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Identity Politics Is Causing Publishing Platform 'Medium' to De-Professionalize Journalism


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Note: This article contains coarse language that may offend some readers.

When the social media-driven blogging platform Medium unveiled itself in 2012, it started with an ambitious mission statement from Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter, promising us that Medium was “different.”

One of the differences, he told us, was, “We think great ideas can come from anywhere and should compete on their own merits.” The idea was that writers would write, and readers would read, and in the marketplace of words and ideas, the cream would rise to the top. Celebrity didn’t matter (“Medium is not about who you are or whom you know, but about what you have to say”). Rather, “Medium,” Williams wrote, “is built for everyone.”

By early 2017, despite playing host to some 7.5 million posts in the prior year and with 60 million monthly readers, Medium was a far cry from its original vision. Overrun with celebrities and established publications clogging the airwaves, it had become a top-heavy mess that squelched rather than promoted quality, novelty, and originality, and even Mr. Williams was forced to admit defeat.

In January, he published a blog post titled “Renewing Medium’s focus,” in which he conceded that Medium had become “an extension of a broken system.” That broken system, in his view, was “ad-driven media on the internet,” in which “[t]he vast majority of articles, videos, and other ‘content’ we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals.”

What he wanted, instead, was to reward writers based “on their ability to enlighten and inform, not simply their ability to attract a few seconds of attention.” What that would look like, it was “too soon to say exactly.” But change was coming … or so he said.

When the change did come at the end of March, it was disappointing, to say the least. Medium was offering the “opportunity” to “upgrade” to a monthly subscription service. For $5 a month, Medium promised to help us “stop relying on ad buyers and social media echo chambers to determine what we put in our brains,” and instead, to move toward a more curated experience, where Medium would create a “partner program” to work “with independent writers and publishers to fund stories you wouldn’t otherwise see.”

Medium even offered the willing writer an opportunity to follow a link to apply for the “partner program” (“If that sounds like you, read more and apply here”). Ironically enough, there never was a “here” there. Each time I checked, I got nothing more than a broken link:

Perhaps I just wasn’t “partner program” material. That raises the all-important question: Who was?

The bottom-line problem at Medium, the problem to which it appears completely blind, is that for all of Evan Williams’s high-flown rhetoric, Medium, both before and after its big re-invention, is completely bogged down in the same tired, moderately left-of-center, milquetoast clickbait, first-person-narrative groupthink we see everywhere else.

The main difference, if there is one, is that Medium’s bread-and-butter selection of self-published, unedited, free-for-all content is — just as one would expect — crasser, more vulgar, more profane and more inadequately thought through than the kind of cleaner, clearer, glossier version of this same pablum that one might find in the likes of The Guardian, Buzzfeed, or even The New York Times.

A central piece of this problematic puzzle is the fact that Medium is completely overrun by identity politics. In fact, Medium editors regularly promote the work of such identity-mongers. They have done this since Medium’s inception, and after the 2017 re-invention, they have shown no signs of letting up.

Their new section on “Noteworthy Writers” whose work they are heavily promoting currently features these authors:

Two of these three writers, Baratunde Thurston and Ezinne Ukoha, write, first and foremost, about race and other identities. Articles they have written go under titles such as “8 Reasons Why Being a Dark-Skinner Black Woman Doesn’t Require a Disclaimer,” “Nappy Isn’t as Nappy Does,” and “If Trump Were Black, Latino, Muslim, or a Woman…,” which boldly speaks out against Trump and offers “insights” along these lines: “white Donald Trump would call … black, brown, Muslim and female versions of himself threats of the highest order.”

Jessica Semaan, the third featured author, while being a good checkmark in the identity politics box for Medium based on her own identity as a Lebanese refugee, does not herself appear to be as obsessed with identity politics as these other two, and instead features articles with titles such as, “So I fell in love and it’s been f**king hard” and “F**k yes, you’re a writer." If casual profanities aren’t your thing, well, then, Medium isn’t your thing.

