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May 15, 2024 59 mins

The internet is amazing, terrifying, hilarious and, as you read this, still evolving today. We genuinely don't know if humans are ready for it. Tonight's episode examines a troubling accusation -- what if the internet today has already moved past humanity? What if the internet you encounter is now populated by not humans but bots? This is the Dead Internet Theory. Tonight, Ben, Matt and Noel dive into to see how much of this strange conspiracy may be true.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
From UFOs to psychic powers and government conspiracies. History is
riddled with unexplained events. You can turn back now or
learn the stuff they don't want you to know. A
production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 2 (00:24):
Hello, welcome back to the show. My name is Matt,
my name is Noah.

Speaker 3 (00:28):
They called me Ben. We're joined as always with our
super producer Paul Mission controlled tickets. Most importantly, you are here,
and that makes this the stuff they don't want you
to know. Big, big thanks to the Internet for making
our show possible.

Speaker 4 (00:44):
Ah, the Internet, you love it, you hate it, you
can't really escape it. Then you pointed out that we're
all kind of we're all kind of children of the Internet,
and that we came up during the earliest of internets.
I don't know about you guys. Did you guys have
like rich friends with the doctor parents who had like
Prodigy and the earliest versions of the Internet, like when.

Speaker 3 (01:06):
It was still Scrihindo modem.

Speaker 4 (01:08):
Yeah, exactly, certainly a flex at the time. I didn't
get a proper Internet connection until the early you know,
aim day is like a America Online, which is probably
in like maybe nineteen ninety three issue.

Speaker 3 (01:22):
I loved it, like, hey, I need another CD. I'm
running out of internet.

Speaker 4 (01:26):
Right those Yeah, I remember back. I remember hell back
when it was floppies, they would send them the mail.

Speaker 3 (01:32):
We are, as we're mentioning here, we are some of
the folks who lived through the Great Divide, right, the
rise of the Internet, and we existed pre Internet. So
like many of us listening tonight, we have witnessed amazing
fundamental changes in the world. And as we record this evening,

you can, in theory, contact anyone across the planet within
the space of seconds. It's amazing. It's technolog that never
existed before. We still don't know whether humanity is prepared
for it. But what if this online wonderland is already
past humanity? This is the dead Internet theory. Here are

the facts we've talked about the origin of the Internet.
We're very fortunate to be friends with Jonathan Strickland, who's
covered it extensively in shows like Tech Stuff. But when
you think about it, the Internet is only a natural
iteration of this fundamental drive.

Speaker 4 (02:40):

Speaker 3 (02:40):
People have always wanted to talk with each other. They're gregarious.

Speaker 4 (02:45):
Do you guys remember a time where it just still
seemed so novel to be able to chat with somebody
in a chat room from across the country in real time.
God forbids send a picture dare we say a video
that didn't come so much later? Yeah, DSL is just
a sejo. Do you guys remember that feeling of this

being so exciting and you getting your first connection and
like really like, you know, kind of dipping your toes
in the Internet for the first time.

Speaker 2 (03:13):
Yeah, but I think, at least if I recall correctly
my mind at that time as a kid, I was
not that excited with that stuff. I wanted to go
ride bikes. I wanted to be outside still because my
pre internet, you know, mine still existed, so funny. Yeah,
so like as it's emerging, it's like, oh, this is
neat then, Neto, but not. I just couldn't imagine that

we would ever get here.

Speaker 3 (03:38):
Like at that time, it wasn't your number one aspiration
as a kid when it came to what to do
with your free time.

Speaker 2 (03:44):
Yeah, dude, maybe I can pull another Shiven Dragon in
this fifth edition Magic Passion I'm opening right now.

Speaker 4 (03:52):
And then Magic hit the Internet and all that's were off.

Speaker 3 (03:56):
I mean, look at it. When we're talking about the Internet,
we're talking about something thematically related to previous communication efforts,
the telephone, the radio, the telegraph, on pigeons, semaphore, smoke signals, ravens.
So it's it's not too surprising that humans eventually came
up with the Internet. But I think it may surprise

some of us to learn that the modern Internet, the
reason it is here is pretty much due to the
Cold War.

Speaker 4 (04:25):
Yeah. Cold War drove a lot of advancements and communications technology.
The Sputnik satellite launch, it was a big driver for
us to play a little catch up here in the
good old US of a. Western scientists and the military personnel,
the boffins, as you say, Ben, were super concerned that

we were being surpassed technologically by the USSR and that
they might launch some sort of massive attack on our
communications infrastructure.

Speaker 3 (04:58):
Yeah, the U has long been aware that infrastructure is
one of the critical vulnerabilities, right, Like we talked recently
about how various domestic terrorists might attack water treatment areas
or power stations. But even the telephone system of the

US at this time could have could have been easily
crippled by the right kind of well placed attacks, and
this would effectively blind the US. It would not have
the ability to communicate across long distances. So in nineteen
sixty two, this guy named JC R. Licklider Licklider, that's

his real name, he pitched this crazy idea. He said, Hey, guys,
what if we could build a galactic network of computers
that could talk to each other?

Speaker 4 (05:50):
Galactic network? That sounds a bad at space age as
it gets guys.

Speaker 3 (05:56):
Yeah, And he wasn't a rube. He wasn't just some
do who walked into, you know, a boardroom and said
I got a pitch. He worked for MIT and for ARPA.
It was his job to imagine crazy things to try
to tackle this problem of the Cold War. And he said,
if we could do something like this, then an attack

on the netian's telephone structure won't be as catastrophic. It'll
still be bad, but we'll still be able to communicate.
You know what I mean, NOORAD and DC can somehow
still talk with each other.

Speaker 4 (06:30):
But how do we build it? Right? It's an idea.
At this point then I've been a bit of a
pie in the sky one. Although you know, we know
the early Internet was based around existing telephonic infrastructure, hence
the term like dial up and you know, having that
horrible sound of connecting. This is kind of the same
technology that was used to send faxes, which were very

much a thing. It's just a way of you know,
turning something into data, transmitting it over a telephone network,
putting it back together on the other end.

