Editor’s Intro: This piece is actually more than a month old. Due to a variety of reasons, it didn’t have the time to get whipped into shape until just recently. Our intent is not to dig up old drama, but to expose the greater ideas in this piece. The drama was only ever a symptom of the situation anyway, and the ideas expressed herein are ever green.
To punctuate the need for expressing these ideas, we only have the recent Fyre Festival to point to. Influencers are being used for their naivete, but folks need to get smart fucking quick. The FTC is eyeballing influencers hard, and the last thing we need is legally binding legislation passed in an effort to stop oversteps from occurring.
For those who were not paying attention — and you should have because it’s hilarious at times — there was a recent private island music festival created by Ja “he’s still alive?” Rule and Billy “soon to be selling timeshares” McFarland. Many an Instagram model and been brought in by PR as “Fyre starters” and promoted the event on their channels — a number not labeling their posts promoting the festival as paid promotional material. What was supposed to be a multi-thousand dollar private getaway vetted by trusted people turned into chaos when the first attendees arrived.
Seriously. Just. Read. About. It. Perhaps the only reason it ends up being so amusing is that the folks rused were a segment of the population most folks do not care about — namely millennials with poor financial planning. But the immense amount of PR and marketing agencies trying to leverage pie in the sky influencers should cause caution.
Not all are bad. And taking promotional deals is not bad. In and of themselves, each opportunity could mean great things for the future of a channel or personality. But not all are good either, and if you think that all of these companies have the best intentions, then you will be very disappointed when you get taken for ride after ride until you drive your brand into just another bland outlet for canned paid-off thoughts.
Influencers need to start vetting who they do business with, reading their contracts, and labeling their work in appropriate manners. We are not in a vacuum anymore when it comes to politicians, and we need to regulate ourselves before said politicians ignorant of the realities force regulations on us.
This is *not* a clash of egos. This is a fucking plea to use the brains in your head and realize that it’s not just some tribal fight when people happen to criticize you for business decisions.
With that out of the way, let me present to you a guest piece from the Freak Occurrence duo! Please do read on.
“Have you heard of Candid? It’s the new alternative to Twitter! Free speech at its finest! And it’s totally free.” Sounds too good to be true? Well, that’s probably because it was. Not that you’d have heard about the shadier aspects of the platform, or even the people behind it, with out some drama that occurred. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and unwrap this statement for those unfamiliar with the platform.
Candid showed up Autumn 2016, promising to be a censorship and cost free alternative to platforms such as Twitter, where those who post in violation of a vague and arbitrarily enforced Terms of Service are filtered, censored, and banned. But if something is offered to you online for free, then you are actually the product. Like most “free” services , Candid is owned by advertising. Parent firm Mylikes is, indeed, specialized in targeted marketing and thus has created a petri-dish which supposedly invites even the edgiest of all edgelords to participate in copious communal fedora fondling.
“Alright, so there is a marketing firm behind it. Big deal!”
I heard you said dismissively, but that is not all there is. See, Candid very openly advertises that there is a sort of moderating AI in the background, monitoring the actions of users. While all post are published under ever changing pseudonyms, Candid does log and rate all your activities on the site in the background. Even going so far as to handing out badges for certain behaviors. In the words of Candid CEO Bindu Reddy explained “By giving people the ‘hater’ badge, we hope to make haters more aware of their hate… The idea is that they’ll either leave the app, change their behavior, or could continue their ways and eventually be kicked out anyways.”
Youtuber Harmful Opinions brought all this information to light last fall in his videos on the subject, after several prominent self-assessed skeptics had published advertisements on their channels, encouraging their audience to sign-up for Candid. While paid promotional content, if disclosed properly, is not illegal in any form, Candid does not look like a service one would ask their own fanbase to use. Especially not when one’s fanbase has been built around free speech, transparency and self-satisfied smugness. Alas, this did not deter the likes of other Youtube channels like the Amazing Atheist, Armored Skeptic, Shoe0nhead and Mundane Matt from signing promotional deals with a company that utilizes an algorithmic janitor dispensing good boy points and suppressing wrong think.
In the ensuing flinging of feces, Harmful Opinions clashed with said e‑celebs, bananophile Amazing Atheist wished death upon Harmful Opinions for “making it harder to earn money” — despite having a long standing business relationship with those involved with Candid — and Shoe0nhead released a (no longer listed) video explaining this was only a one-off deal.
But was it really? Shoe did, in the interim, release more promotional content for Candid with her boyfriend, Armored Skeptic.
Developments in the drama turned the whole Candid story from corporate greed to something downright harrowing. With Bindu Reddy et al paying not only for counter videos, but also personal information on Harmful Opinions (even going so far as to making underhanded threats towards his mother), issuing dubious legal threats towards Johnny Fox, and silencing game developer Mark Kern through undisclosed legal means.
