Sounds Fake But Okay: Thoughts on Facebook’s Efforts to Fight Fake News

Facebook can’t solve the problem of fake news but it wants to make sure the conversation around it is happening on Facebook.

Last week, Facebook released several tips on how to identify false and misleading news stories along with new tools users can use to report whether a news source is fake or not. This is part of Facebook’s post-election awakening as the company has come under fire for the proliferation of fake news on its platform.


Yet, a glance at these tips doesn’t reveal any sort of understanding of what the “fake news” phenomenon is. The first tip: be skeptical of headlines as they are often catchy and misleading and doubly so for headlines in all caps. But what makes a catchy headline and how do I know when it is misleading?  Other tips cautions users to evaluate the sources and the evidence. Does the author have a good reputation? Is the publisher trustworthy? Are the studies accurate? But, as media scholar danah boyd points out, there is no shared definition of what constitutes a trustworthy source. It’s possible for two people to investigate the same news source and come to different conclusions about its trustworthiness.

Instead, the tips rely upon vague definitions of trust, truth, and accuracy that shift responsibility away from the platform and onto the user. These definitions allow the user to use preconceived ideas of what constitutes a trustworthy news source regardless of whether the source is actually accurate. Despite the fact that Facebook users will have different levels of media literacy, trust in various authorities, and ideological commitments, the vagueness of the tips relies upon the assumption that we all make sense of information in the same way and that our definition of truth is universally shared.


Yet, research shows that people of all backgrounds tend to believe information that confirms their existing understandings. Further, when presented with information that contradicts their beliefs, the commitment to existing beliefs is often intensified. This doesn’t mean that people are stupid or lack critical faculties. It means that information processing and the formation of belief is based upon more than “truth” and “rational” evaluation. Appealing only to truth and accuracy does nothing to change the underlying structures that shape how we define these terms in the first place.

What the tips ignore is that many of the characteristics of fake news are also characteristics of mainstream news sources. Trustworthy sources also rely on shocking headlines, unnamed sources, and misleading photos and graphs. In addition, the modular nature of social media platforms means that both fake and true news sources rely upon the same social forces and infrastructure to spread their content. From the perspective of Facebook, any news is revenue generating, shareable content. From the perspective of news, there is no difference between a share or click from someone who believes it or from someone who rejects it – all that matters is going viral.


Further, the emphasis on the individual user for determining truth aligns smoothly with the American obsession with personal responsibility and the bootstrap myth. Users can report news stories as false with new reporting tools and enough red flags may trigger third party evaluators to check the accuracy of a story. But, what is to stop people from being untrustworthy of the third party evaluations? And, if someone is mislead by a news story, is it their own fault for being mislead? If we know that different people have different, and sometimes conflicting, definitions of what constitutes trustworthy news, how can we expect this process to lead to the development of a shared consensus of meaning?

The problem of fake news is larger than Facebook. To place the responsibility for this problem on Facebook is not only to misunderstand the deeper issue but to grant even more power to a corporation that already has an incredible amount of influence. The company has already demonstrated that it is willing to play with conventions of truth and shareability when it comes to its community standards and expansions into new markets.  The problem is related to the deeper sociocultural processes through which we determine what truth and trustworthiness mean. It will take more than Facebook to solve this problem and I believe we should scrutinize the role social media companies wants to play in addressing it.


Street Fighters: Thoughts on the Video Game Voice Actor Strike

The voice actors strike brings to light questions about the boundaries between work and play

On Friday, SAG-AFTRA, the union representing voice actors in the video game industry officially went on strike. This comes after breakdowns in negotiations between the union and several major companies in the industry over workplace treatment and safety and compensation for actors. Workers are striking against some of the largest names in the business, including Electronic Arts, Activision, and Disney, companies with large amounts of resources behind them and that set the standards and tone for the industry as a whole. This strike is important not only because it demonstrates the importance of collectively organizing to achieve fair working conditions, but because it also points to broader issues surrounding the proliferation of immaterial labor in contemporary life and the increasingly blurred distinctions between labor and leisure.

