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A Topsy-Turvy Online Election

Hey, everyone! Welcome to the first edition of the WIRED Politics Lab newsletter. I’m Makena Kelly, a senior politics writer at WIRED, and I’m so glad you’re here.

After the 2020 US election, the rhetoric of the internet spilled out into the real world with violent consequences. In the years since, those drumbeats have only grown louder, the misinformation more bleak, the conspiracies more unhinged, the technology more enabling. It's a dizzying backdrop already—and it's only March. I'm here to help you understand not only what's happening out there now, but what comes next.


This is an edition of the WIRED Politics Lab newsletter. Sign up now to get it in your inbox every week.

Politics has never been stranger—or more online. WIRED Politics Lab is your guide through the vortex of extremism, conspiracies, and disinformation.

🗞️ Read all of our politics coverage here.🎧 Listen to the WIRED Politics Lab podcast.💬 Join the conversation below this article.


The State of the Internet

The web is hardly recognizable compared with four years ago. Companies like Meta have all but given up on news and political content after being grilled by Congress over disinformation and alleged censorship more times than I can remember. Elon Musk bought Twitter, now X, laid off most of the site’s trust and safety teams, and turned the platform into a wasteland of conspiracies and disinformation. On top of all that, AI-generated robocalls and spam are filling up voicemail inboxes and news feeds, challenging regulators and social networks like never before. And TikTok has grown into a powerful cultural and political force that even the Biden campaign team has joined, despite the national security risks some intelligence officials and lawmakers have suggested in the past.

Campaigns have had to adapt: “I think the fact that the internet has become more personalized in the last four years just means we need to play the game a little bit differently and try a bunch of new things,” Rob Flaherty, deputy campaign manager for the Biden reelection campaign, told me about its decision to join TikTok. Long-shot candidate RFK Jr. has leaned on podcasts, like The Joe Rogan Experience, and influencers on Instagram and TikTok to get his message out to voters.

Still, everyone heard the news last week: The House passed a bill that would force Bytedance, TikTok’s China-based owner, to sell off the app or have it banned in the US. Which makes it a little wild that campaigns are going all-in on a platform that might not exist, and that their own colleagues are trying to destroy.

While TikTok may face an untimely end, other platforms are getting resurrected. My colleague William Turton and I reported on Wednesday that Parler, one of the first censorship-free social media alternatives to Facebook and Twitter, is preparing to relaunch after being offline for nearly a year after it was purchased by a right-leaning marketing firm. Just this week, Parler returned to iOS and is expecting to be approved for the Google Play Store later in the week.

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Prior to the most recent shutdown, Apple and Google removed Parler from their app stores and Amazon stopped hosting the site following the January 6 riot at the Capitol, when Parler users posted hundreds of videos of rioters invading the capitol. But the new CEO, Ryan Rhodes, and chief marketing officer Elise Pierroti told William that they want Parler to be free of the violent and controversial content the platform is known for. The app will also have a native video platform and a new messaging system, they say.

Their plan isn’t all that different from what John Matze, Parler’s first CEO, originally envisioned. Matze, who has built a new platform called Hedgehog, doesn’t think the new Parler will take off quite like the old one did. “I'm not optimistic,” he told me over the phone. “I'm curious if they are going to choose to fight that branding that Parler has been labeled, or if they are going to embrace it and double down on it.”

There will be plenty for us on the WIRED Politics desk to cover over the next few months, and I can’t wait to help talk you through it. Every Thursday morning, expect to see my name in your inbox breaking down the latest on how social platforms, disinformation, and conspiracies are warping politics in the US and abroad. See you next week!

The Chatroom

Here’s a TikTok story that I wasn’t able to cover but can’t stop thinking about …

Over the weekend, Representative Jeff Jackson of North Carolina, a freshman Democrat, posted an apology video on TikTok for voting yes on the divestment bill. He ostensibly made the video in response to the hundreds of thousands of users who unfollowed him after the vote, which took many of his followers by surprise. Jackson is one of the few lawmakers who uses TikTok to make Congress more transparent for voters. In his apology, Jackson acknowledged why his followers were upset. “I apologize,” he said. “I did not handle this situation well from top to bottom, and that is why I have been completely roasted on this app over the last 48 hours.” (Check out my personal favorite response to his apology here.)

Yesterday, I asked OrganizerMemes—the anonymous meme account that I often refer to as the “deuxmoi” of progressive politics—to tell me why they thought TikTok users were so outraged over Jackson’s decision to vote yes on the bill:

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Obviously, plenty of people shared the same perspective as Memes. But others thought it was refreshing for a congressperson to openly apologize on the platform the way that he did.

What do you think? Leave a comment on the site, or send me an email at mail@wired.com.

💬 Leave a comment below this article.

WIRED Reads

Today’s Supreme Court Hearing Addresses a Far-Right Bogeyman: On Monday, my colleague Vittoria Elliott explained Murthy v. Missouri, a Supreme Court case that could change the way the government flags misinformation and harmful content to social media platforms. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this, as we wait for an expected decision in June.Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Targets a Generation of Politically Disaffected, Extremely Online Men: Anna Merlan wrote this insightful piece for us last week on the gender dynamics of RFK Jr’s campaign—and the incredibly online men they’re trying to reach.Meet the Arizona Election Official Combating Misinformation One Tweet at a Time: I’ve noticed that a number of campaigns and elected officials have started tackling online misinformation themselves. My colleague David Gilbert published a profile of Stephen Richer, the Republican Maricopa County Recorder, whose X account is basically dedicated to debunking election conspiracies in Arizona.

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What Else We’re Reading

🔗 “Every woman I know has a theory about Kate Middleton,” Melissa Ryan (very correctly) writes, before diving into what this conspiracy-riddled obsession has meant for the current media ecosystem. (Ctrl Alt Right Delete)🔗 The White House is leaning on influencers to get their message out, and this story gets into the gritty who, what, and why of how they’re doing it. (Semafor)

The Download

One last thing! WIRED Politics Lab is also a podcast. Leah Feiger, our inimitable politics editor, will be hosting, and the rest of the politics team (including yours truly!) will be joining frequently. The first episode will be released on April 11, but you can subscribe today wherever you listen to podcasts so you don’t miss it when it drops.

That’s it for today—thanks again for subscribing. You can get in touch with me via email, Instagram, X and Signal at makenakelly32.

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