My Internet: Davey Alba
The tech reporter says that hell yeah, she uses TikTok.
Every Friday, we quiz a “very online” person for their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.
Today we welcome Davey Alba, who starts as a technology reporter at Bloomberg on May 2. Her last job was at The New York Times, where earlier this week she published a widely-shared profile of a “COVID misinformation star” who claims he helped invent mRNA vaccines. Davey is kind of disillusioned with podcasts at the moment, has a Shark Tank idea for cheating at puzzles, and is in lots of white-nationalist, far-right, and Covid-skeptical Facebook Groups and Discords for her reporting. —Nick
What's a recent meme or other post that made you laugh?
Ooh, this is such a good question, and my answer is probably really basic to the Very Online. My favorite Instagram account is @afffirmations—they have these hilarious, earnest statements set against absurd backgrounds. But you know what? Most of the memes are true. A recent one, for instance: “I honestly never want to stress again.” This speaks to me as someone who’s on a little month-long break between jobs!
I even have their merch. I bought this t-shirt from them that said something like, “If all else fails, I can collapse and cry.” Except uh, it was set against some Miami Vice video game-type backdrop, featuring a big condo building in the background. I posted myself wearing that shirt on a Friday once, then people started to ask me whether it was a joke about the Miami condo collapse. Ugh, I didn’t even make that connection! I had to delete the post.
What type of videos do you watch on YouTube?
I use YouTube in a very utilitarian way, because I don’t really trust its algorithms, having reported on the service for a while. Lately, I have been looking up pottery tutorial videos (a recent pandemic hobby of mine). I love Florian Gadsby. His voice is so soothing! When he was a guest judge on The Great Pottery Throw Down recently (a great show on HBO), I screamed.
Do you use TikTok? What shows up on your For You page?
Hell yeah I use TikTok. This guy I’m dating told me he could really tell our age difference because I peruse TikTok videos so much (he is only 5 years older than me, what the hell!). But c’mon, TikTok is good. Most of the videos the algo serves me are cat humor videos. They’re the best. I save and send them to all my cat-loving friends.
What do you use Instagram for?
Ugh, I hate Instagram. I try not to scroll through Instagram too often, and I try not to have a presence on the app. I rarely like any posts. I use the service for updates from my friends, mostly—I just scroll through Stories. Sometimes I’ll comment on people’s Stories, it’s a nice low bar for keeping in touch with people. I also look for updates from my high school and college friends from Manila, most of whom are Instagram power users.
Do you tweet? Why?
Lol, I love the pairing of these two questions. Very apt. I often ask myself why I tweet!
But yeah, I do tweet. It’s the best social media service for breaking news, and as a reporter, when you break news, it’s almost always on Twitter first before you can corral all the people you need to get a story published online. So I tweet when I have some interesting story I’ve worked on and broke, or a story I worked hard on that I want to promote. And I look for stories from other journalists I admire for both those things.
I feel really conflicted about Twitter, though. I wish I didn’t have to be on it, but I feel like I do. I have seen how it can help people’s careers—so many managers are looking on Twitter for people who break news, who share their work, who get good reception for their work. But at the same time that bosses often want you to be on Twitter having a voice and promoting your work, and thus the publication you work for, they also want none of the blowback or controversy that inevitably comes with being visible. It does not matter whether what you’re saying is just your own perspective. People are always trying to get women to shut up online! And then there’s all the harassment that comes with say, uh, reporting on misinformation.
Have you ever had a post go viral? What was that experience like?
It’s really weird. When it happens to me, it’s usually for a story I’ve broken. Recently, it was when I broke the news of Marjorie Taylor Greene being permanently suspended from Twitter. Replies just become a mess for a while. But the news moves on pretty quickly, it’s no sweat off my back. The worst is when trolls latch on to your tweet for some reason or other. That sucks. I have my own ways of dealing with that, though. I just lock my account for a few days, and they’ll eventually move on to the next sorry target.
Who's the coolest person who follows you?
Ummm… Britney Spears follows me on Twitter! I actually have the ability to DM her. I have not done this yet. What would I even say?! “‘E-mail My Heart’ was your best work bar none” is the DM I have in my head, but I haven’t worked up enough courage to send it.
Which big celebrity has your favorite internet presence, and why?
I mean, Olivia Rodrigo. She is the most amazing Filipina teen pop star, I love her. “Good 4 u” is such a jam.
Where do you tend to get your news?
I’m showing myself to be totally overreliant on Twitter, but, Twitter. I like looking at the Top Articles tab. Also, nytimes.com and bloomberg.com. Lol.
What's one positive trend you see in media right now? What's one negative trend?
Positive trend: the rise of unions. Negative trend: Bosses doubling down on treating workers as expendable. It’s unacceptable. Just look at what’s happening to BuzzFeed News—where I used to work, and produced some of the most meaningful stories of my career. People are not interchangeable cogs in the system, they are people. People have lives, and they are upended on the whims of rich people. I hate that that’s the reality of working in our industry. Unions are really our only system at our disposal to fight back.