Strike GIF

Voice actors are striking over transparency in what roles they are given and the nature of projects and for secondary compensation for successful games that sell more than 2 million units. In addition, they are also striking for better  working conditions, such as limiting  the amount of time actors can perform physically demanding voice and screen capture work. After two years of negotiations, these issues have been unresolved and SAG-AFTRA has initiated a strike in response. The strike seems to have a lot of support from players, fans, and actors themselves. Will Wheaton has voiced his support and voice actress Tara Strong (the voice of all your childhood faves) has tweeted about the treatment she and other performers have been subject to.

Not everyone, however, is on board with the strike.  The Voice Realm, a voice-over casting site, is already positioning itself to take on the work that the striking workers won’t do. In other words, they are willing to be scabs. Others are criticizing the voice actors, calling them ungrateful and reminding them that there are others waiting in line to do these jobs who would do the work for far less. In a time where unions are under attack in many industries, we must fight back against critics who will try to position unions as unnecessary hindrances. Unions exist so that the rights of workers can be protected and advanced against the interests of the company who is looking to exploit them.

This strike is unique because it brings to light many questions about the boundaries between work and play, boundaries that have been increasingly blurred in contemporary life. Video games are a medium that is able to manifest play in countless new forms and transform work so that it no longer appears as such. It relies upon immaterial labor, work that produces immaterial products like knowledge, emotional responses, and relationships. Work and play have blended so seamlessly when it comes to video games, in what Julian Küchlich calls “playbor.” As Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter note, “game making blurs the lines between work and play, production and consumption, voluntary activity and precarious exploitation, in a way that typifies the boundless exercise of biopower.”

The problem that arises is that immaterial labor not only disguises the work that is done by creative types like programmers and actors, but it also disguises the work done by everyone else. While the voice actors are one of the most visible aspects of games, there is a whole chain of forces that must come together in order for a game to be released. This includes actors, testers, programmers, artists, musicians, and designers. But, it also includes janitors, office managers, and the workers who manufacture the physical disks. At all levels, labor is done so that a game can be produced and sold. All immaterial labor has supporting material infrastructure underneath it. Like code itself, you aren’t meant to see its inner workings. When functioning properly, you aren’t meant to see it at all.

Homer Bush GIF

This is a characteristic of almost all digital technology work today, not just video games. It includes non-creative workers like Uber drivers, mechanical Turk workers, writers, Google book scanners, Amazon warehouse workers, and the people who make sure your Facebook feed is PG.  This labor behind it is meant to be hidden and disguised as routine, mundane, and normal. It is disguised by code and design, refashioned as a labor of love, and then made pervasive through exploitative practices like “crunch time.” For players, playing video games can be considered be a “form of consumption that reinforces the pleasures of work.” We are conditioned to believe that in order to do the things you love, they should be done at any cost. But, for the companies, it means we should do them at no cost. This isn’t to say that people should not take joy in the work they do. But, it doesn’t mean you have to accept being exploited by your employer to work in the field you love.

Much of the success of the video game industry relies on the underpaid labor of its workforce and the unpaid labor of fans and players. Corporate managers discourage unionization and are known to remind workers that they are lucky to work in a such a cut-throat field on creative projects that are meant to be enjoyed.  They manipulate the desires of creative workers in order to manufacture precarious working conditions. The joy of play is used against workers by managers and anti-union critics in order to dismiss their serious grievances. They fashion play, a world-building activity that has potential for the radical transformation of people and society, into a weapon to be used against organizing efforts.

We have been given an opportunity with this strike. Situations like this bring to the surface all the small, myriad forces that come together to provide us with consumer products. These are not just the issues workers face in one industry, but the issues of people around the globe. Instead of calling those who demand better treatment and compensation for their work ungrateful, we should stand in solidarity with the strikers and use this as an opportunity to demand better working conditions at all levels.


