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This week in internet culture: Pride month backlash, Twitter trolls, and milkshake ducks

Plus: Reddit says goodbye to a beloved artist, and Tumblr braces for change.

a duck (Shutterstock
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

The news was tense and even more tragic than usual this week, but on the internet, things were as close to a sunny summer vacation as they’ve been in a while. Perhaps the most massive controversy to hit the web was a pointless french fry debate, followed by typical hemming and hawing over Twitter’s latest redesign. All in all, it was sort of a relief to have relatively few politicized firestorms blowing up our feeds.

In case you were off enjoying the weather or following Senate investigations, here’s what you may have missed.

Twitter’s redesign went about as well as website redesigns ever do

Twitter rolled out an Instagram-inspired redesign on Thursday, but people on Twitter mostly still want the two changes Twitter doesn’t seem willing to make — allowing users to edit tweets and banning Nazis and harassers. The square-to-round overall design change — square icons, avatars, and reply boxes all retouched with rounder, smoother looks — prompted many funny visual comparisons. (It also prompted a few reminders that the third-party Twitter dashboard Hootsuite still exists.)

Of course, if this redesign goes the way of previous redesigns, we’ll all have forgotten what the old design looked like within days anyway.

But Twitter’s redesign wasn’t the only reason the company caused uproar — just ask @meakoopa and @pettyfemme

Prominent queer Twitter user Anthony Oliveira, an academic and contributor to the popular film website Birth Movies Death who tweets as @meakoopa, attracted attention across the broader Twitter community this week after his account was suspended. The suspension sparked outrage among queer Twitter users and allies, particularly because the public felt it was yet another example of Twitter’s longstanding perceived tendency to ban and suspend victims of harassment rather than the perpetrators.

As The Verge reported on Tuesday, Oliveira’s suspension may have been due to his retweeting of, and subsequent kerfuffle with, a straight couple who were mocking Pride month. Oliveira mentioned their real names — which may have been misconstrued as a doxxing, even though the couple had listed their real names on other social media accounts. But the exact reason why he was suspended remains unclear.

Oliveira claimed that Twitter had given him no reason for the suspension. In an email to Vox, a Twitter spokesperson confirmed that Twitter does communicate with all its suspended users but declined to say whether a reason had been provided to Oliveira. As of late Tuesday evening, Oliveira’s account was restored.

The backlash over Oliveira’s suspension spawned another harassment debacle. Twitter user @pettyfemme, who formerly tweeted under @thecaroldanvers and then @deathbyliberals until both of those accounts were suspended, posted a thread about what she views as Twitter’s backward approach to harassment. She described having her previous accounts repeatedly brigaded — assaulted en masse — by groups of alt-right supporters and 4chan members who harassed her and repeatedly reported her accounts to Twitter for violating its policies. The results of the brigading? Twitter suspended her.

In fact, after @pettyfemme explained that 4chan members had brigaded her previous accounts, noting that they were currently doing the same thing to her new one, her @pettyfemme account was suspended as well.

Like Oliveira, @pettyfemme eventually had her account restored. But without more information available from Twitter on what kinds of behaviors prompt suspensions in these specific cases, it’s usually left up to the public to assume the worst — and that can’t be doing Twitter any favors.

Unsurprisingly, both @pettyfemme and Oliveira were frustrated by their experiences, which left them wondering if they should quit using Twitter altogether.

One woman fought back against a troll by confronting him IRL

Most of us don’t have time to do more than block or mute trolls and move on. But if someone is trolling you while you’re at the airport and you’ve got four hours to kill because your flight was delayed, you could always consider Renee Sherman’s response to being sent a Pepe the Frog meme over public wifi from a user bearing a Pepe avatar.

Sherman, who is a self-identified “reproductive justice” advocate and black feminist, repeatedly snapped Jacob’s photo and tried to question him about why he did what he did. Alas, Jacob’s answers weren’t even close to satisfying: He alternately deflected, played dumb, professed innocence, and then refused to answer the question because, per Sherman, “the airport was not the time & place to talk about why he sends strangers racist memes.”

So all in all, it was a thrilling but anticlimactic confrontation. Perhaps the real takeaway here is don’t allow people to send you unsolicited files through Apple AirDrop.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump has an interesting take on what trolling looks like

On Tuesday, the veterans group VoteVets, a progressive veterans lobby that claims to represent 500,000 military veterans and families, tweeted that the US president had blocked it on Twitter.

As Vox’s Sarah Wildman noted, the group “was trying to get under Trump’s skin, and seems to have succeeded.” The block followed a number of antagonistic tweets from VoteVets’ account calling Trump and his various political actions “a threat to national security.” Trump’s response of blocking the group sparked outrage from leftists who saw it as hypocritical.

