Inside #FreeBritney: A Stan Movement to Help Their Pop Savior

It all started with a voicemail.

In April 2019, a person claiming to be a former member of Britney Spears‘ legal team left a message through the Britney’s Gram podcast hotline and the allegations shocked already-concerned fans, many of whom were growing skeptical about the arrangement for a number of reasons. According to the anonymous source though, the star was allegedly being held against her will at a mental health facility and had stopped taking her medication, which had led to the cancellation of her Las Vegas Domination residency by her father, Jamie.

“I had chills down my spine just from the tone of his voice,” comedian and Britney’s Gram host Tess Barker said.

“It was just the tipping point for those of us who were paying attention and had concerns about the conservatorship and the control over Britney,” co-host Babs Gray added. “What the paralegal revealed just validated that something was really amiss and lit fire to the flame.”

What resulted was a “special emergency” episode of the podcast and a subsequent protest outside of West Hollywood City Hall on April 22. And just like that, the current iteration of the #FreeBritney movement was born.

For the past 12 years, Britney’s conservatorship has drawn the concern and ire of her fiercely devoted fanbase. Following her highly publicized mental health breakdown in 2008, responsibility over the star’s entire life — including her finances, health and personal decisions — was given to her father Jamie and lawyer Andrew Wallet (who resigned as co-conservator last year). But it’s also a legal arrangement that violates her basic civil rights, according to a number of #FreeBritney supporters.

“You wouldn’t want that to happen to anyone, let alone someone you idolize,” Jordan Miller explained. “It was this whole avalanche and tidal wave of emotion, and I think people tried to counter what had been reported with like, ‘We need to free her from this situation.'”

Miller — who started Breathe Heavy as a Britney fan site in 2004 — said he first used the term “Free Britney” in a 2009 post arguing that her rights had been taken away before asking why there wasn’t an independent conservator.

“I would sign off all my Britney posts at that time [with] ‘Free Britney’ and exclamation points and was a very die hard stan,” Miller said, reflecting on the backlash he initially received from people who argued that he didn’t know what he was talking about.

“But I always felt like something was there,” he said. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Even when I was young, I was like, ‘How could this be happening to such a visible iconic and famous pop star?'”

And though the term itself faded over the years, Miller explained that the term was “re-energized” by his post about Britney’s Gram’s voicemail, and has since become the rallying cry for a growing number of fans demanding answers about Britney’s autonomy and well-being within the conservatorship.

“Here’s the thing, it wasn’t a movement until last year,” he said. “It was a term that existed but the movement itself, it needed all of these ears and circumstances to build on top of one another for it to then be deemed like, ‘We need to have a movement as a fan base.'”

In the years since the conservatorship was put in place, few strides were made toward ensuring that the now 38-year-old would eventually be able to regain control over her life. The most promising developments have only come recently — almost a year after Jamie took a backseat due to his ongoing health issues. At the time, Jamie was acting as the star’s sole conservator (following Wallet’s resignation last year), but subsequently handed over the position to Britney’s “care manager,” Jodi Montgomery.

This past August though, documents filed by Britney’s court-appointed lawyer, Sam Ingham, stated that she was “strongly opposed” to having Jamie return as the sole conservator over her person. Instead, the star reportedly preferred to have Montgomery stay on as her conservator. Soon afterwards, Britney also appointed her younger sister, Jamie Lynn — who’s been a trustee of her estate since 2018 — as the overseer of her “SJB Revocable Trust,” which would be distributed between her two sons in the event of her passing.

Most recently though, #FreeBritney advocates have pointed towards the star’s request to make records concerning her ongoing conservatorship battle public as a sign that their efforts have encouraged her to finally speak up, even as Jamie continues to publicly decry the #FreeBritney movement as a “conspiracy theory.”

After all, as drag artist and vocal #FreeBritney supporter BibleGirl explained, the Britney’s Gram voicemail kicked things into high-gear as it appeared to “corroborate things that we, as the fandom, [have been clued into] for years.”

“There’s been a control and a power dynamic since Britney’s childhood with her father in the household, and I think there’s a lot of deeply rooted stuff that we may not necessarily be able to put our finger on or define,” she said, pointing toward a supposed 2009 voicemail in which Britney said her father had threatened to take away her kids “several times” during initial efforts to extricate herself from the conservatorship.

BibleGirl went on to say that alleged court documents from the beginning of her conservatorship show Jamie citing “dementia” as a reason why Britney needed to be placed in the arrangement. However, BibleGirl argued that in addition to the condition “not being scientifically recorded at her age when she was put in [an involuntary psychiatric hold],” symptoms of the condition also include memory loss, as well as warped judgment on time, speed and distance — things that don’t make sense for someone who was performing on an international tour, doing aerial stunts and acting on How I Met Your Mother shortly thereafter.

“Those [dementia claims] have also since disappeared in other filings,” BibleGirl said.” So why, if it was used to file permanent conservatorship, has it since disappeared?”

BibleGirl continued, “She also did several world tours and international promotion. She did Vegas for four years. All of these things don’t really add up to someone who otherwise is being considered incapacitated and unable to make decisions for herself.”

Miller and BibleGirl both alluded to a 2009 MTV documentary on the star called For the Record — which was filmed to promote Britney’s sixth studio album, Circus, but is now “almost impossible to find” online — as evidence that “gives a lot of fleshed-out context and understanding that there is a bit of a contentious dynamic between Britney and her father,” per the latter.

As Miller added, a clip from the documentary, in which Britney talks about her life, shows her “crying about a situation that she’s still in.” She says, “It’s never-ending,” adding that “there’s no excitement; there’s no passion.”

“I think that was their attempt at transparency and resulted in Britney crying, and I think that’s one reason perhaps why [her team is] like, ‘Yeah, we don’t want to do that again,'” he said. However, Miller also pointed toward speculation surrounding her 2016 Jonathan Ross Show interview and an alleged letter from the star that was shared by For the Record photographer Andrew Gallery as further indication that things weren’t as they seemed.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a thing that’s like, ‘This is the straw that broke the camel’s back.’ It’s been death by a thousand cuts. It’s just been so many instances over the years of like, ‘This isn’t right,'” he said.

That said, Miller admitted there is a “very valid argument” that hinges on fans not knowing all the ins-and-outs of the arrangement. He believes that all this speculation — including “all of the conspiracy theories” — hasn’t been helped by the fact that “there has been no transparency” from Britney’s team.

“[On one hand], you have Jamie Spears saying it’s a conspiracy theory, which is, if we had a scale of one to 10, that’s a 10. That is the most,” Miller said.”He’s Britney’s father, he has inside information, he knows what’s going on, he is a conservator. So he’s calling this entire movement a conspiracy and that’s not fair.”

He continued, “And then you have the conspiracy theorists who were like, ‘She’s posing in a yoga pose and it spells out the word help.’ And it’s like, that’s not helping. These extremes are ultimately what gets people so conflicted. The general public, it gets them so confused.”

For her part, BibleGirl partially agrees that all of the conflicting information “does create a rabbit hole scenario” and makes it easy to feel “disillusioned that somehow you’re completely wrong.” However, she also said that seeing the way Jamie and Britney’s business manager Lou Taylor — who reportedly also tried to set up a conservatorship for Lindsay Lohan — have operated throughout the star’s career makes it seem like there is a legitimate cause for concern.

Pointing toward a 2011 lawsuit against Jamie by Brand Sense Partners — which brokered a deal with Britney’s “Radiance” perfume-maker Elizabeth Arden for defraudment — BibleGirl also mentioned mounting fan backlash accusing Jamie Lynn of funneling Britney’s money to a firm owned by Taylor as further indication that the entire system surrounding Britney was riddled with financially motivated corruption.

“I don’t have an answer as to what Jamie’s end goal is outside of this being something that’s financially motivated,” she said, before arguing that the misogyny that’s followed Britney and public stigma surrounding mental health in general have likely played into “Jamie’s whole smear campaign about how nobody knows what’s going on.”

She added, “But as with every key player in the conservatorship, they’re all making a lot of money off the Britney enterprise. The Britney enterprise is a massive umbrella of different corporations and that’s a Trumpian parallel of ‘follow the money.'”

Meanwhile, Miller said he thinks there’s also a “theme of control” at play, speculating that it could be because Jamie “feels so protective over her that it’s warped over time.”

Now Miller argues that Jamie thinks he’s the only one who can protect Britney, “and he’s so close to the situation that he can’t see the full scope of what’s happened. Yes, you may be protecting her, but what a way to live. Is that truly living if things go about this way?”

With all this in mind though, BibleGirl said it finally feels as if “the facade is cracking,” especially in the wake of Ingham’s recent court filing stating that “Britney welcomes and appreciates the informed support of her many fans.” And this particular sentiment was also shared by the Britney’s Gram hosts, who expressed their gratitude for “everyone who has taken this to heart and not brushed it off as some pop music urban legend.”

“Conservatorship abuse is very much a rampant issue in this country,” Babs and Tess said. “There are many people who fall victim to the lack of checks and balances in the probate court system, who are not a beloved pop star and do not have an ‘army’ to advocate for them. We hope the attention around Britney’s case can shed a light on this larger problem and give a voice to these people who have similarly been silenced.”