What does “cancel culture” mean to you?
It doesn’t mean anything to me. What I’ll say is I wish more people would have more humility to actually listen to criticism and consider, more often, that they could be wrong or heed the perspectives of communities who are more vulnerable than they are—especially when they are already coming from a perch of power and privilege.
Do you subscribe to any Substacks or other independent newsletters? What are your favorites?
I think I subscribe to just one Substack? Ask Polly. Heather Havrilesky is a genius. I cannot recommend her columns enough. Best $5 I spend every month.
Are you into any podcasts right now? How and when do you usually listen?
I’m kind of disillusioned with podcasts at the moment? Too many people who just like to hear themselves talk. On the recommendation of a friend, though, I’m currently listening to this podcast that came out a few years ago, called White Lies. It’s fucking excellent, but hard to listen to. I have to take a lot of breaks in between episodes.
Do you use Twitter Spaces or Clubhouse? What for?
Ugh no. I guess sometimes I’ll talk about my reporting on some Twitter Spaces. But I find those platforms kind of boring.
Are you in any groups on Reddit, Slack, Discord, or Facebook? What's the most useful or entertaining one?
I am in too many white-nationalist, far-right, and Covid-skeptical Facebook Groups and Discords, for my reporting on misinformation. None of them are entertaining, but they are useful for my job.
I’m in like, a dozen Slacks. Most of them are informal friend chats, or local mutual aid groups, etc. One is a Vanderpump Rules Slack, lol. (Thank you to Katie Notopoulos for adding me to that one!) I like Slacking, it’s fun to just shoot the shit with people without an agenda.
I use Reddit like I use YouTube—for utilitarian purposes, but not much beyond that. Sometimes I’ll Google a topic like “best pottery tools site:reddit.com” and the results usually answer whatever I’m looking for!
Are you playing any games right now?
I’m really into analog puzzles right now. It’s a nice way to spend time with people. I also have this Shark Tank idea for a companion tool for puzzles, and it’s kind of brilliant I think?
I’m calling it Puzzle Counter. You feed puzzle pieces into this machine and it counts how many pieces are in the puzzle, so you can buy used puzzles off eBay or something with confidence. Kind of like a CoinStar, but for puzzles. Resellers of puzzles can buy a badge and be “Puzzle Counter” certified, to give consumers peace of mind.
There’s also Puzzle Counter+, which sorts the puzzle pieces into similar colors—if cheating is your thing! That tier is more expensive, though. And there’s Puzzle Counter for Cats, which comes with a sticky mat and a transparent cover, so that you can do puzzles on your coffee table if you are a cat owner and no matter how much they try to mess up your puzzles, they just cannot.
What's something you might want to do in the metaverse? What's something you wouldn't want to do?
I’m sorry, I can’t answer this question before we get legs in the metaverse.
Do you text people voice notes? If not, how do you feel about getting them?
Voice notes are secretly one of the BEST messaging tools! When I’m on the go and want to reply in a more long-winded way to someone, I’ll send a voice note. It annoys some of my friends, but I think they’re pretty great. Also I can go on longer rants on voice notes. Also, Apple doesn’t save voice notes unless the recipient specifically decides to save your voice note. It’s kind of a great tool for gossiping, lol.
What's your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?
Woof, one of the things I’ll really miss about the NYT Slack is all the great emojis that are in there! I like this emoji called “grimace balloon,” and use it basically everyday. Another great emoji is called “lol stone” which is just “lol” on a tombstone. And those are basically my emotions all day everyday on the internet.
What's your favorite non-social media app?
Oh I don’t know. One of my most opened apps is called Whisker, which is an app that connects to my litter robot that auto-scoops my cats’ poop. So I get to enjoy hanging out with Laser Beam and Vivienne without the grossest parts of cat ownership (though I do have to throw out full bags of poop every four days or so).
What's the most basic internet thing that you love?
Allow me to be earnest on main for once—the most basic internet thing that I love is the ability to stay in touch with friends and family who are thousands of miles away. I grew up in the Philippines, and my high school and college friends and my immediate family still live there. Being a text away from every one of them would not be possible if not for the internet.
Have you recently read an article, book, or social media post about the internet that you’ve found particularly insightful?
Wait, did I say that I subscribe to just one Substack? I take that back. I really enjoy Rusty Foster’s Today In Tabs, a classic internet follow.
What's the last thing that brought you joy online?
Omg this is so cheesy. But one thing I really like that is online is this virtual meditation group from Harvard Medical School’s Cambridge Health Alliance. They do group meditations every Monday and Thursday, and it’s honestly so calming and helpful. I also use the app Ten Percent a lot to meditate. I listen to a lot of self-compassion and unworthiness meditations! I am a big advocate for therapy and meditation, something I came to much later in life than I would’ve wanted. Oh, and Zoloft. I fucking love Zoloft. That’s not really online, but I do order my prescriptions for Zoloft through a website, so maybe that counts?
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