Very Fine Day #12: Ryan Broderick
"Twitter went from a place where you could post photos of your sandwich to a place that could destroy your life in a matter of hours."
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Very Fine Day • Season 1 • Edition 12
Ryan Broderick is a writer and reporter who has spent over a decade living in (and writing about) the internet. His reporting on the social web and the real-world impact this technological revolution has had on politics, relationships, and.. well, people, consistently brings me a combination of immense joy and absolute horror. His newsletter, Garbage Day, is a must-read. There are few people with Ryan’s combination of writing ability and internet experience, and we are all better for it. He has seen a lot, man.
This interview is just shy of 9,000 words long. Due to Substack’s email limit, a 2,000 word portion of Ryan discussing the future of the internet, dark social, community moderation, and why we need more private spaces online is available for paid supporters only.
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Note: A portion of this interview was altered for possible legal reasons.
VFD: OK, cool. We're recording now. Are you in New York?
Ryan Broderick: No, I'm in Massachusetts. I left New York in August because I was living in a one bedroom apartment next to a hospital, and I can't do that anymore. I'm back up near where I have friends and family in North Boston.
VFD: Yeah. What's that like?
Ryan Broderick: It's been good. Although it's funny, I spent three months of last year in Brazil with my girlfriend.
VFD: Yeah I saw that.
Ryan Broderick: And then I came back here to do taxes and get the vaccine… I get the second dose in my veins next week and then I don't know where I'm going because I don't have an office, or a boss, and I have a girlfriend in Brazil. So we're gonna find out I guess.
VFD: Man, I'm jealous about that. I don't know if you follow Australia's vaccine rollout. I don't know why you would. But we’re just, like, constantly fucking it up.
Ryan Broderick: Weirdly, I have been following it cause I talk to Cam Wilson a lot.
VFD: Oh, yeah. Yeah, right.
Ryan Broderick: I mean, his Discord… It's fantastic.
VFD: It's chaotic. It’s end of the world stuff. OK, cool… You said you've had a hectic week?
Ryan Broderick: Yeah, I mean, just beside Sidechannel launching next week there's just a lot to do on the technical side. So I'm the Discord lord. I’m the one setting up the bots and all the rest.
VFD: How did that come together?
Ryan Broderick: It was funny. I launched my Discord in January and Casey joined it. And then Casey was like: can we talk? I was like: yeah, sure. And I think this was probably a month ago.
He was just like: your Discord is insane. And he's like: what if we did a group Discord for newsletter writers, what do you think about that? I was like: feasibly that sounds crazy. But I'm definitely interested in trying that. I love that kind of feeling, and that kind of spirit. And so it went from a fun idea to a formal group of people extremely quickly, because I think everyone had the same idea, which is like: that sounds wild, let's try it.
We launch next Monday. So this week was a lot of running around and trying to troll my own setup, like trying to get into the headspace of someone who wants to make my life miserable, and like, proof that, y’know?
VFD: Can you talk about what that involves? Or is that,
Ryan Broderick: Yeah it's pretty basic stuff.
Discord has a tonne of different permissions and a tonne of different user roles. We want to do live audio interviews on it, or live video, because Discord can support all kinds of stuff that Clubhouse hasn't even dreamed of yet. And so yesterday I was trying to set up a voice room and make sure that not all of the other users could just turn on their microphones and start screaming at whoever we’re interviewing. Stuff like that.
VFD: It reminds me of that clip that went viral a little while ago that had the Discord channel with 10,000 people in it. And they were all just,
Ryan Broderick: Oh the GameStop hump one?
VFD: Yeah, yeah.
Ryan Broderick: Yeah, that’s exactly what I don't want... unless we want that on purpose! Because part of me – the anarchic part of me – wants to just open up the audio room for 12 hours and then just record everything that happens and just see what happens. But yeah, that's down the line I think.
VFD: How long have you been doing your newsletter, Garbage Day?
