like, LOL, you know, rest in piss, Bozo.

Mike Rugnetta:

And then, you know. Yeah. I think everybody on this call maybe. When and how and where and why do you think people get a pass on empathy or feel like they should have a pass on empathy? And what are the situations in which they're like, never mind.

Rachelle Hampton:

Yeah. That's a complicated question. I feel like it really depends on who is kind of wielding the call for empathy. So I think in the case of Henry Kissinger, the people who were kind of wagging their fingers at the people saying rest in Kissinger were people who would have benefited or who in some way were aligned with Henny Kissinger's vision of the world. But those people weren't asking for empathy for the people in Cambodia or the people in Southeast Asia who his policies directly impacted.

Rachelle Hampton:

And so I think there's this real way that civility gets wielded as a cudgel against people

Mike Rugnetta:

who Yeah.

Rachelle Hampton:

Are asking actually for empathy on the behalf of other people rather than the people that we normally empathize with. So in the case of Kate Middleton, a lot of the people who are making fun of Kate Middleton's disappearance or suggesting that she got a BBL or who were speculating about her marriage with William were people who were in some way directly

Candice Lim:

I have

Rachelle Hampton:

to ask the question of, does Kate extend that empathy to me? Does Kate care if I have cancer? Does Kate care that the UK is going through a living crisis right now? Does Kate care about the fact that her country is currently one of the biggest, exporters of transphobia to the entire western, society. And so there's this idea that we are all supposed to be treating each other as, human beings and that there there's a baseline level of respect.

Rachelle Hampton:

But I think a lot of that is using politeness in the place of actual kindness and empathy.

Mike Rugnetta:

Yeah. It's it's always, from the lower classes up and never from the ruling classes down. And no one ever looks at laws or regulations through the lens of, is this nice to people? Mhmm. Which, like, you know, is not, I don't think, a ridiculous thing to ask.

Rachelle Hampton:

Not at all. I would say not at all that most laws and legal institutions should be operating from a place of, is this kind?

Mike Rugnetta:

I think the other thing is that, like, a lot of the conversation I saw when Kate Middleton announced her diagnosis, and then you had some finger wagging for people being like, you know, you all should feel terrible about yourselves. Is that, is an inability to separate kind of what you just said, Rachel, like, I can feel bad for Kate Middleton and have empathy for what she's going through. Still recognize both the position of power that she occupies and that she is a symbol of something that is kind of fundamentally oppressive or speaks to, like, a widespread power imbalance in the world. And it's like holding those ideas simultaneously is really difficult to get people to recognize online that it's the, I love waffles. Oh, so you're saying you hate pancakes sort of problem by saying like, you know, like, well, I I'm not gonna feel bad about this.

Mike Rugnetta:

They mishandled this. So, like, why do you hate people who have cancer? Exactly.

Candice Lim:

I mean, do you guys remember people bringing up, like, Chadwick Boseman when this happened and being like, you never know what people are going through. You never know what people are hiding. The Internet is so quick to be like, you don't know what some people are going through. Be kind, peace, love, Ellen DeGeneres. And then the other half of the Internet is just kind of like, are you an Ozempic?

Candice Lim:

I deserve the truth. I'm not even your friend, but I just wanna know. And that is that curiosity? Is that malicious? I don't know.

Candice Lim:

Depends on your situation.

Mike Rugnetta:

But isn't it there's an interesting thing happening here, which is the be kind you don't know what someone's going through. They could be going through something really hard, you know, give them space, etcetera, etcetera. And then also just complete information mismanagement around a massively influential public figure. And so I wonder, like, it raises this question of like, when, at what point is it okay to just be like, okay. I'm entitled to information now.

Mike Rugnetta:

I'm done holding space quietly for whatever it is that you are going through. You have to tell me something. Like, when when does that switch flip?

Rachelle Hampton:

I would say when it's, like, a matter of international importance such as

C-Span Clip:

The bar

Mike Rugnetta:

is pretty low.

Rachelle Hampton:

Yeah. Yeah. You know, just if you're a member of a royal family, I think you give up your right to privacy a bit. That's kind of the benefit of having access to crown jewels, I would say. Yeah.

Rachelle Hampton:

That's true. Or you have in some way given up privacy in exchange for privilege, then I think you have to really hold up to that end of the bargain. If you're the Kardashians and you've spent your entire life putting your life out on front street, you can't get mad when people inquire and speculate about your life. But if you are a cooking influencer or a random Twitter famous person who just tweets out jokes, I don't think people who follow you are entitled to know information about your life. And so I think it it really is kind of a use that big beautiful brain that all of us have access to question.

Candice Lim:

Yeah. I was actually thinking about how a few months ago, there was a, like, pretty high up official in the US government who was going through treatment and didn't tell president Joe Biden for, like, a few days. Mhmm. And his first statement was that he apologized. He apologized for not being forthcoming with the president.

