This year in tech, we’ve seen social media companies up in front of legislatures from Washington to Brussels, weird new internet subcultures have emerged, and there have been quite a few high-profile gaffes along the way.
As part of our look back at the year that gave us proper driverless cars, 48-megapixel phone cameras and door-opening robot dogs, we’re going to cover all the sad, mad and bad stuff that some of the internet's figureheads have been responsible for.
We’ve rated the performance this year of some of the biggest characters in the internet’s classroom, giving each of them an individual grade from A to F — and there are a lot of Fs.
So, how did they all do? Let’s cut to the chase.
One of the internet’s true low points this year started on the final day of 2017.
YouTube star Logan Paul decided that the highlight of his culturally insensitive trip to Japan would be stopping off in the Aokigahara forest to try to find a suicide victim to film and share with his audience of young teenagers. He was clearly aware of the gravity of his video tweeting “tomorrow's vlog will be the craziest and most real video I've ever uploaded.”
Backlash swiftly followed with fans, YouTubers, celebrities and media organizations condemning Paul on every medium possible. YouTube’s reaction was, frankly, poor. It posted a statement on Paul’s video and gave the video an age restriction but didn’t take it down.
On January 2, Paul posted an apology of sorts on Twitter, saying “I’m surrounded by good people and believe I make good decisions, but I’m still a human being. I can be wrong.” But then his apology went on to talk about how good he was at YouTube:
Dear Internet, pic.twitter.com/42OCDBhiWg
— Logan Paul (@LoganPaul) January 2, 2018
Then he posted a minute-long video apology on YouTube.
YouTube finally responded properly on January 9, over a week after Paul’s initial video was published. The video-sharing site said it had “acted appropriately,” despite not taking actually taking down the video itself.
All told, it was a shameful affair but set the tone brilliantly for the rest of 2018.
Grade: F, Logan is certainly confident, but his confidence is often misplaced
Ok, strap in, this one gets weird. In September, the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers debuted their new Mascot, Gritty. No one really knew what Gritty was, and no one has really been able to work out since – he’s basically a large, orange, hairy thing.
His debut game saw him fly into the Flyer’s stadium on a wire, fall over on the ice and do some strange dancing, he even shot a guy in the back with his handheld T-shirt cannon. It was beautiful chaos.
Then the internet took over. People started photoshopping Gritty into the back of stock photos, making them instantly more creepy. Then, socialist magazine Jacobin simply tweeted “Gritty is a worker”. Donald Trump visited Philadelphia and Twitter account @antifaintl tweeted that Gritty is a member of Antifa. Regular Philadelphians also took to the streets to protest Trump, with Gritty adorning their placards.
Speaking to The Daily Beast, Philadelphia writer George Ciccariello-Maher said Gritty had become a semi-ironic “queer or trans icon and a radical spokesperson. These are always half jokes, but they’re also things people are putting some real politics behind.
“Philadelphia is an underdog city. That really impacts and runs through a lot of the politics, particularly the sports spirit throughout the city. So when you see the launch of this mascot Gritty, who is by all accounts a sort of hideous monster, the response from an underdog city is to say, ‘yeah, but he’s our hideous monster and if you don’t love him then fuck you.”
Since then, Gritty has become a true left-wing meme icon, and has provided the online left with a mascot to rival the alt-right’s infamous Pepe the Frog character.
Grade: A, Gritty had a fantastic year and hopefully we’ll see it continue
2018 was a pretty bad year for Musk – his cars have been involved in fatal crashes, he’s had arguments with investors and has had issues with prescription and recreational drugs. However, his worst incident of the year at least started with the best of intentions.
On June 23, 12 teenage Thai footballers went exploring in Thailand’s northern Chiang Rai province but were trapped in a cave when it flooded. A two-week rescue operation began, with Thai Navy SEALs and cave divers from around the world drafted in to help save the football team.
However, following a tweet from user @MabzMagz on July 3, Elon Musk decided to get involved. He boasted that his Boring Company has “advanced ground penetrating radar and is pretty good at digging holes.”
Later, on 7 July, Musk said that he had received “Some good feedback from cave experts in Thailand” about his potential designs for a small submarine-like rescue contraption. On the ground, though, Thai authorities announced that they were going to start rescuing the boys immediately. Despite being so late to the punch, Musk pressed on, using a swimming pool at an LA high school to test his child-sized sub. By July 10, all the boys and rescuers were out of the cave, without Musk’s assistance.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 8, 2018
Musk’s intentions were good, despite being conspicuously late to help with an impractical solution. When asked about Musk’s submarine, Narongsak Osatanakorn, the head of the joint command center coordinating the rescue, said, “Even though their equipment is technologically sophisticated, it doesn’t fit with our mission to go in the cave.”
Musk responded angrily saying that Osatanakorn was “not the subject matter expert” and was simply a “former Thai provincial governor.”
Then, Vernon Unsworth, the British diver whose detailed knowledge of the caves was instrumental to the rescue, was asked by CNN what he thought of Musk’s submarine. Not mincing his words, Unsworth said, “He can stick his submarine where it hurts.” Far from diplomatic language, but worse was to come from Musk.