Ryan Broderick: I started Garbage Day right after the layoffs at BuzzFeed in 2019, because I was like: oh, wow, if I don't have a backup plan for myself I’ll just be ethered like “Avengers: End Game” one day. And so I spent a while pretending like it was just for fun – just for goofs – just for Fridays. Like: not serious. And then when they fired me last summer, I had a couple options in my life. And the one that seemed like the easiest and the most fun and the thing that I always wanted to do anyways was just go for it. And so I launched it full time in July, and so far so good. The panic attacks are definitely lessening.
VFD: When you say panic attacks, how long did that take to go away before you were like: I’m good, I’ve got it.
Ryan Broderick: I mean they still happen because I spent a decade working at places like Vice and Gawker and BuzzFeed, and all the other little Internet shops, and they really really, really, really want you to think that you need them and feel comfortable overextending yourself all the time for their benefit. And so my first thought was: do people, like, pay other people to do stuff on the internet? How does that work? Especially because I haven’t purchased digital media legally in like two decades. So the idea of paying creators is kind of mind blowing.
But it was good, people were really receptive to it, and people were really nice. And then I discovered something that the Facebook age had made me forget about, which is that readers are people and will email you and you can talk to them and then you can make relationships with them. And that's the best. That's something I wouldn't trade for anything.
VFD: Has it changed at all from when you launched it?
Ryan Broderick: Yeah, I mean, in terms of how I do it, or how it's received or…?
VFD: Like, the topics and how you think about putting it together, I guess. Because I remember when you launched it as a fun thing on the side. And it did kind of have a little bit of that vibe to it, it was like: here's some stuff that's happening on the internet, and here's what I think about it.
I get it every time, and it definitely has structure to it. And you're like: OK, I know what I'm getting now.
Ryan Broderick: Yeah, so when I launched in July I basically told myself that I wasn't gonna do anything to it really drastically until January. I'm gonna give myself six months, because I know me, and if I start tweaking things it's just gonna be this never ending Ship of Theseus and it's gonna be a disaster. So I said: I won't do anything for six months.
So I was thinking like: Year one – what do I do? So the next six months is all about experimenting. That's when I launched the Discord, when I made a T-shirt, it’s when I started to formalise the layout and the structure of it. And then also what happened at the same time was the coup attempt in the Capitol. And that was a moment where I was like: OK, I have spent half a decade covering exactly how this happened and I can't just be a goofy meme newsletter this week, or next week. And I basically kept going pretty seriously until a reader sent me an email being like: bro, come on…
And I was like: yeah, that's fair.
So now I try to do a balance where it's something big and thought out at the top and then it gets increasingly silly and strange to the bottom. The bottom half is where I put all the furry stuff. Because now my mom reads it, so she has questions and I don't want to have to answer those questions. So I try to put the weirdest stuff towards the bottom.
VFD: Yeah. And you want the furry updates. So you can't get rid of those.
Ryan Broderick: I mean, there's an entire group of people who I think read me just because I'm the only person writing anything remotely serious about that community. So you know, you got to go where people want you.
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VFD: How immediate was the feedback loop from your audience and that realisation that they’re like... human beings, I guess? It sounds like we're talking about zoo animals. But,
Ryan Broderick: No, I know. It's like: “The reader, who consumes content.”
It was slow at first, because I feel like one thing that Substack doesn't do very well –and I'm not even sure if I want them to do this well – is they don't totally advertise that you can reply to a Substack. And I'm sorry that I just told everybody that. I'm sorry to all the Substack writers who are about to get people replying. But you can reply to it, and it turns into a reply thread. And so last year, between July and January, people started replying more and more and it got to a point where that's what actually led me to start the Discord because I was like: I can't use my inbox anymore. Because it's like loading and then underneath it are all of these threads that I'm talking to people in, and I had wanted to try to spend at least a day a week answering people because my thought is: even if it's just ‘thanks for reading’, ‘thanks for sending me that, it’s great’, they deserve that at the very least, right? Because they’re people and they're reaching out across the internet, and that's a scary, weird, special thing.
And then the other thing that has become really cool from that process is that people send me stuff. And so a lot of my readers, they'll be like: you gotta check this out, or: can you tell me what this is? And they'll send me off on little missions. So I try to honour that, I try to credit everybody that sends me something with their first name, that way if they're a serious person they don't have to explain to their boss why they're sending weird memes to some stranger on the internet to write about.