Speaker 3 (07:02):
Yeah, exactly. And MIT scientists later figured out the concept
of packet switching. This is where you break a piece
of data into chunks or packets and they all kind
of find their own way from point A to point Z,
and then they come back together beautifully. This led to
the creation of what was called ARPA net, and then

if you fast forward, ARPA met ARPA net excuse me
sent its first message on October twenty ninth, nineteen sixty nine,
manifesting the Galactic Network a computer. The Internet was two
computers at this point, one in UCLA and one in Stanford,
and the UCLA computer sent a single word log in

pretty cinematic right, But you know it didn't work at
the single attempt just from one computer to another crash
the network, so Stanford only got the first two letters
of the message.

Speaker 4 (07:59):
Low, oh, dear, and behold. I'm sorry just to say
this because I just was doing a quick cursory Google.
Did you guys know that there's a proto version of
the fax machine Alexander Bain's electric printing telegraph that was
patented in eighteen forty three. That just blew my mind.
I'm sorry. And some of this technology that we're talking

about is super old, and obviously that was used sent
to using radio waves and all of that stuff in
the early days from you know, the Radio Corporation of
America RCA. But now we're talking about sending things over
these pre existing telephone networks.

Speaker 3 (08:35):
And shout out to Tim Berners Lee for the later
creation of the Worldwide Web. Again, check out tech stuff
which goes into this history and depth. For now, the
important thing to remember is the Internet was, in a
very real way founded by paranoia. Like any other technology,
it's got no moral compass. Yeah, and that led to controversy.

Speaker 4 (08:56):
And now it just foments paranoia on the regular.

Speaker 2 (08:59):
Well, it was just about this, guys, Like we've talked
about this before. But the primary, the primary form of communication.
I guess the technology that's at play has for all
time had such a shaping effect on everything on the
human experience because what is either spoken about by mouth
written down in a book or newspaper, said on the radio,

scene on a television, as you go down that line,
whatever that stuff is that's happening in that place that
most people are bought into. Right again, if it's by
mouth at first, that's like how the communication starts, and
then they.

Speaker 4 (09:37):
Can start to read oral tradition, right, you know.

Speaker 2 (09:40):
But as it goes it really does shape the culture.
And at some point, guys, we need to sit down
and just talk about what the Internet did to like,
to everything, to everything, because it really, like I keep
I'm in that mind space now of a kid seeing
the internet getting on for the first time and thinking

about everything I knew and thought about was either taught
to me in school or I watched on a television.
And it was such a common thing for me to
sit there and watch on a television and learn everything
that I was learning.

Speaker 3 (10:13):
Or read a book, you know, to have a single
source of information that you're paying attention to at a time.

Speaker 2 (10:19):
Well, but often I didn't read. I was one of
those kids that was mostly in front of a television,
either watching something or playing a game. So I just think,
I wonder how many kids these days are not reading
that much, but are just constantly have this connection to
their the Internet whatever.

Speaker 3 (10:36):
Yeah, I'm just saying like reading as in like the
general I would put that in the same bucket of
sitting down and doing the one thing right, suggesting through
the one source. And now I believe that is less
and less common because you know, like well, I saw
a tweet a while back where someone said, do I meditate?

I mean sort of sometimes I watch TV with my
phone in the other room.

Speaker 4 (11:04):
That's the thing the Internet, and it's not just using
the Internet. Streaming is basically the Internet, just in a
different format. It's an inherently attention dividing medium. You know,
even now, especially after the pandemic, people executives in Hollywood
will say something isn't streamy enough, meaning that it's not

They call it two screens. Something needs to be created
with two screens in mind, because someone's always going to
be watching the movie and also look into their phone,
and if you can't grab them or keep their attention
and let them know what the hell's going on in
the movie pedantically, then yeah, it's obviously there are people
that are you know, fighting that. But I just wanted
to really quickly just read this incredible quote from David

Bowie from an interview that he did in nineteen ninety
nine with this dude, a BBC reporter or a presenter
named Jeremy Paxman, talking about the Internet, and Bowie says,
I don't think we've seen even the tip of the iceberg.
I think the potential of what the Internet is going
to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable.
I think we're actually on the cusp of something exhilarating
and terrifying, to which Paxsman says, well, it's just a tool, right,

It's just a medium, and then Bowie says, no, no,
it's not. It's an alien life form. Ninety nine.

Speaker 3 (12:16):
Yeah, many people are. Many people are arguing that, you know,
the Internet is amazing. It's inherently controversial. You could argue too,
to Boie's statement that the Internet is still protean, it
has not reached its final form. I think that's fairly
reasonable to say. But you know, it's riddled with crime.
It enables what previous generations would rightly consider miracles like

near claravoyance, the ability to communicate across vast distances, and
access to a NYE infinite number of resources, some more
reliable than others, and it led to the creation of
social media, these platforms that leverage the spine of the
Internet to create higher communities and for a lot of people,

your primary means of engaging online is a mobile phone
or a mobile phone via a social media app. Right,
Like people say, oh, sometimes I Google stuff, but usually
I'm on Instagram.

Speaker 2 (13:16):
Yeah, yea jse.

Speaker 4 (13:18):
I mean, I'm not gonna lie. I'm absolutely part of.

Speaker 2 (13:20):
That set totally. I think. Just sorry, I feel like
I didn't make my point. I was just trying to
like wrap my head around something with you guys and
get your input, cause I think when you're when you're
imagining like a television show that was broadcast on CBS
right back when television was the prime form of communication
day and date kind of stuff. Right, Well, that's everybody

getting the same information. If you've got a TV and
that's the primary, the primary technology that's used, everybody gets that.
Right then you move up to the Internet for a while,
there are very specific places on the Internet you can
go to get that information. If it's like if it's
something like a book in order to like back in
the day, if it was a best seller, that's probably

you know, if not hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of
thousands of people millions of people reading one book.

Speaker 3 (14:09):

Speaker 2 (14:10):
But now if you look at the metrics for what
you need to meet to become a best seller, it
is you don't have to sell that many books, which
is crazy to think about because just not that many
people are absorbing their information that way. But with the Internet,
it isn't just on a website somewhere that anybody can
access if they want to. That website, if it's popular enough,

gets linked, like you said, to all that social media
that's generated, to blogs that then get generated. And it's
one thing that now exists almost across the entirety of
this network, This one thing or this you know, somebody
famous dies, right, It would have been a radio announcement
than a television special, right, And then now it's just

the entirety of the Internet knows about it. And I
just wonder, as we're going into today's episode to talk
about this thing, this dead Internet theory, it's hard for
me to imagine that we've morphed away from that somehow,
from it is just an all encompassing awareness of things
that occur, like events that occur in the world.