As for Miller, while he also agreed that all of the recent developments have been encouraging, he also acknowledged that Britney likely wouldn’t be getting out of the conservatorship in the near future. In the meantime, he believes the members of the #FreeBritney movement should keep advocating for her, especially as others argue that they should just “‘leave it to the court system.'”

“There are countless examples in popular culture history where the family or the court system failed that artist. And I’m not saying that that’s what’s happening to Britney, I’m just saying that has happened,” he said. “It almost feels like you’re just turning a blind eye and just like, ‘Yeah, yeah, everything is going to be fine.’ Well, there’s a mountain of evidence over the last decade and then some to point to the fact that things aren’t necessarily right.”

Welcome to “Internet Explorer,” a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter’s finest roasts, “Internet Explorer” is here to keep you up-to-date with the web’s current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.

Photos via Getty


Do You Qualify to Be a Company’s Chief Meme Officer?

It’s hard to deny that memes have become the de facto mode of online communication. After all, whether we’re talking about a shitpost or something that contributes to a larger cultural discussion, it’s safe to say that everyone loves a good meme, including many smaller businesses hoping to get the word out about their products (or politicians campaigning for election). That said, for better or worse, this development has apparently lent itself to the rise of a new C-level position in the tech sphere: The Chief Meme Officer.

Exactly what it sounds like, a Chief Meme Officer is an internet-savvy content creator who’s been hired by a company with the intention of establishing a strategic brand persona in order to communicate their values and beliefs to consumers, as well as signal to new hires that they have a great internal work culture.

Related | The Meme Illuminati: Behind Instagram’s Comedy Empire

“In the past six months, start-ups and big companies have begun hiring for this new role,” as Brianne Kimmel — founder of Worklife and advisor to the meme-based Eye Mouth Eye tech movement — explained. “Companies are now taking memes more seriously. There’s now pressure for them to take a political stance. There’s more pressure for companies to have personality and to have an employer brand, where people know exactly what the company stands for and what it’s like to work there.”

However, according to Kimmel — whose company is the first venture capital firm designed for content creators, streamers and builders — the role is different from a traditional social media or community manager in the sense that a CMO tends to be someone who already has an established personal brand presence, rather than an agency-sourced creative.

Me applying for the role of “Chief Meme Officer” in 2020 https://t.co/3YNAcHNLoy — ben lol (@ben lol)1600289875.0

But what exactly does that mean? Well, basically, if you’re an independently popular content creator with a built-in fanbase, you can likely expect a lot of new companies to start sliding into your DMs with job offers pretty soon.

“[CMOs] are individuals who are growing in popularity online, and already have a real reliability and alignment in a specific ecosystem. It’s happening a lot in the tech and Girls Who Code worlds,” Kimmel said. “They’re individuals with more followers than the company itself, and they’re these known entities because they are creating videos or because they have their own personal brand. So they actually start to attract customers.”

Related | Everyone’s Obsessed With the ‘Which Are You’ Memes

And per Kimmel, the trend is only going to keep growing in a world where everything’s quickly becoming fully remote, especially since that only makes the ability to create funny, relatable online content all the more important.

“We’re starting to see people who are really great self-taught comedians on Twitter or people who are really great at identifying trending things being quickly picked up by start-ups,” she added. “And you’re actually able to create your own career path. It’s different from joining a bigger company because you can create your own content, set your own schedule and you kind of become the face of that company.”

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Case and point is content creator Adrienne Young, who was hired by Mos — a company that helps students find financial aid for college — from making viral videos on TikTok.

According to Young, her job at the company entails “educating Gen Z on a topic they should know more about, especially as the student loan debt crisis is becoming a bigger and bigger problem” via memes and humor. And that means spending most of her days “coming up with Twitter memes and little skits that are funny on TikTok that’ll resonate and get the point across to Gen Z about why it’s important to look for financial aid.”

Related | PAPER People 2020: Meet 20 TikTokers We Love

However, Young never actually planned to get into social media. Rather, doing things like “making random fancams” and making memes was just something she did in her spare time for her personal accounts. Much to her surprise, her hobby has since led to a near-constant onslaught of job offers through Twitter.

“I never thought it would translate to my work and my professional life,” she said. “But more and more now, I’m seeing how important it is for brands to connect to audiences using humor. I’ve found that it’s become [essential] to use memes in my work to make it more relatable.”

[twitter_embed https://www.twitter.com/budlight/status/1297195802562109440 expand=1]

Granted, as Young went on to explain, it’s also important to be careful of overdoing it — lest you become one of those brands who try to stay relevant by using heavy-handed memes that end up coming off as cringy, tonedeaf or just outright insensitive.

“Gen Z has a really big ‘no bullshit’ meter, so it’s really easy for them to sense when a brand isn’t being authentic or trying too hard,” she explained, before pointing toward the way some companies “miss the mark because they think ‘this thing is trending, I need to hop on it right now,’ even when the connection doesn’t make sense for them.”

Related | How a TikTok Cult Leader Reclaimed Online Trolling

Underscoring the importance of hiring someone who’s already clued into internet culture, Young said “some brands sound either very robotic or some of them miss the mark and they try too hard… and then might get into a meme a little too late and use it wrong. It’s all about experimenting, but it’s also about understanding meme culture and how memes are used to figure out if that meme is the right one for you to use as a brand.”

That said, in her opinion, the good thing about the rise of the CMO is that it’s no longer a prerequisite to have years of “professional” experience to get hired. In fact, one of the first things people are looking for when they’re seeking a social media manager isn’t her resume, it’s her history of making viral tweets. And in that sense, she believes it’s easier than ever to get your foot in the door of the tech world — even without a decades-worth of online experience.

@papermagazine

If you guys don’t stop ratting me out…..##NatureVibes ##SummerWorkout

♬ original sound – Nashará Jadé 💓

“When I was applying for jobs in the past, my resume was a lot more important, and now I get people reaching out in my Twitter DMs to be like, ‘Hey, I saw you made this tweet go viral. Are you looking for another position?,'” she said. “People go to social media to figure out who’s really good at it and are like, ‘We need someone who’s good at memes and TikTok.’ Like, those two things get asked way before something like, ‘I need someone with five years of experience and who knows how to do social strategy.'”

Welcome to “Internet Explorer,” a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter’s finest roasts, “Internet Explorer” is here to keep you up-to-date with the web’s current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.

Photo via Shutterstock

Finally, a Wellness App Not Led by White Women

Between the global pandemic, continued police violence against Black bodies and a renewed discussion about women’s rights, it would be an understatement to say that 2020 has been a particularly challenging year, particularly for Black, Indigenous, Women of Color. And while there continues to be an unfortunate dearth of spaces specifically dedicated to BIWOC’s mental health, one app is trying to fill the void with a reminder about the importance of self-care, mindfulness and rest during this trying time.

Born out of the idea that “the Black and brown community is holding its breath, waiting for the next video of police brutality, the next microaggression, or the next negative health impact statistic,” Exhale was launched last month by Indianapolis-based life coach, author and anti-racism advocate Katara McCarty with the intention of creating a supportive space for BIWOC emotional wellbeing. In addition to featuring a series of coaching talks, daily affirmations, breath work, guided visualizations and meditations, each component has also been specifically designed for BIWOC to address issues like handling microaggressions, coping with grief and mitigating stress.

Related | This Rideshare App Is the Only One Really Prioritizing Women’s Safety

Granted, even though self-care has become all the more important amidst the racial justice movement and pandemic — which has disproportionately affected Black and brown communities — as McCarty herself explained, there’s been an alarming lack of similar resources for BIWOC in particular. And so, she set out to create a space that caters specifically to BIWOC as a “healing resource, especially with everything we’re going through” today.

“We were getting smacked one after another, punched in the stomach, as a community. And I was just in a place of really grieving with the collective,” she said, before mentioning the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

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“I was feeling this immense amount of helplessness and pain. Like, ‘Oh my God. My community is hemorrhaging.’ That’s what it felt like,” McCarty continued. “And it wasn’t like I didn’t know. I’ve experienced microaggressions and racism — so have my mom, my sister, my daughters — it’s nothing new. But it felt like it was being so magnified. I felt like my comm was really in pain and I was already in a place of like, ‘What can I do for my community?'”

However, the idea for Exhale itself finally came to her this past April during an app-guided meditation which “wasn’t connecting with my grief and pain as a Black woman” as something that was created for and narrated by white people. So she began working on the project with the goal of facilitating “a brave space where BIWOC can show up fully as themselves.”

She added, “I want them to breathe a little bit and be like, ‘Okay, this person on the other end of my earbuds really gets me. They understand my fight and how I have to lead my life. There’s an ‘exhale’ that happens just with that: a relief that’s like, ‘They hear me, they see me.'”

“It is white supremacy to think that white people have all the answers.”

After all, it’s no secret that the wellness sphere — like most other spaces — is predominantly curated by and catered toward white people. But as McCarty explains, continuing to show up in these spaces can “actually be harmful,” especially if you feel like you “have to hang up part of [yourself] at the door.”

She explained, “It is white supremacy to think that white people have all the answers — that they know how to heal everybody because they don’t. They don’t know how to fully heal Black people and people of color. It’s systemic racism. White supremacy is when it’s being led only by white people, because white people have blindspots. They aren’t leading life in brown and Black bodies.”