But I've had a reader print out Garbage Day and cut out their mention and put it on their fridge. There’s a really special cool relationship.
Garbage Day, ideologically, I call it “farm to table internet”. It's about the idea that the internet is what we make it and we can make it better if we want it to not be awful, right? And so once I started becoming really open about that, and being like: that's what I stand for… That’s something I could never really do at a traditional publication because you can't really be like: this is what I stand for, take it or leave it. Editors, they don't like that. But I can do that now.
So once I started doing that I started attracting other people who felt the same way. And it turns out there are a lot of people who think the internet sucks total ass right now and also want to help change it. And so that's a very empowering cool thing. I've very quickly become Logan Paul levels of sociopathic because I have an audience now, you know.
VFD: “Like and subscribe”.
Ryan Broderick: Yeah, please like and subscribe.
VFD: How do you think of stuff to write about every day? Because I think that's something that most people, or most writers and journalists who are like: I'm gonna have a newsletter, the immediate and easy thing to do is say: I'll write one every day. And then they try to do it.
Seven or eight days go by and you never see their newsletter again, because… they can't do it.
Ryan Broderick: Yeah, so it's a very terrifying idea. Garbage Day publishes Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and then I do two additional paid ones for readers on every other Thursday. The main workflow I have for it is not very well organised, but it works for me, which is that I have a Google Doc that is open on my phone on my computer and I just use the internet, like I would any other day, and if I see something that's like: Ooh, that feels good I put it in the Google Doc and I don't think about it again.
And then on the mornings that I have to write Garbage Day I empty the Google Doc out into a big browser and I go through it and I see, like: OK have these been deleted? Have there been updates? What is this? And I start to put it together.
On a good day, I can figure out what I'm going to do in like an hour or two, and on a bad day...I mean, it's awful, because there's no backup, it’s just me. So writer's block has definitely become a bigger concern than it used to be. But luckily as the scale has gotten bigger I also have reader submissions and I have stuff people are talking about on Discord.
It helps, but I also don't like to rely on that too much. I want to make sure that, y’know, if people are paying me and they’re reading me, they're getting good stuff. So it's hard, but I try to make it easier for myself. Oh, and then Tumblr also helps. Tumblr’s the secret sauce.
VFD: I don’t know if you’ve realised it but because of the time zones and everything else, you put it out on Friday, and what I like is when I open my inbox I have like two or three editions that I can chew through. That's my favourite thing about it. So I don't know if that's deliberate, but yeah, keep it up.
Ryan Broderick: You're not the only one. I know a couple writers who save all of them for a Saturday and then they read the whole week. Which is kinda cool, cause I don't have to do that weird chunky writing that a lot of digital media outlets do where they try to get inside the Twitter news cycle and it's like: why? What are we doing here? Who's reading this? Like: “we will let you know if Twitter reaches out” or ‘if Twitter gets back to us with an update we will let you know’.
And it's like, OK… by the time they do, no one's gonna remember this, man.
VFD: No one's coming back.
Ryan Broderick: Yeah, exactly.
VFD: Did you go to journalism school? Did you do media in college or anything?
Ryan Broderick: I did. It should not be a surprise that I got in a lot of fights with my professors about the nature of the internet. I beefed with them pretty much nonstop. Through a weird fluke I accidentally became the Editor-in-Chief of my school paper. Up until that point, I was a music critic for the paper and a cartoonist. And through a couple of like, weird resignations based on some personal issues of the upper editor suite, it came down to just me as the only guy who knew how to use InDesign and Photoshop. So I became the Editor-in-Chief for a year and a half.
VFD: Where was this?
