And so draws to a close another year that we—all of us, willingly or not—spent online. If 2016 was a year defined by hating the year 2016, and 2017 was a year in which this vast disdain could only be quantified by categorizing and ranking the most loathsome things online, 2018 was—well, we’re not going to say it was worse, but it certainly wasn’t better. Indeed, looking back at our list of the worst things online in 2017, we found that so many of them continued unabated this year. That blinking white guy GIF, shitty articles about millennials, thinkfluencer tweetstorms, our bad president, and so on—all extremely present!
Of course, there were still a lot of good things online—so many, in fact, that we’re publishing a “best things on the internet” list tomorrow, to celebrate what remains virtuous of this place. But after cataloguing these reasons for hope we were left with a pool of toxic brackishness too foul to ignore. And so we donned our hazmat suits, kissed our innocence goodbye, and journeyed into the darkness in order to create a taxonomy of the new terrors that had unveiled themselves in 2018. But what within this swirling hellscape screamed at us most loudly to delete our accounts, raze the internet of shit, and move to the Arctic, where we could quietly watch the glaciers melt and await the arrival of the death cults? Brace yourselves, and read on.
The “TidePod Challenge” hysteria of January 2018 was the result of what happens when everyone on the internet insists on making exactly the same dumb joke. Of course, neither you nor anyone else ever actually thought dissolvable pouches of laundry detergent would taste good—it was just a humor-esque observation about how a thing that’s not food kind of looked like it could be food. Yet at some point enough people made this same joke that some teens went ahead and did it for real. The fact that very few teens were truly attempting to eat the pods did little to keep the phenomenon from moving at unprecedented speed from dumb joke to dumb sort-of-real-thing to dumb meta-joke to dumb thing for old people online to commentary about how Kids These Days would rather eat TidePods than, like, buy a house they won’t ever be able to afford. There is no question 2019 will have a TidePod Challenge of its own; the only variables are how much faster and stupider its cycle through the internet washing machine will be. [Gabe Worgaftik]
Bitcoin, and cryptocurrency as a whole, began life simply and nobly enough: as a way to buy LSD online. But while crypto has been around for a while, an unprecedented spike in the U.S. dollar value of bitcoin in late December of last year meant that in 2018 cryptocurrency went mainstream. Essentially everyone who invested in bitcoin after the New Year lost money, but even those of us who didn’t waste our life savings on tokens and mining rigs still had to suffer through unwanted exposure to the massively dumb crypto-bro culture it spawned. There were crypto-kittens and crypto-rappers who lived in crypto-castles, run by newly minted crypto-millionaires—many of whom have most likely been unminted at year’s end. DJ Khaled and Floyd Mayweather got charged with cryptocurrency fraud by the U.S. Securities And Exchange Commission, because why not. It was obvious none of this would last, but even though there probably won’t be a crypto-utopia in Puerto Rico or anywhere else, the crypto-bros will still tell you that you just need to “HODL.” Next year, maybe just buy your drugs the old-fashioned way. [Gabe Worgaftik]
Subtweeting is one of the few joys of Twitter, but the ability to rag on influential figures in a public forum is increasingly endangered in 2018. That’s thanks to snitch-tagging, the egregious practice of, upon finding a delightfully acerbic thread about a famous Twitter user, @-ing said person so that they become aware of whatever critique is currently being dispensed. This form of bad social media etiquette does not include @-ing a friend or acquaintance into a thread about the best holiday movies to spark thoughtful debate; it’s more “apprising megalomaniacal tech billionaire about any post that doesn’t frame them in a flattering light,” then watching as their millions of followers swoop in to defend them because they’re too busy counting their money. It’s not just a matter of ruining what little fun is left to be had on social media—too often, snitch-tagging opens the flood gates for harassment, and frankly, there’s enough of that (not to mention Nazis) on Twitter. [Danette Chavez]
Kanye West first logged back on in April, signaling the rollout of a series of new LPs by reengaging with the press that he’s proven uniquely good at manipulating. But something was different this time; one does not merely “log on” in 2018, after all. West was almost instantly sucked into the radicalizing forces of the modern internet, red-pilling in real-time to far-right thinkers like Candace Owens and Jordan Peterson, posting bad Rick And Morty fan art, BFFing with Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, and awakening the sheeple with a “Twitter philosophy book” about, you know, waking up from the simulation, or whatever. Worse still, his very music—once transcendently ahead of contemporary discourse—started to sound like the worst of the internet, first with the troll-fart “whoopdedy-scoop” track, then with the world’s worst Socratic dialogue on “Ye Vs. The People.” (The ensuing albums weren’t much better.) This all climaxed in the most stomach-churning publicity event of the year, a press conference in the Oval Office during which even our stable genius president seemed concerned for Kanye’s well-being. West has since logged off, and sworn off politics, but for how long, we can only guess. One does not merely “log off” in 2018. [Clayton Purdom]
