🌊 It’s… Not Aliens

Plus: Instagram is SO Back

Now I am become drunk, winner of Oscars.

It must’ve been a fun night for the Oppenheimer team after their domination at the Academy Awards. The movie won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Cillian Murphy, and Best Director for Christopher Nolan. Robert Downey Jr. also took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, marking his first-ever Oscar win. Justice at last for the Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows thespian!

In today's edition:

📈 Instagram dethrones TikTok

🥒 Pickle prankster turns himself in

🧐 Roca Votes: White Rural Rage

And so much more!

–Max, Max, Jen, and Alex

KEY STORY

IG Is So Back

Instagram overtook TikTok in downloads last year

  • TikTok’s explosive growth during the pandemic led it to surpass Instagram in worldwide downloads in 2020. That year – despite India banning it – TikTok was downloaded over 1B times to Instagram’s 600M

  • Since then, TikTok downloads have stagnated while Instagram’s have continued to grow. Last year, the ranking flipped, with new data showing Instagram’s downloads grew 20% to 786M, while TikTok’s grew just 4% to 733M. Additionally, TikTok’s user base shrank by 13M users in the fourth quarter of 2023, while Instagram’s grew by 12M

Dig Deeper

  • One area where TikTok continues to win is engagement: Its users spend more than 50% more time on the app than Instagram’s do, according to analytics firm sensor tower

SPONSORED

Early Stage AI Investment

Meet RAD AI—the tech startup that some of the world’s biggest brands are using to supercharge their digital marketing efforts. It's been called the “essential AI” for brands looking to attract new audiences and boost ROI

  • Over 25B pieces of content are exchanged daily across the web . This is what the $633B marketing technology and analytics industry is fundamentally built on

  • RAD AI’s technology analyzes this entire universe for the sole purpose of helping brands deliver content and ROI

  • It’s tripled revenue, attracting clients like MGM, Skechers, and Sweetgreen, and raised $27M from 6,500+ backers, including VCs and leaders at Google, Amazon, and Meta

Dig Deeper

KEY STORY

Biden Backs TikTok Ban

President Biden endorsed the anti-TikTok bill after the company’s effort to galvanize users backfired

  • Last Tuesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill that would ban TikTok if Bytedance doesn’t sell it within six months. On Thursday, a powerful House committee held a vote on whether to advance the bill

  • Ahead of that, TikTok prompted American users to call their representatives, flooding their phone lines. The stunt galvanized opposition to TikTok, and the committee voted 50-0 to advance the bill

  • After the vote, Biden said that he will sign it if Congress passes it. The full House will vote on it Wednesday, after which it will head to the Senate. It’s unclear how it will fare there

Dig Deeper

  • While the Trump administration was behind the initial push to ban TikTok, he has since come out against doing so. He said doing so would only strengthen Facebook, which he called the “enemy of the people”

KEY STORY

Pentagon: No Aliens or Cover Up

The Defense Department released a report summarizing its findings about UFOs and rejecting an alleged government coverup

  • The report comes less than a year after intelligence official David Grusch accused the US of running a covert program to retrieve and reverse engineer alien spacecraft

  • The Pentagon denied that such a program exists and said it found no evidence that any UFOs are of alien origin

  • It also said there is no evidence of a coverup, and that all claims about specific alien-related programs are “inaccurate”

Dig Deeper

  • While the report said many UAPs' origins couldn’t be confirmed, it attributed that to a lack of information and said there was no reason to believe they were extraterrestrial. It claimed that many alleged UAP sightings were actually birds, drones, or rockets

  • It attributed rumors of a coverup to “circular reporting from a group of individuals who believe this to be the case, despite the lack of any evidence”

KEY STORY

Ireland Keeps the Family

Irish voters overwhelmingly rejected proposals to redefine “family” and modify language about women in the constitution

