Vine withers, leaving us all much worse off
Welcome to This Week in Links, a still-uncanceled Friday column reviewing the news of the week with a gentle skepticism.
The internet became much worse this week with the announcement that Vine, owned by Twitter, would soon be discontinued. The move makes an unfortunate sort of sense. Unlike more commercially viable social networking services like Facebook and Instagram, Vine was too much fun and fast-paced to ever be commodified. Serving advertising within its quick-hit, six-second looping format would've rendered the whole enterprise too clunky, and brands largely stayed out of it altogether, leaving open an unsupervised and largely uncensored space for teens to play and memes to incubate.
Vine was a unique internet space for invention and spontaneity, where cultural references reigned, timing was everything and jargon was born. Scroll through for just a minute and you might find otters shimmying to ska, teenagers accidentally (or intentionally) hurting each other in bizarre and unprecedented pranks and stunts, nascent dance crazes and mind-boggling cross-cultural allusions. Scroll through for an hour and you might find stuff that was more raw.
At this point I basically use Twitter like a utility for news and information, Facebook to let my family know that I'm still alive and Instagram to stay in touch with friends from college but those all felt different from Vine. There was always a sense amid those looping non sequiturs and slapsticks that you'd stumble across something so totally off-script and unexpected that it could be from another world. Or something so gut-spillingly adorable that you just couldn't even. You never really knew.
A lot of really bad apps get bankrolled and greenlighted every day, which makes Vine's demise all the more maddening, though I'm certain I won't miss it nearly as much as some. The mostly black teens who kept Vine bubbling with fresh content rarely saw any profit from their creations, even after stuff they'd invented —dance moves, linguistic styles, whole new words— was absorbed into the popular culture at large, digested, and spat out elsewhere in commercial form.
RIP Vine. I'm sure America's Funniest Videos will rest easy tonight.
Also resting easy are members of the Bundy family and their cohorts in the anti-government militia who were acquitted Thursday of federal conspiracy and weapons charges stemming from their nearly six-week takeover of a wildlife refuge in Oregon earlier this year. The facts of the case weren't really in dispute. The militia group livestreamed most of what they were up to at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge themselves and gave regular updates to the media throughout the course of their well-covered occupation. Federal investigators said they found more than 1,600 spent shell casings nearby.
So how'd the Bundy crew get off? I think this bit from Oregon Public Broadcasting's coverage of the acquittal gets to the heart of it:
“At the end of the day, there is an element of common sense that demonstrates the guilt of these defendants,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight said in his closing arguments during the trial. “These defendants took over a wildlife refuge and it wasn’t theirs.”
Conversely, the defense sought to make its case about a political protest — one about protesting the federal government’s ownership and management of public lands.
So while the prosecution was appealing to facts, the defense appealed to ethics and won. It seems like maybe the attorneys on the feds' side misjudged who the jury thought the bad guys were here.
The Bundys' surprise acquittal maybe wasn't even the worst thing to happen to the federal government this week, though. The Los Angeles Times broke a very big story when they reported that Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon to stop trying to reclaim enlistment bonuses that they'd doled out to California National Guard members during the Iraq War. A lot of these soldier served multiple tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and some were badly wounded. The Times' report makes the whole thing sound like a tangled financial mess for both taxpayers and vets:
Some [veterans] are facing debt collection action and tax liens because the California Guard did not have a correct address for them and forwarded the debt to the U.S. Treasury for action.
[Peter] Levine said the Pentagon cannot correct credit scores for soldiers who were reported to credit rating agencies as having outstanding debts to the U.S. Treasury.
“We do not have authority or the ability to change people’s credit records,” he said.
The Pentagon also will look at whether some soldiers “knew or should have known” that their bonuses were improper, he added, suggesting that those soldiers would not receive forgiveness.
Another piece of recommended reading this week comes from Cincinnati Magazine, which published this exhaustive look at what happens when dark internet jokes plague those who have to live with the reality of the subject matter. Susan Elizabeth Shepard examines the digital afterlife of the zoo ape Harambe, whose untimely demise sparked so much grotesque humor that the Cincinnati Zoo had to abandon its Twitter account:
Of course, here in Cincinnati, Harambe had a whole life before fame. On the internet, he didn’t exist until he died, and it was of no concern to his eager eulogizers that the actual people who worked with and cared for the gorilla couldn’t escape his virtual presence. People had to tend the Cincinnati Zoo’s social media accounts. People who, in the immediate aftermath, had been hailed for their great public response in PR blogs. Who, try as they might to move on from an incredibly painful incident, have instead been reminded of it constantly.
Thank you again, as always, for supporting This Week in Links. Thunder basketball's back and Russell Westbrook is already playing so well that opposing fans are getting real mad at him. All is right with the world once again.
PHILLY pic.twitter.com/GvOssHGFrt— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonWrites) October 27, 2016