Is Anyone Out There?: Alienation in No Man’s Sky

No Man’s Sky explores the loneliness of the networked life

No Man’s Sky is a lonely game. You wander across vast stretches of plains and forests or barren wastelands of nuclear snow with no end in sight. Often, the only voice you hear is the robotic voice of your Exosuit, informing you of your remaining resources and life support.  Sentient lifeforms are rare.  When you do meet, you don’t understand them. Many planets are barren and void by any sort of life. And, even when life is found, it often takes strange and improbable forms.

No Man’s Sky is a survival and exploration game that drops the player on on the edge of the universe and tasks them with documenting and exploring the game’s 18 quintillion (18,000,000,000,000,000,000) procedurally generated planets. Released only two weeks ago, the game has already caused a bit of a stir. Players seem to love the game for its imaginative and exotic fauna and flora you can find and its immensely open world. But, it also struck a nerve with players who felt the game didn’t live up to its hype or that there simply is nothing to do but explore.

adventure 2

The game is not generous to its players. Your inventory is small and collecting resources is tedious and time consuming. You must constantly harvest elements (plutonium, carbon, platinum, etc) from the environment and use them to craft new upgrades, fuel, and, most importantly, life support. You can also scan your surroundings and catalogue new species of animals or plants or minerals. The information on the various forms of life you find can be uploaded to the Atlas, a central database that keeps track of the discoveries made by you and other players. In exchange for the data, you are rewarded with credits, the currency of the universe.

No Man’s Sky feels like Minecraft, but without the joy of having evidence of your skill or creativity in the form of an original building or sophisticated replica. What you struggle against are not Creepers, but the hostile elements of unfamiliar territory. There doesn’t seem to be a reward for playing. There is no shelter to build or looming threat to hide from. You are always moving on. Or, you don’t have to. You could explore every inch of the planet. Though, it would take a while.

No Man's Sky_20160824193840

Everything about No Man’s Sky is difficult. And this has made many players unhappy, to judge from the many takes, tweets, and an incredibly detailed Reddit thread. You must constantly recharge and reload your tools, life support, and ship. Each planet is too large to explore by foot. While you can make the process easier by flying around with your ship, each takeoff burns a quarter of your fuel. While savvy players have found ways to quickly optimize their inventory and resources, the game doesn’t reward that. After all, there is always another planet to explore.

While this may be a turn off for many players, I’m not interested in reviewing No Man’s Sky for its supposed failures to live up to expectations or, in other words, what the game is not. As Ian Bogost points out, “supporting design novelty risks fetishizing innovation for its own sake over the ways that such innovation helps construct meaningful experiences.” Much like exploring every planet in No Man’s Sky, asking games to constantly redesign themselves towards an unachievable measure of perfection is a task with no end. Instead, I’m interesting in a meaningful engagement with what the game actually is.


No Man’s Sky explores the feelings of loneliness and disconnection that seem to accompany an increasingly networked life.  While a network of players are contributing to a central encyclopedia and you can visit and see for yourself what others have catalogued, you are still doing the work alone. The game prevents you from meeting these players. But, in a universe with 18 quintillion planets, the chances of meeting them are already quite slim. The language barrier between you and other aliens does fall, albeit very slowly, as you learn a language only one word at a time. While you can sell goods on the galactic market where prices fluctuate, I’m only left questioning where the people I’m selling to are. Robot sentinels constantly scan the environments. On some planets, they attack you but you don’t know why. And, if they are sentinels, what are they guarding? Discovering an outpost or a monolith provides some clues to other forms of life. But, are you discovering the remains of a long gone intergalactic civilization or the outposts of an expanding one?