That said, McCarty went on to reiterate that she didn’t want BIWOC to keep feeling like they weren’t being seen or heard, not to mention overlooked or exploited when it comes to having to explain that their specific identity-related trauma is valid.

“Those spaces are what they are, and I don’t feel called to break into these spaces and educate them like, ‘Hey, don’t forget about the brown people.’ I’m just going to create my own space,” McCarty continued. “Because it’s really important for us to have representation and to see ourselves reflected back to us — physically, emotionally, spiritually. And when that isn’t happening, there’s a part of us that isn’t given space to participate to heal or to engage, which is what we’re used to doing.”

While the entire app is currently free until September 30 — a decision spurred by the Jacob Blake shooting — starting in October, it will revert to a $4.99/month subscription to access some of the premium content. As McCarty sees it, that’s a small price to pay, especially considering there are plans to eventually add a support-centered community function, as well as an educational component that will emphasize the importance of emotional wellbeing for BIWOC.

Related | How to Demand Justice for Jacob Blake

“It’s so important to have these practices in our lives daily to manage the racial trauma we experience, because it’s killing us. It’s killing us in the streets, but it’s also killing us because we’re holding the trauma physically in our bodies and it’s making us sick,” McCarty said.

She concluded, “We cannot control what happens to us outside in the world and we can’t control what happens to our children, but we can control our breath. It really physically does something to our bodies. I’m hoping that the app becomes a resource for BIWOC to understand the power of emotional wellbeing taking care of ourselves and understanding the power of our breath.”

Welcome to “Internet Explorer,” a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter’s finest roasts, “Internet Explorer” is here to keep you up-to-date with the web’s current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.

Photos courtesy of Exhale

Meet the Girl Who Jumped Into the Hudson River

As far as waterways go, few are rumored to be nastier than the Hudson River. In between its metropolitan locale, history as a dumping ground for toxic chemicals and pollutants, and reports about the billions of gallons of raw sewage that end up in the harbor each year, it’s unsurprising that most people tend to be wary of taking a swim in it. Unless you’re Donna Paysepar, that is.

@chef_dp

Swimming with lady liberty 💕##newyork ##statueofliberty ##nyc ##boat ##independentwoman ##stepintolove ##JustVisiting ##electriclove

♬ Electric Love – BØRNS
@chef_dp

💜💜💜💜this feels like a dream ##nyc ##newyork ##persian ##statueofliberty ##boat ##ellisisland ##coneyisland ##manhattan

♬ original sound – favsoundds

Recently, the 20-year-old Long Islander went viral after uploading two TikToks of herself jumping off a boat and “swimming with Lady Liberty.” And while she wrote that the dip felt “like a dream,” it didn’t take long for grossed-out internet users to wonder what the hell she was thinking.

“This is a death sentence,” as one Twitter user wrote, while others joked that she could face potential health problems from “chemical burns” to “tetanus.” Or worse, “mutations” from all the supposed toxic sludge.

In fact, the response grew so intense that Paysepar eventually followed up with a set of videos talking about the Hudson’s water quality. According to the pages she cited on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s website, “the answers are mixed” when it comes to the water being clean and/or swimmable. However, “water quality has improved since the 1960s” and so, “swallowing a few mouthfuls of river water does not significantly expose a person to these pollutants.”

@chef_dp

Reply to @itsneonchurch ##greenscreen ##independentwomen ##equality ##peace ##blm ##nyc ##hudsonriver ##statueofliberty ##newyork ##summer ##covid19

♬ original sound – chef_dp
@chef_dp

Reply to @icecaramellatte ##greenscreen I’m fine guys 😊💜 thank you for your concern, I will be attending my annual check up soon! ##learn ##hudsonriver

♬ original sound – chef_dp

According to Paysepar herself, these sorts of concerns were the last thing on her mind. While what she swallowed tasted “like something was not right,” the water itself “looked clear” — much “like a regular lake or body of water that’s brown” — which is why she had no problems with jumping in.

“I’m always thinking of ideas to make cool TikToks and I’m pretty adventurous and like to have fun,” she recalled. “But I’d never seen anyone ever jump into the Hudson River in front of the Statue of Liberty. So I went ahead and saw an opportunity.”

And though she initially didn’t expect to go viral, Paysepar — who is an actress, singer, lifeguard and food blogger — explained that, as an entertainer, she saw the publicity as a good thing and has since decided to “make the most” of her newfound viral fame.

“Honestly, I have no regrets. It got me to have a couple more followers on TikTok and hopefully something great will come out of this,” she said, mentioning that she’s now running “a giveaway of $100 and two knock-off penny boards.”

Related | What Happens When You Unintentionally Become a Meme

“I don’t really see anything bad about [going viral],” Paysepar continued, before adding that she hopes people will now be able to see “the other side of her” — namely, that she’s “a giving person [who] wants to be there for my followers.”

The only thing that did “shock” her about the entire experience was the mean comments and death threats she received over the video — though Paysepar said that she’s keeping her own head high.

“I’m an advocate for anti-bullying and I believe that the internet is a very easy way to get behind a screen and troll,” she said. “It’s a big problem we have today. I just ignore it, because I know hurt people hurt people. If they’re treating other people that way, I can only imagine the way they treat themselves. So I just feel bad for them.”

Aside from the online negativity, Paysepar is determined to keep making content and is “open to collaborations.” And while she said she probably wouldn’t ever be swimming in the Hudson again, she does want people to know that she’s making a doctor’s appointment ASAP.

And yes, she also took a shower after.

Welcome to “Internet Explorer,” a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter’s finest roasts, “Internet Explorer” is here to keep you up-to-date with the web’s current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.

Photo via TikTok

How a TikTok Cult Leader Reclaimed Online Trolling

If you’re on TikTok, you’re likely familiar with Melissa Ong‘s face. Specifically, her blue-hued selfie that propelled her to internet infamy as it became a bonafide rallying cry for members of her Step Chickens “cult.” More importantly though, Ong’s mobilization of her prank-loving following has also led to an upending of the traditional notion of trolling — no small feat for someone who began their online career just a few months ago.

First though, a little background is in order. A former engineer for Yahoo and Google, Ong quit her job in January to focus on comedy, and has since become known for her dark sense of humor, “alpha-ness” and “quantity over quality” ethos.

ALL HAIL MOTHER HEN.
ARISE STEP CHICKENS.
#Stepchickens #stepchicken https://t.co/2It5V5XwDg — StepChickensWeebDivision (@StepChickensWeebDivision)1589424918.0

“Bad content is still content,” she said. “I built a brand around being shitty, and I’m like, ‘You can get famous by having no talent and being shitty like me.'”

And so, with more than two million followers on the platform, the 27-year-old has since solidified herself as one TikTok’s rising stars by creating her Step Chickens cult, whose name is a nod to her “Cornhub” videos in which she spoofed porn’s obsession with the step-siblings trope in a chicken costume.

That said, the cult itself was born after she joked about starting a religion in a video made as part of her “TikToks I Film at 3 A.M. When I’m Stoned” series. This led to her mobilizing “the collective power of my following to go spam someone else’s comments and just be a troll.”

In the wake of several successful pranks and a comment in which a fan suggested they all change their profile pictures to something Step Chickens-related, Ong — who’s known as “Mother Hen” to her followers — decided to have them use “this weird, ugly, blue photo of myself.”

“I wasn’t like, ‘This cult I formed high in my bathroom at 3 A.M. that’s loosely based off a furry pornographic stereotype is going to be the thing that makes me go viral,’ but I guess that is it now,” Ong laughed, explaining that the move sparked several other cults surrounding big TikTokers and a subsequent series of online “cult wars” where groups would compete to see who could get the most comments on a randomly chosen video.

@chunkysdead

##duet with @buhrenduhgurl ##greenscreen MUWAHAHAHA ##fyp ##stepchickens ##joinourcult ##worlddomination

♬ original sound – buhrenduhgurl

To this end, it may be more helpful to think of TikTok cults as a type of fandom centered on a particular content creator. Akin to other similar groups like the Lego Star Wars army, the Step Chickens typically flood comment sections and challenge other cults, all in the name of Ong.

Amid quarantine though, Ong said her following has only continued to grow and eventually led to the recent launch the community-based Step Chickens app — repurposed from her old co-worker Sam Mueller’s fandom app — which climbed to number six in the iTunes App Store with more than 100,000 downloads in the span of a few days.

“I think the appeal of the Step Chickens is the same psychology of why you attach yourself to a certain sports team or why people are Xbox versus PS4. There’s this sort of in-group mentality,” she explained. “What I’ve heard from people who follow me is that it’s helped them feel like they’re a part of something and it’s like, ‘Thank you for giving us something to do in quarantine’ or, in a weird way, ‘Thank you for giving us a sense of purpose,’ even though it’s totally meaningless.”

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Granted, there’s something to be said about the fact that Ong has spurred a powerful, millions-strong movement within a space where the notion of trolling — whether it’s of the hate comment or prank variety— is still attached to a very particular subset of internet users who tend to be white, middle-class and male. Needless to say, the idea that an Asian-American woman has become the face of a new prank-based movement like this could be considered a statement in and of itself.