Speaker 4 (15:16):
Well, but it's also just like a store of the
whole of human knowledge and history available kind of in
one place. And that's why, you know, we're talking about
our upbringing with the Internet versus like our kids, you know,
gen Z or whatever and gen why they grew up
with access to all of that information from day one,

And that has to affect the development of a brain
in a very interesting way and very interesting and terrifying ways.

Speaker 3 (15:44):
Perhaps deep learning is a skill, right, and it's something
you have to practice. This is not by any This
is not anybody saying, oh these whipper snappers these days.
It's just the modes of learning have changed. You could
argue they evolve. You could argue, now people tend to
know a little bit about a lot of stuff as

opposed to you know, knowing a little a heck of
a lot about three things, you know what I mean,
Like in the days of you know, the days of print,
when that was raining. But this, this could change the world.
You know, the Internet is amazing. Everything we've talked about
is true. If that is, there are still people online.
And take a break for a word from our sponsors.

Here's where it gets crazy. We sometimes call the Internet
an echo chamber, right, and parts of it very much are.
But what if it's such an echo chamber now that
we've reached a point where human users are kind of
a vestigial appendage minority stakeholders in a largely mostly automated conversation.

That's the that's the kernel of the dead Internet theory,
the idea that most online activity now is non human.

Speaker 4 (17:03):
Sort of like junk, right, like almost like detritus, you know,
like if you think about spam, I guess, and just
how if it is a thing that might work, then
it will end up in your inbox, or it will
end up in your textbox, or you will get a
telephone call. Think about the Internet as just like a

jug heap of that kind of stuff. Yeah. Sure, there's
some wildlife crawling around, you know, people kind of poking
in to check on what's going on, but a lot
of it. And again I'm not proposing that this is
completely accurate, but I do think there has to be
a hell of a lot of this type of element
out there.

Speaker 3 (17:40):

Speaker 2 (17:40):
And as we're thinking about this, let's I don't want
to buifurciate it. Too much or split it up too much,
but think about it as social media is one thing, yes,
news and blogs as like another thing. And then what
would you guys, I know, there's got to be a
third stream?

Speaker 3 (17:53):
Would be another one?

Speaker 2 (17:55):
Okay, because that's also in line places where information is distributed.

Speaker 4 (18:00):
Are there even websites exactly? You know, like we used
to know them, you know, I mean it went from
being called a website to being called a blog. And
now I got to wonder, are the only actual websites
quote unquote that I visit, like to do restaurant bookings.
But even that, like Bumps, you out to an app
which is sort of a social media platform in a way.

So it's an interesting question. The category is that is
you know, yeah.

Speaker 3 (18:25):
Agreed, And we know that we know that the Internet
to that point, we know that it has kind of speciated, right.
There are different bubbles or genres of Internet, and you
may entirely, you may entirely define your experience by the
on the quote unquote internet, just by going to the

one thing you know, and sorry folks. Reddit also goes
in the social media bucket. Reddit is social.

Speaker 4 (18:53):
Media, but it isn't the Internet really just the pipes,
you know, just the the the way all of this
stuff is delivered. It's all the Internet, right. I mean,
you can differentiate the different platforms and the different kind
of places you can spend your time, but all of
these massive server farms and stuff, they're all feeding the

same stuff.

Speaker 3 (19:14):
They all use the same spine. And the idea for
the dead Internet theory is that across all of these
let's call them sub genres or subspecies if you like,
of Internet, across all of them, bots and automatically generated
content are replacing humans or pushing humans out, and a

lot of it, again, according to the theory, is designed
to mimic the appearance of human activity to arrive at versimilitude,
while at the same time minimizing your actual human interaction
and then using that to manipulate the population of readers
and users, which we know can happen. Is one thing

I think we all find really interesting about this. There's
a lot of well that part is true to these stories.
According to the law here, which we're about to get into,
this switch from a human Internet to a quote unquote
dead Internet occurred sometime around twenty sixteen or twenty seventeen,
and you can hear it being mentioned, or you can

read it being mentioned out in the chans as far
back as twenty ten four chan, wizard chan, so on.
But we know it had probably been a subject of
at least academic interest before people started talking about online.

Speaker 4 (20:33):
I'm sorry, wizard chan, wizard say, is that a new
flavor of chan? I'm not familiar with this particular cham.

Speaker 2 (20:40):
Well, but I don't know that, but tell us about
it in a second. But just we should note there
also that those are extremely sarcastic places on the interwebs, right,
the chans like almost purposefully.

Speaker 4 (20:55):
Borderline set higher higher.

Speaker 2 (20:59):
But places are talking about that and noticing something, right,
and then it almost becomes a joke in and of itself.
And then a larger theory that I would argue guys
starts to feel more and more real as it's you know,
growing up to that twenty sixteen, twenty seventeen, and then
well we'll get to it, but twenty twenty one.

Speaker 3 (21:17):
Yeah. Wizard Chad is a website where people who I'm
reading from wizchan dot org. Wizard Chan is a website
where people who have no sexual experience can share their
thoughts and interest as a virgin The names inspired by
the wizard Beam, which refers to someone who's maintained his
virginity past the age of thirty.

Speaker 4 (21:35):
Oh so it's an in cell message board.

Speaker 3 (21:37):
Basically, well, I'm not too familiar with I'd look if
I'm totally poitantic speaking out out of school there.

Speaker 4 (21:43):
I apologize to any Wizard jan members, but I know
the chance and at times had controversial Oh yeah, I
have garnered controversy because of some pretty gnarly Internet culture
that fester is.

Speaker 3 (21:57):
There, Yeah, yeah, radicallyation, extremism, and then also doing stuff
for the nihilistic lulls, right, and we all remember those days.
The most often cited source of dead Internet theory is
usually going to be this thread by a user under
the handle Illuminati Pirate. This guy gets cited in The

Atlantic and The Intelligencer, in numerous scholarly works about dead
Internet theory. Maybe we go to this Atlantic piece that
was just fantastic written by a journalist named Caitlin Tiffany,
and she sums it up very nicely.

Speaker 2 (22:38):
And this article, by the way, is one of the
primary ones I think that exists on the Internet. If
you search for this subject.