  • Ireland has undergone a progressive shift in recent decades, leading the prime minister to propose modifying the constitution: One proposal would remove a reference to women’s “duties in the home”; another would expand the definition of family from being based on marriage to “durable relationships” 

  • In a referendum Friday, ~70% of voters rejected both proposals. Some opposed them outright; others found the new language unclear or insufficient

Dig Deeper

  • The one regarding “duties in the home” was rejected 73.9% to 26.1%, while the one changing the definition of a family was rejected 67% to 32%

  • On Saturday, the prime minister said the people had given his government “two wallops”

  • “We struggled to convince people of the necessity or need for the referendum at all, let alone the detail and the wording,” he said. “Clearly, we got it wrong”

RUNDOWN
Some Quick Stories for the Office

👚 Tide-owner P&G is replacing its liquid detergent “pods” with “tiles” — rectangles of fibers with water-soluble materials but no water or plastic

🧪 A state investigation found that a Colorado DNA scientist intentionally manipulated DNA testing results, which may have affected at least 652 cases between 2008 and 2023

🇭🇳 A New York court convicted former Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández for using Honduras’ police and military to protect cocaine shipments that moved through his country

📈 US unemployment slightly increased and wage growth slowed in February, suggesting a gradual economic slowdown

🐘 The Republican National Committee elected North Carolina GOP’s pro-Trump former leader and Trump’s daughter-in-law as chair and co-chair

COMMUNITY

Weekly Debate

Most news companies repress ideas they don’t agree with. We are different. To prove it, we’re making this a place where people can have a free and open debate. Each week we lay out a debate on Monday and feature responses below, replies to those the following day, and so on.

Read this week’s Roca Votes Wrap below and let us know: What’s a bigger threat to democracy: The new book “White Rural Rage” – which argues that white rural Americans pose the greatest threat to American democracy – or white rural rage?

Reply to this email with thoughts and vote below!

What does Roca think?

Is urban/coastal elitism a problem today?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

What does Roca think?

Is white rural rage a problem today?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

POPCORN
Some Quick Stories for Happy Hour

🚔 Deez-Nuts arrested: Wisconsin police arrested 42-year-old Deez-Nuts Kroll after a disturbance involving a BB gun. Yes, Deez-Nuts is his legal name

🍹 12 steps to bankruptcy? Washington D.C.’s first and only shop dedicated to nonalcoholic beverages, Hopscotch Bottle Shop, opened

🎺 Raiders of the Lost Arse: Harrison Ford shared that the iconic “Indiana Jones” theme music played during a recent colonoscopy on the operating room speakers

🍫 Willy Wanker’s Chocolate Factory: Jeremy Rockliff, premier of the Australian region of Tasmania, has pledged to construct the “world’s largest chocolate fountain.” The project will cost up to $100M

🥒 Plea Dill: The man who filmed himself dunking his head into a pickle barrel at a convenience store as part of a prank video has turned himself in. The store had to throw away $52 of pickles

🚘 Kids these days…: Three Australian youths who stole a couple’s car at knifepoint then fell victim to a carjacking by two other teenagers within an hour

ROCA VOTES
White Rural Rage

A new book called White Rural Rage is making the rounds in the media. Its authors argue that “white rural rage” poses the single biggest threat to American democracy.

The book’s critics, however, say the book itself is the problem: They argue it perpetuates false stereotypes about rural America and embodies elite condescension toward rural Americans.

So we ask you what’s the bigger threat: White rural rage or the book White Rural Rage?

The book’s authors are Thomas Schaller and Paul Waldman. Schaller is a professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Waldman is an opinion columnist formerly with MSNBC and The Washington Post.

Both have written on the issue of race and politics before. In 2020, for example, Waldman wrote, “[Trump is] the first president who elevated white identity to such a central place in his political project.” They are both liberals based in the DC area.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Schaller summarized his view of white rural Americans: “[White rural voters] are the most racist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, geodemographic group in the country. Second, they're the most conspiracist group. QAnon support and subscribers, election denialism, Covid denialism instead of scientific skepticism, Obama birtherism.”