“A lot of my followers view me as very ‘alpha,’ which isn’t a trait associated with women… so I thought it was really cool that people chose to be in my cult following and do all this shit with me even though I’m female,” she said, pointing out that most of the biggest TikTokers “are all white and look a certain way.”

Even better, according to Ong, most of her followers are women, people of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, or an intersection of these identities, which she said could be attributed to the fact that her brand of dark humor “resonates” with minorities who “experience so much shitty stuff if you grow up in America.”

“I think [millennials and Gen Z] are becoming more and more aware of these issues, so in a way, my dark humor is funny to them, because they have the skin to handle it since they’ve dealt with shit,” Ong explained, though she went on to admit that she’s spent a lot of time thinking about how her success pushes against the sexist notion that “women aren’t funny” — something she said has led to “a bajillion hate comments” about how “cringe” she is every day.

She continued, “It’s weird because a lot of people don’t think women can be good-looking and funny. Obviously, as quote-unquote woke as you can be, misogyny and sexism is still deeply rooted in people’s psychology, because of the society we grow up in. So I think it says something that I — as a female, and especially as a minority female — can mobilize people to do this kind of shit.”

And while she said that powerful women in general are lambasted in the media — citing examples like Amy Schumer and her former CEO at Yahoo, Marissa Meyer — Ong also said that she has “this double whammy where people don’t think women are funny and people don’t think Asians are funny.”

The latter is something she chalked up to a general lack of Asian representation within the media, which paints Asians as quiet and studious. And though she said things are slowly changing for the better in comedy thanks to the casting of people like Ali Wong and Kumail Nanjiani, Ong also confessed that a lot of this humor is still a little too identity-centric and self-tokenizing for her tastes.

Related | This Generation of Comedy Is Queer

“I intentionally stay away from Asian-related comedy… because so much of Asian comedy is people talking about being Asian, and I’m like, ‘Well, that’s not my whole life experience,'” she said. “It’s all in our collective past, every Asian I know was like, ‘Yeah, we made the dog eating, squinty eye jokes in middle school, because we wanted to fit in,’ and we grow up later and were like, ‘What did I do that for?'”

While “there’s nothing wrong with relatable content,” as Ong explained, “I definitely feel cool that I’ve built somewhat of a little empire, and I didn’t have to use the cheap-shot race joke, or be a man, or white.”

This reliance on racist Asian stereotypes tends to extend to memes. As Ong pointed out, while she loves things like Brittany Broski‘s reaction or the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’s Taylor Armstrong yelling at a cat, a lot of faces used in popular memes are white or Black (though the latter also presents its own problematics). That said, when there is an Asian face in a meme, it tends to be something racist and riddled with stereotypes, such as High Expectations Asian Father.

“There are so many white faces that it’s cool there’s an Asian meme that people now know about, and it’s this really good picture of me,” she laughed, saying she ultimately thinks that it’s “really cool and powerful” to see how “this army of women totally fucked up TikTok for a minute” with her face — especially given the fact that “people hated it” and the entire incident “sparked controversy.”

In this sense, Ong is happy to say she’s helping with this evolution of trolling and, in the wake of her success with the TikTok cult wars, is now planning to take over YouTube with the help of her Step Chickens.

“My goal has always been internet domination,” she said. “Obviously, it’s hard to get people to switch apps, but I’m just going to try and grow it on YouTube in the same way as TikTok, but I have no doubt that we’ll dominate.”

Welcome to “Internet Explorer,” a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter’s finest roasts, “Internet Explorer” is here to keep you up-to-date with the web’s current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.

Photo via Instagram

This Doc Answers All Your Questions About Furries

At its core, there isn’t much differentiating the furry community from other fandoms, especially when you consider the fact that furries-at-large are merely a group of self-proclaimed “nerds” probably best known for dressing up in “fursuits” and attending large conventions.

That said, thanks to sensationalized media characterizations painting them as sexual fetishists and/or “socially anxious” loners, few subcultures have been as maligned and misunderstood by the mainstream as furries — something that has led to things like employment discrimination and outright attacks. However, a new documentary created by members of the community is hoping to shed light on what furry actually is, and hopefully create a sense of understanding in the process.

Culled from dozens of interviews with community leaders and hundreds of hours of archival footage, The Fandom gives viewers a glimpse at everything from the history of furry to their longtime ties to the LGBTQIA+ community from an insider’s perspective. After all, as Director Ash Kreis and Executive Producer Phil Kreis explained, while they had talked about making this film for a long time, they really shifted into gear after Robert Hill — one of the earlier fursuiters — passed away.

“He passed away and it was like, ‘Our founders are getting up there in age and we have to talk to them,'” Phil said, before Ash added that the history of the fandom is something that most furries themselves aren’t aware of.

Related | Furries Talk About How the Coronavirus Has Affected Their Community

“We spent so much time trying to figure out the history, because this isn’t written anywhere,” Ash said. “You actually have to dig, and dig deep, to figure out what happened and when. It’s a subculture that’s been around for a lot longer than people know.”

So, with the help of Co-Director/Editor Eric Risher, Ash and Phil decided to start from the beginning: With furry’s formation in the ’70s by a group of animation fans in Southern California, spearheaded by couple Rod O’Riley and Mark Merlino. The film then goes on to provide an overview of the subculture’s evolution — from online zines to art-sharing forums to the emergence of large-scale conventions — as well as the way its accepting nature has made it a haven for queer people across the country. In fact, as the documentary states, about 80% of the furry community identifies as LGBTQIA+ — though many people may not know that, “because they haven’t really interacted with it outside of the internet,” per Ash.





After all, as she explained, as something that allows you to “try on your identity first,” furry has helped her — and many other trans people — come into their own.

“I used it to kind of figure out who I was. It was the first time I could really just pass as myself. It was really eye-opening,” she said, before Phil added that “people will just automatically accept you’re female without any barriers.”

But then why is there still such a taboo surrounding the fandom? For that, you can thank the media who, according to Ash, has almost exclusively “focused in on these really singular aspects of the community” — namely, the idea that some furries like to have orgies in their fursuits.

“There are a lot of different types of experiences that exist in fandoms, including ours.”

As an offshoot of the LGBTQIA+ community, the fandom has always had a very healthy, sex-positive attitude, with all of the conventions having provided testing, safe sex classes, and consent seminars for years. And though society has started to move away from the prudishness and moral policing of yore, the lingering, kink-shaming stigma surrounding the small percentage of furries who do partake in this fetish is something that’s remained a problem since the early aughts. Additionally, much of this has also been wrapped up in blatant queerphobia since the beginning, as exhibited by historic pushback from sci-fi/anime convention culture and the “burned furs” phenomenon — a furry off-shoot of “predominantly straight people upset that there were so many LGBT people in the community,” per Ash.

That said, as Phil and Ash explained, while all the one-note, sensationalized stories have made it “really hard for an outsider to come into the community,” a recent uptick in more balanced coverage over the past few years has led to a slight reopening of the community. But at the same time, as this documentary proves, sometimes it’s best to go straight to the source.

“I wanted to tell both the history of fandom and explain what it actually is to the outside world, as told by us,” Ash said. “Furry as a community is incredibly diverse. There are a lot of different types of experiences that exist in fandoms, including ours.”

The Fandom premieres July 3.

Welcome to “Internet Explorer,” a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter’s finest roasts, “Internet Explorer” is here to keep you up-to-date with the web’s current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.

Photos courtesy of The Fandom

Meet the Memelord Behind the Viral ‘Lana Del Rey Cursed 2020’ Conspiracy

While virality is a fickle beast, once in a while you get a post that’s just so off-the-wall absurd that the internet can’t help but latch onto it. Case and point? A tongue-in-cheek conspiracy theory about how Lana Del Rey‘s Grammys loss kickstarted the garbage fire that is 2020.

The brainchild of Facebook meme page Miki Minach, the viral post was the work of admin Mark Mhr, who “cited” occurrences such as the Australian wildfires, the coronavirus pandemic, and Kobe Bryant’s death as repercussions of Lana’s snub.

“We were all very angry that she didn’t win, because all of us really loved [Norman Fucking Rockwell!], and it was a crime for her not to win Album of the Year,” the 23-year-old meme creator explained.

Related | The ‘March 1 vs. March 31’ Quarantine Memes Are Too Real

“So I thought that maybe the world being on fire was karma for not giving Lana what she deserves,” Mark said. “We all have this idea that Lana’s a witch… so when anything bad happens, [I wrote that] it’s because she’s here for revenge.”

Partially thanks to the Lana post though, Miki Minach (and its back-up page Dora the Whora) have now gotten so popular that Mark expanded them into a website filled with everything from speculative posts about celebrities to satirical articles like “Woman Named Karen Complains About the Karen Meme.” And while both pages and the website are growing at an “amazing’ rate, according to the Turkey-based programmer, his initial ambitions were much smaller.

Started in 2018, Mark initially began the page out of boredom with his friend Yazan as a way to “fill [his] time with something [he] loved” — namely, celebrity memes. However, it didn’t take long for his posts to start going viral and, with that, came tens of thousands of new followers from all over the world.

