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An Interview with Molly Soda

Amalia Soto, better known by the pseudonym Molly Soda, calls the internet her hometown. It's an apt description and she's a devout resident. The internet personality she's crafted provides not always flattering but oddly endearing commentary about the internet through digital performance art pieces and miscellaneous web ephemera. Molly Soda understands the pain of watching people tune out of your Instagram live stream, of the likes on that one selfie being considerably less than what you were expecting, of a carefully-curated digital life not extending to the gritty realities of everyday existence. She understands this because Molly Soda is this; she's an online presence and is confined to the realm of cyberspace. Amalia and Molly are inextricably linked, though, more than the typical art and artist relationship, more than the typical online persona vs. real character relationship. Molly Soda is specific and universal; she's a projection of Amalia, but also a projection, almost a caricature of the internet and its own insecurities and attitudes. She does not amplify the web's flaw's, rather, she expresses them in a personable way. Amalia takes this very cold, calculated, and sterile world of the web and humanizes it, makes it an extension of herself, which is the hallmark of her artistic style and why her work resonates with me. From the book she co-authored, Pics or It Didn't Happen (which is centered around social media censorship), to her exhibitions, each of Molly/Amalia's pieces are a tribute to, and an effort to revitalize the distinct humanity of the web.


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What work are you most proud of?


I guess the work that I'm most proud of is usually stuff that I do despite thinking that people are going to be interested in it. I think that there's a lot of pressure to make work that people will talk about and will get you attention or make work that's in the vein of things that people have responded to positively before. I guess, for me, I'm most proud of things I make because I want to make them as opposed to making things that I think people want to see from me. In some ways I'm proud of things that take me a really long time or things that are well articulated, but I'm also proud of things that were weird experiments that turned out nicely or made me learn more about what I was interested in. I get bored of everything I do really easily and quickly, so I'm always changing things up. I don't know if I'm more proud of something because it's difficult or because I'm excited about it.

What do you think is the worst instance of censorship on social media?

I mean I think we sort of go into it knowing that we're going to be censored or that there's rules we have to abide by. At least with me, I'm not as shocked by it anymore. I think we all know what we're getting into when we use Instagram or Twitter or Facebook and this idea of community guidelines. I think that censorship that we see online in terms of policing people's bodies or people's speech is something that is mimicked in real life if you want to make those distinctions. It's still something that's present. I don't know if I'm super shocked by that. I think the worst instance of censorship that I've seen is actually really recent and is not directly via social media but in terms of what's happening with FOSTA-SESTA and all of these websites and things people in the sex worker community use in order to get work and in order to screen clients have been removed. Craiglist personals got taken down and Backpage which is a big place that people advertise has also been taken down. It's only going to get worse in harder for people like that and for all sorts of people in marginalized communities to be safe and do what they need to do. The internet is becoming increasingly smaller and this is just the first step. I'm also interested in what's going to happen with Net Neutrality and how that's going to affect the ways in which we communicate with each other and how we're going to operate safely and have equal access to things.

Why did you choose the moniker Molly Soda?

My real name is Amalia Soto, so it was sort of a play on that and I thought Molly Soda was cute. Molly Soda was something that was only ever supposed to exist online, so I thought it was a cute avatar name or username the same way that on MySpace you would have a play on your real name when MySpace was big and MySpace culture was really big and scene queens were really big, like Tila Tequila. So Molly Soda was kind of a play on that as well.

Do you consider your internet persona a part of yourself or is it more of a vehicle for commentary on internet culture?

I think it's definitely a part of myself. I think it's really hard to separate yourself from your online self and maybe moreso now as it's become more embedded into out daily lives. I think everyone is constantly looking at their phone, or has it around or has the option to plug in. It's bled together a lot more in recent years where before when I started out, even though everything I was saying online was based on my personal reality, it was still a curated and exaggerated version of it. And it still is now. I think we want to take everything we see online at face value so it becomes more real to us. I think authenticity and reality and the search for reality within our screens is becoming more important to people so that's where it bleeds in.

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Do you think the onset of the internet has shaped youth culture for the worse or has it just taken problems that were already present to a new medium?

I think it's both. I'm really thankful that I grew up as the internet grew. I didn't have a self phone until I was fourteen, and that was when cellphones were becoming a thing. There was more separation. I would go home and be online all the time, but it wasn't as easy to be online all the time as it is now and I think having that time and those separations and having those walls built into the structure of your life may have made it easier for people to get outside of it. I feel like the older I'm getting the more sucked in I get and I wonder how I would've handled that as a teenager. Hanging out with friends while being on my phone, like I couldn't imagine doing that when I was like fourteen. But now I think that's a really normal thing. Like when you go out to eat, everyone put their phone on the table as if they're waiting for someone to text them. It's a strange thing. I have problems with the internet and the way we communicate with each other, but all of those things were already present in people, we were just given the tools that allow us to highlight that or expand on that. I don't know. I think that things are going to get more out of hand. It's a weird space in time to be right now. I think the internet is going to become more corporate or branded. I mean, it already is, but branded under the guise of being authentic. I wonder if people are going to get sick of that or if we'll just continue to live in that world. I don't really see it getting better, just more streamlined and subtle.

A lot of your work is based on preservation. Do you think that the internet is ephemeral, and if so why do you think saving pieces of the internet is so important?

I think it's my need to control things. I do think that the internet is always changing. I'll even look at a screenshot I took of YouTube a month ago and a screenshot I took today and even just the way that the YouTube comments look is different. The internet is always changing but it's like right under our noses. It's supposed to be this fluid thing so we never really notice what's different. We're never like "Oh, my scroll looks different" or acknowledge whatever it is that's casually happening as apps are updating and websites are rolling out changes. For me, I really like collecting and I'm kind of nerdy about certain things like that so I really pour over the details of every screenshot. As a teenager, the internet was really important to me and I'm fortunate to have saved a bunch, but the one thing I didn't save was how the interface looked or how websites look. I have the contents and my creations but the world that they lived in visually is equally as important to me. So now I'm really interested in trying to archive that as much as I can and having that as a reference. It finds itself a lot in my work. But I also really like the idea of letting something naturally die online. I like how information changes the longer it lives on a website and how it deteriorates and rots over time. But for me, I really need to save things. I don't know if I'm going to want things later even if I don't want it now. Like, I've considered deleting my Facebook and I was like I need to archive my entire Facebook before I delete it. Maybe I don't want it now but I might in ten years.

Do you think that your online persona will change at all? Is it ever stifling to be Molly Soda?

It's already changed a lot as I've gotten older. Even taking a selfie doesn't feel good the way it used to. I don't know if it's because I'm seeing myself differently or if I don't want to present the Molly Soda that I thought I once was. I feel like Molly Soda has gone through 2 or 3 rebirths at this point. I started going by Molly Soda when I was 19/20 and I'm 29 now, so naturally most people change as they get older.

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