Echoing his co-author’s point, Waldman called Trump a “conduit for their rage and resentment.”

The book also highlights the outsize voting power of rural voters due to the Senate and electoral college system, which makes a Wyoming vote more impactful than a California vote.

MSNBC, The Washington Post, and The New York Times have all featured White Rural Rage in a favorable light.

MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” host Mika Brzezinski – who has expressed that Trump is a threat to democracy – prefaced her interview of the authors with a segment on how rural voters should support Biden instead of Trump given his more relatable background.

The Washington Post’s and The New York Times’ book reviews were generally positive. NYT columnist Paul Krugman concluded his review with an even bleaker outlook than the authors: “The truth is that while white rural rage is arguably the single greatest threat facing American democracy, I have no good ideas about how to fight it.”

Not everyone joined the fanfare. The book has a 2.4-star rating on Amazon and a 2.6 on Good Reads, where critics have called it “racist,” “elitist,” and “moronic.”

Independent journalist and “Twitter Files” publisher Matt Taibbi wrote, “This week in undisguised class hatred: The New York Times and MSNBC slobber over a new book on the domestic threat.”

Others, including authors whose research the book cites, have called into question the rigor of the book and said their studies were taken out of context or misrepresented.

Some are arguing that it’s not white rural rage that’s the problem but the way of thinking that White Rural Rage encapsulates. A critic in the libertarian publication Reason wrote, “Well, the science shows that there is no mystery to rural rage: Years of neglect, abandonment, and scorn have driven rural America to view ‘experts’ like Schaller and Waldman as the enemy.”

Conservative commentator Sohrab Ahmari piled on, “‘Rural White Rage’ is so stupid, I deserve an award for reading it.”

Others said the book failed to highlight the virtues of rural America, including its contributions to the food, energy, and other necessities that cities rely on.

That leads us to this week’s debate question: What poses a greater threat to American democracy: “White Rural Rage” or white rural rage?

Reply to this email to let us know what you think!

ON-THE-GROUND
Roca in Serbia

We send our co-founder Max Frost to investigate topics around the world and he writes about them here. He’s currently writing from Serbia. Subscribers receive the full stories.

My last night in Belgrade, I went out with two groups of Roca readers. 

The first was Daria and her friend Milan – warm, fun, opinionated people. We met at a restaurant for traditional Serbian food (stuffed peppers and cabbage), then took shots of rakija, Serb brandy. They ranted about China, “woke American SJWs” (social justice warriors), and corruption. 

“If we adopted EU Laws but didn’t join the EU, that would be best,” Daria said. “People go to the EU and make more money, then realize they aren’t so free.” Like Jovana on Friday, that was a reference to Western political correctness. 

The pair – like most young Serbs I met – was deeply cynical about their government. “The laws are fine – we have good laws. The problem is people don’t enforce it because that requires funds, and that requires a government that isn’t the mafia. So that’s the cycle.”

Milan was a graffiti artist. 

“This is a graffiti Mecca,” he said. “If you go to Germany get caught, you’re getting f**ked in the ass. Here, you see pieces from 2007 and 2009. If you pick a spot and do it, no one will go over it.” That made sense: The city is covered in graffiti.

On China: “China owns us. We’re borrowing from China and they’re building our roads, railways – all our infrastructure is theirs. In return, we’re giving them factories and agriculture.”

One of the pair told me I could see the impact for myself if I visited Bor, a city “full of Chinese” people, several hours away. 

I wanted to see the countryside, and that was a perfect excuse. I’d take a bus the next morning. 

Before then, though, I met a Roca reader named Iva and her friends. It was Friday night and this was a sophisticated and wealthy group. I met them on a rooftop bar that was the nicest place I had been in all of Serbia. Iva worked in real estate development; her friends owned or worked in various successful businesses. One of them had done a doctorate at Columbia University in New York. 

