Countering culture: The emergence of sludge content

Freddie Parker on 18 August 2023
Variety of content used in overstimulation videos and sludge content

We’ve all encountered it at some point scrolling through our FYP. Where does it come from? Why does it exist? It’s actually quite an interesting story.

Content creators like xQc and Sssniperwolf are in the spotlight at the moment for lazily freebooting content. But have you ever given those split screen videos on your FYP much thought. What they’re doing is arguably worse. They usually steal TWO pieces of content.

@studenthutuk Don't worry, your younger lecturers probably get it #student #university #CapCut ♬ original sound - Student Hut

What is sludge content?

Simply put, it’s two pieces of stolen content displayed as a split screen. There are some things you’ll always see, like Family Guy clips, soap cutting or Subway Surfers gameplay. Despite the quality of said content, it always has great engagement, usually from the younger side of TikTok’s audience.

@7jackmansions Body hurts #funny #clips #funnymoments #cartoon #satisfyingvideo #game ♬ original sound - 1080jack

Some creators will even put out a video occasionally to take advantage of the increased engagement it provides. Abigail Thorn of PhilosophyTube is out here teaching those with shorter attention spans about philosophical principles.


How ancient romans thought the world worked | Part One

♬ original sound - Abigail Thorn

Where did it come from?

This style of content can be traced back to early “Story Time” videos. There was a time when YouTubers would slap gameplay videos over the story they were telling to keep the viewers more interested.

Eventually, content farms caught on, and things haven’t been the same since.

What does it tell us about society?

The first thing to address is the content theft. More often than not, these TikTok accounts lift stuff from creators’ pages, cropping them awkwardly just to avoid giving any credit to the people featured.

@jennay4399 #duet with @kljviyrni not only that but I've gotten multiple videos on my fyp that appear to be from creators I already follow but it says I'm not following them. I don't remember unfollowing these creators, so I check their profiles and lo and behold these are fake bot accounts that are reposting the OG creator's videos to farm likes. I've reported these accounts and each time TikTok says the accounts aren't doing anything wrong when I literally tag the OG creator that they're stealing. this app has gone downhill #fyp #tiktok #botaccountspleaseleave ♬ Love You So - The King Khan & BBQ Show

Then there’s the question of what it says about our attention span. Some will say that this is the harbinger of the end times and that no one can focus on anything anymore. This is an exaggeration, somewhat true, but not world-ending.

As Michael Vsauce says below, before the internet, this was having a conversation while watching the birds.

@anthonypadilla #Vsauce explains “sludge content” on tiktok @corndogwilly ♬ original sound - Anthony Padilla

The role of ADHD and understimulation

When joking about this phenomenon, it’s important to not stray into ableist territory. There are people who struggle to maintain concentration on just one source. Those with ADHD (myself included) will have a TV show going while they read, or something along those lines.

For the neurodiverse, levels of stimulation can be a delicate balancing act. Too much noise/heat/odor can lead to a shutdown as it’s too difficult to process. Equally, doing nothing can lead people to self-destruction as they seek stimulation.

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Freddie Parker
Freddie Parker on 18 August 2023