“We are not interested in talking to you about your traffic… That is the old world and there is no going back.”
~ Campbell Brown, Facebook’s global head of news partnerships.
My original motive for writing this article was philosophical and cultural. I am a musician who has also worked in the newsroom (because I like eating food as much as I like playing music). Surreally, I have observed both industries – one after the other – bleed horribly under the cold and curious scalpel of the Silicon Valley giants. I’ve participated – mostly on the receiving end (dare I say anally?) – in the cultural shift toward the glorification and then the tail-between-the-legs acceptance of the philosophy and the business models that favor Silicon Valley’s pockets and don’t favor unsurveilled love, unbiased expression, or basic, raw human happiness.
By the way, I am not saying that before the advent of Silicon Valley’s binary approach to life, everything was awesome. Nope. I am also not saying that Big Tech is the only corrupt and shark-teethed entity in the room – but it seems like access to powerful technology has made it easier for the ones with financial and political authority to monitor and manipulate us on a large scale – and to effectively act on the contempt that people on top often feel toward anything that is natural, oddly-shaped, free, and independently alive.
The war on originality and spiritual freedom certainly did not start with Big Tech – but they picked it up with great enthusiasm.
On a side note: In the past, regular working people in Western countries used to sell a chunk of their time to corporations, and the latter got to own those people’s activities during the hours they paid for. Outside of the working hours, people could do more or less what they wanted, as long as it was legal. Today, thanks to social media and total surveillance, regular working people have to deal with 24/7 perception management in order to eat – something that used to be reserved for politicians and celebrities – but without the benefit of being rich. And let me tell you, the need to eat is a powerful motivator and the best censor in the world! Google and Facebook have promised to connect us to each other and liberate us in ways never seen before – and instead, they lured us into a glass cage in which we talk in soundbites and think twice before voicing any opinion that does not echo the narratives approved by the echo chamber…because most of us depend on this entity or another for food and rent – whether that dependency comes in a form of a salary, or in a form of grants, donations, ticket sales, or the peer pressure that has the power to shut down the faucet the very moment we get out of line.
The gloomy truth is that unless you are independently wealthy or have a family member or a business entity willing to feed you while you self-express in ways that suit your heart, you are screwed on the freedom of expression front. Big Tech has amplified the most important commandment of the American civil religion: Thou shall not be unpopular – as that is the gravest sin (but as long as you are funded, you are fine).
Mind you, I am not even going into Silicon Valley’s direct work for the government and the military – Yasha Levine’s book is brilliant – or into their recent exercises in media censorship all across the far ends of the political spectrum (while at the same time their supporters – sometimes funded supporters – are distracting the public by crying that it’s the artists asking to respect their copyrights, who want to censor the internet).
But I’ve digressed.
Inconveniently, I was born with a strong desire to create “content” (or, as I selfishly think of it, “art”) in areas that have become famous for being loss leaders in the current economy.
So I wanted to write about that – and about the importance of culture and free expression to human happiness – and how Facebook has gotten in the way of those things – but as I dug deeper into the personalities involved in the plot of the article that compelled me to start typing all this, I discovered an even more cynical underbelly of what I thought to be a trivial face of contempt and indifference.This plot is strange and convoluted, so I am just going to throw it out there so that you can explore it for yourself.
But first, the feelings.
Sometimes, you read a phrase on the internet, and it hits you like a song, sending you down the rabbit hole of memories of how you took part in the history of the world.
We all have those moments, and that is how I felt when I read a quote from Campbell Brown, Facebook’s global head of news partnerships.
“We are not interested in talking to you about your traffic… That is the old world and there is no going back,” said Brown.
Easy for you to say, Ms. Brown, after your Silicon Valley buddies have successfully annihilated nuanced conversation and conditioned two billion homo sapiens to express themselves like homo stupidi – and to never, ever be able to guess what happened next!