Ryan Broderick: This was Hofstra University on Long Island. So I was part of the Humour magazine, where I wrote very awful stuff that I'm very glad has not survived the internet age, and I was in a comedy troupe and I was doing creative stuff, and I liked journalism because I wanted to write and all the people in my creative writing classes didn't seem to want to be read. They wanted to write, but didn’t want to be read. And I was like: no, but I desperately crave attention. So I need to be read. Where can I do that? The paper seemed like the best place. Plus, I could get free albums back when it was sort of hard to get albums, so that was a good deal. And my big push for the paper was trying to get it online but back in those days it was really hard to explain why local journalism would make sense on the internet, even though now we know it worked really well. So yeah. While I was there, I did like 9 or 10 internships for just small websites. But the big break was working for Choire at The Awl. I was the first intern there for a summer. I wrote about 4chan.
VFD: What was that like?
Ryan Broderick: I emailed him and I said: how do I get your job? How can I run a website, and have that be my job? I didn't know him from the Gawker days, I only knew him from the Awl because I was, like, 17 years old. And he emailed me back and he was like: do you want to be our intern this summer? We can't pay you. And I was like: that sounds great! So yeah that sort of kicked it all off. And then from there, it was Gawker for a little bit, and Vice and BuzzFeed.
VFD: So you're in the whole Brooklyn, New York media thing. You did the whole round.
Ryan Broderick: I did a whole tour of the Lower East Side and Williamsburg for about five years.
VFD: Through the peak of it as well, right?
Ryan Broderick: Yeah, that was the thing they'll eventually make “Wolf of Wall Street” style movies about, y’know. Like the horrible AOL-sponsored open bars where people are doing cocaine in the GIF booth. That's the crazy time, y’know, like: kids, let me tell you about 2012 venture capital in New York media, my friends. It was crazy.
VFD: Why was that? Was it just the combination of the internet and people on social media being relatively mainstream?
Ryan Broderick: Yeah, sort of. It was this really weird moment between 2010 and let's say… The Dress.
It was basically the birth of Gawker and The Dress, right? There was this very small section in New York City where almost every website was based. They briefly tried to call themselves Silicon Alley, but like, no one was gonna do that. And they were getting way too much money.
There's not enough people on the internet to consume the amount of content to reach the kind of scale you need to justify the amount of valuation you have. But every website was like that, every website thought that they were going to be the next CNN. Turns out, none of them were. Turns out CNN was the next CNN. But in the meantime it meant that a lot of people wrote a lot of really, really, dumb stuff, and went to a lot of insane parties and had a lot of really petty beefs, and went to a lot of readings at this one bookstore called Housing Works. That was kind of the centre of the entire thing.
It was like this block of New York City from this bookstore called Housing Works to this really bad bar called Botanica. And basically every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday night, all of New York media was either going one way or the other way. It was very strange.
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VFD: It does sound like a movie, just you saying that out loud, I can picture it. Were you always reporting on the internet? And music I guess you said beforehand.
I dunno why but I just assumed you would have had some kind of journey where you were like, doing beat reporting on the corner and you're like: fuck this, I like the internet, I should write about the internet. Or did you just happen to fly into that stream and keep going?
Ryan Broderick: It was actually the other way around. My first actual published stuff on professional websites was about 4chan trying to hack Gawker after Adrian Chen wrote about 4chan. So that was I think the first story I ever wrote for The Awl and people read it, and they liked it, and they had thoughts about it. And I was like: oh, interesting.
And when I looked around the internet, which was a very small place at the time, it didn't seem like anybody...like there are lots of places like Cracked or Something Awful, where they had people writing about the internet, but didn't have people just treating it like it was normal. And I thought that was weird, because it is normal. So I just started writing about it and I kept writing about it. And through that it took me off screens and into the real world, travelling the world and covering elections and politics and terrorist attacks and refugee camps and all the other crazy places I've ended up.
But it always starts with the same idea, which is like: this thing I saw online. Which I suspect is true for almost everybody, but they just hide that part which I think is silly.
I'm pretty sure, in 2021, most reporters start with: I just saw this thing on Twitter and then they spend a lot of time hiding the fact that they just saw that thing on Twitter. And I'm like, well why would you? That's kind of the fun part, that's sort of the hook, right?