Speaker 4 (22:45):
There's one other one from Fast Company that's more of
an editorial that I'd love to read a little bit
from a little later. But this is I think a
little bit more of a work of journalism, whereas the
Fast Company wants a bit more of a you know,
amusing but I think there's some really smart points. But yeah, man,
you want to read this sure.

Speaker 2 (23:00):
Here is a quote from Tiffany in the Atlantic. The
post suggests this is a post by Illuminati pirate that
the Internet died in twenty sixteen or early twenty seventeen
and that now it is quote this is a quote
within the quote empty and devoid of people unquote, as
well as quote entirely sterile unquote. The post suggests that

the Internet died in twenty sixteen or early twenty seventeen,
and that now it is empty and devoid of people,
as well as entirely sterile. Much of the supposedly human
produced content you see online was actually created using AI.

Speaker 4 (23:38):

Speaker 2 (23:38):
This is back in like this a long time.

Speaker 4 (23:40):
Ago, don chat yeah, way prey, Yeah.

Speaker 2 (23:44):
Isn't that crazy? But go back in and was propagated
by bots, possibly aided by a group of influencers on
the payroll of various corporations that are in cohoots with
the government. The conspiring group's intention is, of course, to
control our thoughts and get us to purchase stuff.

Speaker 3 (24:02):
I mean, that doesn't seem too far from the truth.

Speaker 4 (24:06):
It doesn't.

Speaker 2 (24:07):
That's what they've always wanted.

Speaker 3 (24:09):
It's kind of just in my head. I think we're
on the same page here, guys. In my head, this
is kind of just a question of degree at that point,
degree of extremity.

Speaker 4 (24:18):
Well, and to me, frankly, this Illuminati pirate, this whole
you know screen here feels really prescient because what we're
seeing now on the Internet and what is to come
likely is going to much more closely resemble exactly this.
We are on the cusp of this absolutely being the

truth at that point, though probably not. But what a
prescient prediction there.

Speaker 3 (24:47):
And it again, I would argue, it's a question of degree, right,
rather than true falsity. He goes on, right, This is
where it goes further right. He goes on and he says, look,
we rarely interact with humans on the Internet, or we
rarely see posts created by other actual people. And then
he gets into this more philosophical thing and he's like,

think about all these memes that are evolving Pepe the
Frog and raptor Jesus and so on, these are evidence
of an evolving AI life form. So he goes a
little further than most people would agree with.

Speaker 4 (25:21):
Well, I think most people would probably also agree that
what David Bowie was talking about as the Internet kind
of creating a new organism, a new way of thinking.
That these types of absurdist memes are a product of
terminal onlineness that sort of creates these changes in people's

brains that makes them look for the new thing that
gets them, you know, for lack of a better term,
kind of high. Right. It's like, oh, the old jokes
don't work anymore because we have access to too much information.
We got to make new stuff that is absolutely beyond,
incomprehensibly absurd.

Speaker 3 (26:00):
I love I love forensic memes, man, I love I
love a meme that is four layers deep in weird
Internet culture. And I think you're I think you're absolutely right,
because memes, just like social media, are a dopamine casino.
It is this stuff seeming to be true is still
not the same thing as it actually being true. I mean,

if the theory does hold water, then that means the
days of automation rendering humans irrelevant are already well upon us.
Kind of like when Ozumandias makes his speech in Watchmen
spoiler and then says, yeah, I'm telling you this because
it already happened. I'm not giving you an opportunity to
brook me.

Speaker 2 (26:44):
But do you guys ever the ringing true thing. I'm
just going to expand on that for a second, because
it does ring partly true, at least to me, just
when I think back, and let's not let's be really
careful here, thinking back to our careers, thinking back to
the Internet groups that we've interacted with, and companies we've
interacted with, specifically ones that try to measure data and

analytics and things like web page views, and you know,
what are some of the terms they use, like a
unique visitor or things like that. And and then what
some of those companies, you know, usually third that's in
our case, it's been like third party companies that are
being used as services or something, but will give you

data that looks really good for whatever your company is
looking for. But it feels often like those and it's
actually been proven a couple of cases we know of
where that data is actually juiced quite a bit through
little things, little interaction key key points in a like

the way a person uses their mouse or the way
a person uses their phone.

Speaker 4 (27:52):
What constitutes a view or time sped or use a
banner ad auto plays a thing instead of actually somebody
engaging with the video.

Speaker 2 (28:03):
But just this is my only argument. Think about how
long and not to put you out of this, no all,
but how long ben you and I specifically have been
in this internet game thing where we're you know, fighting
for people's attention, right, whether through a website or through
a podcast or video and all that other stuff. And
just how many times we've seen over the years companies

private companies that are vying for a large company's money
for some kind of service like that, right, And then
how long those companies have been competing and attempting to
goose those numbers like and how far do you think
they've had to take it in order to get the
lion's share of some huge enterprise company's money. So and

it just makes me wonder if if it's a balloon
effect when it comes to the actual interaction or number
of interactions.

Speaker 4 (28:51):
I guess my question though, and then I'll shut the
back up, like if if there are no people on
the Internet, who who does all this data represent?

Speaker 3 (28:59):
Yeah, it's kind of It has some disturbing similarities to
things like the gang stalking conspiracies, because in one form
of a dead Internet theory, the implication is that when
you go online, everybody else is an NPC except for you.
And this, you know, there is a sort of I

would argue there's a strong streak of narcissism inherent in
a lot of paranoia, you know what I mean, Like
we're all.

Speaker 4 (29:32):
Out to get me right, right me?

Speaker 3 (29:34):
In particular, this this idea, though of juicy numbers, of
framing and presenting things in an advantageous or profitable way,
does show us that the one thing that will always
remain true on the Internet is a profit motive. Does
it matter if the comments are faked so long as

the money is real. That's a question that companies grapple with.
We see in this would argue the long shadow of
bernese Bernez, who famously perfected the art of rigging questions
in surveys to get the answers he wanted, you know
what I mean.

Speaker 2 (30:12):
But it goes back to the very nature of something
like a search engine like Google. Google's money for a
long time, and still for a large part today is
made through ads and people who pay to have their
sites show up at the top, or you know, people
who pay big money and work with them, or I'm

just trying to think these social encounter.