And while Miki Minach initially bolstered its following thanks to Nicki Minaj stans who believed it to be a stan page, Mark made it clear that it’s purely focused on memes sans any particular celebrity allegiances — even if he does prefer to post about his personal favorites, like Lana Del Rey and Shawn Mendes.

Per Mark, most of the memes are original and celebrity-focused, with the occasional “funny conspiracy theory” thrown in for good measure. After all, as we all know, celebrity content is the name of the game. And while the website may still be less than a month old, Mark believes his site is popular because it’s obvious a peer is writing these posts, as “a lot of celebrity websites today don’t really connect with people.”

“These other sites, they’re trying to be one of the gang. But they’re not, so it seems awkward,” he explained. “The way they write their articles seems cringey to me. They’re trying to be more relatable than they are. It’s like, ‘We’re just one of you.’ But you’re obviously not, so stop acting like it.”

He said that he tries to retain the irreverent tone and keep the content “as lighthearted as I can” — though he was also quick to add that he’s not trying “to be hateful to celebrities.”

And while most people understand that the content isn’t meant to be taken all that seriously, Mark said that Miki Minach has still run into a few problems with overzealous stans, who have flooded their posts with “nasty comments” and threats. That said, he insisted that it “never really bothers me, because a lot of these stans are little bit younger.”

Related | The Chain Challenge Is the Latest Quarantine Trend

Instead, Mark takes issue with the current state of stan culture, which he feels — as a former stan himself — has gotten far more “toxic” as of late and leads people to gang up on content creators like him.

“I still love these people, but I dont stan them anymore. Like, I wouldn’t fight anyone for them. I wouldn’t hurt anyone for them,” he said. “I think that’s the problem with stan culture. They think these people are more than just a celebrity. They’re family, they’re mom, and it’s not really worth it, in the end. She’s just your idol, so you dont have to keep fighting people for your fave. Your fave is a millionaire living their best life and nasty comments will not hurt or affect them in any way.”

However, he said that he still wants to keep himself as anonymous as possible, given some of the online vitriol and the fact that “a lot of people think of us as bad people” — something he said has also led to numerous reports from stans who have gotten the page blocked by Facebook multiple times.

That said, Mark went on to insist that he isn’t in it to “start rumors” or “spread fake news” for clicks or engagement, which is a criticism that’s been lobbed at similar sites. Rather, he said that he wants people to realize it’s more about “just enjoying the laugh,” especially when the joke is something like his Lana theory.

“I don’t want to make people believe things they shouldn’t believe,” he said, before arguing that all of his posts — while “funnily written” and maybe accompanied by a “clickbaity headline” — are all “general enough” and rooted in “facts.” And though he acknowledged that some may still take issue with this, Mark cited the overall positive response as reason to keep working on the website and “trying to make it bigger and going as far as I can” in the interim.

And so, with the help of his friends — Jonas, Majd, Michael, Yazan and Ghaith, who help him brainstorm content — he said that he will continue to write as Miki Minach and seed “funny content” about celebrities into the internet ether. After all, as he put it, “it’s connected with people because it’s so messy and chaotic, which is something people dont have in their average lives.”

He concluded, “It was the same for me, because my life wasn’t really exciting. But that’s why I have memes.”

Welcome to “Internet Explorer,” a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter’s finest roasts, “Internet Explorer” is here to keep you up-to-date with the web’s current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.

Photo via Getty

The Chain Challenge Is the Latest Quarantine Trend

Whether your self-isolation has been spent baking or masturbating, you’ve likely been forced to get a little innovative in terms of filling all your newfound alone time. And though there’s something to be said about the value of having some solo space, as many of us approach the one month-mark of quarantine, it makes sense that our desire for human connection has only intensified. As a result, experts believe we’ve been coping by sharing memes, and the latest iteration of this has been the popularization of a meme subgenre known as the chain challenge.

A trend that sees people doing anything from push-ups to drawing carrots, chain challenges seem to be on everyone and their mother’s Instagram Stories. And while TikTokers have been ahead of the curve in terms of pioneering these types of challenges, the tagging of specific friends to seed these newer challenges is a post-quarantine development that seems to have ties to a deeper desire for intimacy. After all, before self-isolation, many of these (pretty random) challenges probably would’ve been disregarded or even considered irritating, especially by the generation that remembers chain emails. So then, why is everyone doing them now? And is there more to it than just boredom?

While it’s been hypothesized that these chain challenges could be our way of searching for a sense of nostalgic comfort in uncertain times by reaching out to people we trust, I also have a theory that the appeal of these chain challenges, particularly the ones in which you’re instructed to “tag 10 friends,” could lie within the perception that they’re more interactive and personal as something circulated amongst a tighter social circle. Why? Well, compared to the way we tend to interact with more conventional picture and text-based memes, chain challenges are often direct prompts sent to an established group of friends. As a result, they tend to be more unique to the participant, which is something Eric Hu — a creative consultant who is currently the director of design at SSENSE and an adjunct professor at the School of Visual Arts — also pointed toward in his analysis.

“I think we seek out traces of our friends. We miss specific things about specific people. You might miss a friend’s infectious laugh. You might miss another friend’s dance moves. You might miss another friend’s sarcasm,” he explained. “I think the most successful chain challenges let you witness the things that make your friends unique. Everyone draws an orange in a different way and it becomes this stage where you show parts of your personality… It becomes that substitute for hearing your friends laugh in a way.”

And this line of argument makes sense, especially since people do seem to be taking advantage of these chain challenges as a sort of creative outlet. For example, according to Creative Director Morgan Freed, he’s seen people he typically wouldn’t expect to partake in these sorts of challenges to showcase their more irreverent sides — and the results have been a pleasant surprise.

Related | You Should All Be Practicing Masturbation Meditation

“Through this quarantine, I’ve been blown away by my friends who are like lawyers and doctors — who don’t really get a chance to be funny or creative because they don’t have the time — have fun with this stuff,” he said. “All these people who I never knew were talented and funny and creative are so hilarious, so creative, and beyond funny.”

Needless to say, it appears as if many people are using chain challenges as an open invitation to chat, which makes sense seeing as how responding to your friend’s Story, posting something of your own, or tagging a friend has the possibility to jumpstart a conversation. And in this way, these challenges also could quite possibly be our sneaky way of fishing for communication with those we miss seeing in real life.

“Everyone’s craving attention from their friends right now, but it’s still uncouth to be so transparent about it. I still feel weird FaceTiming a friend more than once a day,” Hu said, adding that “these challenges to me kind of circumvent that, because it’s gamified.” So perhaps it’s this desire for intimacy in combination with boredom that’s led to a newfound willingness to engage in these more time-consuming types of memes — especially given the difference between the effort put into figuring out how to bounce a roll of toilet paper on a tennis racket versus hitting send on a viral video.

“We’re literally picking up crumbs of each other’s humanities that way, in a way that doesn’t feel perverse or needy or invasive,” Hu explained. “It’s like a less creepy version of smelling someone’s hair, because if you verbalized a challenge it’d seem absolutely nuts. [Like], ‘Hey, can I just like watch you do push ups?'”

That said, maybe we have all gotten to the point where we genuinely do just want to watch our friends do push ups, or even give it a try ourselves. And while arguably a stopgap for intimacy, perhaps it’s not all too bad, especially if it does end up in some comforting conversation. After all, in addition to providing a lighthearted dose of levity, these chain challenges have also become a genuine way of reaching out to those we love and, in these strange and trying times, the importance of that can’t be understated. So in short, check in on your friends, respond to those Stories, and keep those chain challenges going, because we could all use a little connection right now.

Welcome to “Internet Explorer,” a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter’s finest roasts, “Internet Explorer” is here to keep you up-to-date with the web’s current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.

Photo via Getty

How Zoombombers Are Targeting QTPOC Chats

With the entire nation in self-isolation, Zoom has emerged as the video conferencing tool of choice for everything from meetings to hang-outs with friends. However, as more and more organizations, schools and businesses have begun to rely on the app, a new form of online harassment has emerged. Known as “Zoombombing,” the trend sees trolls exploiting the platform’s basic settings by hijacking video calls to transmit hate speech, pornographic images and even doxx participants — an occurrence that’s become so widespread that NYC schools have officially banned the use of Zoom and even the FBI has gotten involved.

However, what’s been talked about less is the way Zoombombers have also been targeting a wide swath of QTBIPOC-centric events — something that writer and performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon recently experienced during their keynote performance for an Asian-American Heritage Month event for the University of Illinois at Chicago students.

According to Alok, they were interrupted by “a chorus of voices shouting anti-Black slurs and threats, gleefully while laughing,” soon followed by a slur-filled takeover of the chat function in the middle of a poem recitation.

“We were all so taken aback and shocked,” they said. “I just remained silent as the organizers hustled to identify the culprits and remove them from the session. After, we were all visibly shaken and I curtailed the performance so that we could process together. We all agreed that this felt so undignified, particularly in an event where this was supposed to be a safe space for students of color.”

And while Alok said that they believe the importance of being able to convene in digital spaces is more important than ever at this moment, the incident has definitely made them rethink participating in future Zoom events.