So now, with Garbage Day, because of COVID it's been super online, but the plan, the hope, is to take it offline and take it out into the real world. I have to figure out how but that's sort of the end goal for me: to figure out how to make Garbage Day feel more tangible. Because I felt like towards the end of my around-the-world tour between 2015 and 2019, I was getting really close to figuring out how to create this thing that I'd always wanted to see. Which was: what if internet stories were told IRL first?
Ryan Broderick: And I still think no one's really done it the way I wanted to do it. So the hope is that I can get Garbage Day to a place where I can take it out and be like: OK, let's do this.
And the only person I've seen who's even close to this is Andrew Callaghan who used to do All Gas No Brakes, and now does Channel Five. And that kind of thing feels like that, where it feels distinctly internet but it's in a physical space.
But even that is not quite what I've been trying to do for a long time. So I'm hoping I can get Garbage Day to be that thing. But if I don't, the only person I can blame is me now, which is kind of a terrifying idea.
VFD: How do you find that, are you enjoying being your own boss?
Ryan Broderick: Yeah I mean… I have heard talk that Ryan is considering unionising, but I did explain to him that we're a family, you get free coffee, you get free granola bars, and that I don’t think there’s any need. But we'll see if there's walkouts after lockdown lifts. Who knows?
Ha, No, it's good. It's actually really good. I have learned a lot over the last couple of years about boundaries, and I was really burnt out trying to explain to editors what I wanted to do, or explain to them why I shouldn't do this or that, which was another problem that was coming up more and more. And so now, I can just do it. I can just say: let’s do it and let's see what happens. And when it goes wrong the only person that I can blame is me now, which is probably healthier. It’s probably a good thing, I think.
VFD: What were the things that you were like, not keen on?
Ryan Broderick: I mean...you probably know this too. But when you're young, you want to work really hard, and you don't really know how to show that you want to work really hard other than just obliterating your boundaries and what you feel comfortable with. And that slowly starts to catch up with you. If you burn out you can't do it, y’know? No one can come in to pick up the slack. So if I push myself too hard, Garbage Day just doesn't happen.
I try to do a no screen day once a weekend, or if I do screens they’re read-only, no posting. The other day I sat down and I read a comic book for an entire Saturday and I didn't post anything. And I had lots of thoughts about the comic I wanted to post and I was like: I'm not gonna post.
VFD: And then the next day…
Ryan Broderick: But that's the funny thing, the next day I didn't have any thoughts to post. And that's the thing that I think is really weird: when you're trapped in it, and especially when you're working for people who are also trapped in it, the vortex of Twitter just makes you do things that you think are totally normal. And then the next day, you're like: that was insane. It’s weird to think that the majority of the world's media are just drunk on clout all the time, making crazy decisions, and we're all treating it like it's very normal.
VFD: Yeah. Why do you think that is? I've been thinking about that a lot lately too, and it's interesting how it kind of ties in with this movement of “creator economy” – or whatever you want to call it – individuals making their own living online.
And I think journalists in particular, where it's stereotypically underpaid, overworked, exhaustive… People are just trying to get a following so that they can get out. Like: if I can beat the machine and get enough people to care about me, I don't have to do this anymore.
Ryan Broderick: Yeah, I think you're right. I think there's a couple things happening.
One: I think Twitter is a video game. And I think that the more serious you are as a person, the less you can understand that you're playing a video game. And I think that's a really big problem, because most of our bosses in the world - no matter what you do - are serious people. And they think that what they're doing on Twitter is not part of some really fucked up system to juice ad revenue, but it is, and they're stuck in it and they can't see through it.
And it's funny, because right now I'm living outside of New York. I'm living near where I grew up. And the general confusion from normal people about why they're seeing or reading anything now is so palpable, and it's making them so angry.
And I know why they're seeing it and why they're reading it: the people who wrote it sit on Twitter all day and they think that this is what people care about. But if you want to know why the entire world is alienated to journalism, it's because no one has any fucking idea what you're talking about.
The sentence I always use is: Bean dad milkshake ducked, but not like cat lawyer milkshake ducked. And then also cinnamon toast shrimp guy milkshake ducked. I mean, you can just go on and on and it's gibberish.
