My Internet: Brandy Zadrozny
The NBC reporter has always hated Twitter.
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, by Kate Lindsay and Nick Catucci.
Most weeks, we quiz a “very online” person for their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.
Today we welcome Brandy Zadrozny, an NBC News Senior Reporter focused on online misinformation and extremism. In this year’s Truthers: Tiffany Dover is Dead*, the first season of a podcast series for NBC, she investigates a conspiracy theory that a nurse who fainted after being given the Covid-19 vaccine live on television had actually died and been replaced by a doppelgänger.
Brandy is in Facebook groups for flat-earthers, free-birthers, and predator hunters; watches ukulele challenges and old news coverage about “Satanic Ritual Abuse” on YouTube; and dreams of feeding her reporting to an AI that can write her features for her. —Nick
EMBEDDED: What’s a recent meme or other post that made you laugh?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: So, I’ll note that most things on the internet that make me laugh have been sent to me by my best friend and colleague, Ben Collins. It’s probably the thing I miss most about being in the office full-time. Most of the internet I look at is informational or depressing—but he sends me jokes and memes and bizarre things that make the internet good.
So because I’ve been away from the office, the last thing I can remember that really made me laugh was back in November, when Elon Musk was rolling out the new blue checks that anyone could buy for $8. To illustrate how such a feature could be gamed by impersonators, people were making fake accounts for famous people and politicians and rightwing personalities and posting, um, off-color jokes. I wish I had a more sophisticated answer than pee humor, but a lot of those really got me.
EMBEDDED: What shows up on your TikTok For You page?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: It’s such a grab bag. I use it for work, so I have a fair amount of rightwing and conspiracy theory videos in there, but I also get a lot of mom stuff, library stuff (below), organizational and renovation content, hair and makeup, and though I’ve been trying to teach the algorithm that I hate it, true crime.
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EMBEDDED: Has your Twitter experience changed since Elon Musk took over? What would it take for you to quit?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: I wrote about this a little. Twitter has always had its issues, but prior to the Musk takeover, there was a kind of North Star when it came to policies and protections around hate, abuse, and harassment, even if they still failed many of their users. I’ve always personally hated Twitter because I feel like it inflates egos of ridiculous people like Seth Abramson and the Game Theory guy and it’s a credibility hack, plus far right people and clout chasers yell at me all day, but with the great unbanning that welcomed back white nationalists, the outright embrace of anti-LGBT users, and the promotion of fringe conspiracy theorists (including Musk himself), it’s just not a place I want to be. I have to maintain some presence because I cover Twitter as part of my job, but I find no pleasure in it anymore. It also feels wrong to contribute to a website that causes so much harm, and with Elon talk dominating the platform every day—it’s very boring!
EMBEDDED: Have you found any good alternatives to Twitter?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: I don’t post there as much as I did Twitter (because the incentives just aren’t there) but I like Mastodon. Smart people are there and the conversation is relaxed. It’s not good for local or emergency or breaking informational needs, but for watercooler conversations around tech and journalism, it’s fine. And I kind of like that I’m not compelled to be on it the same way I was with Twitter.
EMBEDDED: What do you use Instagram for?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: To stalk my friends and family and for reporting. I don’t post much. I had to go private a couple of years ago because of threats to my family (thanks, Tucker!) which is a bummer because my children are very very cute. Still, I do appreciate getting to peek into the lives of people I care about. And I’ve meant to use it professionally, but I’ve just been too lazy to delete my personal photos and go public.
EMBEDDED: What types of videos do you watch on YouTube?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: My recent history is full of renovation tutorials as we are slowly fixing up our house, ukulele challenges, and research for work, which this month has included old news coverage about “Satanic Ritual Abuse.”
EMBEDDED: Have you had posts go viral? What is that experience like?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: Eh, not really. Posts about me have gone viral and that stinks.
EMBEDDED: Who’s the coolest person who follows you?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: I don’t think I’d use the word cool, but I was pretty hyped when I saw David Cross follows me. I was mildly obsessed with Mr. Show and his early-aughts standup, and he’s still obviously great. (This is really aging me…)
EMBEDDED: Who’s someone more people should follow?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: On my beat? Definitely Kelly Weill and Anna Merlan and Tess Owen and Hannah Allam. Generally, the disinformation and extremism beat is kind of dominated by loud men (what’s not, amiright?), but these women are doing some of the best work, in my opinion. And Katie Notopoulos is the funniest, and somehow most reasonable internet reporter? She’s hands down my favorite follow.