In emails to a Buzzfeed reporter, Musk called Unsworth a “child rapist” who had recently moved to Chiang Rai “for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time.” “It is’t where you’d go for caves, but it is where you’d go for something else,” Musk continued, “Chiang Rai is renowned for child sex trafficking.”
Then, in since deleted tweets, Musk wrote, “Never saw this British expat guy who lives in Thailand (sus) at any point when we were in the caves.” Musk then continued his attack on Unsworth, saying, “We will make one [a video] of the mini-sub/pod going all the way to Cave 5 [where the boys were trapped] no problemo. Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it.”
Tesla shareholders demanded Musk apologize, and Musk later promised that he would be less combative on social media. Unsworth is suing Musk for libel.
Grade: E, Elon shows great aptitude, but needs to work on managing his temper
Another big YouTuber who’s no stranger to controversy – PewDiePie was, until recently, the owner of the most subscribed-to Channel on the site.
In early December, PewDiePie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, hit the headlines for ‘shouting-out’ a channel that promoted conspiracy theories about Heather Heyer’s death (the woman murdered following the Unite the Right marches), and had videos complaining about “race mixing” and speeches from Adolf Hitler.
Back in May, he attracted controversy for a video he posted in which he watched another YouTube video titled “SEXIEST TWITCH GIRL STREAMERS APRIL 2017!!! #2” while using a piece of eye-tracking software.
When a clip of streamer Alinity was on screen, Kjellberg called the women in the video “stupid Twitch thots.” Kjellberg continued, saying that “You’re just playing games with the shortest skirt ever, that’s our fault for looking at it in a sexual way, right?”
Kjellberg, however, was more than happy to put women from the video in his thumbnail.
The most recent PewDiePie controversy involved his fans attempts to keep him as the most subscribed-to channel. In November, printers around the world were hacked, and the following message was printed:
— Dr.Moxmo (@Dr_Moxmo) November 29, 2018
In December, yet more printers were hacked, again telling people to subscribe to PewDiePie. Kjellberg hasn’t condemned the hacking, which is very illegal, but has instead quote retweeted two news stories mentioning the hacking:
Desperate times calls for desperate measures.. https://t.co/ltWSh9RPOs
— ƿ૯ωძɿ૯ƿɿ૯ (@pewdiepie) November 30, 2018
Oh god, it's happening again! Lol https://t.co/uDzxLzE1Z3
— ƿ૯ωძɿ૯ƿɿ૯ (@pewdiepie) December 16, 2018
The Wall Street Journal’s website was hacked in December, and a fake apology to Kjellberg from the newspaper was posted.
Again, Kjellberg has failed to condemn the hacking:
lol they deleted it, WSJ is still on angery list
— ƿ૯ωძɿ૯ƿɿ૯ (@pewdiepie) December 17, 2018
Grade: D, Felix seems to attract trouble and needs to think about how his actions may influence others
You know Jack Dorsey, right? He’s the super-chill free speech loving ex-punk billionaire CEO of Twitter.
Well, Dorsey turned 42 this year and, while most 42 year-olds might go out for dinner and drinks, he decided to go to Myanmar to take part in 10 days of silent Vipassana meditation.
He didn’t, however, stay silent about it – Dorsey decided to share some of the details of his trip in an epic 25-tweet long threat from his Twitter account, @Jack.
Highlights include: The time he sat on the floor for three-quarters of an hour
Imagine sitting on a concrete floor cross-legged for an hour without moving. Pain arises in the legs in about 30-45 minutes. One’s natural reaction is to change posture to avoid the pain. What if, instead of moving, one observed the pain and decided to remain still through it?
— jack (@jack) December 9, 2018
When he said that meditating for that spare hour we all have every day would be good for people with chronic pain, rather than, y’know, drugs and treatment.
Vipassana would likely be good for those suffering chronic pain to help manage it. That’s not the goal of course, but definitely a simple practice to help. Being able to sit without moving at all for over an hour through pain definitely teaches you a lot about your potential.
— jack (@jack) December 9, 2018
His poverty porn lodgings
I did my meditation at Dhamma Mahimã in Pyin Oo Lwin. This is my room. Basic. During the 10 days: no devices, reading, writing, physical excercise, music, intoxicants, meat, talking, or even eye contact with others. It’s free: everything is given to meditators by charity. pic.twitter.com/OhJqXKInD3
— jack (@jack) December 9, 2018
When he did nothing for an hour, smashing his previous do-nothing PB of five minutes. But then he caught a cold.
The 2nd day was my best. I was able to focus entirely on my breath, without thoughts, for over an hour. The most I could do before that was 5 minutes. Day 6 was my worst as I caught a nasty cold going around the center. Couldn’t sleep from then on but pushed through til the end.
— jack (@jack) December 9, 2018
That time he got bitten 117 times(!) by mosquitos in ten minutes.