But yeah, all of these people who decide what we see and what we think are stuck in this video game. And they don't want to leave. In fact, they're sort of incentivized to stay and get better at it. And it's getting worse because the people who control how technology works are in it too. So it's just maddening, and it's bizarre.
And then the other thing that you brought up, which I thought was interesting, and something that I've been thinking about too, is the idea of escape velocity. What if you eventually can leave the Plato's cave of journalism hell? And it's like, OK: I've got enough readers in my Substack, I can leave and then... what? Do you become like Neo from the Matrix? Like, what happens? I think that's wrong. I think that's actually a wrong way of thinking about it. And it’s definitely the way that I thought about it until I was promptly kicked out of the cave and I think what I've learned is that there is no escape velocity. It is just: do you have enough money to eat and feed and clothe yourself? OK. And how are you making that? By writing? Great, you've done it, you've escaped the cave. And from there, it's just about how successful you are and how successful you want to be.
I don't want to get into “hustle / grind” culture, but like, I spent a decade walking around thinking: OK, if I fit into this box enough and if I'm just the way people want me to be, maybe someone will come down and pluck me up and give me a Netflix show. And that was the idea. That was the thought that a lot of people had.
VFD: It’s a nice idea.
Ryan Broderick: It happened to some people! But if you look around at those people, they're kind of in the same place I am right now. We're all kind of stuck in the same place. And so part of me thinks this entire digital media bubble that we went through convinced everybody that eventually, if you're a good enough poster, you too will get a cooking show with Chrissy Teigen. And it's like: you probably won't.
And so letting go and letting that feeling go has been a tremendous weight off my shoulders. Being able to be like: I can write things on the internet, and I can make enough money to feed and clothe myself. Not well, but I can do it. I have escaped. I'm out of the cave. And then once you realise you're out of the cave it's actually a much scarier problem, because now there's just... infinity. Where do you go?
I haven't figured that out yet but I think it would be very helpful for a lot of journalists to maybe think about that. Outside of the system they think they're trapped in.
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VFD: I wanted to ask you, you kind of touched on it before...like: when the internet went from “good” to “bad”. And you use The Dress as a reference point. But I've also heard you use... I forget her name, but the woman who got on the plane,
Ryan Broderick: Oh, Justine Sacco.
VFD: Yeah - got on the plane, tweeted a racist joke, her whole world fell apart. Is that still what you think?
Ryan Broderick: So I have tried to answer this. It's maddening. It'll be the thing that I'm scribbling down on pieces of paper when I'm 90 years old. When did the internet go bad? And the truth is it probably could have always been bad, or it could have always been like this. And I just got to an age where I noticed it.
Y’know, I'm 31. So I was 24, probably, when Justine Sacco happened. That's right around the time of your life when you're like: wait a minute. Things aren't simple. That's crazy.
But I do think something changed in the way that we use the internet and I think that change happened in 2014. I think there are a few things that happened: Facebook becoming the predominant centre of the internet definitely helped. I think 2014 seems to be the year where there was enough people on Twitter where it went from stupid to meaningful, and no one really noticed when that happened until Justine Sacco.
Twitter went from a place where you could post photos of your sandwich to a place that could destroy your life in a matter of hours, and nobody seemed to understand when that happened, but it seems to have happened in 2014. And then in 2014 other parts of the internet started to atrophy. That summer was DashCon, Tumblr’s failed unofficial fan convention.
VFD: There's some amazing Wikipedia holes and stuff to go down.
Ryan Broderick: I know people who were there. And I've heard stories about what it was like. But I think 2014 seems to be the year where there was finally enough people online and it went from exciting and interesting to, like, terrifying. And if you look at that one year there's just all these kinds of weird moments of digital forms of violence happening.
We don't really function as a global society, but let's say we did. Let's say the human race was like: wait a minute, hit the brakes. Let's figure out how this works. Instead we optimised for that experience, because it's entertaining and it's fun. So now, if you want you can go be Justine Sacco for a day you can go plug into Twitter and just ruin your life if you want. Or you can go to TikTok and create a cult that looks surprisingly like DashCon. You can do these things now, whenever you want. Because attention makes a lot of money, because we decided that attention is the predominant way we make money online, and 2014 seems to be the year that we decided that.