EMBEDDED: Which big celebrity has your favorite internet presence, and why?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: I don’t really follow any celebrities! Dolly Parton just joined TikTok and she can’t do anything wrong, so I guess her.
EMBEDDED: Do you typically start searches on Google, Reddit, TikTok, or another source?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: Mmm, it depends on the question. Google for general information; Twitter for real-time news; Reddit for tips, reviews, or really specific experience questions; TikTok for explainers and drama.
EMBEDDED: Where do you tend to get your news?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: I listen to WNYC throughout the day and a lot of podcasts. I subscribe to The New York Times and The Washington Post and try to read them every day. I also get a lot of news on Twitter and Mastodon.
EMBEDDED: What are your favorite Substack or other independent newsletters?
, , , , , Men Yell at Me by , , The Righting, Retraction Watch
EMBEDDED: What are your favorite media company newsletters?
EMBEDDED: What’s one positive media trend? What’s one negative trend?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: Oh dear. OK positive media trend. I’m trying to think of something good that we’re doing and am having a bit of a hard time, so I’ll start with the negative. I think there’s still a habit of treating both sides of the information war as equal, as made up of valid points and deserving of the same weight and seriousness and courtesy. For instance, media outlets have published articles about the treatment of trans people where they have the ideas and experiences of doctors and trans people and every major medical organization on one side and on the other, activists who are against the existence of trans people, and then they frame the whole thing as a “debate.” I hate that.
Positive trend, positive trend, positive trend … Well I wouldn’t call it a trend, but I’ve been heartened by some of the new local nonprofit journalism initiatives, like the Baltimore Banner and Mississippi Today.
EMBEDDED: Are you into any podcasts right now? How and when do you usually listen?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: I do listen to a lot of podcasts—partly because I enjoy them and partly to see what I want to emulate and/or avoid with my own. I’m a little burnt out on narrative podcasts right now. My favorites at the moment are On the Media (forever and always) Normal Gossip (I binged 3 seasons recently and my gosh was it fun), Today Explained, Maintenance Phase and the new If Books Could Kill, QAnon Anonymous, and Know Your Enemy. I also think many of my colleagues’ shows are so so good. Southlake was incredible and Chris Hayes’ Why Is This Happening is super smart, and I’m studying Rachel Maddow’s new show, Ultra, for how to tell a story.
EMBEDDED: Have you ever been heavily into Snapchat? Do you miss it?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: I was into Snapchat briefly in 2015 and 2017 after my youngest children were born. I’m really too old for Snapchat but when I worked at the Daily Beast, I used it to communicate with my coworker friends, and then when I had a baby it was constant. If you haven’t put filters on a newborn, you really haven’t lived. I miss that dearly.
EMBEDDED: When was the last time you browsed Pinterest? What for?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: I think it was for haircuts. I dislike Pinterest.
EMBEDDED: Are you familiar with any recent Tumblr memes or trends?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: No. This questionnaire is making me feel like I’m out of the loop.
EMBEDDED: Are you in any groups on Reddit, Discord, Slack, or Facebook? What’s the most useful or entertaining one?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: I’m in hundreds of groups on Facebook because I join them for stories and just never leave. I’m in groups for anti-maskers, Covid-deniers, many many many local communities, flat-earthers, homesteaders, anti-vaxxers, hucksters, free-birthers, predator hunters, people with delusional parasitosis and general cyberchondria, and lots more. I rarely go on Facebook unless it’s for researching a story. I am in one group called This Is Why I Don't Do Potlucks. It’s just screenshots of people posting food from gross kitchens and I guess I’m entertained? I also lurk in a subreddit for nail biters that I find useful for keeping my worst habit at bay.
EMBEDDED: Are you playing any games right now?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: Our family plays a lot of games—chess and Guess Who and Mancala are favorites with the littles and we play some cooperative board games with the older one. I play Wordle when I remember. I recently played Paper Mario: The Origami King on my son’s Switch but died at the final boss and just quit. That reminds me, I’ve been meaning to watch a walkthrough of the ending so I can scratch that itch. OK, done. Nice job, Nintendo.
EMBEDDED: Do you have any predictions for cryptocurrency, the metaverse, and/or Web3?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: Absolutely not, they’re all scams.
