Swipe at your own risk

November 29th, 2023

Together with

(AI) garage sale. Yep, you read that right. The garage sale has officially gone from IRL to URL… well, kind of. This week, a small, LA-based art studio called Brian launched a “functional internet gag” (think MSCHF), where you can “haggle with AIs to buy Tesla stock, a PS5, or a toilet magazine.” Time to dust off the ol’ bargaining skills.

In other news… IG Reels is toxic, Sports Illustrated’s fake journalists, and musicians turn to seed investments.

Top Trends

YouTube → Memory

Google → Fallout

Reddit → This Is Spinal Tap

Spotify → “The Glass” 

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IG Reels’ youth problem // Illustration by Kait Cunniff with DALL-E

Instagram Reels is a toxic scroll

The Future. WSJ found that ads from brands like Disney, Walmart, Pizza Hut, Bumble, and even WhatsApp itself were served in between videos portraying child sexualization and adult film content on Reels… and users would see this content by simply following youth-oriented accounts. The test shows that the race to catch up with TikTok (and a moderation policy that protects user-engagement metrics above all else) may be making even the most mainstream platforms on the internet a dangerous place for people, companies, and, most importantly, kids.

Swipe at your own risk
The results of WSJ’s investigation into Reels’ algorithm highlights the danger brands face in advertising on short-form video platforms… especially ones racing to become the market leader.

  • WSJ tested the efficacy of content moderation on Reels by creating test accounts that innocently followed “only young gymnasts, cheerleaders, and other teen and preteen influencers active on the platform.”

  • Reels quickly started serving those accounts a mix of sexual adult content, pedophilic content, and advertising from major brands.

  • When those test accounts followed adult users who also followed those youth accounts, they were served even more “disturbing recommendations.”

  • The Canadian Centre for Child Protection also conducted a similar test and got the same results.

Why did this happen? According to experts, adults, especially men, who followed these accounts “had demonstrated interest in sex content related to both children and adults,” per WSJ. So, Meta’s algorithm was just giving them more of what they want. Current and former staffers at Meta, including its former head of youth policy, say that, internally, this has been a known problem… but the company pushed forward with a rollout regardless.

Meta says that it’s recently introduced new brand-safety tools and it’ll investigate the claims… but some brands, like Match Group and Bumble, have already pulled their ads off the platform.

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Courtesy of Sports Illustrated (not that they’re happy about that)

Sports Illustrated generates fake journalists

The Future. Futurism caught Arena Group-owned outlets like Sports Illustrated and TheStreet red-handed: inventing fake writers with AI and generating articles made to look like they were from real humans. That flies in the face of journalistic ethics, and the real writers at these outlets are now up in arms. The practice may show how, in an internet era driven by SEO and affiliate links, cash-strapped publishers view AI as a potential get-rich-quick scheme… a practice that could fill the web with a lot of junk that’ll only make AI worse.

Deepfake playbook
Futurism found that Sports Illustrated writers Drew Ortiz, Sora Tanaka, and many others didn’t exist, despite having headshots and biographies.

  • Instead, they were AI-generations made to pass as real writers — sources involved with their creation showed how the headshots were up for sale on an AI marketplace.

  • And the articles they wrote, mostly product reviews, were also AI-generated (without any disclosure that they were). And, yes, the writing was terrible.

  • Periodically, certain sketchy “writer” profiles would be deleted… and the article would be re-attributed to another writer (who also happened to be AI-generated).

  • But it wasn’t just Sports IllustratedFuturism found that a similar thing was happening at TheStreet, which, like SI, is owned by publisher The Arena Group.

When Futurism pressed The Arena Group about the allegations, the publisher scrubbed the sites of any trace of the AI writers and then blamed the issue on third-party contractor AdVon. Naturally, the actual human writers at Sports Illustrated are livid and demanding answers.

But this isn’t the first time that publishers have been caught generating “journalists” out of thin air. Gannett-owned papers were called out for hilariously inaccurate sports roundups, BuzzFeed was caught generating travel guides that sounded extremely similar, and Gizmodo’s AItotally messed up reporting on Star Wars… as if you can get away with trying to pull one over diehard fans.

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Rent like a landlord

For many of us, landlords are the people who take eight months to fix your leak but won’t waste a minute telling you rent’s late. But, hey, guess what? “Landlord” vibes don’t have to be so harsh.

Meet Roots. The real estate fund disrupting real estate stereotypes by giving their tenants a piece of the pie.

