Strange Stories of Tumblr Life

Tales of teenagers, dada, and diet pill spam


Tumblr: more than just fan GIFs and arguments about intersectionality!

The best thing I've read on the Internet today is Elspeth Reeve's "The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens." It's a story about teenagers finding their voices online, developing an Internet subculture, building media empires that are almost invisible to adults, dreaming up get-rich-quick schemes, making money, losing money, and eventually falling into some shady work hawking dubious diet pills. It would be worthwhile just for its observations on this particular wing of Tumblr culture ("Increasingly, the lingua franca is absurdist dada," one Tumblr exec declares), but by the end it's become a much larger piece of character-driven storytelling.

Here's a sample:

I'd seen a few Lifehackable posts years ago and assumed they were satire. "Life hacks" are simple tips to make your life a bit better in the tiniest ways, the kind of tricks that are so obvious you can't believe you weren't already doing them—finding the best deals on eBay by searching for misspelled listings, keeping power cords neat with hair clips, making "time bomb soda" by freezing Mentos in ice cubes. (Applicability of the life hack often depends on one's lifestyle.) Lilley and Greenfield had partnered with a guy they'd known for years, Tom, to run Lifehackable. Tom was not good at it. His life hacks were less hacks than poor life choices. In one notorious post, he suggested that you could make a "personal ice cream bowl" by cutting a pint container in half vertically. The post went viral when another user commented "OR YOU COULD JUST TAKE OFF THE FUCKING LID YOU INBRED."

My so-called lifehack

The outrage clicks were so powerful, Lilley and Greenfield decided to experiment with "negative attention." Haters are more loyal than fans, so they promoted the bad hacks. The worst hacks brought in thousands of followers, and that's how Lifehackable built the bulk of its audience. "Tom knew what was happening, and so then he was more incentivized to actually not do his job right," Lilley said. "And in sucking, he succeeded."

Eventually we learn how the Lifehackable story ends:

Though they'd exploited Tom's failures, he got the better of them in the end. Lilley and Greenfield had agreed to split ad revenue 50-50 with Tom, but a few months later, they noticed the ads on the site had been replaced with images promoting Tom's YouTube channel JusstTom. "As if we'd never notice that all the ads changed to be about Tom and put his face on them," Greenfield said. Now—which once made $1,963 in a single day—redirects to the YouTube channel.

And all that is essentially an aside in a much bigger narrative. You should read the whole thing.