My Internet: Sam Cole
The 404 Media co-founder wants the culture of taking a selfie as an entire message back.
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 Sam Cole, a co-founder of the excellent new independent tech news site 404 Media, where she covers sexuality, online culture, platforms, and the adult industry. She’s also the author of How Sex Changed the Internet and the Internet Changed Sex. Sam recently wrote about horny AI chatbots that people are DIYing for erotic roleplay, discovered on TikTok that Melissa from Baked By Melissa is a real person, and thinks #GPOY needs to make a comeback. —Nick
Melissa, if you’re reading this — subscribe to Embedded.
EMBEDDED: What’s a recent meme or post that made you laugh?
SAM COLE: Like basically everyone else on the internet right now I’m obsessed with “Sitting,” the hit single by Brian Jordan Alvarez. Or I guess it’s technically by his character, TJ Mack. I’ve been a fan of Brian’s menagerie of weirdo TikTok filter characters for a long time (team Timothy) and it brings me a lot of joy to see everyone catching on lately; this week he got an NPR interview for it and a Time article and a Rolling Stone one too, which I think is hysterical (and deserved, give him a Grammy while they’re at it). When I’m alone in my apartment I’ll randomly yell “I GOT ONE THING TO SAAYYY.” His influence.
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EMBEDDED: What shows up on your TikTok For You page?
SAM COLE: It’s usually pretty basic. Right now it’s a lot of cats with big eye filters, Baked By Melissa (which is how I learned Melissa is a real person), ads for a blanket shaped like a shark, and much to my shame, every third video is a 10 minute Swiftie fan conspiracy. I’ve also been grabbing screenshots of every truly weird Live I come across, here are a few I’ve stashed away for idk what reason.
EMBEDDED: Do you make TikToks? What format works best for you?
SAM COLE: I made a TikTok for the first time ever a couple weeks ago for 404 Media’s account and it’s something Zoomers would rightfully put me into the ground for. It took me 30 minutes to figure out I could use CapCut to have a teleprompter to read from. The sound is awful because I don’t have a microphone for my phone or wired headphones with an in-line mic. My colleague Jason Koebler did the edit so I can’t take credit or blame for that part. Anyway, I’m not even sure what you mean by format. There are different formats? I am 150 years of age. You shouldn’t be allowed to post on TikTok if the word “colleague” is in your vocabulary but here we are.
EMBEDDED: Do you still tweet? Why?
SAM COLE: Yeah, the audience for my beats (sex work, AI, online culture) are still mostly on Twitter. A lot of sex workers still rely on Twitter as one of the only mainstream platforms that allows them to advertise with explicit images. And a lot of AI nerds are still on there, too.
EMBEDDED: Have you found any good alternatives to Twitter?
SAM COLE: Not really. The best alternative to Twitter is not posting. I’m dipping my toes into Bluesky. Mastodon seems like, no offense to people who love it, terrible vibes.
EMBEDDED: What do you use Instagram for?
SAM COLE: I rarely post to the grid anymore. I put goofy pointless stuff in my Stories for close friends. Mainly I use it to reply overenthusiastically to other people’s Stories.
EMBEDDED: What types of videos do you watch on YouTube?
SAM COLE: Here’s a pic I took the other day of my recommended YouTube videos:
EMBEDDED: Where do you tend to get your news?
SAM COLE: A combination of Feedly, social media (like following local outlets on IG) and platforms like Hacker News and Slashdot for less mainstream stuff.
EMBEDDED: How do you keep up with the online discourse? How important is it to you to do this?
SAM COLE: Honestly the best way I know how to do this is talking to my friends. Everyone is experiencing a different internet these days. Algorithms have got us sorted and siloed away from each other, so one person is seeing memes and “discourse” and trending news headlines that the next person isn’t, or won’t until that thing gets popular enough to break containment. Turns out just talking to each other outside of those networks is the best way to keep up, for me.
EMBEDDED: Where do you usually discover or learn about online trends?
SAM COLE: Same as above!
EMBEDDED: How do you find recommendations for what to watch, read, and listen to?
SAM COLE: I’ve gotten some good book recommendations from TikTok.
EMBEDDED: What’s something that you have observed about the online behavior of Gen Z, Millennials, and/or Boomers?
SAM COLE: They all love to shit on each other way too much.
EMBEDDED: If you could create your own social media platform, what would it be like?
SAM COLE: It would probably just be a message board. Specifically those old phpBB and vBulletin ones.
EMBEDDED: What are your favorite Substack or other independent newsletters?
that I think is really smart and fun! I’m also a fan of Flow State and Of course raised me.
SAM COLE: My good friend Melanie just launched a newsletter called
EMBEDDED: Do you have any favorite media company newsletters?
SAM COLE: Honestly I loved the Mel Magazine newsletter, before they shuttered. That was a good website (and newsletter). I don’t really subscribe to a ton of big company newsletters but I’d take reccs.
EMBEDDED: Which big celebrity has your favorite internet presence, and why?
SAM COLE: Seth Rogen’s entire thing now seems to be making ceramics and smoking weed, so I have to vote for him.
EMBEDDED: Have you ever been heavily into Snapchat? Do you miss it?
SAM COLE: I do miss it! I want the culture of taking a selfie as an entire message back.
EMBEDDED: Do you have a take on Tumblr?
SAM COLE: I was a bigtimeTumblr disaster when I was in high school. My take is that #GPOY needs to make a comeback.
EMBEDDED: What most excites you about AI chatbots and text and art generators? What most concerns you?
SAM COLE: I recently wrote about horny AI chatbots that people are DIYing for erotic roleplay. People are finding ways around filters that ban them from sexual speech, because that’s what a ton of people want to do with AI: make porn and write horny stories. I think it’s cool in a cyberpunk sort of way.
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?
SAM COLE: I don’t have named group chats because I have an Android phone and I have trauma from it.
EMBEDDED: What’s your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?
SAM COLE: I use this one 🙆 a lot, which apparently is called “person gesturing OK,” but I use to mean some version of “I give up” or “fuck if I know what’s going on.”
EMBEDDED: Do you text people voice notes? If not, how do you feel about getting them?
SAM COLE: I don’t but I love getting them. If I’m having a text conversation with someone and they suddenly switch to voice notes I know I’m about to hear a really insane story or some wild gossip. Genuinely a thrill.
EMBEDDED: What’s a playlist, song, album, or style of music you’ve listened to a lot lately?
SAM COLE: Everyone said we looked like we’re starting a shoegaze band on the 404 Media about page, and Slowdive just put out a new album recently, so I’ve had that on heavy rotation.
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?
SAM COLE: I pay for Spotify but that’s it. The last vinyl record I bought was probably AJJ’s “Only God Can Judge Me.”
EMBEDDED: Do you regularly use eBay, Depop, or other shopping platforms? What’s a recent thing you’ve bought or sold?
SAM COLE: I tried selling some old stuff on Depop last year and it was such a flop I never went on that website again.
EMBEDDED: What’s the last thing that brought you joy online?
SAM COLE: Launching a website :)