Speaker 4 (30:35):
To the mission of what a search engine should inherently be,
where it's democratization of information as opposed to you can
pay extra to get yours in the first spot.

Speaker 2 (30:45):
Ideologically that's great and it sounds great, but it doesn't
keep anybody's jobs right, and it doesn't grow anybody's bottom line.
And as Ben is saying, like it has always been
about that profit motive for everything that maybe we even
personally or you know, theoretically hold dear about the Internet
and what it provides for us, that profit motive at

the center, I think has been the manipulating factor. And
it really does weird me out thinking about you. If
you wanted to, like you said, Ben, we just need
to hit a thousand comments, that's the metric, and oh
we can we can do that for you.

Speaker 4 (31:22):
Yeah we can a thousand votes.

Speaker 3 (31:25):
Yeah, but see that's harder.

Speaker 2 (31:27):
A thousand votes. Would you'd have to activate.

Speaker 4 (31:29):
No, it's very true being I mean, I'm saying sometimes
these margins are you know, like hilariously small.

Speaker 3 (31:36):
Yeah, and again, a lot of you get a lot
of people we've seen it happen. You get a lot
of people cowboying in as consultants, right, and they want
to be the bringers of the truth. The digital Moses
descends the mountain and says, this is the click through
rate that matters to a great degree. They're just kind
of drinking their own flavors all smoke man that boy?

Speaker 4 (31:59):
Yeah? Is it ever?

Speaker 3 (32:00):
And may God grant us the confidence of the stridently incorrect, right,
the confidently incorrect.

Speaker 2 (32:09):
Do you guys remember actually it was around the twenty
maybe fifteen to seventeen time when a lot of the
Facebook pages that we were the let's say our company
was running, right, a lot of them had to purge
a ton of users from each of our main Facebook

pages because of the the what are they call them,
farms like server farms?

Speaker 3 (32:34):
Farms? Yeah, exactly.

Speaker 4 (32:37):
I mean we certainly know that with x FKA Twitter,
the value of that company significantly got called in a
question when it was revealed how many bots constitute their
quote unquote user base, which is the number that's used
for valuating these these social media companies. Is what's our

user base, guys.

Speaker 3 (32:59):
And no hour and for background on our side of it.
When when that great Facebook purge happened, I believe it
was because there was a moment of awakening, right. I
think those bots were just being added by by people
who had different interest from those of the company.

Speaker 2 (33:18):
Yeah, and we didn't we didn't even realize it was happening.
And you know, and it's so funny because when you're
on the inside of something like that, you're seeing those numbers,
those metrics that everybody looks at as an awesome thing, awesome, great,
but but it's this weird other thing that's happening in
the background, which is again it speaks to this theory,

which it doesn't mean theories fully true, but like people
are willing, willingly adding fake users to the internet for these.

Speaker 3 (33:49):
Interactively, assertively, aggressively the Sorcerer's apprentice all over again. That's
what we're kind of, that's the possibility we're looking at.
And you know, we're seeing the rise of general like
large language models, AI generated content, deep fakes, which are
indistinguishable from the real thing. This is a new era

of dead Internet theory. But I would argue, I think
we all argue, the basis of it remains the same.
Do you want to take a quick ad break?

Speaker 4 (34:18):
That sounds good to me. Let's take a quick break
here away from our sponsor, hopefully some sort of Internet
service provider or a social media company of note, and
then we'll be back with more on this frankly pretty
terrifying topic.

Speaker 3 (34:38):
We've returned. So the theory has two primary elements, the
idea that bots have largely outnumbered human activity, and the
idea that some unknown actors are deploying these bots to
manipulate the humans that remain. It's fascinating, But here's the
thing that keeps getting me again. It's not a question

of yes or no. It's a question of to what
degree is this theory true. I mean, I didn't know this,
but in twenty twenty two, bots contributed almost half of
all Internet traffic in the world.

Speaker 2 (35:13):
That was from one source band and I saw that.
But then there's another one from Barracuda that it put
it at like sixty five percent, and that's including social
media and stuff too, So I think there it just
depends on what.

Speaker 4 (35:27):
You But what one thing that my mind keeps jumping
back to in this especially when you're here to talk
about all these like goose numbers, is like I as
a user and as a participator in the Internet, and
rather I've gotten relatively good at curating my experience and
only looking at the stuff that interests me. I interact
with a lot of people who I know are are
real because I talked to them and I know them

in real life. I don't think about the overall number
of users on the Internet. So even if sixty percent
of the quote unquote traffic on the Internet is bots, whatever,
that twenty percent that I'm engaging with is the Internet
to me, you know what I'm saying. And so I think,
like all of that trash that's sixty percent or forty
seven point four percent, I don't.

Speaker 3 (36:11):
Think everybody is as affected by.

Speaker 4 (36:15):
If you're a savvy Internet user, I'm not saying I'm
so such a tech savvy Internet genius. I'm just saying
people of a certain age, at a certain level of
Internet savvy is kind of know how to steer away.
But I think it's just going to get worse, is
what we're saying.

Speaker 3 (36:28):
That's the trend. And also, yeah, you might say this
doesn't affect me, it's not in my part of the playground, right,
But that part of the playground is coming to you
at least, that's the argument, because that twenty twenty two
number we quoted that represents a five point one percent
year over year increase, which consultants love to say stuff

like that.

Speaker 2 (36:50):
Oh yeah, oh my gosh, Well, guys, I just wanted
to cite that Barracuda think again, because I I feel
like I may have gotten it wrong. According to something
Posts in September of twenty twenty one called bot attacks,
Top Threats and Trends, they said North America accounts for
like across the entirety of the Internet, North America accounts

for sixty seven percent of what they call bad bot traffic,
and then sixty four percent they say, of all Internet
traffic is made up by bots. But again, this is
one this is their own measurements, right, and this is
like a security Internet security company. They do a whole
bunch of stuff. But they found that in twenty twenty one,

and we cannot stress this enough. That is before the
large release of these these language learning models and all
this stuff where if you want to, you can create
You can literally just type in code a bot that scrubs, oh,
I don't know this healthcare website and attempts to log in,

you know, every whatever.

Speaker 3 (38:00):
We make a bot that creates make a bot that
creates other bots that build websites that are just similar
enough to the actual website someone's looking for.

