Charlie Fang is an internet person. The first time we met, Charlie was sitting at the bar at a sushi spot in Noho—they stuck out against its muted gray walls, wearing an oversized black suit and a bright blue baseball cap embroidered with Remilia Corporation, the controversial “avant net art extremist” collective they lead. Later, they would tell me that “suits are good for autists.”
Charlie was visiting New York from Portugal. They had watery red eyes either from jet lag or too much time spent staring at a screen.
Under their online alias Charlotte Fang, Charlie is cool on a certain corner of the internet. They’re real-life friends with other cult internet people—schizo-philosophy Substack writer Angelicism01, digital health influencer Sol Brah, and the girls at Red Scare. I never asked whether Charlie is their real name, or just a gender-reversing shorthand for their online moniker.
We were here for a meeting of extremely online people that a friend had organized. At dinner, Charlie spoke, as most internet people do, in loops of online references—to defunct blogs, online communities, and coinages you would never expect to hear spoken out loud. Like most online culture, it all feels profound until you realize how little it reflects on the real world.
I work hard to not be online. But I am always drawn back to internet culture because it moves so much faster than real life. In the best moments, people are so much more honest on the internet; a meme can capture a feeling it would take hundreds of words to explain. Being online is the surest way to feel relevant, even if you lose yourself in the process. Sometimes, I slip up and get “Twitter-brain”—using online words and reciting facts from tweets I don’t really understand. Then I have to delete all my accounts again.
You hear it all the time—“the internet is horrible, but.” But I can learn so much. I need it for work. All my friends are online. Will people forget about me if I’m not on the internet?
Internet culture used to be something you engaged with in private. You have your public self, your real self, and then the part of your brain that scrolls mindlessly at the end of the day. But the fixations and personalities of digital-native communities are increasingly spilling out into the real world. Extremely online people are running for Congress. You can raise millions of real American dollars by posting memes. Or, as is the case for most people, you can go online to acquire a set of digitally-tinged delusions which, regardless of their content, feel like the most profound, true thing in the world at the same time they are incomprehensible to someone in regular society.
Trying to stay off the internet feels like pushing back against a wave.
Charlie Fang is part of a new group of people who are cool on the internet. Charlie is known for creating a series of projects and digital personas that cater, almost exclusively, to the extremely online. Their cache is honed from years of monitoring 4chan and analyzing digital norms. When I asked him why they thought they was so good at the internet, they said that “it’s an IQ thing.”
The content of their work would repel, or simply confuse, a traditional viewer:
Among Charlie’s followers, they’re known for constantly forming and reforming their online presence. Scrolling through one of their accounts—mostly female-presenting, with names like Miya or Sonya—one gets the sense of engaging with a diffuse digital entity rather than a real person. And Charlie likes it that way. They say that when they’re online, they treat themselves as a digital spirit, a tool in a network which is far more powerful than them. They post what the network wants him to say, unlike the unenlightened normal people who simply use the internet to mirror their flesh-and-blood selves.
To 99.9 percent of the population, Charlie is nobody. But to a small group of people on the right side of Twitter, Charlie is a legend, even if they don’t know their real name.
In past accounts, Charlie did well on the same part of Twitter that posts about the Unabomber manifesto and how the powers that be want us to eat bugs. With Milady Maker, them and their cult of followers became prominent in the crypto and NFT space. Which is to say that their work is niche, but controls an increasingly notable share of discourse. But there are hundreds of online communities with their own rules, their own norms, their own Charlies—extremely online people buzzing behind the screen.
Normal people are more online than ever. Regardless of your natural proclivities, there is a path towards digital immersion for you: you can become an extremely online leftist, a QAnon boomer, a spoonie, or a femcel. Many “serious” journalists have, in the past four years, devolved into the same habit of self-reflexive online looping as the digital-first reactionaries who follow Charlie.
Everyone knows someone who has lost a piece of themselves to the internet. They latch onto a digital community and start to think it’s the whole world.
Internet people, or people whose entire identities are wrapped up in their online presence, represent a new direction of culture. You don’t have to live in or know about the real world to be important. You can loop around and around in a tiny online world with its own values and characters, and that is enough.
Everyone loves the idea of the internet. The live wire—touch it and watch the world flash before your eyes. In the late 1970s, home computers only had primitive internet precursors like phone-in BBS forums, but people bought them anyway because they liked the idea of being connected. Everyone together, all at once.
January 1, 1983 is widely recognized as the birthday of the Internet—small networks of interconnected computers had existed before, but they were mostly used for research and defense. In contrast to the constant social posturing of the physical space, early digital-native communities had a beautiful depersonalization. On early web forums, no one knew if you were “a dog, a kid, or Finnish.” Accessing the internet in any capacity required some technical skill, creating a distinct community with a high barrier to entry. The first internet users were engineers, researchers, and oddball hobbyists.