The feeling of being alone in an alien universe is, well, alienating. Games often try to create relationships between players through competition or collaboration. But, as Bogost observes, some games create relationships through feelings of disjunction and alienation. And, No Man’s Sky is incredibly disjunctive. It reminds players of the “abyss that forever separates them from another.” While players seemingly have a collaborative goal to work towards in the form of the Atlas (a sort of galactic Wikipedia), the prospect is practically insurmountable. It would take maybe 5 billion years for players to explore and catalogue every planet. Coincidentally, it’s going to take 5 billion years for the Sun in our solar system will turn into a red giant, expand, and engulf the Earth.


No Man’s Sky makes the network visible to the player. Normally, being enmeshed in a network might be a comfort. As Wendy Chun argues, the network dissolves the postmodern discomfort with the idea that the world is too impossible to comprehend. Instead, No Man’s Sky’s network only emphasizes this discomfort. It shows you all the ways in which you’re connected (the Atlas, the galactic trade networks) only to illustrate how distant you are. Not only is the universe of the game incomprehensible, you cannot share in this sublime with others. You are the lonely node at the edge of the network trying to make your way towards its center. And, for the players who’ve reached the center, there isn’t any relief. You are just sent back and made distant once more.

Every small evidence of the social in No Man’s Sky only makes the loneliness more palpable.  The stations and outposts you find are evidence that other life exists out there in the universe. But, their emptiness is also evidence of life’s absence. You are constantly faced with the fact that exploring the universe is lonely work. Perhaps that’s why many players didn’t like No Man’s Sky. The discomfort with being alone with oneself in a universe of fleeting connection can be a bit much to bear.

No Man's Sky_20160824193005

Digital Doldrums: A Review of Ready Player One

Would you like to save your game?

I read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One in the same fashion that many of us consume culture today: obsessively and all at once. This was fitting, as the culture Cline describes in his novel is one of binge consumption. While I enjoyed the immersive world that Cline portrayed and the extensive knowledge of popular culture that went into its creation, I still put the book down with a feeling of dissatisfaction. I was dissatisfied not with the dystopian narrative (which can feel tired due to its transformation into a cliché), but with the banality of its acceptance. Ultimately, Ready Player One is an example of a nerd’s ultimate wish fulfillment – where an obsessive knowledge of popular culture can save the world from tyranny.


Ready Player One depicts a dystopian future where climate change has wrecked much of the planet and governments are mostly ineffective. Poverty and inequality are rampant and people have taken solace in the online virtual world of OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation). Originally designed as a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG), OASIS quickly took off as a virtual space where  people gather to meet, work, shop, play, and live. When the lead creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, dies, he leaves behind a hidden Easter Egg and initiates a global contest where the person to find the Egg and gather the most points will inherit his vast fortune, control of his company, and the OASIS. The protagonist, Wade Watts (or Parzival: his online avatar) is an Egg Hunter who grew up in the OASIS and has devoted his life to solving Halliday’s riddles and finding the Easter Egg. When Wade discovers the first clue to finding the Egg after 5 years of searching, the contest kicks into overdrive as he competes against other hunters and the nefarious Innovative Online Industries (IOI) to solve Halliday’s final puzzle.

The world, the real one, in which the novel takes place is depicted as a horrible place to live.  Hunger is rampant and power outages and food shortages are common. Wade lives in a vertical slum where trailers are stacked in order to save space. Poverty is the norm and debt bondage its punishment. When you fail to pay a debt, bounty hunters are sent to collect you and bring you to a labor facility where you can work off your debt. Of course, you must also pay for the resources the company uses to take care of you, so often you find yourself in a never ending cycle of debt and labor. A debtor’s prison disguised as a company town.


While people use the OASIS as a haven for escape from the harsh realities of the world, we find that the glamorous world of OASIS isn’t so perfect either. While it only costs 25 cents to make an OASIS account, money (credits) are required to do most things within the virtual world, from travel to buying items to going to a virtual club. At first, Parzival spends most of his time at his virtual school, simply because he can’t afford to go anywhere else. Further, since OASIS credits are the dominant global currency, people who work to pay off their debt often work in the OASIS. The inequality of the real world is also the inequality of the virtual.

