Terminally Online

Good morning. Glad everybody could make it. The first thing I want to show everybody today is a photograph. This photograph is quite graphic. Some of you already know what it is. If you aren't interested in seeing something quite grisly and medical, now would be an opportune time to look away.

This image.

Alright, I'm on the next slide now. You can look again.

So, rather than linger on the image itself, let me describe it. That was a photograph of Paulie Frake, the first known case of the psychological condition now known as "verdancy" or "verdant scrolling". Mr. Frake was fifteen at the time he began verdant scrolling. He is now eighteen, and this photograph was taken around a week ago. The main thing to note about the image is that the skin around Frake's fingers has grown to completely enclose his phone, which can now no longer be removed from his hand except, potentially, surgically. His palm also now fully encloses the connector where the power supply for his phone enters the phone. Frake has been scrolling for almost exactly three years now. His eyes are encrusted with rheum and it's debatable whether he can actually read anything on his screen. His phone is several years out of date and although Frake's carers have been diligently maintaining its operating system and battery, it runs almost too slowly to be usable, and it's likely to be impossible to outright replace it with a new phone. Each new operating system update makes it less and less likely that the phone will continue to actually connect to the verdant feed and work properly.

A verdant feed is a social media feed which has this effect on people.

Frake's body, meanwhile, has... I'm not a doctor, but in my view he looks like he's kind of shrivelled up into a homunculus, coddling the phone like Gollum with the One Ring. His skin looks terrible. Worse than Gollum's. He is physically much smaller than when he was fifteen, and very underweight, and he seems to have aged seventy years in the space of three.

When this case, the first case, was detected, a series of experiments was carried out to see if there would be some way to disconnect Frake or any of the other victims from the verdant feed without causing an aggressive, violent fit, foaming at the mouth, bleeding from the eyeballs, organ failure and stroke. All of which happened the first few times someone tried to stop Frake from verdant scrolling. These experiments met with failure.

Seven more people, most of them medical personnel, also succumbed to verdant scrolling in the first few days of the outbreak. Eventually Frake's sister, his closest uninfected relative, deduced what was happening and submitted requests to have the @Ver_dance account suspended. Her reports resulted in six of our content review staff also being infected, ultimately followed by almost five percent of our engineering staff, until someone in our engineering team bypassed the normal approval system and unilaterally suspended the @Ver_dance account. Which immediately caused his manager, who was infected, to crash, along with everybody else. This engineer quickly unsuspended the account, reconfigured it to be viewable by followers only, not the general public, and pulled the manual breaker to shut down all new follower requests to all accounts. This state of affairs lasted long enough for the @Ver_dance account to be isolated and normal service resumed.

That outbreak is now long since contained. However, since that time, some three hundred and ten people in six countries have been depending upon @Ver_dance for life support. Five more people joined them over the course of the root cause investigation, after viewing @Ver_dance posts which had been pulled directly out of our database in plain text form. All of those three hundred and fifteen people are, to a greater or lesser extent, dead to the world. Physically living, and with significant amounts of highly bizarre and alarming brain activity, but not connected to our society. They are hooked into the @Ver_dance account for sustenance and it cannot be withdrawn, shut down or suspended.

We spent the ensuing years developing procedures for handling posts on our own social media networks in the same way that one would handle radioactive waste. We also developed algorithms able to recognise verdant feeds without exposing their content to human eyes and infecting more people. Using these algorithms we identified sixty other extant verdant feeds, fifty-eight of them with no followers and two with only a single follower each.

Yes, there are actually three verdant feeds, not one, as the public record would suggest. No, we are not aware of the real-world identity, location or medical condition of the missing two followers. We assume that they are in a similar condition to the verdant patients we already know about.

No, nobody knows what this feed actually contains. Everyone who does is a victim. No, we are not aware of what mechanism in the human brain it exploits.

Yes, we do know who operates the feeds. We know exactly where he lives. He's been under surveillance for the past thirty-six hours. No, this is not public knowledge.

