We all spend too much time on the internet — this is an objective truth. But there are vast differences between how much too-much time we spend: Some browse casually, while others scroll dangerously.
To determine where you fall on that continuum, here’s an overview of online goings-on from this month organized into point tiers that reflect how far down the internet rabbit hole you had to be to learn about that story. Give yourself the corresponding amount of points for each entry you recognize, and check the bottom of the page to see how far down you’ve tumbled.
This month, descend into the algorithm to untangle two Grammy-related scandals, investigate a talking lemon, and outlaw nudity.
Headline-making culture news or online moments that were so universal even someone who still uses a Hotmail account would be aware of them.
Any good performer likes to think they can adapt to hiccups with such a brave face that the audience won’t even realize anything has gone wrong. And sometimes that would be true, but not for Harry Styles during his disoriented, dispirited rotating “As It Was” performance at the Grammys on February 5. The day after the show, two of his backup dancers revealed via Instagram Stories and (now deleted) TikToks that the stage was actually turning in the wrong direction.
Why it’s a 1: All eyes were on Styles at the Grammys — which was the most-watched ceremony in three years and had the biggest livestream audience in history — and not just because things seemed a little shaky onstage. The singer was up against Beyoncé for Album of the Year and won, to the disappointment of Bey stans at home and in the audience.
Battle of the brows
The long-running, fan-fueled rivalry between Selena Gomez, who previously dated Justin Bieber, and Hailey Bieber, who is now married to him, was seemingly put to bed last year when the pair posed for a photo. However, it appears the truce may be over, and it’s all thanks to … laminated eyebrows.
On February 21, Gomez posted a TikTok bemoaning her accidentally overlaminated eyebrows. A few hours later, Kylie Jenner posted a photo on Instagram Stories of her own laminated eyebrows, with the caption “this was an accident???” followed by a screenshot of her and Hailey on FaceTime showing their eyebrows to the camera. Jenner clarified on TikTok that she hadn’t seen Gomez’s post, and Gomez similarly cleared the air. But that same day, Gomez commented on a TikTok of an old video of Hailey making a gagging gesture at the mention of Taylor Swift.
“So sorry, my best friend is and continues to be one of the best in the game,” Gomez wrote, seemingly reigniting whatever beef had just been squashed. Then Gomez went live on TikTok to announce that she would be taking a social-media break.
Why it’s a 1: Thanks to social media, the celebrity bickering that would normally be covered only by tabloids with anonymous sources now happens right on our phones. Unfortunately, it turns out it’s just kind of weird and confusing.
You can bring these stories up at the family dinner table, but they would require some backstory and a minor glossary of terms before everyone was on the same page.
Ariana DeBose deleted the thing
Ariana DeBose did the thing: She produced possibly the most camp Twitter moment of 2023 and then bounced from the site. Her February 19 BAFTA opening performance — culminating in a painfully earnest rap that shouted out the Lead and Supporting Actress nominees — resulted in such a confusing mix of incessant clowning and pity praise, the Academy Award winner deleted her Twitter account. The memes, however, are a different (West Side) story: “Honestly I love this,” DeBose commented on an Instagram meme roundup. A week later, she warmed to the playful mockery and referenced the internet’s favorite earworm while presenting at the Screen Actors Guild Awards alongside Diego Luna.
Why it’s a 2: Deleting Twitter didn’t stop DeBose from being asked about the reaction to the performance at every subsequent press stop. (Baz Luhrmann liked it, okay?) I hope she’s practicing for the Oscars on March 12. We could use a reprise.
A year and a half after multiple women accused Armie Hammer of sexual misconduct, the actor broke his silence with an Air Mail interview on February 4, conceding that he was emotionally abusive but denying that any of his sexual encounters were nonconsensual. While that news cycle was relitigated on Twitter and in Instagram comments, a second, more niche conversation was happening within The Media about the piece’s questionable ethics. In a follow-up investigation on February 13, The Fine Print’s newsletter found a number of the claims were not properly verified nor were necessary sources adequately pursued.
Why it’s a 2: The Hammer allegations have been an almost entirely internet-driven movement with real-life repercussions (and a docuseries). The Instagram gossip account DeuxMoi was one of the first prominent outlets to surface the allegations, which were also majority-made via the Instagram Stories of @HouseOfEffie, one of the actor’s most vocal accusers. Effie similarly responded to Hammer’s Air Mail statements on Instagram. Meanwhile, Hammer’s ex Elizabeth Chambers announced her own docuseries about toxic relationships on February 15.