ALOK on Instagram: “(CW: racist harassment) hi everyone something really difficult and bad just happened. i was invited to deliver a performance as part of…”

“These Zoombombings are becoming quite frequent and are traumatizing so many,” Alok continued, imploring Zoom to prioritize the safety of its users in this time. They added that in the wake of these incidents, Zoom should double-down on committing to making their platform safer and more robust for people of all backgrounds.

“So often the onus on dealing with online abuse is put on the people enduring it, not the platforms to actually circumvent it before it happens, and that needs to change,” they said, before noting that “many folks are using this [pandemic] as an opportunity to express and entrench their prejudice and discrimination.”

Similarly, Club Quarantine — the popular queer Zoom party founded by Mingus New, Brad Allen, Andrés Sierra and Casey MQ — has been forced to deal with Zoombombing at more than a few of their nightly events. From bad actors hijacking the audio to bots overwhelming the system with hundreds of fake accounts to spammers flooding the comments section with offensive language and slurs, the Club Q team has continually grappled with the difficult task of trying to circumvent trolls on-the-fly, oftentimes with little more than the tools already available on the platform.

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Keeping Club Q a safe space — especially as a highly visible queer party — has also proven to be somewhat of a challenge. After all, as Andrés explained, the weaponization of anti-LGBTQ+ comments often makes things “feel very targeted,” and has made them question whether the same level of vitriol is being experienced within hetero online spaces. “[The Zoombombers] knew where they were coming,” Andrés said. “They knew the space that it was, so it was very tailored to our people.”

In response, the Club Q team has adapted by implementing policies like individually approving every user and ensuring that only hosts have the ability to stream audio, though as Mingus put it, “It’s kind of been a matter of a troll throwing a punch and us figuring out how to dodge it.” Thankfully, this has meant that Club Q has been able to keep the Zoombombing to a minimum so far. And while Brad admitted that hackers can still get around a few of these features, at the same time, he argued that it’s the responsibility of anyone throwing a Zoom party to do their research about the built-in safeguards that can help curtail some of the most vicious attacks. “You can’t just be like, ‘After party, 150 people come and dance.’ If you’re hosting it, it’s your responsibility to take care of this as a safe space.”

Club Q team has tried to give other organizers tips on how to protect their own partygoers. After all, without taking advantage of certain features, Zoombombing has the potential to become a dangerous and deeply traumatizing experience for everyone involved, as exemplified by a particularly egregious attack that recently occurred at an unaffiliated after party. According to the Club Q organizers-in-attendance, a troll took advantage of the open screen-sharing function to hijack the stream and managed to broadcast swatiskas, beastility and child pornography before the entire party was able to be shut down.

For their part though, Zoom has been trying to help mitigate some of these issues by instating new default protocols, redirecting their focus toward patching security flaws and publishing an advisory guide for meeting hosts. And though it’s been difficult for Club Q to get in touch with the company’s support team, a Zoom spokesperson told PAPER that they’re still encouraging users to report any troubling incidents via their help center. “We are deeply upset to hear about the incidents involving this type of attack and we strongly condemn such behavior,” the spokesperson said. “We are listening to our community of users to help us evolve our approach.”

CLUB Q 🦠 on Instagram: “happy trans day of visibility (today and everyday) to club q mother @esandres and to all two-spirit, trans, gender queer and nonbinary ppl…”

That said, despite the platform’s shortcomings, as Andrés pointed out, “People need to understand that we’re just users of this third-party app, the way that everyone else is. We use Zoom because it’s the best thing that exists right now,” they said, explaining that adding features as simple as blocking certain words or pinning comments would make a world of difference for them. “The dream would be to create our own platform that is built for the club and not a conferencing app — being able to get features that are going to help us create a better party with sound and microphones and all that kind of stuff would really [help us] flourish.”

And though they hope the solutions to these issues come sooner rather than later, according to Casey, one bright spot amid the Zoombombing has been seeing the “resilience in people” when that harassment happens. “The community jumps in real hard to really shut it down, while also quickly removing them if anything like that happened,” he said. “Everyone there is also making sure that they want to have a great time as well.” After all, as Casey put it, the spirit of the party itself means that the trolls ultimately end up being just “a blip in the reality” of what’s going on.

“This is something that is so special for everyone to feel a part of, it’s [a way to] just have a good time amidst this sort of chaos outside,” Casey said — a sentiment all of the Club Q organizers whole-heartedly agreed with.

“I don’t think they kill the vibe for the whole night,” Mingus said. “If anything, once you overcome it, people feel even more happy to be there and you feel like you’ve championed these shitty people.”

Welcome to “Internet Explorer,” a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter’s finest roasts, “Internet Explorer” is here to keep you up-to-date with the web’s current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.

Photo via Getty

Think Before You Meme About Corona

Since the emergence of the coronavirus this past December, it seems as if COVID-19 is the only thing the internet can talk about right now. From emergency declaratives to a rising death toll, every day seems to bring another unnerving story about its disastrous potential to light. And though public health officials and experts have pushed back on the “overestimated” risk of death and “disproportionate” fears, the online “infodemic” surrounding COVID-19 has made the “pandemic” panic hard to stamp out — and it’s something that experts have begun to express worry over in the past few weeks.

After all, while there is some legitimate concern, much of the alarm has been hinged upon non-stop discussion of the outbreak’s spread. And while a near-constant stream of news coverage has definitely contributed to the panic, an accompanying glut of memes and viral videos that perpetuate a number of false narratives and outright conspiracy theories have also become a cause for concern.

Even in the past few years, the internet has changed the way we consume and respond to information of this sort. However, given the way it’s unfolded online, the coronavirus conversation has, arguably, become the first major global health panic we’ve had to grapple with on this scale — though it’s unlikely that it will be the last. But even as a number of social media platforms implement “fake news” safeguards and groups like the World Health Organization attempt to spread intel via TikTok, the underlying question remains: How exactly has the internet changed the way we respond to crises? Is having an excess of information of varying degrees of credibility, ultimately, for the better or worse? And what are the ramifications of the mass hysteria phenomenon going viral?

To get to the bottom of this, we have to start with why the coronavirus in particular has — psychologically speaking — struck such a chord online, even despite constant reassurance by experts that diseases like the influenza pose a much more tangible, significant threat to society.

Currently, the working theory is that this logical disconnect is the result of a superabundance of online chatter that capitalizes on the substantial amount of public fascination stemming from the coronavirus’s novelty and the lack of research surrounding this relatively new threat. As Forbes posited, humans have a “built-in survival mechanism” that prioritizes negative thinking in order to protect themselves from potential danger. And while this means “existential threats often receive more attention than they deserve,” it’s an instinct that also bolsters widespread public interest — something mirrored within the media’s 24-hour coverage of the virus.

After all, as Dr. Robert Bartholomew — a medical sociologist who’s studied the effects of social media on mass psychogenic illnesses — explained, “We live in an age when the media, which is a business, is always in crisis mode. Every week there seems to be a new crisis. Before coronavirus it was North Korea, cybersecurity, the threat posed by refugees, Iran, Russian hackers, and so on.”

But what does this mean in a world where bias-heavy websites concerned with views and profit have begun masquerading as reliable sources of information? Because while some traditional media outlets have definitely played a role in the perpetuation of dangerous misconceptions, what about the websites spreading viral content that hasn’t been fact-checked or extensively scrutinized? And, for that matter, what do we do about posts created by those who may choose to sensationalize or selectively present certain information in their quest for clicks and engagement?

Given the fact that many posts about the outbreak have been shared hundreds of thousands of times, it shouldn’t be surprising that we’ve also seen a number of opportunists trying to cash in on the coronavirus’s inherent virality. From infamy-hungry influencers claiming to have the virus to the creation of “coronavirus meme accounts,” there’s been an influx of content spouting incorrect information related to the outbreak’s spread and prevention. After all, just look at the controversy surrounding Summer Walker’s sharing of a video by YouTube music news channel DomIsLiveNews, which used misleading footage taken two years ago to show how people in China have been “spreading the coronavirus to the public.”

As illustrated by this incident though, some of these posts have had a more insidious side effect — namely, engendering a level of unnecessary vitriol and unfounded fear toward a perceived “Other.” After all, it’s not as if irrational overreactions bred by collective illusions of potential threats are anything new in our society, as exemplified by everything from the Salem Witch Trials to the way Jews were scapegoated as harbingers of the Black Plague. That said, as certain types of content continues to feed into things like xenophobia and racially motivated attacks, this rise of rampant misinformation has become all the more urgent to address.

However, that’s not to say that all the viral content being made about the coronavirus is bad per se. In a world where more and more young people turn toward memes and viral posts as major news sources, the dissemination of accurate information in a digestible, attention-catching way is inherently valuable in and of itself. Not only that, but it should be noted that the jokier side of the internet’s coronavirus obsession is symptomatic of another psychological phenomenon related to the way we grapple with lesser-known fears and threats.




“People are now in the habit of going online and subconsciously reducing their psychic stress,” Dr. Bartholomew said. “In the past, people might have gone to church and prayed, whereas today in a more secular age, they go online and discuss their fears as a form of collective coping.”