Here’s the cool little model:

  • You invest in the Roots fund (get started with as little as $100!) 

  • Roots buys properties, fixes them up, and rents them out 

  • Renters get invested in the fund for paying on time, taking care of the properties, and being good neighbors 

And it’s really working. The fund is up 40% since July 2021. 


Courtesy of Mad Tsai via Instagram

Budding musicians turn to seed investments

The Future. Online marketplaces like Indify, Sound Royalties, and beatBread are empowering individuals to place their bets on artists before major labels scoop them up. With the revenue from label-less artists who release music directly growing by 17% last year to an amazing $1.7 billion, streaming has made it possible for musicians to pay the rent while working on their first major albums… but perhaps only by finding forward-thinking partners willing to bet on their future success.

VC Records
Indify — which discovered Billie Eilish, Post Malone, and Khalid before they became breakout hitmakers — wants to give artists and the people who discover them the ability to jumpstart their success on the ground floors of their careers.

  • Artists who use Indify can receive upfront investments and creative control in exchange for a cut of the streaming rights on a single song or album — with artists keeping at least 50% of the revenue generated after investors are made whole.

  • Most investments typically come from music managers, who will then help the artist with marketing and social media strategy.

  • Indify only makes money when investors do — 15% of their post-recoupment earnings.

Indify says that most financing arrangements are for about seven years, with 95% of the deals still only in their second year. Yet, half of all contracts through Indify are already profitable — some have already tripled their investment. That includes manager Josh Feschbach, who’s turned a $30,000 investment in Mad Tsai into $110,000.

For his part, Mad Tsai has made over $245,000… not too shabby for a UCLA student who was discovered posting ukulele-driven songs on TikTok.

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Amazon hates when you do these 8 things (but they can’t stop you)

Do you shop on Amazon or use Prime? If so, you might be missing out on huge savings and a chance to earn extra cash on every purchase you make.

Our money-saving experts at Finance Buzz put together a list of eight secret hacks that you need to know if you’re an Amazon shopper. They can help you save money, cancel unwanted subscriptions, and earn cash.

Learn how to never pay more than you should while shopping online with these eight secret hacks.


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The best curated daily stories from around the web

Media, Music, & Entertainment

  • A group of WWE investors are taking Vince McMahon to task for the “sham sales process” that led to the merger of WWE and Endeavor-backed UFC to form TKO Group, despite bigger offers being on the mat for the wrestling giant. Read More → thr

  • Formula 1 is opening a go-karting facility, dubbed F1 DRIVE, that’ll feature the voices of racing stars Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, and Charles Leclerc. Read More → hypebeast

  • TikTok and Luminate found that TikTok users are more likely to go to concerts, pay for a music streaming service, and purchase merch compared to non-TikTok users. Read More → insider

Fashion & E-Commerce

  • Cyber Monday sales hit a record $12.4 billion — a 10% jump from last year. Read More → axios

  • SHEIN has confidentially filed to go public at a possible $90 billion valuation. Read More → bof

  • Consumers on the wait list for a Cybertruck still don’t know how much they’re going to end up paying for it… despite it rolling out tomorrow. Read More → insider

Tech, Web3, & AI

In partnership with Roots

  • GM is likely majorly cutting funding for autonomous car startup Cruise after a very, very bad month. Read More → reuters

  • Amazon is launching a chatbot for businesses called Q, which is built to help employees with daily tasks. Read More → nyt

  • Virgin Atlantic kicked off the first transatlantic flight powered entirely by sustainable fuel — a mix of cooking oil and biomass. Read More → forbes

From our partners: Meet Roots. The real estate fund disrupting real estate stereotypes by giving their tenants a piece of the pie. You invest in the Roots fund (with as little as $100!); then Roots buys properties, fixes them up, and rents them out. Renters get invested in the fund for paying on time, taking care of the properties, and being good neighbors. And it’s really working. The fund is up 40% since July 2021.

Creator Economy

  • A study out of Oxford found that there was little link between internet use and negative mental health… but the researchers admitted that they weren’t provided any data from major platforms, so their conclusions could be flawed. Read More → techcrunch

  • TikTok reports that users who post videos longer than a minute now gain five times more followers than those who post videos under a minute — call it the YouTube-ization of TikTok. Read More → tubefilter

  • X could lose up to $75 million in ad revenue this year due to the recent advertiser exodus. Read More → nyt

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Today’s email was written by David Vendrell.
Edited by Melody Song. Copy edited by Kait Cunniff.
Published by Darline Salazar.

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