As somebody who has spent several years working with a meaningful and important indigenous news and media platform, I solemnly attest to the fact that Facebook has made it tremendously difficult to distribute thoughtful, nuanced narratives. Yes, we the people are constantly trying to find new ways to dance around the algorithms while retaining our intellectual dignity as much as possible – it makes us stronger and more cynical – but you – yes, you – have made it super challenging to have any reach while talking in normal, natural human language.
So, Ms. Brown… what about all those (wo)man-hours spent by human beings in editorial and other creative roles – who labored very hard at morphing their oddly-shaped hearts into little catchy monsters palatable to the (not very ethical, let’s face it) Silicon Valley gate keepers and collectors of the English language? We’ve done all this to meet your criteria – and now you are done with us?
Out of that relationship, your friendly oligarchs got bottomless troughs of our data and countless samples of pre-parsed language that they used to train their AI robosuckling – their cash cow and their golden calf that they love more than they love human beings. And what did we the ‘content creators’ get? A permission to maybe continue eating for a few more years until you are done birthing and shaping our replacement – human and robotic – in your own primitive, binary image and likeness, eager to do whatever suits our new digital masters? At which point we can all be sent to the dumpster, or as you gracefully put it, hospice? Wanna hear a joke? A journalist and a musician walk into a hospice…
Oh, we should have known what was going to happen next.
All of us should have know what was going to happen next.
It started a long time ago.
When the French missionaries told Dagara villagers in Africa (on whose territory the French encroached) that they, the Christian fathers, would buy their crops on the condition that the villagers purchased European fertilizers from the missionaries, some of the farmers agreed. They bought the fertilizers, the land didn’t react well to the toxic chemicals, so the villagers didn’t grow much and found themselves with nothing and in debt. That is what I learned from the brilliantly written “Of Water and the Spirit” by Malidoma Some.
When Monsanto brought their patented seeds to India, farmer suicide rates skyrocketed. Many farmers went broke – and of course, pro-corporate sources claimed that connecting insolvency triggered by Monsanto business models to suicide would be silly and irrational, but how irrational is it?
Indian farmers were not the only ones who were pushed toward taking their own lives by corporate greed. So were New York taxi drivers.
Beware of cold-hearted, profit-seeking strangers preaching progress.
Didn’t you. Ms. Brown, work in the news just a few years ago? And haven’t you co-founded a news website – as well some interesting nonprofits (
that seem to pursue a particular agenda and to use the same linguistic tricks that are consistently used by the Silicon Valley lobby)? And as far as Facebook traffic goes, are you saying that organic traffic will be reserved for ‘friends and family’ and those who work closely with you – politically or financially – while outsider and smaller publishers can go screw themselves?
Now let’s talk about Brown’s nonprofits and the proverbial multidimensional chess that is so convoluted that I don’t even dare fully decipher it.
In an article from 2015 (kindly sent to me by David Lowery), Mercedes Schneider goes into Brown’s nonprofits and their financial dealings in great detail. I highly recommend reading it.
Brown is ‘friends’ with DeVos. She is anti-union, and on a strange mission to destroy job security for tenured high school teachers. The latter bears a strange resemblance to the mission of pushing old school journalists and old school musicians off the market as soon as possible – so that the ones raised under the influence of Big Tech can do their thing subserviently and without any obstacles.
David Boies, the attorney supporting Campbell in her questionably progressive quest, has defended Napster (the company that pioneered the idea that musicians shouldn’t be paid for the products of their professional labor), Harvey Weinstein, and the three big tobacco companies, among other entities. He has also worked with Lawrence Lessig, the man who is notorious for his anti-artist stance.
There seems to be a social club, and its members are working very hard to phase out the ability of creative non-slaves to make a living.
It is war on spiritual and economic freedom. Don’t get fooled by self-righteous progressive language, progress has nothing to do with it. It’s more like paving the road to the hospice for anyone who dares to stick out. If we agree to it, that is.
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