Reddit’s Wedding Planners Pivot to Covid-19 Crisis Comms

The difficulty in deciding how to manage the coronavirus posts was exacerbated by a lack of clear advice and the conflicting needs of different users—some of whom have weddings planned imminently, and others who are just starting to plan. The moderators were keen to operate best practices from a public health perspective, but weren’t always sure how—especially when there was limited official health advice available. “Several of us have science backgrounds so we can moderate some content but none of us are pandemic experts,” Emilia says. “This is a wedding planning subreddit!”

They first automatically redirected all coronavirus-related posts to the pinned ‘Daily Discussion’ thread, but the automoderator didn’t catch every post and some people got upset when their posts were removed or redirected. “It sounds easy—all coronavirus threads in one place—but there were a lot of nuances we didn’t anticipate because we got so many different variations on the topic,” Emilia says.

By March 15, the moderators were struggling to keep up with demand and the public health situation in the US and Europe had changed significantly. The mods introduced a daily COVID-19 Megathread, which is now the first thing people see when they visit the subreddit. Comments are divided into months of the year, so members can easily find other wedding planners working to a similar timeline.

Although the moderators say that many subscribers have been kind and thoughtful to one another, the response from the community hasn’t always been positive. After all, most of the subreddit’s active users are currently planning weddings, and are having to face difficult decisions over what is supposed to be a joyful occasion. “Weddit as a community is going through a lot of emotions, and these emotions have changed over time as the situation has changed,” says Maeve. “Disbelief, sadness, and anger are three emotions we see a lot. Lots of anger.” Sometimes this gets directed at the moderators. “People upset or unclear about why their post was moved, upset about no megathread, upset about having a megathread, upset that we’re not explicitly saying you should postpone or cancel your wedding, upset that we’re allowing people to imply you should cancel your wedding, the whole gamut,” Emilia says.

A particularly controversial topic, especially when official advice on social distancing and gatherings was unclear, was whether couples should go ahead with their weddings or cancel. In one instance, a user whose comment had been deleted wrote to the mods that, “Blood is going to be on your hands if you continue to censor any dissent toward brides proudly refusing to cancel and in doing so, risking countless lives.” But in that case, the mods explain, they had removed the post because its language did not meet the subreddit’s number one rule of “constructive criticism and respect”—the user had told the person who posted to “get the fuck over themselves” and “fuck those bridezillas who think their wedding is worth people literally dying.”

Even apparently anodyne posts can cause schisms. In the past couple of weeks, many Wedditors have been sharing pictures of the dresses they didn’t get to wear in an attempt to lighten the mood and maintain a celebratory atmosphere. But dress pictures on r/weddingplanning have always been surprisingly divisive, with some users complaining that the subreddit is overwhelmed with dress posts and that the new wave of dress posts is just copycat spammers trying to reap karma.

It’s been a tough time for the moderators, who didn’t exactly expect to be sifting through posts about a pandemic when they took on the r/weddingplanning mantle. They all say that they are pleased to have the support of each other. Addy, who is also a moderator on some sport subreddits, says the vibe there is notably different: “There, it’s been quieter and more about finding anything to fill the unexpected gap in content, which is a huge contrast from dealing with the (very understandable) stress and crises on r/weddingplanning.” She says that r/weddingplanning is usually her “moderator oasis” compared to dealing with the rivalry, sexism and racism on the sport forums. “It’s so sad to now see r/weddingplanning as the more emotionally taxing place to moderate (although still extremely light on the bigotry, thankfully),” she says.

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Joining the Stay-at-Home Bread Boom? Science Has Some Advice

Bread is on the rise. The number of people Googling “bread” hit an all-time high this week. Instagrammers and Twitterers alike are rolling in dough—not figuratively, but literally—and bread-making has become such a popular activity during this incredibly stressful time of coronavirus self-quarantining that grocery stores are running low on flour and yeast.

None of this surprises Stephen Jones. Jones is a wheat breeder and the director of Washington State University’s Bread Lab, located about six hours north of WSU’s campus. Jones and his team conduct research on thousands of different kinds of wheat and grain to help farmers and processors decide what kinds of crops will perform best. As you might expect, Jones’ team also bakes a lot of bread in the lab’s kitchen—which they’re still doing, though in staggered shifts, he notes, to avoid contact with one another.

WIRED caught up with Jones by phone to talk about why we turn to bread-making in times of calamity (aside from the rather obvious fact that it feeds us), the spiritual element of baking bread, why you shouldn’t strive for the “Instagram bread loaf,” and how the US’s consolidation of flour mills over the years has contributed to the current shortage of staples.

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Lauren Goode: We’ve interviewed you before at WIRED, but you run something called the Bread Lab. So for people who haven’t heard of it before, explain what it is exactly that you do.

Stephen Jones: We’re wheat breeders first, so we work for the farmers. We try to find wheats that will yield well for them, and that we can use in 100 percent whole wheat situations. Tthen we figured out that we needed a laboratory so we could bake things ourselves, with our own students and maybe visiting bakers, to find out the best use for these. We’re completely out of the commodity system, and to do that you need your own laboratory to find out the best use [for the wheats], whether it’s a soft sandwich bread, or a baguette or a pizza dough, or flatbread, or cookie or scone, or whatever. So that’s kind of what we do. We work nationally and globally with people that have lost their regional grain system.

