The “Useless Web Idea” is incorrect, but it surely feels true
If you search for the phrase I hate text messages on Twitter and scroll down, you will notice a pattern. An account with the handle @pixyIuvr and a glowing heart as a profile picture tweeted: “I hate SMS, I just want to hold your hand” and receives 16,000 likes. An account with the handle @ f41rygf and a pink ball as a profile picture tweeted: “I hate text messages, just come live with me” and receives almost 33,000 likes. An account with the handle @itspureluv and a pink ball as a profile picture tweeted: “I hate texting, I just want to kiss you” and receives more than 48,000 likes.
There are slight changes in the choice of verbs and the girlish username and color scheme, but the idea is the same every time: I’m a person who has a crush in the age of smartphones, and isn’t that relatable? Yes it sure is! But some people on Twitter have been wondering if these are really, really just people who have a crush in the age of smartphones and are saying something relatable. They pointed to it as possible evidence backing up a wild idea called the “Dead Internet Theory”.
Let me explain. The Dead Internet Theory states that the Internet has been almost entirely taken over by artificial intelligence. As with many other online conspiracy theories, the audience for this one is growing due to the discussion that is led by a mix of true believers, sarcastic trolls, and idle, curious lovers of chit-chat. For example, you could refer to @ _capr1corn, a Twitter account with a blue ball with a pink spot in the middle as a profile picture. In the spring, the account tweeted “I hate text messages, come over and cuddle”, and then “I hate text messages, I just want to hug you” and then “I hate text messages, just hang out with me” and then “I hate text messages” I just want to kiss you ”, which got 1,300 likes but didn’t do as well as @itspureluv. But unlike many other online conspiracy theories, this one has a bit of truth to it. Person or bot: does it really matter?
Dead internet theory. It’s terrifying, but I love it. I read about it in the Macintosh Cafe on Agora Road, an online forum with a pixelated Margaritaville atmosphere and the self-awarded “Best Kept Secret of the Internet!” Right now, the background is a repeated image of palm trees, a pink sunset, and some kind of liquor pouring into a stone glass. The site is mainly there to discuss lo-fi hip-hop which I don’t listen to, but it is also used to discuss conspiracy theories, which I do.
In January I stumbled upon a new thread there called “Dead Internet Theory: Most of the Internet is Faked” shared by a user named IlluminatiPirate. In the next few months this should become the original text for those interested in the theory. The post is very long and some of it is too confusing to deal with; The author claims to have compiled the theory from ideas shared by anonymous users of the paranormal section of 4chan and another forum called Wizardchan, an online community based on gaining wisdom and magic through celibacy. (In an email, IlluminatiPirate, who runs a logistics company in California, told me that he “really believes the theory.” I agreed not to identify him by name because he said he feared harassment.)
Peppered with casually insulting language, the article suggests that the Internet died in 2016 or early 2017 and that it is now “empty and deserted” and “completely sterile”. Much of the “supposedly man-made content” you see online was actually created with AI, claims IlluminatiPirate, and was distributed by bots, possibly supported by a group of “influencers” on the payroll of various companies working with the government stuck under a blanket. The intention of the conspiratorial group, of course, is to control our thoughts and make us buy things.
As evidence, IlluminatiPirate offers, “I’ve seen the same threads, images, and answers reposted over and over again over the years.” He argues that all modern entertainment is generated and recommended by an algorithm; Gestures to the existence of deepfakes suggesting that anything can be an illusion; and links to a 2018 New York story entitled “How Much of the Internet Is Fake? It turns out a lot, actually. ”“ I think it’s perfectly obvious what I’m subtly suggesting, given this setup, ”the post continues. “The US government is participating in an artificial intelligence that supplies the entire world population with gas lighting.” So far, the original article has been viewed more than 73,000 times.