No, there is nothing we can do about him, directly. He has more than three hundred people's lives held hostage. If he stops posting whatever it is he posts, they're done for.

And no, we don't know how much he knows about us, or about what we know about him. We don't think he uses other social networks, or if he does, it's not in a bizarre, life-threatening way like this. No, we don't know anything about how he thinks. We don't want to.

Anyway. The reason for this meeting is that we are about to reach a point of reckoning. Paulie Frake is going to die in the next few days, from "natural causes" aggravated by verdant scrolling. This feed is going to abrade the man's brain down to a nub, like a belt sander. Right now, the official death toll from this form of content is zero. That's about to go up to one. Over the next two months, all the other verdancy victims are likely to meet the same fate. At which point, it will become possible for us to report @Ver_dance and have him arrested.

Or.

Our other choice.

Would be to hire him.

And have him teach us everything he knows about engagement.

Because.

Let's be abundantly clear here. These are the most engaged users in history. Look at these charts. Here on the left are samplings of random users. In the middle, these are folks whom up until now we might have termed "hardcore". And on the right is the verdant cohort.

Yeah. I call this aspirational. I call this gap here, above these bars? I think that's shortfall. I think that's soft. The verdant users have used our site non-stop for years, at the expense of their physical and mental health. These are shining examples of what our engagement metrics could look like. If it was just a little less engaging, all two point one billion of our users could scratch out meagre consumerist lives at the same time as following verdant feeds, and live decades instead of being used up in a matter of years.

Question.

Yes.

Well, if you put it that way, this situation never agreed with me. You know, I'm an advocate of free speech. Even when the mere act of reading that speech has the literal effect of physically opening a hole in your skull and leaving you a lobotomized, insensate wreck of a human being. Especially then. Especially when simply being exposed to that speech, once, for a split second, swallows your living mind into an inescapable mental hell prison for the rest of your existence. That's speech which affects people. That's the speech which most needs to be heard, in my view. And I want our platform to be the platform for that.

As long as folks are properly informed.

*

...Aaaaand that concludes the video. The meeting recording you just watched, where social media executive Scott Joyce originally revealed his support for verdancy was, of course, the first outbreak of the secondary verdancy disease, now called "verdancy two" or "oxidancy". We now know that this phenomenon started with the @Oxi_dance account, but it took much, much longer for researchers to successfully identify and isolate. Although this infection is much less contagious, not physically debilitating and even, in some cases, reversible, it is considered no less dangerous. Unfortunately there is currently no algorithm for distinguishing oxidant feeds from relatively safe ones. A human being has to risk infection to make the judgement call.

Yes, in case this was unclear. The secondary disease is a disease which makes you advocate for the first disease. You aren't infected by the first disease. If you were infected by the first one you'd be basically dead, as Joyce describes. You're actually partially immune to it. You just... really, really like it. You just think being infected by the first one is a great idea and you try to get folks infected by it.

Joyce is now in a psychiatric hospital, as are several other people presenting similar symptoms.

Question?

Yes.

That was a long question. But... yes, on reflection, this does feel like a miscarriage of justice, or malpractice, to me. As you say, Joyce is physically and mentally healthy, and his crazy opinions are as valid as anyone's, no matter how dangerous actually acting on them might be. My feeling is that his voice deserves to be heard.

Tertiary infection?

Oh no!

Who keeps asking these questions?

Next: Opinions From 10⁵⁰⁰ CE

Discussion (14)

2020-11-25 23:39:47 by qntm:

1,738 words. Running total is 50,067 words. Mission accomplished! I wanted to write something vaguely creepypasta-ish and I thought the idea of a Twitter feed you could NEVER stop scrolling through was mildly amusing. I guess this takes it to a dangerously political place though. Still, it's just a first draft. Since I am past the word count threshold, I will likely spend the remaining five days of November on shorter, possibly slightly more experimental works. We'll see though.

2020-11-25 23:49:30 by rhuz:

*scrolls more*

2020-11-26 00:20:52 by Mitsu AT:

*memetic hazard*

2020-11-26 00:27:11 by Jumble:

It's advocacies for the next, slightly worse thing all the way down... ...wow, that really sounds political when I put it like that.