After 25 years at Google, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki dropped ~*some personal news*~ on February 16 that her nine-year run as YouTube CEO was over. While she should have shared the announcement in an overwrought sit-down “Why I’m Leaving” video, we got a post on YouTube’s official blog instead. Wojcicki had shepherded the platform through the 2016 election and its aftermath as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, both of which arguably changed the entire internet landscape as we know it in regards to misinformation — something YouTube plays a large part in. But her exit may say less about the company than it does about the state of Big Tech in general: There are now zero female CEOs.
Why it’s a 2: The significance of Wojcicki’s tenure depends on who you ask: Conservatives blame her for the algorithm allegedly stifling their content, while others think she allowed misinformation and radicalization to run rampant. Either way, this is the end of an era for the veteran platform, and to prove it’s keeping up with the times, the next CEO will be announced via ASMR Mukbang.
Insular online community news events or temporary main characters who get plucked by the algorithm and placed all over our feeds for a few days before receding back into the shadows. Think: West Elm Caleb.
No year can pass without at least one Caroline Calloway news moment, starting in 2018 with those $165 “creativity workshops” and most recently in 2022 when she bid her infamous West Village apartment adieu in favor of Florida. This year, however, Callo Christmas came early.
While Calloway’s time in the spotlight ebbs and flows, there’s one constant: r/SmolBeanSnark, the sub-Reddit dedicated to documenting and investigating her every move. VICE followed the self-professed social-media scammer as she used a burner phone to speak directly to the people who spend their days snarking on her.
In the 20-minute documentary, released February 16, we see a handful of these calls: As one redditor threatens Calloway with their lawyer and another sympathizes with her about the sub’s toxicity, it doesn’t appear the 31-year-old’s bid for connection is as explosive as anticipated. “Lmao Caroline we don’t want to talk TO you we want to talk ABOUT you,” one person writes in response to her call. (Calloway’s Reddit posts appear to have since been deleted, but some responses are highlighted in the documentary.)
Why it’s a 3: These days, the internet moves so fast it’s hard for a main character to have any staying power beyond a few weeks. Whether you’re a follower of her antics or can’t figure out why we’re still writing about her, the fact that Calloway endures — landing a VICE documentary five years after her first controversy — is both significant and a little nostalgic.
After Elon Musk saw that Joe Biden’s Super Bowl tweet got more engagement than his own, he reportedly directed engineers to promote his tweets in Twitter’s “For You” algorithm, which, I’ll be honest, is the first relatable thing he has ever done.
Why it’s a 3: You’re being forced to see the tweets now anyway.
Requires a late-night deep dive into the drama going down at a Midwest sorority you have no connection to or an uprising within the Chris Evans fandom—research that will ruin your recommended content for weeks.
Love at first sight 😍 #ValentinesDay #EmmaChamberlain #RoleModel #CoupleGoals♬ original sound - GQ
In Emma Chamberlain’s six-year YouTube (now mostly podcasting) career, she has never confirmed specific relationship rumors — not when she was said to be dating fellow Sister Squad member Ethan Dolan in 2019, and not once in the past three years when singer Role Model (né Tucker Pillsbury) began appearing in the background of her Instagram photos and beside her in paparazzi videos. That’s why, for those who have followed the now-21-year-old since long before her Louis Vuitton modeling days, the pair’s GQ magazine hard launch on Valentine’s Day had Aritzia commenting “mom & dad” on TikTok.
Why it’s a 4: While it pains me to rank such a personally significant moment so obscurely, the general public likely still knows Chamberlain only from this viral Met Gala moment. But for long-standing fans, this is the one-est of ones.
I will never recover…. #storytime #embarrassingstory♬ original sound - Lemon Lady Secrets
He was a “very hot man on a TV show.” She was a lemon. Can I make it any more obvious? No need because, based on teeth alone, the internet is convinced that the creator behind the Lemon Lady Secrets TikTok account — who dons a filter that masks all but their eyes and mouth as a lemon and turns their voice into that of a high-pitched chipmunk — is a celebrity dishing juicy Hollywood secrets in digital disguise. In a January 27 viral video, the mystery user behind the lemon recounted following a hot guy she saw on a TV show on Instagram only to unexpectedly receive a follow back, which resulted in a date, which resulted in a story so embarrassing it apparently required lemonymity. In the comments, people suspected the mystery creator was anyone from Anna Kendrick to Brittany Snow to Elizabeth Olsen. Someone must have been right because the lemon hasn’t posted since February 9.