Candice Lim:

He was like, I should have told him. I should have been honest. And I it made me think about how Kate didn't apologize. Not that she should have, but I just thought that was interesting. This idea of, like, when it's your job on the line, when it affects your job, maybe that's when the transparency comes in of, like, there is something happening that is preventing me from doing the work I was paid to do.

Candice Lim:

You could make the argument, it's Kate's job not to be out here to attend ribbon cutting ceremonies and to pop up on social media shaking hands with children and visiting cancer wards and all this stuff. And if this cancer treatment, which did in fact, like, preclude her from doing those things and she was open about not being able to be there, but she wasn't open about why, that's where it kind of gets to this place of, like, maybe she did owe us. Maybe she did owe us some truth.

Mike Rugnetta:

So, I mean, I'm curious then what are like, how do we conduct ourselves in situations where, you know, like, I feel like with Kate and with certain other things, it feels like there's someone who's keeping something from us. And that then there's this idea that public pressure could maybe convince them to actually tell the truth. To actually publish some statement that explains what's actually going on. But when you have situations like the key bridge or like ocean gate, there are these moments and sometimes days where you just do not know what is going on. Like the information doesn't exist.

Mike Rugnetta:

People are out there getting it. So it's like, how do we conduct ourselves in those moments? Like, what what sort of brain space do we enter?

Rachelle Hampton:

I mean, honestly, I think that's a moment where all of us need to step back and realize that only in the last 20 years have we had a 20 fourseven news cycle, and that before that it was actually quite common to not know what was going on.

Jasob Oberholtzer:

Not just, like, in the moment, but forever.

Rachelle Hampton:

Forever. Forever. I mean, I really think that is a moment for most people to step back and ask themselves if does it actually affect your life that you don't know the answer to this question right now and you have to wait 3 days? Probably not. Probably not.

Jasob Oberholtzer:

Is part of this a sincere desire for fun mystery in a world where all facts are presumably available, and the larger mysterious forces in our life are unchallengeable and actually harmful, and that for a moment there's something we can't find the answer to in a search bar, and is fun to speculate on and the stakes are not ours, they are the stakes of a powerful select person or few?

Rachelle Hampton:

I would definitely say yes. I would say that's why one of the kind of key components of our taxonomy is that there are rich people and perpetrators. Because if you're going to speculate about something, I think there's a real desire for it to be low stakes, especially when quite frankly, a lot of the debates of our current era aren't really debates. It's just facts and then people denying them, like climate change is happening and we are rapidly hurtling towards climate death. Democracy is at an all time low in the United States and white nationalists have become more empowered than ever.

Rachelle Hampton:

And so when there is a moment that we can all speculate and not be confronted with an answer that immediately makes us wanna curl into a ball and die a little bit, then we all just really jump on that train of, yeah, this is fun. This feels those steaks. It's like asking is a hot dog a sandwich. Yeah.

Jasob Oberholtzer:

So, I mean, if part of Mike's question is what could we or what should we do in these moments, maybe this is fine. Maybe this is fun. Maybe we're allowed to have fun and this is what we should do.

Mike Rugnetta:

But doesn't it I the feeling that I have in a lot of situations is, like, You know, you'll be speculating with your pals in a fun way online about like what happened to the key bridge. And then you'll realize that you are like either literally in proximity just by like number of posts or like rhetorically in proximity to people who are like, well, you know, they wanted key bridge to go down to wreck the infrastructure of the United States ahead of world war 3, or like, you know, they were aiming to get the ocean gate submersible destroyed because they're going to learn something about the Titanic that they don't want you to know. That I think is the moment. Like I often feel more guilty engaging in this kind of thing because of its proximity to that sort of thinking or that sort of conversation than I do about like not being empathetic enough for the powerful people who are maybe involved. But I don't know if that's a reasonable way to feel.

Candice Lim:

No. I'll say this. To me, I think the divide is very, like, online, off line. Meaning, the reason I did not personally tweet or put my own, like, thoughts and conspiracy theories into the Twitterverse about Kate Middleton is not that I had no empathy. It's that I didn't wanna be wrong.

Candice Lim:

That's what it was. And on top of that, if the they exist, if there is a they, so the royal family, the x y z government, blah blah blah blah, I just didn't want them to come after me if I said something, and they were like, oh, beep a boo. But the thing is, I'm not completely innocent either though, because, yes, I was kind of precluding that from my online history and, like, downloads, whatever. But offline, I was absolutely going up to strangers in the supermarket and just being like, oh, this Kate Middleton. Right?

Candice Lim:

What do you think? And I was just I was serving the town. I was serving the town square for any theory as possible. And so I don't think that makes me less of a malicious person nor does it make people who posted their actual theories online more malicious, but, unfortunately, I have to admit, a part of it was fun, and that's kind of something I will remember.

Jasob Oberholtzer:

So maybe the only true noble action in this is have fun, think about your theories, but never post them.

Candice Lim:

There you go.