2020-11-26 00:35:05 by Jumble:

Still pretty amusing, though.

2020-11-26 00:40:56 by Mitsu AT:

Also, I was reminded of this tweet from Hank Green about good user experiences :3 https://twitter.com/hankgreen/status/1209181603819180032 Anecdotally speaking, from my earlier experiences with Twitter (back when I was still particularly determined to read absolutely everything on my feed), it stopped loading more posts after I tried to scroll more than about 7 days into the past. With Facebook, the chronological ordering is even more irregular than Twitter, but it seemed to stop loading more posts after I tried to scroll more than about 2 days into the past. With Tumblr, it's probably changed a bit since they've done that whole dashboard UI overhaul, but about about a year ago, I had bookmarked URLs of the format tumblr.com/dashboard/<page>/<id> pinpointing a point on my feed more than a month into the past, and I could still continue clicking "next page" further into the past just fine. I've since given up on reading absolutely everything on my feeds since it was causing me too much stress. So now I just check in on them whenever and try not to worry too much about stuff I may have missed :P

2020-11-26 00:46:22 by Jumble:

I just realized eventually some website will make a "What Strain Of Verdancy Are You Infected With?" quiz and boy I would not want to read that because I would cringe

2020-11-26 02:21:53 by Dot:

Congrats on reaching your goal! The right to free speech in a world where legitimately lethal cognitohazards exist seems... thought-provoking.

2020-11-26 03:35:00 by Len White:

@Dot From a certain point of view, we live in a world where non-anonlymous cognitohazards and memetic hazards exist. Highly disturbing pictures such as gore, trypophobia, abuse and such are cognitohazards, and are mostly banned everywhere with not much lost. The real problem is the real life memetic hazards, which are mostly extremist and political ideologies. Fundamentalist religions advocating violence almost definitely falls under the category of memetic hazards. But so do other calls for violence and war, including calls to violence and war based on perceived injustice. So do calls to reorganize society in potentially worse ways, such as the likes of communism/fascism/theocracy/technocracy. The right to free speech is predicated upon that given debate, the better ideas will prevail over the wrong ones...but if this isn't true, if the wrong but more memetic ideas are the ones that will prevail over better ideas, then the principle of free speech itself will become untenable.

2020-11-26 05:13:33 by Dot:

@Len Yeah, that's a fair point - non-anomalous hazards definitely exist in our society and can be prevalent in certain settings. I guess I was thinking more about a world where anomalous hazards with a high degree of lethality exist as well. Granted, I do admit this is a tricky subject to discuss as there are definitely certain sequences of words in real life which may lead some people to do drastic things after reading them... But it's one thing to have "these phrases may cause averse psychological reactions in 30% of people with certain states of mental health" and it's entirely another to have "this sequence of 213 characters will cause an immediate heart attack in 25% of any the people who read it". All things considered, language and communication in the real world is very safe compared to inside these fictional works. Perhaps my thoughts are - if reading something or looking at an image in an unrestricted world can be potentially as dangerous as, say, reaching into a bag of chips that might have a deadly spider in it... then maybe not having free speech (as we know it at least) doesn't sound quite as bad any more.

2020-11-26 09:15:08 by skztr:

I like it, but I think this is one that could benefit from being in standard SCP format. That's not an opinion I often have, as I strongly prefer the break-out stories on SCP to the "articles". An alternative would be for this to be "unpublished background information" for a larger (smaller?) story

2020-11-28 11:50:10 by Red:

This was super unnerving! Really well done. The pivot points where the small twists happened were excellent

2020-12-02 23:23:00 by Whybird:

For anyone wondering, @Ver_dance on Twitter does actually exist. It’s someone with exactly 5 posts from 2016 about depressing things in Russian.

2021-01-02 14:23:09 by Anonymous:

@Len White see this 2018 story by Scott Alexander for a non-anomalous version: https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/10/30/sort-by-controversial/

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