Why it’s a 4: If you can recognize someone by their teeth, you belong in forensics, not on TikTok. That being said, I’m absolutely convinced this lemon is a celebrity.
What better time to suddenly get really weird about sex scenes than the month of romance? This topic was kicked off by Brittany Martinez, the founder of conservative publication Evie magazine, who came out against nudity in TV shows. “Nothing more awkward than feeling like you walked into a room of people having sex,” she tweeted on February 7.
This set off a somewhat predictable discourse cycle that was then turbo-charged by Penn Badgely. The You actor revealed on his podcast, Podcrushedon February 9, that he had asked for fewer sex scenes in season four of You out of respect for his marriage. Days were spent debating consent, sex scenes, and purity culture — Should actors kiss onscreen only if they’re married to each other IRL? Are the actresses participating in the scenes “dying inside”? — and ultimately landed nowhere. Time well spent!
Why it’s a 4: An internet discourse so galaxy-brained that it ends up advocating for outlawing nudity in movies like it’s the 1930s is an impressive feat even by 2023 standards.
If you’ve so much as glanced at TikTok in the past week or so, it has probably tried to shove its new trivia feature down your throat. Yet the five-day trivia marathon held from February 24 to 26 left many users unimpressed. Despite the $500,000 put aside for the competition, the division among users meant some winners walked away with just $5, according to NBC News. Other complaints were directed toward the host — a popular creator named James Henry — who many felt was rambling and unclear. Overall, it was no HQ Trivia, though that didn’t end well either.
Why it’s a 4: Mobile trivia had its moment in 2017 with HQ Trivia, and no real competitor has emerged since. It seems TikTok wants to recapture the trivia magic the way Wordle did with word games, but it’s clear the recipe isn’t easily replicable. This five-day event could be the beginning and end of it, but with $5 up for grabs, how can anyone resist?
An incident so layered — one requiring a Fandom.com-level understanding of multiple niche communities and their lore — that it’s as if you’re speaking a different language when explaining it. For that reason, you likely have no one to talk to about it.
I thought being scammed by a man who had obsession with Taylor Swift was bad but….this…this tops the cake. 😹 #grammys #65thgrammyawards #redcarpet #trustissues but hey guys, don’t forget to tune in to watch the Grammys Sunday 8 pm est/5 pm pst 👍🏼♬ original sound - ➤ Delivered • 7d
If you think it sounds impossible that the Grammys would invite an unofficial Taylor Swift look-alike to walk the red carpet, you’d be right. Ashley Leechin, a creator and Swiftie who rose to fame on TikTok for her resemblance to the singer, proudly announced in a now-deleted video that she was “partnering with the Grammys.” Partnering to do what? Unclear. Even more unclear was why on February 4 she was uninvited to the carpet while on the LAX airport tarmac. She claimed she had been scammed by the PR agency that invited her. But instead of sympathy, TikTok showed up in droves to question the validity of the entire situation. How did Leechin fly to Los Angeles for the Grammys without confirming she had a ticket? Wasn’t the fact that she had to pay for her own travel and lodging a red flag? And be for real, In what world would the Grammys invite a look-alike from TikTok to walk the red carpet in the first place???
Users wrapped up in this saga aren’t convinced Leechin is telling the whole story. The video in which she announces she got stranded at LAX appears to have been filmed … at her home in Nashville. Regardless, the incident got Leechin so much attention she landed an interview on the The Tamron Hall Show, so all’s well that ends (all too) well.
Why it’s a 5: The Grammys were just the tip of the Leechin iceberg. In response to the backlash, she created a Change.org petition to “STOP INTERNET DEFAMATION,” which starts with “I have never shown any ‘stalker-like’ behavior” and ends with “I have never claimed to be a ‘Republican Taylor.’” To understand why either of those things needed to be said requires a neck-deep familiarity with Leechin’s yearslong lore as a Swift superfan who refuses to drop a schtick.
So how online were you this month?
0–11 POINTS: Kinda plugged in.
You watched the Grammys and the Super Bowl, but you only went online to Google “Rihanna pregnant?” and then put your phone back down. You probably have a respectable sleep schedule and call your family regularly.
12–27 POINTS: Above-averagely online.
You’ve been in the Caroline Calloway snark Reddit before but never commented. However, multiple friends received “Angela Basset did the thing” texts from you as the lyric popped into your head throughout the day.
28–35 POINTS: Irreparably internet damaged.
What February lacks in days you made up for in posting. You’ve googled “Anna Kendrick teeth” to compare them to a lemon and are part of the reason Ashley Leechin had to delete her Grammys video.
This story has been updated.