The exploitation of so-called callout culture by spiteful “alt-right” trolls reached a new low on July 20, 2018, as Disney fired director James Gunn from Guardians Of The Galaxy, Vol. 3 over a series of tweets from back in his Troma Studios days. What appeared at first to be a zero-tolerance firing over Gunn’s admittedly tasteless jokes about rape and pedophilia soon reveled itself to be part of something more sinister: a calculated campaign led by Mike Cernovich, a key architect of the similarly pedophilia-fixated Pizzagate conspiracy theory—which, as you may recall, led a man to open fire in a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor in 2016—to “expose pedophiles in Hollywood” alongside Hillary Clinton-obsessed conspiracy-monger Jack Posobiec. Cernovich himself has been accused of rape, and is an unabashed, violent misogynist whose denial of the existence of date rape is one of his less offensive views on women. But in a year that was somehow intensely ironic and also post-irony, trying to take down an “alt-right” figure by pointing out their hypocrisy was pointless.
The only bright spot in this unsettling demonstration of the ability of bad-faith actors to manipulate social media toward real-world ends was its brevity: Emboldened by Gunn’s ouster, the following morning Cernovich, Posobiec, and their 4chan and Reddit lackeys attempted to use similar tactics to bring down comedians Michael Ian Black, Dan Harmon, and Patton Oswalt—all of whom, like Gunn, have been outspoken critics of Donald Trump—by digging up old jokes from the trio about (you guessed it!) pedophilia and rape. Black responded in detail with threads earnestly examining the role of offensive humor in comedy and calling Cernovich on his bullshit. Harmon deleted his Twitter account, and, honestly, is probably better off for it. And Oswalt just kind of brushed the whole thing off, which makes sense given that the polo-shirt goon squad’s attempts to smear him by quoting only the back half of a two-part joke were especially disingenuous. [Katie Rife]
In the very moments that 2017 turned to 2018, Logan Paul, brother of 2017 Worst Thing On The Internet Jake Paul, was posting the video that would make him infamous: a vlog of Paul and his moronic cronies finding the dead body of an apparent suicide victim in Japan’s infamous Aokigahara Forest. Paul would apologize and take down the video, and YouTube would cut official ties with the vlogger, but his contrition was predictably short-lived. Before long Paul was back to hawking his merch while mugging for the camera and anointing whatever it was he was doing in any given moment as “lit.” Paul barely made it a month before getting another strike from YouTube, this time for tasering a dead rat. None of this in any way kept Paul from posting and raking in money, as he also managed to film a documentary about himself, star in a terrible YouTube movie, and be casually racist in the lead-up to a celebrity boxing match against another YouTuber that brought in millions of dollars in pay-per-view streaming buys. Paul closed out the year with an especially obnoxious interview in which he addressed, as all YouTubers must, the haters. May they all be blessed with lit tidings in 2019. [Gabe Worgaftik]
When the revolution finally comes, it won’t be pissed-off robots crushing the necks of their human oppressors who wipe us all out. It’ll be The Brands, which have been steadily rising in obnoxious self-awareness for years now, since the first moment when Wendy’s realized it could sell more burgers by being cheerfully sarcastic online. The red-haired sandwich demon was surpassed in the field of creepily friendly corporate onlineness this year by a dark horse candidate, though: dollar-store meat brand Steak-umm, which spent its 2018 cultivating a mixture of memes, musings, and thoughtful multi-part threads on online civility, all in the name of selling people additional freezer beef. Like a combination of Weird Twitter and meat-minded life-coaching, the most upsetting thing about The Rise Of The Steak-umm is how self-aware the account is about its own self-awareness; we’re now at a level of nested, marketing-dictated ironies where the line between entertainment and advertising can be as hard to parse and separate as a plate of hastily defrosted meat. [William Hughes]
When techno-utopians make grand pronouncements about the democratization of the marketplace of ideas online, they fail to account for human nature—namely, that many us are a uniquely oppositional combination of gullible and defensive. The proliferation of online conspiracy theories in 2018 proves that point, as anti-vaxxers, flat-Earthers, QAnon true believers, and every other color of the paranoid rainbow smugly told anyone who attempted to explain why science, history, or plain common sense disproved their arguments to “do their own research.” In tinfoil-hat practice, that usually means spending a couple hours on YouTube, listening to self-proclaimed experts parcel out nuggets of unprovable bullshit alongside ego-boosting assurances that they, the viewer, are smarter than everyone else simply because they clicked “play.”