In the past, these types of anxiety were dealt with “more individually” before the age of social media, the ubiquity of the internet has allowed us a new outlet for collectively dealing “with things that frighten us.” And, given the nature of internet culture today, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the younger generation, in particular, have done everything from creating TikTok dance trends to starting entire meme forums dedicated to the coronavirus.

“You wouldn’t meme about your uncle who has cancer, but jokes that make fun of the coronavirus can be a collective way to release tension among friends or strangers,” he observed. “It’s well-known in psychology that the process of talking about traumatic events can help people ‘get it off their chest’ and relieve stress.”

So while there’s something to be said about the benefits of engaging in viral content related to the coronavirus, there should also be a level of discretion when choosing to share certain content, especially if it has the potential to influence the health choices of others or increase hostility toward others. Needless to say, just meme wisely and remember to wash your hands.

Welcome to “Internet Explorer,” a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter’s finest roasts, “Internet Explorer” is here to keep you up-to-date with the web’s current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.

Photo via Getty

Rebecca Black Was Ahead of Her Time

In the nine years since its debut, Rebecca Black’s “Friday” has been solidified as an internet cultural touchstone for better or worse. And while the vitriolic hubbub surrounding the song and Black herself has since faded away, her recent reflection on the anniversary of its release has sparked yet another viral moment, as well as a larger conversation about the evolution of internet culture.

Earlier this week, Black wrote a candid post in which she touched on the backlash’s effect on her mental health, as well as its continued impact on her social and professional life. Now 22, the musician openly admitted that while she knows “time heals and nothing is finite,” remembering that continues to be an ongoing battle, even years removed from the traumatizing situation.

“I just wish I could go back and talk to my 13-year-old self who was terribly ashamed of herself and afraid of the world,” she wrote earlier this week. “To my 15-year-old self who felt like she had nobody to talk to about the depression she faced. To my 17-year-old self who would get to school only to get food thrown at her and her friends. To my 19-year-old self who had almost every producer/songwriter tell me they’d never work with me. Hell, to myself a few days ago who felt disgusting when she looked in the mirror!”

In the days since her post, Black has experienced an outpouring of support, even from those who came out to apologize for being part of the vicious dogpile in 2011. However, her note also ended up raising an interesting discussion about how our collective response to silly viral content has changed since “Friday” took off. After all, in an age where virality has become a coveted commodity and people who are far more suspect frequently employ stunts in an attempt to kickstart their careers, Black’s case has forced the internet-at-large to also reflect on its growth, its past treatment of a then-middle schooler, and what happens when the cyberbullying campaign of a child goes viral.


[twitter_embed https://twitter.com/CarolineMoss/statuses/1227241326443286528 expand=1]

Granted, as Black tells PAPER, she never intended for the song to blow up in the first place. In fact, she thought she’d be lucky if her grandma saw the video. But in between the video’s bizarre depiction of tween partying, Black’s heavily autotuned voice, and the track’s lyrics ruminating on the days of the week, “Friday” went viral as an inane, vacuous tween ditty — something ripe for parodies, memes and relentless trolling.

A furor proliferated by a segment on Daniel Tosh’s Tosh.O series and a flurry of mean-spirited articles dubbing it everything from a “train-wreck” to perhaps “the worst song ever,” “Friday” — later discovered to be the work of adults running a vanity record label called Ark Music Factory — was something the aspiring performer was told would help her “gain real-world experience in her chosen profession,” per the Daily Beast.

Needless to say, it was an endeavor that backfired; though later analyses would recognize the song’s cultural influence while positing that the vitriol stemmed from a resentment toward the increasing power of young people online or, more likely, society’s perennial dismissal and animosity toward teen girls. Meanwhile, others attributed it to the track “being ahead its time,” as a 2017 Rolling Stone profile on Black noted that autotune is now ubiquitous and having a viral song has become a legitimate way of breaking into the mainstream music industry in the years since.

However, Black herself has another theory: That the hate came down to the fact that online etiquette — particularly pertaining to viral videos of young people — was far less established when “Friday” was released.

“2011 wasn’t necessarily even that long ago, but people didn’t hold themselves to the responsibility they do now, and they definitely didn’t hold other people responsible,” she said. “[The internet] wasn’t developed enough to maybe understand that every person has a real world and life behind that video. I don’t think a lot of people realized how young I was. But in hindsight, I can’t imagine anyone looking back and feeling good that they made fun of a 13-year-old.”

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Regardless, none of this lessened the awful intensity of the backlash for Black at the time, who pointed out that being a teen girl is hard enough — let alone one dealing with all the death threats, derisive media attention, or being put on blast by adult men with enormous platforms and a love of punching down.

“I was so young and at that perfect age of everything just feeling like the world was ending as it was, regardless of having anything like ‘Friday’ happen,” she said. “Being 13 is not necessarily the prime of anyone’s life… So introduce hundreds and hundreds and thousands of people into that equation, and it just fucks your mind.”

Rebecca Black on Instagram: “i could have never imagined the response i’ve gotten over the past few days. thank you for meeting me with honesty about your own stories.…”

In the wake of “Friday,” Black said she had to be homeschooled and spent her days by herself at home. And though she eventually made her way back to the internet (“which is ironic”) and found a community to lean on there, Black still felt totally isolated — something that just fed into her depression.

“There was a good amount of time throughout my teenage years, and after all the initial craziness winded down, that I was just incredibly alone. But at the same time, I felt like I had nobody to talk to,” she said. “It was such a painful thing to deal with, and I think when you’re going through something like that, the hardest part is just saying the words to yourself… So I think I avoided it and tried to run away as far as I could, but it always caught up to me.”

Black credited starting therapy at 18 with helping her “move forward and really change certain negative, dangerous mindsets that have become so normal for me.” She has been spending “the last couple of years trying to work out what is true to me and what feels right,” and advocating for more transparency when it comes to talking about mental health — which is where her recent post came from. Because while she had initially planned to celebrate “Friday’s” anniversary by just posting something simple, Black realized that a message like that wouldn’t convey how she really felt about the past nine years.

Related | The Rise of the Vulnerable Heroine

“I’ve never really been honest on my own accord [about what happened],” she said. “I never felt ballsy enough to talk about depression or what it really looked like. People knew it was a negative experience and people knew I had a hard time with it, but I don’t think I was able to talk about the depth of that. Like, you’re bullied, but what does that actually do to somebody?”

Despite her past struggles though, Black is adamant about not fixating on past wrongs or contemplating what ifs. If anything, she’s just content with knowing that she is still “so proud of that 13-year-old girl who did something because she enjoyed it and loved it and because she wanted to try something new.”

“I don’t know if the internet is necessarily better, but I do think there are pockets of kindness that people can look at and hopefully learn something from it.”

She continued, “Of course I imagine what would’ve happened if [‘Friday’] had appeared in this day and age, but at the same time, I can’t let myself get wrapped up in that. But even though there are people who have definitely had similar situations to me — who now get a record deal or become an influencer — I think there is an entirely new batch of things they’re dealing with that I was spared from.”

With this in mind, Black went on to laud this new generation of internet users for having the strength to share their lives with the public, even amidst potential cancellation and trolling. In fact, she thinks that everyone sharing “their lives and the good and the bad” is the main reason we’re slowly becoming kinder to each other online.

“I think now, we see so much more of people, and you’re not just getting the [viral moment]. Like, you see them afterwards and now you can really take a look at their lives,” Black said. “I don’t know if the internet is necessarily better, but I do think there are pockets of kindness that people can look at and hopefully learn something from it.”

Related | Lauv on the Internet: ‘It’s Literally a Drug’

As for her own situation, Black said that she genuinely doesn’t want anyone to feel bad about the past. Even so, she reiterated that the outpouring of positivity she’s received following her post has “really meant a lot” to her and that she hopes her story encourages others to “be a little more delicate with kids online.”

“If 13-year-old me was still around, and she was frozen in time and could see what was happening now, it would mean the world to her — to see people have a change of heart and come around,” Black concluded, adding that it’s been heartening for her to be able to view the internet as a place of growth and learning again. “For me now, I’ve luckily spent a lot of time working on things for myself, but it still makes me really excited for the potential that people still have — that not all humanity is lost.”

Welcome to “Internet Explorer,” a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter’s finest roasts, “Internet Explorer” is here to keep you up-to-date with the web’s current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.

Photo via Instagram


Why Everyone Is Thirst Trapping For Bernie Sanders

If you’ve been anywhere near Twitter in the past couple of weeks, you’ve probably noticed people posting selfies alongside hashtags about Democratic presidential frontrunner Bernie Sanders. Combining two of Twitter’s favorite things — thirst traps and political discourse — it’s unsurprising that the hashtags took off ahead of last night’s Iowa Caucus. Of course, some have questioned the efficacy of thirst trapping for your presidential candidate of choice.

Emily Ratajkowski on Instagram: “@berniesanders”

As pointed out by Elle, things the politically geared thirst trap started trending after Emily Ratajkowski‘s early January endorsement of Sanders — something that spurred jokes about the “hot girl” demographic showing up for Bernie. In the wake of this, friends Danaka Katovich and Hadiya Afzal decided to organize a group chat tied to the public launch of the #HotGirlsForBernie campaign on January 24. While it may have started as a joke, Katovich explained that the potential for exposure that would subsequently kick off serious discourse, motivated them to make the campaign a reality.


