In March 2013, at Microsoft’s annual research and development event TechFest, a new project was introduced that aimed to let “users interactively explore the full chain of events whereby individual news stories, videos, images, and petitions spread from one user to the next over a social network.” The program, in effect, aims to understand how content spreads through a social network such as Twitter. By aggregating large amounts of data and tracking how users share things on their Twitter accounts, ViralSearch turns the transmission of content into a visually friendly genealogy of media, which Microsoft terms its “virality.” The more descendants a video has, for example, meaning those who have shared it (which is broken up into generations, or subsets of users that represent one wave of shares) the more viral it is according to ViralSearch’s virality percentage. More than this, it actively differentiates between virality and popularity, by looking precisely at how the information is shared. As researcher Jake Hofman says,

This is what people sort of typically have in their mind when they think about one of these viral videos, but nobody’s really been able to actually look at the structure of these things to date. And so what we’re able to do is going through these billions of events we reconstruct these trees by looking at all the followers of everyone who adopts the content and using a large cluster to reconstruct these things and then a novel scoring method to actually distinguish this tree as being viral from just being popular.


Science from Tenor

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the rabbi at my synagogue gave a sermon about four themes, all of which he felt needed addressing when there was a larger crowd than usual (though, it should be noted, the sanctuary was sparsely filled, especially compared to the SRO crowd the day before): racism, sexism, anti-semitism, and “the war on science.” As he recited off his list, the first three items made perfect sense to me; I was even proud to hear him cover current events like the Black Lives Matter movement and Donald Trump’s misogyny and how they are understood within Jewish tradition (hint: the first one’s good, the second one’s bad). That fourth item, though, piqued my curiosity a bit.

Since when did a war on science begin? Is it like the ill-fated War on Drugs? Or the ill-fated War on Terror? Or the ill-fated War on Poverty?



Credit: /u/megapenguinx

When I first encountered the subreddit me_irl it was, in general, about two things: anxiety and communism. I hit the subscribe button so fast I sprained my finger. Since then, me_irl has changed a bit, though anxiety and communism are still central topics. But over the last year or so, the sub has become a bit more… meme-ey. Or may may-ey, depending on your dialect. Me_irl has increasingly consolidated around short-lived memes, and in June /u/thoompa noticed that memes had a shelf life of approximately one month. Thus was born the “meme of the month” idea, and all through September some great memes lived high on the hog, getting large numbers of upvotes and creating a self-referential circle jerk that gave new texture to the sub.


Credit: /u/thoompa

But then, tragedy struck. For the first six days in October, no memes rose to preeminence. It became known as the Great Meme Drought of October, when chaos reigned and dankness was few and far between. Some users tried to prop up The Bear In The Big Blue House as the new MotM, but others saw this as farce, for that meme was not fresh enough. Then, the skeletons arrived, thus sparking the Great Meme Civil War of 2016.


Credit: /u/Fyrus93

But out of this chaos, a curious thing happened. A deluge of memes flooded me_irl. One day, it was Goosebumps, the next The Crusade and trebuchets, then Bionicle and Ken Bone and on and on. A new meme came to power each day, mirroring the instability that has followed civil wars throughout history. Some found it frustrating—they couldn’t keep up, the memes were changing too rapidly. Some said they were low-quality Facebook memes. But others heralded it as The October Meme Renaissance of 2016. more...

psycho shower scene

On May 13, 2016 the Obama administration issued a letter of guidance concerning the protection of gender identity in school housing, restrooms, and locker room facilities under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The letter was largely seen as a reaction to a March 2016 law passed in North Carolina, HB 2 – Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, which limited public restroom use to one’s assigned at birth gender. On August 21, 2016, however, a Texas U.S. District judge blocked the federal government from implementing that directive, instead arguing that Title IX aimed to “protect students’ personal privacy, or discussion of their personal privacy, while in the presence of members of the opposite biological sex.” The district court applied a similar logic to HB 2 in arguing that gender identity was strictly “biological” (e.g., what one’s birth certificate says).

The district court ruling, in line with several others this year, relies on and perpetuates a number of transphobic beliefs which seem apropos to mention here, namely: a normalized definition of biological sex, the notion of trans bodies as illegible, impure, or incomplete, the forced hypervisibility of trans bodies through constant surveillance, the public fixation on genitalia as a ‘true’ indicator of gender identity, and the displacement/occlusion of responsibility for anti-trans violence. It is, in particular, the contemporary mobilization of a politics of shame, manifest through the aforementioned practices, however, that I would like to hone in on.



I recently updated my mac’s operating system. The new OS, named Sierra, has a few new features that I was excited to try but the biggest one was the ability to use Siri to search my files and launch applications. Sierra was bringing me one step closer to the human-computer interaction fantasy that was set up for me at an early age when I watched Picard, La Forge, and Data solve a complicated problem with the ship’s computer. In those scenes they’d ask fairly complicated questions, ask follow-up questions with pronouns and prepositions that referenced the first question, and finish their 24th century Googling session with some plain language query like “anything else?”  Judging by the demo I had seen on the Apple website it seemed like I could have just that conversation. I clicked the waveform icon, saw the window pop up indicating that my very own ship’s computer was listening and… nothing.

The problem wasn’t with Siri, it was with me. I had frozen. It was as if a rainbow spinning beach ball was stuck in my mouth. I was unable to complete a simple sentence. I closed the window and tried again:

Show me files that I created on… Damnit

Sorry I did not get that.

Show me files from… That I made on Friday.

Here are some of the files you created on Friday.

