Pluralistic: 21 Jun 2020

Today's links

Yahoo is a deadbeat billionaire zombie (permalink)

Yahoo is the poster-child for how financialization destroyed the wild and wooly internet – after receiving crazy sums of money from Softbank and the capital markets, it bought and destroyed most of the promising startups of the next decade.

Today, the company is a husk – most of its assets sold to Verizon, who made a new division called "Oath" to manage them (the name was chosen because Verizon's mismanagement made so many users want to swear).

Verizon had to write down billions on that "investment" and sell off companies like Tumblr and Flickr for an infinitesimal fraction of what they paid for them (and this price was, in turn, an infinitesimal fraction of what Yahoo spent).

The dregs of Yahoo post-Verizon-deal were reorganized as a finance zombie called Altaba, which was, miraculously worth $13b, from "cash holdings, partnership investments and bond portfolio, as well as certain patents that Verizon did not purchase."

Could you ask for any better proof that the system is designed to reward useless financial engineering at the expense of actual things that actual people actually like and use than Altaba being worth $13b?

Turns out, you could!

Incredibly, Altaba isn't just a $13b zombie – it's a $13b zombie deadbeat, and it's being sued for $1b by the IRS, which is seeking to recover the taxes the company evaded.

It's even worse. The company really owes $12.9b of its $13b in taxes, but it was able to whittle the IRS down to a mere $2.88b, a sum that Altaba counteroffered with $1.5b, going back and forth until the number dropped to $1b.

Which Altaba didn't pay.

(Image: Scott Schiller, CC BY, modified)

The politicization of K-pop stans (permalink)

The politicization of online fandoms is always weird. Most fandoms (usually) have no intrinsic political valence, and indeed, a common strong affinity for an apolitical genre can make strange allies, bringing together people of very different politics.

I remember going to Dungeons and Dragons club in Toronto in the 1980s and bailing early to go to anti-nuclear proliferation protests, to the absolutely shock and dismay of the far-right types who found their way into the hobby through wargaming.

This makes for some bitter splits when a majority (or large minority) of a fandom decides to politicize. The closest I came to quitting SFWA was when the board unwisely promulgated a loyalty oath stating "respect for intellectual property" was a condition of membership.

(Don't worry, that's no longer the case and the people behind it are not active in the org anymore. You can still be an sf writer even if you hate patent trolls, copyfraudsters, or the toxic business-model of Elsevier)

As the fight for racial justice in America has heated up and moved back onto the streets in the highest-possible-stakes way, an unlikely fandom has thrown its support behind the cause: K-Pop Stans (AKA megafans of South Korean pop music).

Earlier this month, there was a massive flood of K-Pop "fancams" (short video clips of musical performances) in far-right hashtags, and to the snitch-line set up by Dallas police to rat out protesters.

At the time, some people were skeptical of K-Pop stans' commitment to justice; I heard from several people who'd been targeted by K-Pop harasser mobs that flooded queer and racialized online spaces in precisely the same way.

At the time, I thought K-Pop fandom was probably undergoing a politicization comparable to other fandoms – like the purging of Nazi elements from the punk scene and the emergence of an explicitly anti-authoritarian, queer, leftist character to a genre of music and fandom.

I think I was right. Yesterday, Trump held a rally in Tulsa, OK. In advance of that rally, his campaign manager boasted of over 1,000,000 RSVPs and the campaign planned for massive outdoor overspill areas with jumbotrons.

But when the doors opened, only 6,000 people were there, enough to leave the 19,000 person hall – a true Emptysburg Address.

The Trump campaign (predictably) blamed it on fear of antifa supersoldiers who'd scared off his million+ throng.

But what actually happened is that Gen-Z K-Pop stans and Tiktokkers had sent a million fake signups to the RSVP system, flooding it. That's why they were expecting a million people.

(As to why only 6,000 showed: Trump isn't that popular, and his base skews old and unwell and understand that going to a rally during a coronavirus pandemic could kill them)

The politicization of K-Pop stans has a really interesting recent historical antecedent: Anonymous. The movement had its origins in 4chan's /b/ forum, a notorious source of online harassment and anarchic "fun."

But during Occupy and the Arab Spring, a large plurality of Anonymous participants became explicitly politicized and declared the movement to have an explicit political character.

The path to that political character is complicated, with detours through a Scientology lawsuit and other odd alleyways, but that's where they ended up.

The very best person to read on this is the cyber-anthropologist Biella Coleman. Here's my review of her 2014 must-read on Anonymous, "Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy":

But after Biella's book came out, 4chan kept going. The rump of 4chan/b people who didn't want to follow Anonymous's new politics became…Donald Trump's authoritarian online footsoldiers.

And there were homophobic and racist K-Pop stan raids in the past. Progressive politics were not a condition of K-Pop fandom membership (until now). So there's probably a rump of bitter, vicious racist trolls who have mastered the same tactics we're celebrating today.

That said: as Yim Hyun-su documents in a fantastic Korea Herald piece on K-Pop fandom in Korea and abroad, the US K-Pop scene is pretty queer and pretty racially diverse.

And K-Pop's fringe status in US culture has welded together the fandom in a movement that cut its teeth flooding I Heart Radio request lines.

He quotes Michelle Cho, a University of Toronto media scholar, who describes how the controversy over K-Pop's appropriation of Black and hiphop culture has turned into a solidarity movement.

It's a really complicated and nuanced cultural story, and it's only getting started. If Anonymous is any guide, then the backlash with the fandom is gonna be ugly. Buckle up.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago DRM apologist circumvents DRM

#15yrsago Notes from fight to turn WIPO into a humanitarian agency

#15yrsago Science booklet for kids teaches copyright instead

#10yrsago White House guts bill that would rein in CEO salaries; you can stop them

#10yrsago Blacksad: hardboiled detective fiction about anthropomorphic animals (no, really)

#10yrsago New Apple terms allow them to collect and share your "precise, real-time location"

#5yrsago The Girl With the Parrot on Her Head

#5yrsago Gardner Dozois is selling his book collection

#5yrsago Doctoral dissertation in graphic novel form

#1yrago Independent audit finds Facebook activity has fallen by 20% since Cambridge Analytica

#1yrago The ENIAC Programmers: how women invented modern programming and were then written out of the history books

#1yrago Google Maps is still overrun with scammers pretending to be local businesses, and Google's profiting from them—-and-google-profits

#1yrago Jewish human rights scholar: yes, America has built concentration camps

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Bruce Sterling (, Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 503 words (29686 total).

  • A short story, "Making Hay," for MIT Tech Review. Friday's progress: 317 words (2251 total)

Currently reading: Adventures of a Dwergish Girl, Daniel Pinkwater

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