Obviously, the Internet is not a government psyop, although the Department of Defense played a role in its invention. But if it were, the most compelling evidence to me from observing the Dead Internet Theory is that the same news of unusual moon-related events seems to repeat itself year after year. I swear I’ve been saying this for years. What is a super flower blood moon? What is a pink super moon? A quick search for headlines from this month only reveals, “This Weekend’s Moon Has Something Special,” “Don’t Miss: Rare, Seasonal ‘Blue Moon’ Rises Tonight,” and “Why This Weekend’s Blue Moon Is Especially Rare. “I just don’t understand why everyone is so intent on me looking at the moon all the time? Leave me alone with the moon!
Dead Internet theory is a niche idea because it’s obviously ridiculous, but it has spread. Caroline Busta, the Berlin founder of the New Models media platform, recently referred to this in her contribution to an online group exhibition by the KW Institute for Contemporary Art. “Of course, a lot of this post is paranoid fantasy,” she told me. But the “overarching idea” seems to be correct. The theory has become the fodder for dramatic YouTube explainers, including one that sums up the original post in Spanish and has been viewed nearly 260,000 times. Speculations about the validity of the theory have arisen in the widely read Hacker News forum and among fans of the hugely popular Linus Tech Tips YouTube channel. In a Reddit forum on the paranormal, the theory is discussed as a possible explanation for why threads about UFOs seem to be so often “hijacked” by bots.
The spread of the theory was not entirely organic. IlluminatiPirate posted a link to its manifesto on several Reddit forums that discuss conspiracy theories, including the Joe Rogan subreddit which has 709,000 subscribers. In the r / JoeRogan comments, users argue sarcastically – or sincerely? – about which of them is a bot. “I’m absolutely the type of loser who would be made to live under bots and never notice,” commented a member of the 4chan-affiliated “Something Awful” forum when the theory was shared there in February. “Seems like a bot is posting something,” someone replied. The playful arguments that everything is the same are also the same.
This particular conversation went down the darkest path imaginable, leading up to this comment, “If I were real, I’m pretty sure that I could live to the fullest every day and experience everything I could in every moment can spend the relatively tiny amount of time I’ll exist instead of posting nonsense on the internet. “
Anyway … the dead internet theory is pretty far out there. But unlike the internet’s many other conspiracy theorists who are boring, or really gullible, or motivated by weird politics, the people of the dead internet are kind of right. In the New York story conjured up by the IlluminatiPirate, the writer Max Read plays with paranoia. “Everything that once seemed definitely and unquestionably real now seems a little bit wrong,” he writes. But he argues firmly: He states that much of the web traffic is likely coming from bots, and that at times YouTube had such high bot traffic that some employees feared “the inversion” – the point where its systems would begin see bots as authentic and people as fake. He also points out that even engagement metrics have been grossly inflated or easily played on sites as large and powerful as Facebook, and that human presence can be mimicked with click farms or cheap bots.
Some of it can get better now, for better or for worse. Social media companies have gotten much better at preventing people from buying fake views and fake likes, while some bot farmers have become even more sophisticated in response. Big platforms are still playing around with inauthentic activity so that the average internet user has no way of knowing how much of what they see is “real”.
But more than that, the theory feels true: Twitter is mostly dominated by a dispute about the best personal hygiene or which cities with the worst food and air quality, which somehow turns into allegations of classicism and murder, which, for whatever reason, actually not is more as offensive as classicism. A celebrity is sorry. A music video broke the internet. A meme got popular and then got boring. “Bennifer could be back online and no one is more excited than Twitter.” At this point, one could even say that the point of the theory is so obvious that it’s a cliché – people keep talking about yearning for the days of strange web designs and personal sites and list servs. Even Facebook employees say they miss the “old” internet. The major platforms encourage their users to keep having the same conversations and emotions and outrage circles over and over again, so people may behave like bots and react impulsively in predictable ways to things that are created, in all likelihood to evoke that very reaction.
Fortunately, if all of this bothers you, you don’t have to rely on some crazy conspiracy theory for mental comfort. You can just look for evidence of life: the best evidence I have that the internet is not dead is that I wandered to a strange website and found some ridiculous talk about how the internet is so, so dead .