In all honesty, I should have seen this coming. I frequently use Siri to set reminders or to put things in my calendar but I always use my digital assistant in secret: the moment between getting in the car and starting the engine, alone at my desk, or (sorry) while I am using the bathroom. It works almost every time but when something goes wrong, it is my commands not Siri’s execution, that is left wanting. I pause because I forget the name of the place I need directions to or I stumble when it comes to saying exactly what reminder I want to set. There are several Siri-dictated reminders sitting in my phone right now that don’t want me to forget to “bring it back with you before you go” or “to write email in the morning.”  I clam up when I know my devices are listening.

It gets worse when other humans are listening to my awkward commands. The thought of talking to an algorithm in the presence of fellow humans is about as enticing to me as reciting a poem I wrote in high school or explaining a joke that just fell flat. Here I was thinking it was the technology that had to catch up to my cyborg dreams but now it seems that the flesh is the half not willing. more...


Pepe, oh Pepe; who knew a frog could be so hateful? The Anti-Defamation League has had enough, and a brief stroll through alt-right Twitter appears to confirm their anxieties: Pepes at the camps, Pepes smugly smiling at the World Trade Center burning, Pepes watching as people fall from helicopters.

This is hardly the full Pepe experience. Both the ADL and the comic’s creator agreed that the majority of Pepes out there are entirely harmless. Where they differ is in interpretations of Pepe as alt-right white nationalist icon. The ADL’s designation implies a very static interpretation of Pepe, one that implies an immediate connection between certain corridors of the web and Anti-Semitism. These corridors of the web-Reddit and 4chan among them-gain an exclusive monopoly on societal production of discrimination. 

Swarm of Birds

It feels good / To know that you really care
It feels good / To know that I can relax when I’m with you
It feels good / To know that I can be by your side
– “Feels Good” – TONY! TONI! TONE! 

Some time ago, absentmindedly tweeting about the woeful state of higher education, I received a notification that one of my tweets was liked. This being somewhat rare, I excitedly went to check out who it was from, only to find that it was one of the institutions I was directly critiquing. If they had actually read the tweets I’m sure they wouldn’t have actually ‘liked’ them, so what gives?

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to me. Periodically, as I’m sure many of us do, I get likes, follows, and retweets that seem incongruous with the content of my posts. Some are a result of Twitter users actively seeking to aggregate info, gain followers, and increase their social media presence. Others are fully automated Twitter bots.

Twitter bots, for the uninitiated, are pieces of software that use automated scripts to crawl the Twitterverse in search of particular words or phrases, to follow, like, or retweet others. In 2014 Twitter revealed that as many as 8.5% of its active accounts were likely bots. Beyond mere annoyance at the lack of a human interlocutor behind a ‘like’ or ‘follow,’ however, why care about the presence of Twitter bots or the use of algorithms to harness the power of social media?


Content Advisory: The following contains references (including an embedded video) to sexual assault and misogyny.

Angela Washko @ UCSD

At the end of the panel following Angela Washko’s artist talk at UC San Diego’s Qualcomm Institute, there was time for two questions. The first came from a man in the audience who jumped to the mic in order to frame the artist’s work in the inevitable deluge of AR, or augmented reality technology (think holding up your phone and seeing a Pokestop where another passerby might just see the local Walgreens). The audience member, a computer scientist from UCSD, wanted to know what would happen once we “throw away this technology that we’re tethered to.”

Washko had begun the evening with a presentation about her work, starting with her performances in World of Warcraft, wherein she goes to some of the most popular areas in the game to perform certain actions or ask other players about issues like abortion and feminism. I found the piece both charming and troubling: at one point, Washko’s avatar orchestrates a conga-line type dance party in a field where orks and trolls frolick in harmony while acting like chickens (just trust me, go to 25:00 in the video below). During the WoW interviews, the situation was a bit less whimsical. In Washko‘s words:

I realized that players’ geographic dispersion generates a population that is far more representative of American opinion than those of the art or academic circles that I frequent in New York and San Diego, making it a perfect Petri dish for conversations about women’s rights, feminism and gender expression with people who are uninhibited by IRL accountability.



We should have seen this coming. The end of the world as we know it was announced today, unceremoniously with a blog post. Scripps Institution of Oceanography is reporting that we’ve definitely surpassed the 400 parts-per-million threshold for atmospheric CO2. It is at this concentration that a cascade effect is triggered and acidic seas rise to new heights, extinction rates increase, and food systems are permanently disrupted. More on all of that here. more...


This is the Pen Pineapple Apple Pen (PPAP) song that started amassing virality around 25 September 2016, despite being published on YouTube a month earlier on 25 August 2016. This is the tutorial from its original artist, published on 26 September 2016 in response to volumes of covers, remixes, and parodies being produced as the song approaches the climax of viral fame.

The ‘official’ backstory, according to the wisdom of throngs of popular media articles churned out this week, is that the artist in the video is Piko-Taro, a fictional character played by entertainer DJ Kosaka Daimaou, whose is actually a 51-year-old Mr Kazuhiko Kosaka. His character Piko-Taro first began life as a stand-up comedian at live shows. (For those of you who are in-tune with YouTube or Influencer culture, think Miranda Sings as the fictional character played by microcelebrity Colleen Ballinger who goes by the handle ‘PsychoSoprano’ on the internet. See also here.)

Piko-Taro started his YouTube channel on 23 August 2016, posting short songs while dressed in his now-signature gaudy fashion and wig, with flamboyance in tow. The virality of his debut PPAP video was facilitated by digital user-generated humour platform 9GAG on its Facebook page. In the wake of his recent virality, Piko-Taro has been retweeting and responding to some followers in a smattering of English on his Twitter, which was created just months prior in June 2016. He is on Facebook here.

In this post, I discuss the circulation of PPAP, the value judgments made about it, its characteristics and predecessors, and the potential future of Piko-Taro.