When Netscape launched 1995, the internet was suddenly open to everyone. And instead of acclimating to the existing culture, the flood of new web users overwhelmed the delicate ecosystem—one t-shirt from the period reads “The internet is full, go away!” The new, socially-conscious users had little use for the anonymous, text-based internet. To use Charlie’s phrasing, they brought with them “all the psychosexual drama of human socialization.”
The first social media platform, called SixDegrees, was launched only two years after Netspace brought non-engineers online. MySpace followed in 2003. Facebook launched in 2005. Twitter came a year later. The dream of a universal stream of consciousness became a series of carefully curated profiles, with real names and yearbook-style profile pictures.
Being online today mostly means constantly performing your personality—or whatever online schtick you develop. Liking is a personal endorsement. You post iPhone photography of yourself, or of your family and friends. You write mini-essays about your beliefs. Most of us go on and try to present the best version of ourselves. Because this is the future, whether we like it or not.
Charlie is a character from the other side of the internet, the anonymous networks that lurk below the cleaned-up surface easily observable to “normie” internet users.
Charlie’s accounts have a mythical quality—faded anime profile pictures mixed with an evocative “network spirituality”—and a rough, unhinged energy. In contrast to the hyper-documentation of most online personalities, Charlie’s older work can only be found on deliberately-labyrinthian websites and in scraps on archives that are regularly taken down. The mystique is partly intentional, and partly created by hosting platforms constantly suspending him for content violations. The spotty paper trail inspires a degree of fascination among the extremely online teenagers and right-wing influencers who follow him.
Charlie’s most infamous account was named “Miya Black Hearted Cyber Angel Baby” (@BPD_GOD). They launched the character in 2017 as an experiment in depersonalized posting; their goal was to become the “most infamous thing on the network.” The Miya character was known for elaborately canceling itself with the help of partner accounts, as if to make an obtuse commentary on mid-2010s cancel culture. Often, Miya played with obscure online philosophies by taking them to their logical extremes, taking aim at digital subcultures such as “pro-ana” (pro-anorexia) communities and transgender accelerationism.
The effect was the internet encapsulated, the darkness of the deep web embodied by an eerie little girl.
At the time, Charlie’s distinctive posting style attracted dozens of loyal followers, who would track their movements from account to account and post alongside him, reinforcing the mythology. Between 2019 and 2020, they operated in a swarm along with Miya, united by the #kaliacc hashtag. The hashtag was named for “Kali Yuga Accelerationism,” a reference to the Hindu Vedas and the work of British philosopher Nick Land.
At the tail end of a number of decentralized Miya-esque troll accounts came the claim that #kaliacc was in fact a pro-anorexia cult for egirls. The veracity of the cult remains contentious, with the history obscured and rumors growing after its disappearance. The original Instagram that claimed to “expose” the cult announced it was a social experiment run by kaliacc themselves. Another Instagram account that documented the cult is neutral on whether it’s actually real. Long Twitter threads exist that claim to both expose and debunk the cult’s existence.
As Miya’s infamy grew, the proliferation of helpers—as well as copycat accounts—contributed to the mystery around the network. Who was Miya? Was anyone Miya? What did this band of deep-web occultists want? Through it all, Charlie and their affiliates played up the mystery, going on internet-native podcasts with voice distorters and refusing to answer straight questions. The project lent itself to enigma.
After Miya shut down in the summer of 2020, Charlie took a digital hiatus, while the rumors surrounding the project grew it into extensive notoriety. Charlie re-appeared covertly under new aliases, but their posting burst out into the mainstream a year later with Milady Maker, an NFT collection of ten thousand anime profile pictures.
Milady was notable for being one of the most memeable and digitally-native NFT collections. The images themselves are relatively standard–3D anime girls with randomized accessories like hair bows and baby tees. But you didn’t buy Milady for the art. You bought in for the vibe.
Posing as digital cult leader “Charlotte Fang,” Charlie encouraged Milady holders to break the staid, mid-2010s rules of social media use, and use the internet as an egoless digital entity. They taught user to slap on the creepy little girl profile picture and release themselves on the timeline. The energy among Milady users was, as Charlie put it, was “a little kid with a hello kitty sticker glock.” You can make statements that don’t represent yourself. You can like every post. You can post two hundred times a day, as many of the members of the Milady community did at the project’s peak. They called their new philosophy network spirituality. Right-click-save a Milady and join the swarm.