Speaker 2 (38:11):
Sure, Sure, and that's automated. But these other bots are
created by human beings, these at least that are being
referred to here by Barracuda, to do things like sweep
through a site like Amazon and check on the prices
of very specific items so that it can then spit
out what the user of this bot, or you know,
the company that's deploying this bot, can know how to

price your own thing on your own website or whatever.
Or you know, again like trying to broute force into
other websites. But I don't know how much of that is,
like the social media bot traffic.

Speaker 3 (38:48):
Well, there's also the question it's not just okay, so
think of them as tools, right, It's not just the
question of does the screwdriver work. It's the question of evolution.
Are the screwdrivers turning into power drills. Right, How sophisticated
are these programs becoming. We know that state level actors
control botnets. They've deployed them in various ways to attempt

this way public opinion or even interfere with elections, and
they're getting very good at it. They're getting stunningly accomplished.

Speaker 2 (39:20):
Oh yeah, and that's scary and I feel like super real.
But I just want to go back to that thing
in the beginning where we're trying to like break out
the different types of bot traffic or fake traffic or
not real human beings you're interacting with, because a lot
of these bots are purpose built, right, they have a
very specific purpose. And then if you look at some
of the bots that were uncovered around that twenty twenty

one time when Twitter was becoming x it was going
on its journey to become x, there was intense bot
traffic to make posts more popular in the algorithm so
that they would get bumped up and serve to more people.
Because there was a real problem with Twitter at the

time where everybody's kind of seeing the same top posts
across the entirety of the thing. So everybody is building
these bots to make the algorithm think that there's popularity
being generated so that it does end up getting popular,
so that whatever ad thing you've got inside that viral
tweet is effective. But it changed completely with X with

the blue check marks, because then you can pay to
have those check marks, which it just changed the algorithm
a little bit, and now you just pay to have
enough blue check mark accounts to comment a fake bot
comment on somebody else's blue check mark thing, which then
pushes it all the way up.

Speaker 4 (40:42):
And it doesn't serve as any kind of real verification
of identity at all, because you can just see anybody
can buy.

Speaker 2 (40:47):
It in and it's for profit, like we're talking about.

Speaker 4 (40:51):
Absolutely and all about gaming. That algorithm is the name
of the the game. No pun intended, but I guess
maybe a little. So I just mentioned really quickly that
company article that I referenced by Michael Grothaus is the
dead Internet theory suddenly coming true. This could be a sign.
There's just one little thing that I think is so
appropriate here, he says. Ever since chat GPT bursts onto

the scenes in late twenty twenty two, people have been
using it to generate content for websites, social media posts,
and articles of all kinds. People have also been using
AI image generation tools to create an unending flood of photos,
video at artwork, which now abound on mainstream social media
platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok uh. And
these videos and sites and accounts get crazy engagement. There

are these memes that are being generated something called shrimp Jesus.
That is all of these images of like Jesus like
hanging out with these these shrimp, these warfic shrimp in
like the ocean, like he's in the Little Mermaid or something.

Speaker 2 (41:50):
And I saw crab there's something like that.

Speaker 4 (41:53):
Sure, Crab Jesus is a direct AI response to shrimp Jesus.
And that's what you get. Now we're in the Jesus
and Christ station's echo chamber. But it's not even echo
chamber perpetrated by actual people. It's an echo chamber perpetrated
by these bots that are now armed with chat, GPT
and image you know, AI creation.

Speaker 3 (42:11):
Tools, and we know we know. It can also be
difficult to verify somebody's real identity online, right. It can
be difficult to find the right person unless you're like
the Puzzle Palace. It can be difficult to find a
random person and say, yes, specifically, it's that guy in Akron, Ohio.

And that's that's a whole other philosophical bag of badgers. Right,
anonymity and privacy expectations, But like you say, dancing with
the algorithm, everybody knows it happens. The question really is
one of degree. Sure bots are everywhere, but do they
genuinely outnumber humans? What does it mean? That's where the

dead Internet theory runs into some challenges. A lot of
the things we read about it are kind of a
tree of if thens based on some primary foundational assumptions,
but then you see a lot of anecdotal evidence, which
is not the same thing as quantitative data. So I
want to give a shout out to a great YouTube channel.

I was surprised that this video was not getting more views,
but it just came out a few weeks ago. A
guy named siros On on YouTube has an in depth
explanation of this, and he hipped us to the twenty
twenty three Imperva bad Bot Report and he brings up
the same question. It's a question of nuance. Imperva. Here's

what they did. They took a single network in Capsula,
and they took a sample of sixteen point seven billion
bought in human website visits, not social media from August
to November of twenty sixteen, and what they found is

pretty stunning. But they also they hit on something that
I think you were just mentioning their matt, which is
we have to differentiate between the bots. Not all are
created equal. Some are good or benign, others are bad,
you know, like good bots. I think it's I think
it's helpful to think of good bots as the good

bacteria in the guts of the digital body.

Speaker 4 (44:22):
On message boards and things like that. And I'm sure
deeper than that. That's the first thing that comes to
mind for.

Speaker 2 (44:27):
Me, and literally the standard web crawlers that like a
Google or a similar search would use just to make
sure the thing knows what's on the internet. Yeah, what
what can it have access to? So it's constantly going
through and just checking websites. Oh there's an active connection there,
there's one, there, there's there.

Speaker 4 (44:46):
And it's certainly easy to shade Google for like the
whole you know, influence of search and all of that.
And there I'm certain there are better browsers and I
know you guys have mentioned some in the past, and
I think Opera is a Internet browser with a built
in search that I think people really like a lot.
The filter's out a lot of that noise. But in general,
if Google wasn't in some way still effective and it

was just spamming you with this garbage, it wouldn't be
able to make money on the ad because no one
would use it.

Speaker 3 (45:13):
Right well, and also it got to the past a
certain threshold of size and scale. You can create your
own feedback loop. Now Google is the biggest because Google
is the biggest, you know what I mean, they don't
have to and they are brilliant people who work at Google,
and to your point, and well, yet it's it can
sometimes feel like it's easy for us to look at

scance at that. We're obviously not saying that everybody at
Google is some kind of like arcane digital version of
a necromancer.

Speaker 2 (45:46):
They're just trying really hard to not be bad.

