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My Internet: Kaitlyn Tiffany
The 'Fangirls' author believes people who love you are the original recommendation algorithm.
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, written by Kate Lindsay and edited by Nick Catucci.
Most weeks, we quiz a “very online” person for their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.
Today we welcome Kaitlyn Tiffany, Atlantic staff writer and the author of Everything I Need I Get from You: How Fangirls Created the Internet as We Know It and, with Lizzie Plaugic, On Nobody Famous. She’s currently at work on The Housewives Underground, a book about Silvia Meagher and other women who collaborated to bring to light new information about the John F. Kennedy assassination.
Kaitlyn goes on TikTok when her sisters sends her videos of people they kind of know for the purpose of making fun of them and likes when Mets players call each other “mi hermano” and do really weird pregnancy photo shoots with their wives on Instagram. —Nick
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EMBEDDED: What’s a recent meme or other post that made you laugh?
KAITLYN TIFFANY: For a long time, I was adamant that I would not be reading people’s screenshots of the “funny” things they were asking ChatGPT. I said “no matter what,” and never. Well, I meant this every time I said it, but my streak was ended in July by a really good ChatGPT post. The person asked ChatGPT to “write an instagram caption for the 10 year anniversary of being tortured in a shipping container.” The bot did great!
EMBEDDED: What shows up on your TikTok For You page?
KAITLYN TIFFANY: I’ve talked about this before but my TikTok For You page is disgusting and harrowing and not in a fun way. This is because I don’t often use TikTok, except for when my sisters send me videos of people we kind of know, for the purpose of making fun of them. Now my whole feed is stuff like 20-year-olds following their boyfriends to work and planting evidence of cheating in their cars to see what they do with it.
My feed won’t improve because I won’t put in the effort to improve it. I don’t want to watch a bunch of things and like them or share them to tell the app what I want to see. In fact, TikTok is kind of off-limits for me. I’m not proud of this as a person whose job is reporting on technology. (I’m not like, “Here’s something so weird about me … I really don’t like social media.”) It’s a gap in my knowledge of my beat and it’s a pretty big one. But I know myself and I know how much harder it’s felt for me to read, write, and think in the years since I started using Tumblr and Reddit and Twitter and Instagram all the time. If I were to start using TikTok in a serious way, it would really push my attention span to the brink of non-existence. I would become really unhappy and my work (and heart!) would suffer.
So, I’ve mostly opted out of TikTok. But I do like when people text me links to TikToks that they already know I will enjoy. People who love you … sort of the original recommendation algorithm, no? My boyfriend sent me a TikTok the other night that was like, a weird, pitched-down version of One Direction’s “Story of My Life” playing behind a grainy, black-and-white video of a random house in the suburbs, and the text said: “wasn’t gonna drink again tonight… but lowk missing JFK like a mf [dove emoji].”
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EMBEDDED: Has your Twitter experience changed since Elon Musk took over? What would it take for you to quit?
KAITLYN TIFFANY: Twitter has definitely gotten much worse in the past few years. Not just because of Musk, although I think that has been a big factor. 2020 was the real beginning of the end for Twitter. The most annoying people on both sides of the culture war found themselves with way too much time to spend online, and the rewards for saying the most irritating or obvious stuff just became too great. I don’t know how to explain it, exactly, but when I scroll down the timeline now it feels like everyone has gotten 100 times more smug? And literal and pedantic? They always think they are dunking on someone. But on who, and to what end? It’s so weird. Everybody is like, sticking their tongues out all the time. It’s very “be careful or your face will freeze that way.” Our faces froze that way.
Anyway, post-Musk, Twitter is also basically useless—the people whose tweets actually make me laugh are never showing up in the feed, and I always have to go search for them by name to see if they’ve posted anything since I last looked. My friend Tamar has deleted her account, which has been horrible. She was better at Twitter than Donald Trump. But she said she’d “completed” it and didn’t need it anymore. She is one of the best minds of our generation, so that should tell me that the site is really over.
Realistically, though, I won’t quit Twitter until it shuts down completely. It’s habit. It’s sense memory. It’s compulsion.
EMBEDDED: Have you found any good alternatives to Twitter?
KAITLYN TIFFANY: No, and it won’t happen!
EMBEDDED: What do you use Instagram for?
KAITLYN TIFFANY: Everything. I use Instagram to decide what to buy and what to eat and where to go and how to style my eyebrows. In pure hours-spent, though, I mostly use it to watch videos of the New York Mets. I also follow all of their wives, so that I know which women are having dinner together when they don’t need to be, perhaps indicating sincere friendship between their husbands. I don’t comment on celebrity Instagram posts but I commented “We love you Mark!!” when Mark Canha was traded to the Brewers. (We love him!!) I follow Jeff McNeil’s dog. I like when the guys call each other “mi hermano” and when they do really weird pregnancy photo shoots with their wives.