We also meditated in a cave in Mandalay one evening. In the first 10 minutes I got bit 117 times by mosquitoes 🦟 They left me alone when the light blew a fuse, which you can see in my heart rate lowering. pic.twitter.com/rz59Wx9yHF
— jack (@jack) December 9, 2018
— jack (@jack) December 9, 2018
He then went on to talk about Myanmar and how beautiful it undoubtedly is. However, while Jack was waxing lyrical about the wonders of the country, millions of Rohingya muslims were being murdered and forcibly displaced by the nation’s government. Ah.
We need not worry, though. Jack, originally raised in a catholic household, pointed out after two days of collective WTF? responses, that it was all ok.
He’d been practicing meditation for twenty years and, after trying Vipassana in Texas, he wanted to visit its birthplace in Myanmar. He made clear that he was “aware” of the genocide, but, as it was a personal trip, it didn’t matter that the CEO of arguably the biggest online news platform implicitly endorsed a nation perpetrating numerous human rights violations and often misusing social media to spread hatred.
Grade: D, Jack shows admirable ability for ‘quiet-time’, but sometimes lacks awareness of others
Robert Mueller is the US Special Counsel leading the investigation into alleged Russian collusion during the 2016 election. He is arguably the most hated man in MAGA-land.
Jacob Wohl, on the other hand, is a minor MAGA Twitter celebrity with almost 180,000 followers. He describes himself in his Twitter bio as a “Conservative | Trump Supporter | Zionist | Political and Corporate Intel Consultant.” Prior to this though, he tried to manage a hedge fund, but failed after national and state investigations into securities fraud.
Wohl’s bread-and-butter Twitter game, meanwhile, is stuff like this:
I was in a hipster coffee shop this morning surrounded by young Democrats taking a break from Black Friday shopping. A group of them next to me were whispering about how grateful they are that President Trump cut gas prices, giving them piles of extra cash to shop with
— Jacob Wohl (@JacobAWohl) November 24, 2018
Back in October, though, Wohl decided to embark on an audacious project to frame Mueller for sexual harassment. Wohl thought it might be the making of him, and the end of Mueller, but it ended up as nothing but farce.
On October 17, a number of journalists received an email from “Lorraine Parsons.” This email said she had been contacted by a man claiming to work for a firm called Surefire Intelligence, on behalf of GOP lobbyist Jack Burkman. Burkman had offered her substantial amounts of money to make false accusations against Mueller.
However, no one was able to work out who Lorraine Parsons was. Surefire Intelligence had a website, but when NBC decided to investigate the company, they found that the telephone number on its website led to Wohl’s mom’s house.
In fact, the headshots of Surefire’s employees turned out to be Israeli model Bar Refaeli and Austrian actor Christoph Waltz (together, at last). The image of managing partner “Matthew Cohen” was actually a darkened image of Wohl. Even the domain hosting documents were linked to Wohl’s email address. Amateur hour is putting it lightly.
By this time, however, Mueller’s office had reported the false allegations to the FBI.
Burkman and Wohl were not to be deterred, and pressed on with their campaign. Burkman tweeted that he would reveal the first of Mueller’s sex assault victims at a press conference on November 1. Wohl tweeted forty minutes after Burkman, saying, “Several media sources tell me that a scandalous story about Mueller is breaking tomorrow. Should be interesting. Stay tuned!”
On the day of the press conference, Wohl tweeted a picture of a bus claiming that protesters had been bussed in to disrupt the event (they hadn’t). Then, during the press conference, Wohl claimed that the sexual assault victim didn’t show up because she feared for her life, and Burkman promised she would turn up at another conference in the near future.
You can watch some of the highlights (low-lights?) of the press conference here:
Burkman denied that any of the emails were true, and stated it was a hoax propagated by Mueller’s team to distract everyone from the supposedly legitimate victims. Wohl claimed that his “default position” is “to not believe” women who come forward with sexual assault claims, but that this imaginary person was very credible. He also said she was a fashion designer and was “well-educated and comes from a good family.” Just to show his tiering of “good victims” versus “bad victims”, there.
Burkman and Wohl couldn’t even decide on how to spell their client’s name, sometimes saying it was Carolyn, but other times saying Carolyne. This was after Burkman described 20 year-old Wohl as “a child prodigy who has eclipsed Mozart.”
Reporters at the conference questioned their account of Mueller sexually assaulting the victim in August 2010, explaining this fell at a time when Mueller was serving jury duty in New York. Wohl replied that “sometimes people go to jury duty, but they’re also somewhere else.” Truly a child prodigy.
After that, the press conference finished, with the final question from reporters being “Are you both prepared for federal prison?” and the story died as quickly as it was born. We’ll have to wait and see if the FBI do indeed go after Burkman and Wohl.
In the meantime, you can still find the latter tweeting gems such as “The UK should hire President Trump and pay him a consultancy fee to manage the Brexit”, or, “I would love to see Bill O’Reilly back on Fox News.”
Grade: F, Jacob and Jack show good creativity, but failed to truly prepare this year
And that’s the internet class of 2018. A flawed bunch, to be sure, but they never failed to provide entertainment.
Read more about the world of tech in 2018 on Tech.co