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.

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Freak Occurrence

Freak Occurrence

With noth­ing to lose but their dig­ni­ty, the German-American duo of Freak Occurrence has de­cid­ed to take on the world, one video at a time.