Rachelle Hampton:

So I think

Mike Rugnetta:

that actually gets us to maybe our our concluding question, which is we've had a long journey since we started building our taxonomy, looking at ourselves in a lot of ways, looking at things online and thinking about how we react to them. And I wonder, like, you know, coming out of this on the other side, like, does everybody now have a new approach? Like, how are you going to think about monocultural moments when you encounter them? Is there a golden rule that you've developed now that we've completed this journey? Jason, you are just not gonna post.

Mike Rugnetta:

I think is maybe.

Jasob Oberholtzer:

Yeah. I mean, it's gonna be very hard for me to shift my current behavior of never posting to continue to never post, but I will endeavor to do so.

Rachelle Hampton:

I mean, quite honestly, I feel like I behaved perfectly throughout all

Candice Lim:

of this.

Mike Rugnetta:

I agree. I agree. Gold star. Gold star.

Rachelle Hampton:

Thank you.

Candice Lim:

I feel like You're

Jasob Oberholtzer:

not in this approval.

Rachelle Hampton:

I had a great conspiracy theory that I loved and had a lot of fun with that ultimately kinda felt harmless. Like, who cares if cake gets a BBL? I mean, obviously, I do, but who actually cares? And I didn't engage in any of the this is actually a psyop for I don't even know what else the royal family could do that would be necessary for a psyop. They're just

Mike Rugnetta:

kinda probably doing psyops, like, every day anyway.

Rachelle Hampton:

Exactly. They're doing psyops every single day in Buckingham Palace. So I guess my one takeaway is I will continue to be the way that I am. Beautiful. Perfect.

Rachelle Hampton:

Beautiful.

Candice Lim:

And then I'm just gonna ask Rachel what to do.

Mike Rugnetta:

Well, that's good. That's good. Mike? My rule, which is probably gonna get me in trouble, is a version of one that I already follow, which is to really lean into how absurd this all is. Because I think it really is fundamentally very absurd.

Mike Rugnetta:

We are dealing with a lot of times entities that are just completely unknowable. I think that we often think that we're gaining information, but I think it's important to recognize that we are fundamentally very much in the dark and every piece of information that we have is kind of like a weird inscrutable gift. And that like all of the posting that I will do, because I'm I, you know, I will post, unfortunately. Make sure that I recognize that.

Rachelle Hampton:

Beautiful. Wow. Just have fun out there, kids. Yeah.

Mike Rugnetta:

Rachel, Candice, thank you so much for joining us, not just in this segment, but across this whole process of these two episodes. This has been a real pleasure, a real delight.

Candice Lim:

Aw, thank you.

Rachelle Hampton:

Thank you. This has been so much fun.

Mike Rugnetta:

And I think at this point, it's probably not a mystery, but just in case someone is listening to just this segment, where can folks find you both online?

Rachelle Hampton:

You can find us on Wednesdays Saturdays hosting Slates Internet Culture Podcast, Icy Mi, and you can find me on Twitter at heyydanae, h e y y d n a e. I don't post a lot. I retweet a lot.

Candice Lim:

Yeah. I don't wanna be found, so you can just tweet at Rachel on my behalf. Great.

Bill McGowan C-Span Clip:

We We introduced 2 weeks ago, a, a electronic replica of the postal system. It allows anyone in the United States that has any electronic means whether it's a electric typewriter, a word processor, a personal computer, a workstation, anything that can communicate to come into our system and send the message in 4 different ways. 1 is if the other person has also subscribed to the service you can send it to him instantly. Secondly, if a person is not on our system, has not yet subscribed, you can transmit to him within 4 hours. The third class of service is that you can send it to 90% of the people in United States guaranteed overnight.

Bill McGowan C-Span Clip:

And the 4th class of service is that you can send it to them probably overnight and that we take it to that city instead of using a courier, we drop it in that mail slot at the central post office where they say they can deliver it overnight. 2 weeks ago, Tuesday, we introduced it. We have now 70,000 subscribers to that service in 2 weeks. We will be in 3 or 4 weeks, we will be the largest non postal network in the world.

Mike Rugnetta:

And that is the show we have for you this week. If you have any thoughts you wanna share with us about what it feels like participating in these all consuming bits of online discourse, drop us a line. You can call us at 651-615 5,007. Email us at the never post atgmail.com, or drop us a voice memo through Airtable. You can find a link in the show notes.

Mike Rugnetta:

Thanks again to Rachel, Candice, and the whole ICYMI team. You can find them at slate.comforward/podcastforward/icymi and also wherever you get your podcasts. We will be back in the main feed on Wednesday, May 22nd. Another mailbag will follow shortly after, and of course, there is more members only programming on the way. Never Post's producers are Audrey Evans, Georgia Hampton, and the mysterious doctor first name last name.

Mike Rugnetta:

Our senior producer is Hans Buto. Our executive producer is Jason Oberholtzer. And I'm your host, Mike Rugnetta. Vertigo of too many nuances. Don't drown in their rapidity.

Mike Rugnetta:

Choose the nuances you love and settle down with them. Excerpt of number 45, butter colored slacks and rubber rum balls, by Wayne Kestenbaum. Never Post is a production of Charts and Leisure.

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