Even Sargon of Akkad, who had first made claims that “it’s not so bad” and “we should support each other” after having supposedly “seen all the facts, mate” has started to change his tone regarding the personal harassment of Harmful Opinions by Reddy and her army of contracted mouth breathers. Though, at the time of writing, an actual retraction of his earlier statements is still outstanding, despite at least parts of his community asking for it after all that has come to light these since these events broke.
Another chuckle worthy moment came when Harmful Opinions discovered that on the Youtube channels of Armored Skeptic and Sh0eonhead comments containing the words “candid” and/or “Harmful Opinions” were filtered out. Supposedly to stop “derailment of conversations in the comments”. Derailment by pointing out your duplicitous behavior and apparent dishonesty? Gotcha. It’d be a shame if that nice circle jerk was to be interrupted.
So what do we know about these ominous contracts that Candid was having some channels agree to? In a stream with Bearing, CEO Bindu Reddy openly stated that the standard contract includes a 2 year non-disparagement clause. In essence, whoever signed the standard contract also signed away their right to dissent and criticize. For self-assessed free speech advocates who claims to put reals over feels, signing such a document doesn’t cast your cognitive abilities in the best of lights. This is the main issue people ended up having with the defense of Candid, literally signing away your rights to criticize it if the platform gets out of hand or bought by a company with even worse intentions.
That is, if one gives them the benefit of the doubt of stupidity over malice, which we shall do for the purpose of this exercise. It is also likely, though not confirmed, that these contracts also include non-disclosure agreements. How else could you explain that people are not even admitting to having signed such papers to begin with, by signing away their voice for a few dollery doos.
Even more disconcerting in the grand scheme of things though is the fact that Youtuber Undoomed, who only has a third of the subscribers of Sh0e and a fifth of those of Amazing Atheist, got Candid to waive the long term non-disparagement clause when he did his promotional video last November. So it does not appear like a do-or-die situation, where poor content creators with 6+ figure subscriber counts were forced to give up their right to voice their opinion to some greedy corporation, only so that they could afford a can of soup for their starving grandmother. No. They simply didn’t care to fight that aspect of the contract.
They did not care about due diligence. They did not care about reading the fine print. They did not care about what it was they actually agreed to do. Then again, if the statements made in past streams are to be believed, all the bigwigs of the “skeptic community” are in a skype group, coordinating not only release dates of their videos, but also determining the narratives to be told. If you have Game Journo Pro flashbacks all of the sudden, I can’t say I blame you. While it is normal to compare notes on things, the idea of wholesale copying of other people’s talking points should at least raise a few eyebrows.
So let me put this out there: No, boys and girls, it’s not “okay if we do it.” If you truly want to be on the moral high ground, you also need to hold yourself to a higher standard than the opposition you demonized. Doubly so if your entire online persona is built upon diligently following the scientific approach and only taking verifiable facts into account. You cannot condemn one side of the argument for collusion and lies, while at the same time glossing over the very same acts just because your favorite e‑celebs are committing them. For it is at exactly that point where you cease being a person capable of rational thought, and succumb to a cult of personality and buzzwords. An echo-chamber is still an echo-chamber, no matter how much you like the wallpaper.
And before anybody can start wailing, this is not about the act of doing sponsored content being bad, this is about being able to differentiate contracts that fit your brand and audience with those that do not. This is about being smart with whom you do business with and under which terms. This is about not betraying the trust of your audience by hoarding them towards a thinly veiled ad-bot under the guise of guiding them to the land of milk and honey — or Pepes and Mountain Dew. This is about not selling your integrity like a commodity. This is about not jumping at any and every opportunity to monetize your e‑fame. Because sometimes it’s just not worth it. Integrity, much like virginity, is only sold once.
If you want to do paid promotions, it would most likely behoove you to first examine who you are about to do business with, what exactly it is they are selling and preferably look for something that does not intersect with the content you produce.
And despite their claims to the contrary, these skeptics and their fans have erected their own echo chambers to happily circle-jerk in. They taped their windows over with memes so as to no longer be disturbed by the world outside.
So, after all this history, all this meandering through timelines, opinions and conflicting egos… what can we learn? Well, a couple of things come to mind.
It seems that everyone and their grandmother have developed a sudden and horrible case of confirmation bias. Instead of thinking for themselves, questioning everything that they’re told (even if it’s from people who are supposed to be doing it for them) and just saying to themselves “Yes, I think you are right, HOWEVER…”, everybody just decided to lick their monitors and praise be He Who Is Our Flavor Of The Month while plastering buzzwords like “skeptic”, “alt-right” or *shudder* “alt-centrist” all over themselves. People don’t want to think that they’re wrong, they don’t want to go “Well shit, that person I attach my particular train of thought to might not be right all the time, and by association I might be wrong.” They just want to sit in their chairs and die on a hill shaped oddly like the avatar of their favorite “free-thinker.” The irony, of course, being that they call themselves skeptics, free-thinkers or whatever other buzzword some guy regurgitating the same trite concepts into a laptop in their bedroom came up with.