Before that, traffic was always important, but I suspect we sort of processed it differently. Now we're stuck in this place. I don't think it's an accident that right after that year Trump starts running for president, a bunch of populists start popping up, Brexit talks start getting serious. 2014 was sort of the year.
I'm hoping we can course correct now. I feel like we're in a new era but I'm actually having trouble now trying to figure out where we’re headed because before I was kind of like: OK, I kind of know how things are progressing, I kind of get it. But now it feels like we're in a very new stage.
VFD: Yeah, things are getting private. Privacy is a big thing. Closed communities. A question I always ask myself is: do I just have, like, PTSD? Do things feel like they're changing now just because they're only slightly different? And what was happening before, was that just so much more aggressive and so much more in your face? I don't know the answer to that either.
Ryan Broderick: I’m kind of optimistic. Cause I feel like for the last, let's say, six years, seven years, we've had the problem of scale, right? Like the Yellow Vests are my favourite example because it starts with one Facebook event and then it turns into 26 weeks of whatever of riots. Obviously, the French – they're gonna riot whenever they want to riot – but we can prove this started with one woman making a Facebook event about gas prices. And it went crazy. And now though, we've entered a new stage where that same kind of energy can be put onto a Discord channel full of teenagers pumping GameStop.
VFD: Hell yeah.
Ryan Broderick: And what's interesting is it does feel like since the coup we've become more constructive as opposed to destructive online. And I like that feeling. I like the feeling of a community coming together to do something really, really weird, kind of for no reason, and then they move on.
You see this energy with the Suez Canal, you see this energy with Lil NAS X, we see this energy with everybody roasting Prince Philip, you see this energy now on TikTok all the time. There is this feeling of: instead of burning things down with the internet, we might not be building things better, but we're definitely changing things, and I like that. I think it's weird, and interesting, and it's good to write about, and it hasn't gotten scary yet. But I do think younger kids have learned a lesson from the last 5 years of Boomer hell. They're like: we’re done with this. Area 51 to me was sort of like the first attempt, the Area 51 raids, and ever since there's just been this ongoing attempt to make reality sillier, and I think that's cool.
VFD: Yeah. You did a lot of community moderation coming up, right?
Ryan Broderick: My first job at BuzzFeed was community moderation. I had to read at minimum 100 comments a day and remove bad ones. And I had a queue that I would just come in, pour a cup of coffee, and then I would spend the entire day scanning. But it was an interesting job. It taught me a lot about how the internet works and how people use the internet, and it has been really helpful in managing my own communities and thinking about communities.
I also think that it's really weird that we have a lot of people right now writing about tech and writing about security, and writing about misinformation, and yet we aren’t interviewing community moderators all of the time. And there's obviously some issues with that. A lot of companies won't let you interview community moderators, but like, they know what's going on. They've always known what's going on. But also that job is primarily done by women, and I don't think it's an accident that the tech journalism machine has kind of skipped over interviewing the women that do silent jobs moderating these giant websites.
It really wasn't until Casey Newton got into interviewing the actual contractors for Facebook that we started to hear from these people, and that's insane to me. I also know that I would pitch community moderation stories and no one thinks they want to read them. But I can tell you they do. They read them on Garbage Day. People are interested in this. It’s totally crazy to me that we have an entire industry of people whose job is to see how the internet's being used on a daily basis and they're not being interviewed by The Atlantic or the New Yorker for like, their big radicalization stories.
VFD: Yeah, I always think it's a hidden part of the internet, right? It feels like something that you should have a college degree to do, at this stage of what the internet's like, right?
Ryan Broderick: I know many that have library sciences degrees. The librarian to community moderator pipeline is very real. And they're all very nice. Every community moderator I've ever spoken to is a delightful person who knows a shitload, and just like the people who don't go to their local library to ask questions about books, it's really weird that we're writing all these words about moderation and radicalization and we're not asking the nice people who are doing this job. It's just... yeah, it's weird.
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