This is all par for the course on Medium. While voices like this abound, nearly every remotely conservative writer I have interacted with on the site has had the experience of being harassed, insulted, cursed at, blocked and, of course, thoughtlessly accused of racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia or the like.

I myself, though not in any way conventionally conservative, have certainly experienced more than my share of such indignities. If conservatives were the kinds of people who fled to safe spaces every time they were attacked, Medium wouldn’t have any of them left.

Still more troubling, however, is the manner in which Medium uses its own authority to exacerbate the problem. Not only does it actively recommend and promote articles peddling identity politics, but it also breaks its own rules to let such content flourish while suppressing criticism.

On July 4, 2017, perhaps as her own unique way of celebrating Independence Day, Medium writer, #BlackLivesMatter activist and anti-white race-baiter extraordinaire The DiDi Delgado, with some 3.2 thousand followers on Medium as of this writing, penned an article entitled “In Defense of Punching Cops.”

In the piece, she builds on the experience of a friend who punched a white cop (“two-pieced his white a** and laid him out on the street,” as she describes it). She then goes on to suggest that punching white cops might generally be a good idea.

Again, if you’re shocked by this kind of stuff, stay off of Medium.

Now the site does have rules. The very first two read as follows:

On the face of it, The DiDi Delgado’s advocacy in favor of punching white cops would seem to be a crystal-clear violation of both of these rules. Having noticed that, on July 17th I posted a response to the piece (entitled “In Defense of Banning The DiDi Delgado from Medium for Advocating Violence Against Cops”) in which I, among other things, made this point.

A few days later, on July 21st, I also directly wrote to Medium Support to apprise them of the issue. In the meantime, my response to Ms. Delgado’s piece had attracted enough “likes” to rise to the top of the many responses (her largely sympathetic) readers had posted.

Concerned enough about the situation, The Didi Delgado then took the logical cowardly step of “blocking” me. Unlike a conventional “block” on most platforms that merely prevents the blocker from seeing content by whomever it is they’ve blocked, blocking on Medium isn’t just playing defense. Rather, it allows an author to make a response from a blocked user to vanish into thin air.

The response still has its own URL (if anyone happens to find it by happenstance), but critically, it no longer appears as a response to the author’s original post. This is kind of like allowing the author of an article with a “comments” section to make unfavorable comments that get too popular go away.

Although Medium Support has taken a day or two to respond to issues that have arisen in the past, in this case, I am still waiting for a response to my message of July 21st, and when I’ve inquired further, they have put me off, explaining that they are still “reviewing that post in terms of [their] rules” and “will let [me] know what [they] determine.”

Meanwhile, the post advocating punching white cops is still up and running, attracting readership (264 “likes” as of right now) and doing its best to inflame racial tensions and contribute to what is already an excessively adversarial relationship between police and the black community.

But the saga doesn’t end there. In an act of pure hypocrisy, while Medium has now taken over two weeks to “review” a 1,500-word article that, according to Medium’s own estimate, takes all of eight minutes to read, Medium has acted swiftly in banning another user, the conservative James Massey (formerly at medium.com/@JamesMassey).

Massey had parodied The DiDi Delgado’s article (and another similar article) by switching around the words “white” and “black” to illustrate how racist these articles were.

Such conduct on Medium’s part is in no way unusual. This is simply how Medium works. This is simply how our world works in 2017.

Far from offering any sort of solution to the problem we face, Medium is doing its part to make that problem worse.

It is contributing to the de-professionalization of the journalistic profession, adding to the avalanche of amateurish autobiographical narratives that offer “voices” and first-person “experiences” in lieu of deep learning and well-researched facts and, most of all, giving those few of us who still believe in the value of striving towards the admittedly unattainable ideals of neutrality and objectivity more and more reason to lose faith, to distrust all media, even when, as in the case of Medium, the founders spew noble (but sadly disingenuous) mission statements claiming to promote quality above all.

We are in a muddle, and Medium is in the very middle of that muddle. It is making that muddle muddier, making truth harder to spot and light harder to shed.