Speaker 3 (45:49):
Yeah, which is so different from being good. But there's
also okay, So he says bad bots are the thing
we need to be more concerned about. Impersonators assuming false
identities to execute distributed denial of service attacks and spammers,
hacker tools, et cetera. So to uh. From this frame

of mind, the question is now a matter of not
figuring out the ratio bots the humans so much, but
instead the ratio of bad bots the good bots. It's fascinating, right,
it's fascinating, but it's difficult to get a read on.
And this is where I think we get to some
really space age stuff. What if? What if we imagine

a world where human beings have disappeared, but the Internet
still appears to thrive, and it just repeats and remixes
interaction patterns for as long as those servers stay on.

Speaker 4 (46:44):
Yes, that's what would happen.

Speaker 2 (46:47):
I think there's gonna be engagement bots, that's all. It's
gonna be.

Speaker 3 (46:51):
Just engaging with each other left hand.

Speaker 2 (46:52):
And it'll be on the official Pepsi Cola and Coca
Cola social media whatever interactive thing is. They're just all
they're like, oh man, this is my favorite drink. No,
it's my favorite drink. Which flavors your favorite?

Speaker 4 (47:05):
Have you seen these TikTok videos with that voice that
sounds like this talking about a cool thing that you
definitely should try. It's just gonna be those.

Speaker 3 (47:15):
Just feeding, feeding into each of each other.

Speaker 4 (47:20):
It's like making a copy of a copy of a copy.
Oh my god. Yeah, it's gonna get weird, because they
say when you train learning language models with other learning
language models, it becomes this weird xerox feedback loop that
gets real crazy, real quick.

Speaker 3 (47:36):
Like the movie Multiplicity. Just so that's not a dated reference.

Speaker 4 (47:41):
Is that with Michael Keaton? Yeah, because they get a
little dumber, right, isn't that the deal? Yeah? He makes
more and more copies.

Speaker 3 (47:48):
Yeah, And we also know that there have been real
world indicators of this problem. Another often quoted article is
from the entire in Pelligencer or The New Yorker in
twenty eighteen. A journalist named Max Reid or Max Read
points out that for a little bit of time in

twenty thirteen, fully half of YouTube traffic was quote bots
masquerading as people, and it was that that number was
so high that in the back rooms of YouTube and Google,
the employees were worried there might be an inflection point
after which the systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would start

to think the bot traffic was real because it was
the majority, and they would start rating human traffic as fake.
They called this hypothetical moment.

Speaker 4 (48:40):
The inversion well, you know, I mean, heck, it happens
with websites and abs and flows of like internet business,
and whether it be podcast audiences or YouTube viewerships or whatever,
there usually are these periodic cullings where the number we
thought was the number is now revealed to no longer
be the number, but that number is still at least

the number we can depend on. So even if it
looks like you lost half your audience, you didn't really
lose half your audience. You just lost this inflated phony version,
and everyone in the business kind of has to reckon
with that.

Speaker 2 (49:14):
You know, these are massive, publicly traded companies that all
like almost all of their no, I'm going to put
it out there, I'm going to say the vast majority
of their money comes from human beings seeing and hearing
the ads that pay for their content that they post, right.

Speaker 3 (49:36):
The Achilles heel of internet business.

Speaker 2 (49:39):
But literally, if this inversion thing he's talking about here,
Max Reed's talking about, if that actually happens and we
reach that point, then there is no more like, how
do you how does an advertiser justify paying exorbitant amounts
of money to advertise on a platform if they know
that there's.

Speaker 4 (49:59):
Spots don't buy y'all know, so they just don't, you know,
they haven't evolved into that yet.

Speaker 2 (50:04):
But if that happens, because the other side of all
those businesses that we've talked about but so many times
on the show, it's not just the ads, it's it's
getting the information on the user to know which ads you.

Speaker 4 (50:15):
Got to serve to that user, right content to stick
the ads in, because that's all demographically generated too.

Speaker 2 (50:22):
So maybe we can build a post worker economy, you guys,
where we all have kind of our own bots that
represent us that just kind of exist.

Speaker 3 (50:31):
Let's do the internet like this is one I thinking about,
like a pandemic, a catastrophic nuclear exchange, some other civilization
ending thing. And then imagine one day, after the dust
has settled, genuine extraterrestrials happen along and they discover a
world with no humans, no creators, but instead an active

series of voices talking back and forth to one another
for attention constantly. It would be like entering a haunted house.

Speaker 2 (51:00):
Can I just say I think they're selling each other products,
like actively building and sell each other products.

Speaker 3 (51:07):
Yes, And this is not even factoring in the issue
that we're talking about here, which is the idea of
online resurrection, collecting a human beings record of all their
interactions and then building something to mimic those interactions. I mean,
at that point, we're skirting towards uh simulation theory, uh territory. Jesus, guys,

I have a keyword right next to me.

Speaker 4 (51:31):
Hit it. That's the sound of the inflection point? Guys?
Is this what gooning?

Speaker 1 (51:38):

Speaker 4 (51:38):
Just a bunch of bots selling each other where they
can never actually do anything with it or making money.
It's just this concept. I'm sorry, I'm being gross.

Speaker 3 (51:47):
Robert Devins gave us a different version or definition is,
but I just think this is.

Speaker 4 (51:52):
It's it's sort of like striving for something but never
actually achieving it, you know what I mean.

Speaker 2 (51:57):
Yeah, But if the data we go last year from
Imperva and the stuff from Barracuda is right, it's already happening.
It was literally bots selling, selling each other things and
boosting prices and making investors money because they have shares
of companies and it's a giant bubble.

Speaker 4 (52:18):
We haven't even talked about how this might impact things
that are not how it may impact how it's already
part and parcel of crypto. Oh lord, we haven't even
talked about that. That's like all I mean, geez, Louise.

Speaker 3 (52:30):
Check out that intelligence or article again, because he hits
on that too. It's also I said, hits on it
like he's courting it. Whatever, we'll keep it and someone
I like a hit of a dopamine casino. Yeah, yeah,
just so. I mean, that's the question leads us to
is the Internet dead? Not really? But also how do
you define dead? Is the idea that the entirety of

the Internet is populated by bots other than of course
you specifically, that is not currently supported by the metrics,
But it also seems not at all unreasonable to note
that a pretty significant chunk of the Internet is bot written,
and that pattern is escalating over time. Like now, it's
to me it's a question of the time window, right,

or were just going to have an Internet that's like
two mirrors reflecting themselves back into the abyss, you know,
and just liking each other's post. It's a cool ghost story.