How quickly we forget.

Milkshake Duck is the perfect encapsulation of the concept of “problematic faves”

What’s a Milkshake Duck? What isn’t a Milkshake Duck might be the better question.

The concept of a Milkshake Duck was born last year, via this particularly observant tweet from @pixelatedboat:

The Milkshake Duck is an apt stand-in for that now-familiar internet phenomenon — the overnight celebrity who’s suddenly revealed to be problematic for one reason or another. On the internet, anyone from Ken Bone to Gary from Chicago can become a Milkshake Duck, crossing the line from beloved fave to problematic issue all within a single news cycle.

In other words, as long as we have troubling pasts (or futures) waiting to be revealed, we’re all Milkshake Ducks waiting to happen.

As Jay Hathaway explains at the Daily Dot, the new trend of labeling things as “Milkshake Duck” has been growing for a while. It got a huge boost recently when video game developer Tim Soret, whose new project The Last Night made a splash at last weekend’s E3 gaming conference, was revealed to have been a Gamergate supporter. Soret in 2014 had claimed to stand “against feminism” — though he declared during the post-E3 backlash to “completely stand for equality and inclusiveness.” He also said he designed The Last Night to “challenge techno-social progress” — leading some to turn the game artwork itself into Milkshake Duck parodies:

Mentions of the Milkshake Duck ran rampant as a catchphrase deployed in response to the Soret backlash — and coincidentally, it all happened on the one-year anniversary of the original Milkshake Duck tweet.

Can Tumblr survive Verizon’s new acquisition of Yahoo?

Ordinarily, business deals threaten few ramifications for internet culture, but the reach of Verizon’s Yahoo acquisition, finalized this week, could bring major changes to Tumblr, long one of the web’s culturally richest yet least-understood communities. The buyout officially turned the previous merger of Yahoo and AOL into a hybrid organization called Oath (yes, “ ... Oath”), and has already meant layoffs at Yahoo subsidiary HuffPost — as well as, reportedly, at Tumblr.

As business writer and marketer Andréa López wrote in a Tumblr post on Wednesday, the implications for Tumblr are significant — because “even at its most popular, Tumblr is not just underestimated, but under-observed.”

Tumblr tends to get covered breathlessly by cool-hunting advertising/marketing press (whose understanding of Tumblr is minimal and therefore vulnerable to becoming PR stenography of whatever Tumblr ad exec happens to be in power at the moment) and heartlessly by public market tech reporters who compare everything to Facebook scale, and wave away Tumblr’s immense cultural influence (which punches way above its weight).

In other words, the media has a longstanding habit of devaluing Tumblr as a niche website for rich hipsters, extremist progressives who are somehow creating fascism, and gross teen fangirls, all without taking into account the site’s diversity of age and opinion, and the sheer range and quality of its typical contributions to what’s happening on the internet, from “The Dress” to the greatest boy band conspiracy of our lifetime. All of this has made it difficult to explain the magic and uniqueness of Tumblr to investors in the past, and, as López suggests, could make things harder for the site without the protective umbrella of Yahoo to shield it from more profit-driven scrutiny.

“Whether you’re tracking bad stuff like account suspensions, DMCA take-downs, or good stuff like ad revenue and account growth,” she concludes, “we should mark this date on a chart.”

Reddit bid a fond adieu to its resident sketch artist

In our efforts to chronicle highlights in internet culture, we almost missed the Reddit exit, earlier this month, of one of the site’s power contributors — the rare user whose participation on the oft-polarized site was universally beloved. Redditor AWildSketchAppeared has spent the past five years randomly appearing in comments to illustrate things that other redditors have said in passing. Among his greatest hits include an epic art battle widely viewed as one of Reddit’s greatest moments and having a sketch of a guinea pig featured on CNN.

The redditor, who is reportedly a 26-year-old man, spent a week or so alerting the Reddit community that he would be abandoning his role as the site’s resident drive-by sketch artist due to increased real-life time commitments and “other long-term artistic projects in the works.” When he finally said goodbye on May 30, he did so with fan art of the hero of Cowboy Bebop in his famous departing moment. “And here it is: Likely the last sketch I'll ever post on Reddit,” he wrote. “It's been a wild ride, guys and girls. Thanks for everything.”

And so we send off one of Reddit’s greatest into the night — or at least to other corners of the internet, since you can still follow him on Snapchat. (Or was he a Milkshake Duck all along? Let’s pretend we can have nice things on the internet, just this once.)