The fact that YouTube’s pointedly agnostic platform gives equal weight to legitimate investigative journalists and ranting lunatics is bad enough, given that the Pew Research Center found YouTube to be the second-most-popular online source for the 68 percent of American adults who get their news on social media. Making things worse is YouTube’s recommendations algorithm, which routinely leads users from mainstream news sources to extremist vloggers with only a few clicks. The result is what researchers have dubbed an “alternative influence network” that’s speaking directly to, and incrementally radicalizing, (mostly) young viewers. Cult leaders and bigots are nothing new, but the steamrolling of the concept of truth on the world’s most popular video-sharing site has made their jobs much easier—and the silence from YouTube’s parent company, Google, on the subject is deafening. [Katie Rife]
There was once a dream that was Twitter: A great cocktail party in the clouds, where the unwashed masses could rub elbows with their favorite artists and thinkers, thread and develop ideas, and respond in real-time to the fast and tumultuous world. That dream has soured, and the celebrities still frequenting the platform have grown increasingly deranged, sucked into its endless whirlpool of invective, signal-boosting, and paranoia. Rian Johnson directed one of the best Star Wars movies ever in 2017, grossing over a billion dollars, and has spent the entirety of 2018 slap-fighting petulant nobodies about it. J.K. Rowling produced one of the bestselling and most beloved series of novels in human history, and now has a tidy side hustle as a mystery author, and yet cannot stop tweaking canon to fit whatever outrage has transfixed her corner of the internet. The same goes for Elon Musk (likable-enough tech guy turned dank meme hunter), Jim Carrey (skilled character actor and comedian turned bad political cartoonist), Roseanne (sitcom star turned racist QAnon sociopath), and so many more. Twitter once promised to show us the human side of celebrities; it has, to their endless detriment, succeeded. [Clayton Purdom]
Of course, what so many of these celebrities, harassment campaigns, and snitch-taggers really point to is something broader, and more terrible on the internet, which is the increasing weaponization of fandom. There’s nothing new about toxic bullshit arising whenever fans of something confuse an attack upon—or even just a change to, or an evolution of—something they love as a strike against themselves. But the rate of fan-to-stan turnover seemed more vicious than ever in 2018, as Star Wars’ “admirers”—often adopting the shitty-but-informative lessons of the increasingly, depressingly influential GamerGate movement—tore into the cast of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, driving them off of Twitter and pledging to make their own versions of the movie, ones that won’t “push an agenda of masculine inferiority.” (Suggesting that their real affiliations were less with Jedi or Sith, and more with “pissed-off, easily wounded dudes.”)
This trend played out throughout various spheres of pop culture online, where disgruntled subcultures donned their ceremonial armor to engage in daily holy wars. A writer who dared to criticize Nicki Minaj was swarmed with death threats. Elon Muskians, scientifically proven to be just the fucking worst, systematically attacked female journalists. Sims players harassed Sims developers. Batman faithful drove Ruby Rose off Twitter; some other evil cabal forced Millie Bobby Brown to quit. Special mention goes to Lady Gaga’s “Little Monsters,” who functionally invented a feud with Sony’s Venom, attempting to tank its opening weekend with a bunch of fake reviews in order to (hypothetically) hype the box office receipts for the competing A Star Is Born. Ah, the things we do for “love.” [William Hughes]