How Memes Become Money – The Atlantic
In 2011, when Twitter was young, artist and musician Leon Chang made a joke which you might remember even if you haven’t seen it: “I slept in a children’s home once in third grade. saw him pour milk first into a bowl, then cereal. never spoke to him again. he’s in jail now. Over the years this joke has been Fly over and over, often repeated with slightly different detail. It still happens. Everyone tells it as if it happens to them, as if they really know a child with such a strange habit and are personally bothered by it. It never really bothered Chang, one of the best known and beloved personalities in a scene titled “Weird twitter. “He knew that, by and large, people ripped off the tweet just to impress a few hundred followers.
For many years, the rampant theft of tweeted jokes didn’t seem so bad. Twitter users loved the observation: “This site is free. “This was often posted in response to something astonishing and bizarre, to express disbelief at all of the deranged entertainment that was available to be viewed at no cost. In this context, Chang explained, if a virus marketing company or a corporate brand like Wendy’s had stolen its milk criminal and used the idea to make money, that would have been boring. But if not, who cares?
Nowadays, if Chang made a “silly little joke” about a boy and a bowl of cereal, he knows that would be considered “content” – a message that can be broadcast and noticed, and exploited. to inspire the continued use of Twitter by those who want to see more content like this. He doesn’t take advantage of his Twitter account, other than a link to his Bandcamp page, but it’s not unreasonable to expect him to. “In theory, why shouldn’t I make some money out of it, rather than just promoting Twitter itself? He thought. I asked Chang if he remembered when this fact became evident, when people realized that every article they publish is money making potential for someone at some point. He guessed that it happened about five years ago, when people stopped saying the word. content in quotes, as if it was all a joke.
It was then that “people come to realize and accept that it is content, ”he said. “It has value to someone, whether it’s someone reading it and enjoying it or a platform taking advantage of it.” Amid growing concern over the power of Big Tech and the unfairly distributed wealth of “attention economy”, The feeling that Twitter was“ free ”began to be only half taken into account.
Now it seems obvious: come up with an idea, thought, look, feeling, or moment, and you get content that offers the possibility of money changing hands. As an approach to online interactions, this has the great advantage of being precise. It’s true that Twitter needs people like Chang to get people like you and me to read it, and these facts better be understood. But we might also wonder what comes from understanding that every little thing we do – every second of our time, every funny thought that comes to mind – is something to own or sell.
In the beginning, making people pay for content was a noble goal.
For years, creative platforms (SoundCloud, Tumblr, Vine – may she rest in peace) have been criticized for not offering artists easy ways to make money. A well-meaning and productive conversation followed, along with new solutions. Patreon arrived in 2013, providing an easy way to collect subscription fees from a loyal following, now including 6 million paid subscribers or “patrons” – who want to support users’ podcasts, digital art and music, or who just want to read their password protected Tumblr accounts. Journalists and other writers can sell subscriptions to their work directly to consumers through email newsletter platforms such as Substack. And during the pandemic, not only porn (but a lot of porn) platform, OnlyFans, where all kinds of performers can charge subscription fees and collect tips, would have added 100 million new users.
These are positive developments for people who depend on creative labor for their livelihood, but the implications are stranger for everyone. There are paid and premium versions everything now, and a commercial structure at every major website. Twitter already has a digital “tip jar” for users who want to accept money from anyone who likes their tweets. This is intended to replace the tradition of replying to your own viral tweet with a Venmo link, and that signals – even more than the ads in your feed – that Twitter is a business site. Another feature, soon published, will allow popular people to charge a subscription fee to access their exclusive bonus tweets. On Instagram, people have been selling access to their “close friends” stories since 2018. The platform doesn’t directly facilitate this type of transaction, but in almost every other way imaginable it has. influencer profiles transformed in so many online shopping malls.
Anyone can create their own “non-fungible tokens” and turn a meme into a commodity. A digital token of a famous GIF of a famous cat recently sold for $ 580,000. Especially good people on Twitter are experimenting with selling NFT of their tweets. (I seriously considered buying a which says, “I feel like NFTs are basically these certificates that say you have a star named after you.” Like ok, sure, baby. “) What counts as user content – and therefore is for sale – can be defined even more broadly: some of the the biggest intellectual property disputes on the Clubhouse social audio app, for example, were above the general premises for interaction. In February 2021, a group of friends who had gathered in an Asian diaspora chat set up a new chat room where people pretended to moan like whales. Then a group of influencers heard how popular it was and scams. Around the same time, a group of white NYU students accused of theft the idea of a “shoot your shot” meeting room-show from the many black designers who had hosted similar rooms for months. The students have now signed up with a large talent agency, with the aim of creating a “multiplatform franchise. “
At this point, with most of our interactions taking place in this handful of highly commodified spaces, who could be faulted for feeling like everything they do is – or at least looks like – dubious. trade ? “I’m actually very torn about this,” says Stacey Lantagne, a law professor at the University of Mississippi who studies copyright in the digital age. She’s seen white influencers steal ideas from people of color who never see any compensation, and she wants that fixed somehow. Yet it is difficult to make a case for fairness without perpetuating the logic that all human expression can and should be for sale. “I’m really reluctant that everything we do has to be ours,” Lantagne told me.
I often think of former reality TV star Spencer Pratt, one of the most dedicated posters, and how he lamented in 2016 that he was spending his time on the platform “bleeding soul free”. He seemed to know that what he was doing was worth more than what he was getting in return – which was nothing, not even a response to the job application he had tweeted at the Weekly entertainment Account. His posts during this time were desperate and enthusiastic, betraying the belief that even a very good tweet could change the circumstances of his then struggling life and career.
Five years later, the “meme-to-money pipeline”, as writer Delia Cai called it in a recent newsletter, always confuses its participants – by instituting some to enrich themselves while others see their ideas stolen or devalued. There is an air of frenzy all the time. Promising new platforms become the sites of gold rushes and then fierce competition; attention is a finite resource and someone else’s gain is your loss. The new marketing systems do little even to address the pressing inequality of the old ones. Cai points out that, in practice, the new pipeline still earns profits primarily for white content creators, while black teenagers’ contributions to internet culture continue to be appropriate.
At the same time, the NFT craze makes the suggestion that every post is only worth the value it commands in the market even more literal. This is baffling for several reasons, not the least of which is that a person’s most lucrative moments online aren’t necessarily the same as their brightest moments. Former Representative Anthony Weiner recently said The New York Times that, with few job options available to him, he is now considering selling an NFT from the NSFW tweet that ended his career. This tweet might be even more valuable than Chang’s Cereal Joke, albeit sad and rude, while the Cereal story is clever and creative. But more importantly, when a market value is assigned to each utterance, we accept the principle that no other kind of value matters as much.
There is no easy way to resolve this tension. Selling an NFT from a tweet is not about promoting an audience or creating a sustainable revenue stream to support a creative life. It’s the newest and most direct way to turn attention into money and remove a unit of content from its cultural context – the conversation it was a part of, the historical moment that made it important, the people who saw it and got excited. and present it for purchase.
It is appropriate to give people credit for their creativity and to reward them for their work. It’s empowering to siphon off value from social media companies that have made billions out of our personal lives. But it is also a kind of abandonment.