Free thought has turned into a label, a brand, a commodity. You really had something going there, but corporations decided you had gained enough momentum that you became worth being marketed to. So they bought out your shining idols, stuffed some dollars up their self-righteous asses, gagged them with legalese and told them to preach from the mountain.
Now an increasing number is faced with a reality that the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase had already stated some 30 years ago on national television “Everybody’s got a price, everybody’s gotta pay.” People had a price and it was met, now they gotta pay. But the reactions are twofold.
To those corporate shills and their most loyal fans, who prefer to double down instead of owning up to their mistakes the answer is simple. You are no better than those you rile against. Your revolution and your ideals are empty shells, to be sold to the highest bidder. Your brand of skepticism is just that. A brand. People have raised their golden calfs, they worship them, and they expect them and only them to give the truth like a warm safety blanket. Who cares if it is woven from the strands of their own ideals, ripped to shreds and sold off like an unwanted child to organ traders.
You want to be told what you want to hear, damn it… and you deserve as much! Or do you? No, in fact some folks just want to feel validated in their preconceived notions from people whom they preconceive will tell them the truth. What does it matter that the red flags were there all along?
Others are calling for the gallows, assembling the pitchforks and preparing to mete out “justice.” Their ultimate conclusion being “fuck those guys, I want others to adore now.” Those will have have learned so little from the past. Only tearing down one idol to worship another will not change things. A junkie who switches from PCP to LSD isn’t clean either. Are those skeptics just self-absorbed cunts who deserve far more than they are getting? Maybe. But replacing them with other cunts who will sell you out all the same won’t make a damn bit of difference. We’ll just be sitting here again, sometime down the line, scratching our heads at how we could allow the wool to be pulled over our eyes so hard again
So what is the answer then?
The solution is simple. Stop associating your ideals with idols. Stop trying to categorize your particular set of values into ever narrowing boxes. Stop giving labels to thoughts. Embrace reason for what it is, not who talks about it. And most importantly, practice what you preach. These skeptics are but interchangeable faces in the ever revolving gallery of e‑fame. Were they naive and greedy? Sure. But others could have been, and will be, in their place all the same. They took their pound of flesh, and they took their public flogging. Rinse, repeat. The only way to get out of this cycle of idealization, self-fellation and downfall is to no longer idealize a random schmuck on Youtube just because you find the labels on his social media presences align with yours. Only by resisting this urge, by casting off these illusions that there is a savior with a webcam somewhere out there who has all the answers, can you break this cycle of adoration and disappointment. You must find your answers yourself, for ideas are the only thing that will never betray you.
Addendum: So it would appear that the Amazing Atheist released a one hour video wherein he, donning a hat that would make even Linda Perry blush, justifies himself and his actions in the worst possible manner. Essentially a “Look how much I am over this, I even made an hour long video to tell you how over this I am! Do you see how much I’m over this! No, those are not tears! …Fucker!” We’d be remiss, not to give a brief comment on that too. While not really addressing any of the genuine criticism brought up beforehand — short of a grumbling “You should have known better, but fine, I’ll put in disclaimers for now on when doing sponsored content” he seemed to be disparaging the character of Harmful Opinions and tossing around strawmen. His main line of reasoning boils down to “Youtube is my business, I was defending my business” and “Solidarity amongst skeptic creators.” So let us tackle those two then — though I will spare us the elaborations about an outspoken Sanders supporter wringing his hands the second his own money is suddenly at stake.
Earning money off of Youtube is a privilege, not a right. 99.9 % of Youtube content is created by regular people with regular jobs. You not wanting to keep a day job and living off of Youtube is your decision. Likewise is building your brand on integrity and critical thinking. If you then go ahead and take deals that obviously fly in the face of said values, that is your mistake. And just like in any other business, if you fuck up and make bad decisions which then proceed to blow up in your face, that is your responsibility and nobody else’s. It is not the fault of the the person pointing out your shortcomings, it is yours. You tarnished your own brand image; nobody else did that. As far as solidarity is concerned, it is only a short fall from solidarity to nepotism. Especially once financial interests come into the picture. We’ve seen it before. Heck, Gamergate started precisely because of a group of nepotistic media creators threw basic ethical guidelines into the wind to line their own pockets and to show solidarity. Now factor in the concerns brought up about the skeptic “think tanks,” and this solidarity is little more than a thinly veiled disguise for making cash off the back of your fan base.