You know Twitter slips ads into your feed now? Or “Promoted Tweets”, I guess. Like it wasn’t enough that they broke the brain of every journalist and politician in the world, they also have to make money off it.
Lately they’ve been serving me an ad for the Wall Street Journal. The ad has one of those flat millennial illustrations, of a guy picking at his food with chopsticks. And it says this: “You’re feeling depressed. What have you been eating?”
The link goes to an article titled “The Food That Helps Battle Depression.” I don’t know what the article says, because the Wall Street Journal has a paywall. And in case you couldn’t guess, there is a zero percent chance that I will buy a subscription.
For one thing, I’m thirty. I don’t need a newspaper. I don’t want to wake up in the morning, go outside in my slippers, then sit around puffing my pipe while I catch up on yesterday’s stock prices. I want to down a gallon of coffee and mainline notifications until my brain is mush and I’m late for work.
For another thing, I’m not rich. The average reader of the Wall Street Journal makes $242,000 a year. That’s twenty thousand a month. I once made three thousand dollars in a month, and I felt like a king.
That was not this month.
So even if I did want to read the Wall Street Journal, I can’t afford to. Yet there it is, this ad, every day: “You’re feeling depressed. What have you been eating?”
Okay, so I haven’t seen a vegetable in like a week. But I have a good reason: I haven’t left my house in a week! I often see vegetables when I leave my house. There’s… grass, right? Grass is a vegetable.
My cat eats it.
And there’s those tall broccolis that grow in the parks. Big fuckers: fifteen, twenty feet high? Those have got to be good for you.
Besides, I’m not depressed because of my diet. I’m depressed because I spend ten hours a day staring at my hand, just scrolling. I’m like a train riding on a single rail.
Sometimes I switch over to my mentions, but that’s no better. It’s like the trolley problem in reverse: do you want to have your brain wrecked by the bad takes of random idiots, or by the same five reply guys who explain your jokes back to you?
I’m not depressed because of my diet. I’m depressed because the planet is on fire and five guys have like all the money and everyone I know is busy maintaining their internet brand and their side hustles and their private snaps, frantically self-promoting so that they can get the most internet points before the Chuck E Cheese closes and they have to cash them all out for disappointing prizes such as “clean drinking water” or “the last gallon of gasoline in town.” Because once the money is worthless, the only thing left is clout.
I mean, I’m not depressed. Who said I was depressed?
Oh, right, Twitter. Twitter decided I was depressed, using a complicated algorithm that measures the amount of hours I spend on Twitter, the time of day I use it, my (frankly depressing) number of likes and followers, the shape of my skull, the distance between my eyes, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and a hundred other factors.
They have a huge spreadsheet where each user’s numbers are stored, and they train a neural net on it. They cover one box in the spreadsheet and say, “Given all these other numbers, what number should be in the box?” And they do that a hundred million times and now they can predict how depressed I am! Or how horny, how outraged, how drunk, how broke, how lonely. I’m stripped naked before the eyes of God, my sins automatically confessed and my penitence prescribed.
Forgive me, Jack, I am depressed. This is what I have been eating.
Then the Twitter rep goes to the Wall Street Journal guy and says “Hey, we figured out how to tell if people are depressed” and the Journal guy does finger guns and says “Hell yeah, give me that!” And they go to an extended lunch at an overpriced sushi place and if there is any justice in the universe they get food poisoning and die.
But the gears are already in motion, and the conveyor belt of content slides this ad into my hand. For all I know – for all the Journal ad guy knows – it’s just going to everyone’s feed. Oh, you’re on Twitter? You’re feeling depressed. Not really the sort of insight that requires artificial intelligence.
There’s no other way this ad could have ended up in my feed. I couldn’t be a worse target, right? I’m never going to sign up for the Wall Street Journal. I would rather see Wall Street burn to the ground, as long as the janitors and bartenders make it out alive.
After all, the stock market goes down if the minimum wage goes up. Stock prices are a measurement of human suffering. The finance bros keep track of how much happiness they have extracted from our lives, and they make bets on whether that will go up or down, and then they make bets on those bets. That’s the economy.
In that sense, this ad is more of an insult than anything. If their average reader makes as much in a year as I make in a decade, they don’t need my money. They’re just bragging. “You’re feeling depressed. Loser.”
I’m depressed? You’re depressed! This whole society is depressed! What have I been eating? I’ve been eating Twitter, because I can’t afford ramen. Fuck off out of my feed!
Thanks for reading,
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