“I figured if I can get some apolitical folk laughing at a Bernie thirst trap, maybe we can get them out to vote for him too,” Katovich explains. “I think it’s taking off a lot now because we are building momentum as the primaries get closer.” And take off it did. After the success of the #HotGirlsForBernie campaign, Katovich encouraged her friend, Adam Noll, to start a similar chat and selfie push for male Bernie supporters slated for January 31.

Related | Watch Cardi B Take Bernie Sanders to the Nail Salon

“The response was way more than I ever could have imagined,” Noll says, before theorizing that the efficacy of the hashtags lie within the fact that a “large, vocal portion of his base are young people who grew up engrossed in meme culture like me.” Which is also what likely led to the simultaneous popularization of another, recent Bernie-centric meme: the “I Am Once Again Asking” trend. But what exactly makes him such a memeable candidate?

jaboukie young-white on Instagram: “#hotboysforbernie”

In addition to Noll’s analysis that politics in general are “a great source for topical memes in general, regardless of candidate,” TrueAnon podcast host and #HotBoysForBernie poster @YungChomsky believes that the common assessment is that Bernie “doesn’t go to any lengths to manufacture his own image,” as he “doesn’t pander or pretend, which makes it funny to manufacture all of these images for him and place them into disparate contexts.”

Another debate that’s popped up revolves around the perceived efficacy of thirst trapping for Bernie. #HotBoysForBernie participant Josiah Brown said that he’s noticed some accompanying discussion related to policy and other candidates. While there are a lot of “you’re hot” comments and jokes along the lines of “If you won’t date me, I’m going to vote for Amy Klobuchar,” Brown said that there’s also been “substantive debate” in his replies, which he believes is “ultimately productive.”

That said, as is the case with any viral trend, there was also a fair share of criticism — ranging from those saying that Bernie memes are delegitimizing to arguments that the movement is vain to troll-y accusations of the selfies promoting “body fascism,” per @YungChomsky — surrounding the trend. However, as Noll rebutted, “it’s as much about body positivity and acceptance as it is about politics.”

“If you’re voting Bernie, that’s what makes you hot,” he added — a stance reiterated by ardent Bernie supporter Sarah Squirm, who also claimed that she’s noticed that a “thirst trap selfie just gets people to pay attention in a way that seemingly nothing else does.” As she posited, it’d be naive to ignore the fact that memes are currently the pre-eminent form of cultural communication, especially for the younger generation, so “we just have to saturate people with images, because Bernie’s been ignored [by mainstream media] for too long.”

“We have to accept our shallow, vapid celeb culture,” she argued, pointing toward the online meme-based mobilization that got Trump elected in 2016. “Trump is a celebrity in the garbage way, while Bernie is a celebrity in a legitimate rockstar way, because he’s been able to radicalize people who have been alienated their entire lives. That’s his celebrity.”

Aside from that though, even amongst die-hard supporters, the thirst traps for Bernie trend has proven to be an effective way of unifying his current base.

“The base message that’s trying to be put across is that compassion and unity and solidarity is sexy,” #HotBoysForBernie member Zac Kolbusz explained, before arguing that memeing Bernie is important as he believes it will help “mobilize youth support” in the long run, especially as young voters are the least likely to turn out to the polls. Granted, the thirst traps for Bernie movement has also served as a way to push back against the centrist and right wing’s stereotyping of Bernie’s base as “ugly, smelly, nasty, cringey, basement dwelling, mentally-ill people with brightly dyed hair” isn’t true, per Twitter user @TheTwilightMonk.


“We’re not all ‘dirty communist hippies,’ not that there’s anything wrong with being that,” @TheTwilightMonk said. “The point is that we look like everyday people, and some of us look even better than that. I’d go as far as to say that some of us could be models, if they aren’t already.”

But even amongst more liberal factions, the prevalent misconception that the majority of Bernie supporters fit into the young, white male “Bernie bro” mold has also proven to be a detriment at times, which is another reason why Ghaffar Gbenro decided to post his selfies under the #HotBoysForBernie hashtag.

“I wanted to post mostly to go against the Bernie Bro narrative that Bernie supporters are younger white males,” he explained — a sentiment echoed by Kolbusz, who says, “it’s important to show the people who support Bernie come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors.”

That said, as Brown went on to say, the most important aspect of all of this thirst trapping for Bernie lies within the fact that it is ultimately just another way to help drum up support and momentum by “putting more human faces to the campaign.” After all, as he put it, with the “rising tide of facism around the world and the climate crisis looming, it kind of feels like this could be our last electoral off-ramp before some really serious shit going down” — something that just makes getting Bernie into office all the more essential.

“Just seeing how corrupt most politicians are and how everything seems to be rigged, to have a candidate with a viable shot at the presidency who means what he says and intends to fight, as he has his whole career, for marginalized and working class people, I think it’s a huge deal,” he said, though he also points toward the fact that the our kids will, ultimately, be the ones dealing with the ramifications of our world’s current downwards spiral. “And I do have a daughter who’s about to turn five, so I think about her and how dire it is that we get him into office,” Brown said, before adding, “how important this moment is.”

Welcome to “Internet Explorer,” a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter’s finest roasts, “Internet Explorer” is here to keep you up-to-date with the web’s current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.

Photo via BFA

‘Where’s My Juul??’ Is a Screamo E-Cig Bop

As a long-time Juuler, no three words instill as much terror within me as the phrase, “Where’s my Juul?” From rummaging through couches to wasting countless hours retracing my steps, only to find it in some forgotten fold of a jacket I never wear, I know for a fact that I’m not alone. Just ask anyone who’s also fallen under this devious, little device’s spell and they’ll say the same exact thing. Either that, or they’ll tell you they’re also now obsessed with Full Tac and Lil Mariko’s e-cig anthem for the ages, “Where’s My Juul??”

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If my panicked, pod-craving thoughts had a soundtrack to spiral to, “Where’s My Juul??” would pretty much be it. Much like the Juul itself, the song is obnoxious yet addictive, chock full of nicotine-addled ad libs and the sorts of unhinged accusations I’ve screeched at anyone unfortunate enough to be within ear range. And combined with its equally as batshit video — which features a bratty, pig-tailed Lil Mariko stomping, screaming, and running around in search of her Juul — it’s, obviously, gone viral.

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That said, Full Tac and Lil Mariko (AKA producer Jared Soule and vocalist Kat Zhang) never really expected “Where’s My Juul??” to pop off in this way. In fact, the IRL couple said that while it was “wild” enough to see the track go viral on Twitter, the real kicker was seeing the video garner over a million views on Twitterr in just a few days — especially given that the duo thought they were late to the trend.

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They initially made the project in August, but Soule said he questioned the video’s viral appeal while uploading it last week, as he believed “the Juul was kind of wearing off.” Yet, despite the memes and all that hand-wringing legislation — not to mention the fact that Soule’s original video was temporarily taken down due to a copyright claim by another creator disputing their use of the phrase “where’s my Juul” — the song’s continued success makes it obvious that the internet is just as Juul-crazy as ever. It probably also didn’t hurt that the song itself “slaps.”

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After all, as one apt internet user put it, the song’s mish-mashed, industrial-indebted production combined with those quippy, all-too-relatable lines made for a song that feels as if “Poppy tried to make a Social Distortion song.” And most would immediately attribute a good portion of the song’s appeal to Soule’s production (which you may be familiar with thanks to his work with BigKlit), as he explained, “Where’s My Juul??” was definitively carried by Zhang.

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“I think I hear Kat say, ‘Where’s my Juul?’ more than most other phrases,” Soule said. So, naturally, during a one-off session in the studio, Zhang ended up freestyling most of the hilarious ad libs and deranged threats that are all too familiar to anyone who’s ever lost their Juul. Her heavy metal past and love of ’90s rave music also ended up providing much of the sonic palette for the track — influencing everything from her scream-filled vocal performance to the song’s stylistic inspirations, which were further solidified by guitarist Russ Chell’s heavy metal riffs.

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“It may be a joke, but we did want to make something together that was on some Mindless Self Indulgence, The Prodigy-type beat,” Zhang said, reiterating that her own nicotine-crazed experiences made it easy to “add in some of the universal things that made it into something kind of cringey funny.”

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Soule is also quick to acknowledge the satirical aspect of the song, saying that “it is meant to be silly.” He’s particularly looking forward to keeping that “playfulness” within their videos going forward, which Soule enjoys using as a way to showcase his love of filmmaking — even if he continues to get throttled during the breakdowns.

JARED SOULE on Instagram: “Tactical scream by @katmarikoz #wheresmyjuul”

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Ultimately, the success of “Where’s My Juul??” has also proven to them both that they can make some great stuff together. So, needless to say, get ready for many more collabs in the near future, even though they may not necessarily be e-cig anthems.

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“It’s refreshing and inspiring in a way, but this also makes me feel like Kat and I can put out more music and more viral songs dealing with pop culture and society,” Soule said. “And, hopefully, we’ll look back and this will be the Juul anthem for the future.”



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Welcome to “Internet Explorer,” a column by Sandra Song about everything internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter’s finest roasts, “Internet Explorer” is here to keep you up-to-date with the web’s current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.