Despite their apparent wealth, a cloud hung over Iva and her friends. 

“If you’re hopeful, you’re going to end up feeling stupid,” Iva said. “We all become apathetic and that’s just sad. It makes me sad.”

She rattled off stories of rampant corruption and cited the growing list of laws she said enable that. 

“Every time they announce something like this, I’m waiting for someone to say it’s a joke.”

Another member of the group added, “If some Danish guy came to live here, he would be in a mental hospital within five days. If someone here is smart, the first thing a Serbian says is, ‘He thinks he’s better than us!’ or, ‘He’s gay.’”

Another chirped, “We are lying in our history books, that Serbia is one of the greatest countries in the history of the world.”

We piled into a car and drove to a former industrial complex that had been converted into a complex of high-end bars and restaurants. Drinks were almost as expensive as New York; the bathrooms were full of people doing cocaine. Near where we sat, two guys got into a brutal fistfight. Hardly anyone looked and no one intervened. 

Pulsing music in the background, drugs being passed around, cocktails, Red Bulls. It was a different Serbia than what I had experienced elsewhere. 

As the night went on, I got stuck in a conversation with one of the guys in the group who had formerly been trash-talking Serbia. A warm and inviting guy but also deeply resentful of the United States, over an hour he bought me a drink, talked about his excessive wealth, offered me cocaine, and unceasingly yelled at me about my country’s foreign policy. 

“America was three years late entering World War 2,” he said. “Only 70,000 Americans died.”

Me: That’s wrong

Him: No, 70,000 Americans!

Me: It was 330,000 (it was actually 420,000)

Him: No

Me: Yes it was

Him: Do you know how many Russians died?

Me: 30 million

Him: 39 million! And do you know how many Yugoslavs?

Me: One million

Him: 1.3 million!

Him again: You joined the war three years too late

Me: We liberated Western Europe

Him: The UK and Canada liberated Western Europe

We ended up at an abandoned silo that had been converted into a nightclub. A DJ was playing but it was after 3 AM and the place was mostly vacant. It felt a bit dystopian. 

Just before we left, one of the group said to me, “Belgrade is great, but Serbia sucks.”

So did Serbia suck or not? Could no one make up their mind?!

Reply to this email to let us know what you think!

COMMUNITY
💰 Treasure Hunt

Welcome to the weekly Roca treasure hunt! The rules are simple:

  • Every day we give a hint. You get one guess, which you submit by emailing [email protected] with a Google street view screenshot

  • Unlock an extra hint each Thursday once you refer five friends

  • The first person to guess the answer wins this week’s prize: A free year of Roca premium!

Clue 1: It takes two hands

Know the answer? Send the Google street view screenshot to [email protected].

Congratulations to Roca reader Andrew of Savannah, Texas for being the first to correctly guess last week’s location of 2120 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago from the Rolling Stones song by the same name

Clue 1: 311: Chicago is 234 square miles of land with 77 community areas

Clue 2: A King's game and a companion's check: The address is the office/recording studios of Chess Records and Checker Records

Clue 3: Two by two (or add 10 and 3): A reference to song's inclusion on Rolling Stones second US album, released 2 years after band's founding (1962). The Album is called 12 x 5

Clue 4: I don't hear Mick, but I hear a tambourine: Mick Jagger doesn't sing on this song; it's an instrumental. He does play some tambourine, though

Clue 5: Record it here, name it that: All songs for the Stone's Five by Five, their second EP, were recorded there, including that track

Bonus clue: Stick your tongue out: A reference to the band’s logo

EDITOR’S NOTE
Final Thoughts

We’re excited to hear your thoughts on this week’s debate. Reply to this email with your thoughts on “white rural rage” and we will feature perspectives from all sides throughout the week.

Happy Monday!

— Max, Max, Alex and Jen