HobbyKidsTV, YouTube, and the New World of Child Stars

HobbyBear is expecting a package any day now. In it will be a Silver Play Button, a plaque that YouTube gives to creators who have surpassed 100,000 subscribers. HobbyBear has a little under 99,000 now, so he hasn't quite earned the commendation. But give him a break: He's only 6. See, HobbyBear is one-fifth of HobbyKidsTV, a family-run children's channel with 3 million-plus subscribers. He and his two big brothers—HobbyPig, who's 11, and HobbyFrog, 9—each have their own channels. HobbyFrog has a plaque, so HobbyBear wants one as well. “He gets really excited whenever we get something from Amazon,” says his mother, who goes by the stage name HobbyMom. “He asks ‘Is that my silver button?!’ every time.” “Sometimes,” HobbyBear …

How the Videogame Aesthetic Flows Into All of Culture

When the science fiction film Edge of Tomorrow, directed by Doug Liman, came out in 2014, WIRED called it “the best videogame you can’t play.” The film’s main character, Bill Cage, repeats the same day again and again—a day of futuristic combat with aliens. Each time he dies, Cage wakes up again on the previous day. Everything is as before, with the crucial difference that he remembers all the previous versions of that fatal next day. The repetitions are the film’s equivalent of a videogame’s replayability, and Cage’s battle skills improve, just as a player’s skills improve through replay. But Cage is not a player. He is a character in a narrative film, so the repeated days are in fact …

The Existential Crisis Plaguing Online Extremism Researchers

A couple of hours after the Christchurch massacre, I was on the phone with Whitney Phillips, a Syracuse professor whose research focuses on online extremists and media manipulators. Toward the end of the call, our conversation took an unexpected turn. Phillips said she was exhausted and distressed, and that she felt overwhelmed by the nature of her work. She described a “soul sucking” feeling stemming in part from an ethical conundrum tied to researching the ills of online extremism and amplification. In a connected, searchable world, it’s hard to share information about extremists and their tactics without also sharing their toxic views. Too often, actions intended to stem the spread of false and dangerous ideologies only make things worse. The …

The People Trying to Make Internet Recommendations Less Toxic

The internet is an ocean of algorithms trying to tell you what to do. YouTube and Netflix proffer videos they calculate you’ll watch. Facebook and Twitter filter and reorganize posts from your connections, avowedly in your interest—but also in their own. New York entrepreneur Brian Whitman helped create such a system. He sold a music analytics startup called The Echo Nest to Spotify in 2014, bolstering the streaming music service’s ability to recommend new songs from a person’s past listening. Whitman says he saw clear evidence of algorithms’ value at Spotify. But he founded his current startup, Canopy, after becoming fearful of their downsides. “Traditional recommendation systems involve scraping every possible bit of data about me and then putting it …