EMBEDDED: What most excites you about AI text and art generators? What most concerns you?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: Never having to write again?? Sounds like a solution to all of my biggest problems. Hahaha, but really if I could feed my reporting notebook and research into a box and ask for a feature back, and it would be good? That’s the dream.
My husband owns a design studio and we were just talking last night about image generators and how some people are worried, and I get it, but I feel like these things are just tools. Humans are constantly freaking out that progress will make us obsolete but it hasn’t worked out that way yet.
EMBEDDED: What’s your favorite messaging app?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: Signal
EMBEDDED: Do any of your group chats have a name that you’re willing to share? What’s something that recently inspired debate in the chat?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: I’m not in many group chats! Please invite me to one.
EMBEDDED: What’s your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: Probably the woman shrugging. It’s a good ending for a topic that I don’t want to talk about. If someone wants to complain or gossip and I don’t feel like it, you can just throw your hands up and it suggests empathy or frustration or a like-mindedness without offering anything new. It’s an “I know, right?” with a “I don’t know what the heck is happening!” and a “What are you gonna do?”
I also use the ear emoji a lot, mostly with sources.
EMBEDDED: Do you text people voice notes? If not, how do you feel about getting them?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: I do not send these texts. I do not get many of them which I’m glad about because I find them weird. Just type like a normal person!
EMBEDDED: What’s a playlist, song, album, or style of music you’ve listened to a lot lately?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: Outside of train sounds, which, for better or worse, I always listen to while I write, I’ve been feeling really nostalgic lately and listening to Built to Spill’s “Keep it Like a Secret” on repeat. This is a little embarrassing, but I also listened to Aminé’s “Invincible” so much this year—I heard it because I’ve got kids and it’s on the Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack, but it ended up being the kind of quiet hype song that I turned to before an event or interview where I felt nervous, which I feel a lot.
EMBEDDED: Do you pay for a music streaming service, and if so, which one? When was the last time you bought a music download or vinyl record, CD, or tape?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: I pay for Spotify and the last piece of music I paid for was this Nick Lutsko record which I bought for Ben.
EMBEDDED: If you could only keep one streaming service for TV and/or movies, which would it be, and why?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: If it was for me only, I’d choose HBO, for the series. But for the kids, it’s Disney+.
EMBEDDED: What’s your favorite non-social media app?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: THINGS. I’ve tried them all and I can say authoritatively that it’s the best productivity app. It has really helped organize my life which is very hard for me because I have a bad brain. Things combines multiple calendars and to-do lists and project management and I just love it.
EMBEDDED: What’s the most basic internet thing that you love?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: Probably TikTok? It feels very cringey when I’m scrolling at night, getting a kick out of the modern day equivalent of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Like I should be reading The New Yorker or something but the heart wants what it wants.
EMBEDDED: Is there any content you want but can’t seem to find anywhere online?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: This is such a fun question! But there’s nothing that I can think of—if anything, I’m looking for less content.
EMBEDDED: Do you regularly use eBay, Depop, or other shopping platforms? What’s a recent thing you’ve bought or sold?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: We used Kaiyo recently to sell some furniture and it was pretty great. My husband uses ebay all the time—mostly to buy shoes and books and every time I’m like, “Who still uses eBay??” I guess lots of people.
EMBEDDED: Have you recently read an article, book, or social media post about the internet that you’ve found particularly insightful?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: Patricia Lockwood’s novel, No One Is Talking About This, helped me understand my own feelings about the internet. She is so funny and brilliant. I make everyone I know read it. I just finished Meme Wars, which was an impressive historical account of the last decade of internet shenanigans and how they infected and propelled national political movements. I also just re-read Brian McCullough’s How the Internet Happened and considering what’s happening with Twitter, it was a fantastic reminder of how young the internet is—how many companies and platforms have come and gone, and how all the things that feel necessary and permanent will probably go away—and that’s fine! Ian Bogost, who I’m obsessed with and read everything he writes, had a good piece about this idea yesterday. Also I love Rebecca Jennings and appreciated this from her on the evolution of internet humor.
EMBEDDED: What’s the last thing that brought you joy online?
BRANDY ZADROZNY: As I got to this question, I sighed very loudly, because it’s hard for me to remember nice things. My editor, Jason Abbruzzese, heard me and offered this fun video, but I’m going to go with this very cute little person carrying the entire holiday performance.
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