This is my second year of Mets fandom and it has taken on a role in my life that no other fandom has previously held. It’s even more severe than my boy band fandom, which I wrote a whole book about. I still listened to One Direction after Zayn Malik left, but if the Mets somehow screw it up and lose Pete Alonso, I will never watch another minute of baseball for as long as I live.
EMBEDDED: Have you had posts go viral? What is that experience like?
KAITLYN TIFFANY: I would bet that a solid 10 percent of the tweets that have ever gone viral have had some relationship to Taylor Swift. The only time I’ve gone (modestly) viral in a neutral-to-positive way was when I tweeted about how the women behind me at a Pittsburgh stop on the Eras Tour thought that Swift really “dove” under the stage and was really swimming from one end to the other in actual water. (I don’t think this was an amazing tweet, it’s just that Taylor Swift has over one billion fans, so even one-one-hundredth of a percent of the fandom is enough people to populate a medium-sized city.) A few people accused me of making this up, but I wouldn’t do that!
The experience of virality is … nothing, as long as you turn off notifications for accounts you don’t follow. I don’t know why more people don’t do this. I looked through a lot of the quote-tweets on the Swift story only because some of them were funny and I wanted to. But most of the time, when people are talking at me on Twitter, I have no idea. A couple of years ago, because of a story I wrote about child trafficking conspiracy theories, every one of my tweets was getting probably 10 replies accusing me of being a pedophile. This was going on for weeks. Did not know until someone pointed it out! Obviously, there’s a difference between this kind of flare-up and a real, prolonged harassment campaign, which can be scary and dangerous. But for the little things, there actually is an easy fix. Step one: Mute notifications. Step two: Live in peace.
EMBEDDED: Who’s the coolest person who follows you?
KAITLYN TIFFANY: This isn’t cool but I was excited when Carl Radke from Bravo’s Summer House followed me on Instagram in 2019. I added him to my Close Friends list but he never watched any of my stories.
EMBEDDED: Who’s someone more people should follow?
KAITLYN TIFFANY: Last year, on a girls’ trip to Staten Island, I stayed in a beautiful waterfront bed and breakfast and watched all kinds of enormous boats go by. As far as I can tell, the only way to learn anything about what these boats are or what they’re up to is by following shipsofny on Instagram. It seems to be run by a father-son team.
EMBEDDED: What are your favorite Substack or other independent newsletters?
, , (his name is part of the title, I guess), (it’s called being informed). Also Katie Honan’s , which is about local NYC politics, and Domenick Ammirati’s which is about fine art and Taylor Swift (and wine). I miss my friend Meredith’s newsletter about heiresses, which was called and ruled. I’m a paid subscriber to Cat Marnell’s Patreon newsletter BEAUTYSHAMBLES, which always delivers. And I also like Rachel Tashjian’s “invite-only” Opulent Tips. She did a brilliant job creating an illusion of scarcity around the least-scarce thing, email…
KAITLYN TIFFANY: On Substack, I always read
Of course, my favorite newsletter is Famous People, which I write with my friend Lizzie Plaugic. We’ve been doing it for almost six years now! We never fight.
EMBEDDED: Are you into any podcasts right now? How and when do you usually listen?
KAITLYN TIFFANY: The only podcast I listen to every single episode of is Sexy Unique Podcast, which is about Bravo shows. I pay so that I can access the bonus episodes, in which the hosts talk more openly about how most of the Bravo fan accounts on Instagram are weirdly puritanical and obsessed with meting out punishment to the women whose reckless and unsavory behavior creates the drama for the shows they profess to enjoy. They did a good bit a few weeks ago where it was like, the Bravo fan account people are all Jigsaws from Saw. Hard to explain. I laughed a lot! I listen while I walk home from the Atlantic office in Soho, which I do once or twice a week when it’s nice out.
EMBEDDED: What’s your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?
KAITLYN TIFFANY: I love the happy cowboy in iMessage to express enthusiasm and playfulness. And I love the sad cowboy in Slack to express despair regarding a stupid news event. The cowboy hat tempers the despair with goofiness and demonstrates that I’m still playful and my spirit isn’t crushed—I’ve got my hat on! Someone in our workplace Slack must have made the sad cowboy themselves because I don’t see him as an option on other platforms.
EMBEDDED: What’s the last thing that brought you joy online?
KAITLYN TIFFANY: I saw this late, but Taylor Swift seemingly blurred out the LA Dodgers logo on the cap that one of the Haim girls was wearing in a photo from her Fourth of July party this year. Haha, why do this?? I know that Swift is, if anything, sadly, a Phillies fan. And the person who first noticed the blur is also a Phillies fan. But I give them both kudos because I appreciate when people pay ludicrously close attention to things that don’t matter. The devil is in the details and so are the lols.
Thanks Kaitlyn! Buy Everything I Need I Get from You: How Fangirls Created the Internet as We Know It and On Nobody Famous and subscribe to her newsletter.