With a Milady, you could inscribe yourself on the internet with a swarm of other pink Miladies and I imagine it felt, a little bit, like that internet from 1995.
Milady launched in September 2021 at the height of the NFT boom. But the project only blew up into the mainstream some months later, after crypto Twitter noticed that Milady holders appeared to be sincerely enjoying themselves, both online and at the infamously chaotic raves they hosted in Manhattan and London.
I tried attending one myself for this article, but the police had already ended the party.
When asked to write this article, I was introduced to Milady as “the last interesting thing on the internet.” From the safety of a Twitter feed, the project felt mysterious and fresh. It felt like a new way to be online.
At Milady’s peak in Spring 2022, the project had the energy of a cult. If you followed the right accounts, a barrage of “Milady posters” would quickly take over your feed posting about glocks and ketamine. There was no self-consciousness, just the swarm. Venture capitalists had Miladies. Normal crypto investors had Miladies. Girls had Miladies—a striking achievement in the NFT community. Online teenagers with no prior interest in crypto were using the profile picture.
The innovation of Milady was reminding people that you can technically say anything you want online, if you just embrace that none of it matters. There is nothing physically stopping any of us from logging onto Twitter right now and typing pages and pages of literally anything. We decided to make the internet boring. We decided to care. You could inscribe yourself on every wall on the internet and no one can tell you “no.”
When I had the opportunity to meet Charlie I took it, because I wanted to see if there was something deeper at the core, a mastermind behind the digital front. It all felt so mysterious online. It felt like something.
In person, I asked him point blank how they feels about being so online. Isn’t dedicating your life to being the most relevant person on a corner of the internet kind of… sad? Charlie told me that they made a logical decision to dedicate their life to the mastery of digital culture. Of course being chronically online is destructive.
They admitted that they’ve ended up meeting weird affiliates. THey described one former posting partner “VEDIC_CYBERGOD” as having “part of his brain missing.” But to ignore the internet, they said, is to give up on making an impact in your own time. Cultural cycles move so fast online that being unplugged for a few years will render anyone culturally defunct, functionally a separate species from the digitally engaged. The internet is a superhighway. Step off and you might be safer, but you will also be quickly left behind.
Charlie sat eerily still while they talked. They said that “no institutional artist of my generation will make important art.” They are not online enough.
Prior to becoming an internet person, Charlie was a relatively standard art kid. They say that they wanted to make conceptual art. They went to art school and studied architecture—with a specialty in furniture—then switched to a BFA. But they dropped out after realizing circa 2015 that the traditional art world had no interest in engaging with the anarchy of the internet. I asked him, somewhat seriously, about their favorite piece of furniture, and he showed me Gerrit Rietveld’s Red and Blue, citing its goal to bring cheap avant-garde design into the middle class home in order to radicalize them.
“Once, the urban art world’s avant-garde was the upstream of culture. Now, the cultural frontier is on the internet.”
As the night went on, they seemed to lose steam. They described the timeline Remilia was cultivating attracted the cutting edge of culture and how Milady will be remembered as a phenomenon. I stayed with Charlie until three in the morning. The drinks wore off. We had talked for six hours and I was starting to feel a bit sick. They’re an internet person, I’m not.
Billionaires are Twitter people. Little kids are online. Your grandma is online. The internet is simply more powerful and more arresting than anything that can be arranged in the physical space. What is the alternative? The kids will go to online raves. Eventually, we will stop pretending that the internet is a sideshow and that our real culture, the better culture, is somewhere else.
Everyone knows, abstractly, that the internet is not real life. But you can’t picture it, not really, until you sit across from the real people behind the screen. Even the darkest online personalities are just people on their phones. It is oddly disappointing to meet the “worst person on the internet” and find that they are nothing at all.
Before I left, Charlie asked if I was planning to write a hit piece. They clarified that they would “welcome a well-researched hit piece.” Most journalists who write hit pieces about Milady—of which there have been many—fail to understand why the project is scary; they just pull up screenshots from Miya posts and say you’re cancelled.
I am not afraid of Charlie because they engage extremist communities online. I am afraid of him because I recognize so many of their proclivities in regular people. If you spend all of your time consuming internet culture, you are consuming stories and myths and personalities that only exist online. To curate your online presence is to give up a piece of your physical self, to live in a simulated universe of your own creation.
We are all more online than ever. And when you live online, the internet people are in charge. They make the memes and coin the neologisms that will become mainstream discourse in five years. To define the internet is to form the base layer upon which all culture is built. And in the long run, these people will win. Their culture will win. Or at least, that’s my fear.
You can close the computer, but the world will go on without you.
Guest post by Ginevra Davis. A pre-pint was previously published on Palladium.