How has Covid-19 affected what you’re currently working on in the lab?

Well, it’s done a few things. It certainly has demonstrated something that we’ve been working on for many years, which is the food sovereignty end of it. The fact is that in this nation we went from about 25,000 flour mills a little over 100 years ago to 163 today. Twenty of those produce about 95 percent of the flour in this country. Right now you can’t buy flour in our area except for the fact that there are two mid-sized flour mills that have started up that are selling it. Otherwise we wouldn’t have flour here. So what we noticed right away is how fragile our food systems are.

We knew our food systems were screwed up, in terms of what the emphasis was on—getting things first as cheaply as you can, and then selling them for as much as you can, and not looking at flavor and nutrition. We also had a hint that the system was quite fragile, in that if you can’t get shipments in or you’re having some kind of pricing issue, you’re out of flour. But literally overnight here all the stores were out of flour and yeast and salt and things like that, that you would need to make breads. That’s not just true here, it’s true in other areas [too].

Read all of our coronavirus coverage here.

So people are baking a lot of bread right now. Does this surprise you in any way?

It does and it doesn’t. What we do, prior to all this, what we do is help people sort of rediscover that they can bake. We do that in various ways, but one way is when people come through the labs or we have casual workshops, the first thing we do is encourage people to take the pressure off of themselves. This Instagtam bread loaf, you know, the one with the big open crumb, is really not that desirable anyway. It’s not something to shoot for. So—

I just want to make sure I understand. When you say the “Instagram bread loaf” is not something to shoot for, can you explain that?

Well it’s open crumb, so it’s—it’s called the Hairy Forearm Crumb Shot.

[Laughs]

It’s somebody holding up a rustic loaf that’s been cut in half and has these huge bubbles in it and things like that. People think if they can’t do that, they’re failing at baking. It’s part of this notion that your bread has to look perfect to be good, right? People should take pressure off themselves in that way.

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As Pandemic Strikes, Pop Culture Migrates to Streaming Sites

For more than a year now, much of the discourse around popular culture has focused on one thing: the streaming wars. With the launches of Apple TV+ and Disney+—and amidst the continued production of huge slates of content from behemoths like Netflix and Amazon—streaming services, taken as a whole, became a massive source of cultural output. No one ever expected they’d soon become the only source of it. Now, as the coronavirus pandemic spreads and social distancing becomes essential (please everyone, stay home if you can), streaming may become, for the foreseeable future, the main site of collective cultural experience. Schools are closing; movie theaters and performing arts spaces are shutting their doors; sports are on hold. Suddenly, the large libraries of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Apple, Disney+, Spotify, and so on, are the nexus of humanity’s artistic consumption as everyone attempts to contain the spread of Covid-19 in their communities.

The effect of this on the entertainment industry so far is two-fold. On one hand, movie multiplexes, concert halls, Broadway theaters, and other venues are rapidly closing, impacting the revenues of those industries. On the other, the coronavirus outbreak has left people home-bound, with little else to do but binge-watch (and, OK, read; reading is good). Hollywood in particular began seeing the effects of the virus months ago; quarantines and lockdowns in Asia forced people to stay in their homes and away from movie theaters. Here in the United States, studios began postponing their big tentpole releases in the last two weeks; No Time to Die was pushed to November, and Mulan, A Quiet Place Part II, and F9 soon followed suit. (The Hunt, this generation’s most-cursed film, opened this weekend after its controversial political premise pushed it away from theaters in September.) Some projections show that Hollywood is on track to lose some $20 billion (an estimate that’s likely to increase the longer lockdowns continue), and while studios like NBCUniversal are making the move to release some of their movies digitally at the same time they hit the theaters that remain open, that still won’t recoup a ton of funds—even if it does give people more options for isolation viewing.

That’s not to say, however, there aren’t already plenty of options on streaming. But as those of us who started social distancing days ago may have discovered, there’s so much to watch that it’s difficult to decide what to put on. For the first time in a long time, if ever, there is no big event—no marquee movie release, no TV premiere, no athletic championship or awards show—that can unite people, aside from perhaps watching the news. And while Disney+ has added Frozen 2 to its lineup three months early (it was previously only available for rental and purchase on various services), and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is also available for purchase early ahead of its March 31 home video launch, neither are the kind of offering that will steer the conversation away from anything other than Covid-19—even if that talking is limited to social media. If anything, the coronavirus crisis has made streaming services more necessary than ever, while also proving how ineffective they can be at shared cultural moments.

Read all of our coronavirus coverage here.

Is it possible there will be some big surprises in the next few weeks, some entertainment bailout for the bored masses eager to be told what to watch? Maybe. (We certainly wouldn’t be upset if Beyoncé were to drop a new visual album out of nowhere.) But until then, folks are stuck choosing their own entertainment. Beyond maybe the suddenly relevant Contagion, no one seems to be watching the same thing. The result only adds to everyone’s social isolation. Folks are all doing their best to stay connected to one another—people are watching each other play videogames on Twitch, teens are creating corona-content on TikTok, and your friends are all suddenly going live on Instagram—but few of those things replicate going to a concert or seeing the new Star Wars movie on opening night.

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