Speaker 2 (53:25):
That's it. I mean, yeah, I look, I'm sold, We're
already there. Dead internet theory is true except for everybody
who's called in to us or written. Actually, no, we
can't trust that either, can we.

Speaker 3 (53:36):
We can't ignore the emails, no, none of it.

Speaker 4 (53:40):
We can't.

Speaker 2 (53:41):
If you facetimed us, it wouldn't matter.

Speaker 3 (53:43):
Because you don't FaceTime people at announce. Also, you have
to show up in person to let us know. This
is why we need to do more live shows. Maybe
we end on this. How do we know that we're
not bots already? Do we just fall for the Everybody
has to go click on a picture of a fire
high right, that's the only way.

Speaker 2 (54:01):
Well, no, for now, in what May sixth, Monday May sixth,
as we're recording this in the year twenty twenty four,
we are still humans because we can one laugh convincingly,
I think, and sarcasm can be conveyed via our tone
in words. So I think right now, as of this moment,
we're still humans. But give those models another couple of weeks.

Speaker 3 (54:23):
Is that exactly what a bot would say? It is? Yeah,
let's click on. Let's click on our pictures of hydrants.
If you are hearing this. Also, not all bots are bad.
If you are a non organic based life form, we
would also love to hear your take, So let us
know what's on your mind, be it a meat mind

or a series of ones and zeros. We try to
be easy to find.

Speaker 4 (54:48):
Guess where all why man? Yeah, even if you are
a boy, that's fine. We welcome you with open arms.
You can find its at the handle of Conspiracy Stuff,
where we exist on the social platforms of note, including Facebook, YouTube,
where we have a video content rolling out every single week,
and x fka Twitter. You can also finance at the

handle Conspiracy Stuff show on Instagram and TikTok. We didn't
even get into TikTok, but apparently that's where a lot
of this stuff is happening too, These fully AI generated videos.

Speaker 2 (55:21):
Dude, on Instagram, there are I am being suggested like
pages I guess that are fully AI generated grabbed videos
that are of one category or another. Kind of reminds
me of what happened, Oh.

Speaker 4 (55:36):
What was that?

Speaker 2 (55:37):
I don't want to throw too much shape at Parcast.
Remember when they came out with like a show called
Conspiracy Theories, and then or Mysteries and then true crime
and it was just like whole categories that then everything
went underneath that. That's happening now on Instagram at least
that I'm seeing where it doesn't. There doesn't appear to

be any human interaction. It's just random videos that are
pulled and then re spit out with a basic header.

Speaker 3 (56:04):
Yeah, that's it, and it's a numbers game, right. The
factor in a high rate of attrition because for the
ninety nine people who don't engage don't matter in comparison
to the one that does. I'll also note something in
the interest of throwing shape, but not really throwing shape, folks.
Byte Dance still refuses to sell TikTok. You've probably heard

of that kerfuffle, despite the fact that they could make
a lot of money off of it, which leads me
to ask, what is their motivation? Then, well, what's the
underlying nature of their code? That's a thing, right, the
base code.

Speaker 4 (56:39):
I think their algorithm is what they're being protective of
because we know, you know, copycats like Zuckerberg and the like.
I mean, how Instagram's already kind of pretty close. It's
not obviously not as successful as as TikTok right now,
but it's a pretty easy one to one transfer. People
just want someone to put their content. It's not going
to be the end of that type of video. If
TikTok were to go away. But yeah, a lot of

money's being left on the table, which means there's a
lot of secret money that we can't even see because
it's on hidden tables in back rooms.

Speaker 3 (57:09):
And if the US is so concerned about data protection
and privacy, why don't they pass other data protection and
privacy build it. It's just because TikTok is eating their
lunch for a practice that they also engage in.

Speaker 4 (57:22):
It's a great way of demonizing another country too, that
we have a complicated relationship with.

Speaker 3 (57:27):
Let's just call.

Speaker 2 (57:28):
It, guys. Have we talked about like peak personal data
acquisition where everybody's at some point everybody who is of
purchasing power age has all of their information tracked and
stored somewhere and available for purchase online and.

Speaker 4 (57:46):
Through data broker discussions. We have at the very least,
you know, touched on that. But it's all exponential, guys.
So we're talking about with this data internet theory and
all whatever stat happened last year is just gonna be
doubling year over year, if not more. I know, we're
kind of in the end credits that we just have
one last thing to say, but boy, this is a
fascinating topic.

Speaker 2 (58:06):
We're just trying to keep you around, you know, for
the algorithm and to throw the ads.

Speaker 3 (58:10):
Also, I find the idea of building this haunted house
to be immensely fascinating.

Speaker 4 (58:17):
From a sci fi perspective.

Speaker 3 (58:19):
Right, it'd be cool just to see it. Okay, Well
that's okay, all right, we'll see. We'll see if I
still feel the same way later. But gosh, we have
a phone number.

Speaker 4 (58:29):
Yeah, if you want to tell us what you think
about all this wild wacky stuff.

Speaker 2 (58:33):
But if it really is that haunted house, will you
actually get to see it?

Speaker 4 (58:36):
You know we won't get to see it. We'll be gone,
I'll think. So, man, just write a story about it
now then, so we can enjoy it before it actually
takes place.

Speaker 2 (58:44):
Call one eight three three std WYTK. It's a voicemail system.
You'll figure out how to use it. Give yourself a
cool nickname. You've got three minutes. Make sure you let
us know if we can use your name and message
on the air. If not, just say so. If you
don't want to do that, why not instead send us
a good old fashioned email.

Speaker 3 (59:00):
We are the folks who read every single email we get.
Conspiracy at iHeartRadio dot com.

Speaker 2 (59:25):
Stuff They Don't Want You to Know is a production
of iHeartRadio. For more podcasts from iHeartRadio, visit the iHeartRadio app,
Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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Matt Frederick

Matt Frederick

Ben Bowlin

Ben Bowlin

Noel Brown

Noel Brown

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Stuff You Should Know

Stuff You Should Know

If you've ever wanted to know about champagne, satanism, the Stonewall Uprising, chaos theory, LSD, El Nino, true crime and Rosa Parks, then look no further. Josh and Chuck have you covered.

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