Ready Player One fully embraces the logic of digitalism. Digitalism can be described as the belief between a stark, but symmetrical, distinction between the material and the semiotic and what Matteo Pasquinelli characterizes as “the cult of the digital network.” Here, the Internet is conceived as a digital utopia, where we are freed from the confines of our human bodies in order to embrace the superiority of the mind.  From this perspective, human differences are collapsed and race, gender, social class, sexuality, and other embodied aspects supposedly disappear. For digitalists, the development and spread of the Internet is associated with the spread of a global democratic and intellectual culture that focuses on the desire for information to be free. As Wendy Chun describes, this view of the internet “[promises] technological solutions to political problems.” Accordingly, there is no consideration of the amount of offline labor that is necessary to sustain the online world.

In the novel, Wade develops a morning exercise routine and diet using the OASIS in order to lose weight and maintain health, as OASIS players spend much of their time stagnant. He describes his hatred of the routine and the necessity of diet and exercise. For Wade, his body is source of disgust and shame and he longs for the addictive release of logging into the OASIS, freeing his mind from the confines of his physical body. I would argue this disgust and rejection of the body is characteristic of a digitalist perspective. This is evident in the term, “meat space” which refers, usually pejoratively, simultaneously to the body as flesh and meat and the physical world more generally. One can also see this idea in action with the proliferation of products such as Soylent, Silicon Valley’s favored meal replacement drink. With Soylent, foodways involving taste, cultural history, and the joy of a shared meal are dismissed and replaced by nutrition, efficiency, and speed. The body becomes a machine to be effectively supplied with energy in order for the mind to take the reigns.


The contradictions of his world never seem to shake Parzival. When Wade learns his best virtual friend is not, in fact, a man as he assumed, but a black lesbian, she explains that the OASIS was the best thing to happen to people of color because it allowed them to hide their race. Here, racial difference is not so much as collapsed, but further reified, as discrimination is seen to stem, as Chun puts it, “from the presence of raced bodies rather than racist institutions.” Of course, none of this matters to Wade, who doesn’t feel betrayed and immediately accepts this truth about his friend. Yet, Wade agonizes over the true identity of his love interest, Art3mis/Samantha. He often wonders if she is really an old, overweight man named Chuck who lives in his mother’s basement just pretending to be a woman online. Even though he repeatedly states that he likes Samantha for her mind (her true essence), he only reinforces a vision of heteronormative (online) relations, where the worst thing that could happen is that he might discover the mind he is in love with is in a man’s body!


Despite Parzival’s fierce desire to protect the OASIS, it ultimately is just an expression of what Mark Fisher calls “capitalist realism,” the notion that capitalism has not only taken over the present, but the future as well. Fisher observes that it is almost impossible to conceive, let alone actualize, alternative social structures outside of capitalism. As alternatives become unthinkable, we seek only to modify the existing system, which, as Fisher points out, will never achieve anything beyond a seemingly permanent status quo. This is evident in Ready Player One. Wade and his friends are only interested in maintaining the fantasy of the OASIS as an “escape hatch into a better reality” (18), even as it is entirely enmeshed in and constitutes real relations. But, none of the contradictions of the world seem to cast doubt on their vision of the OASIS.  They contradictions only strengthen their resolve. It is very much as the acronym OASIS describes: ontologically anthropocentric.


At the end of the novel, there is an epic battle where the gunters (egg hunters) fight the IOI empire.  The battle is a nerd’s dream come true – all of your favorite technology, magic, weapons, armor, and the like from every possible video game or book or movie or TV show are used in the same battle. Voltron fights Mechagodzilla while spaceships from Star Trek do battle against arcane wizards who have access to lightsabers and the battle culminates with the detonation of the virtual equivalent of a nuclear weapon. The postmodern pastiche at its apotheosis. Cline uses the climax of his novel to show off his impressive knowledge of pop culture and his own personal canon. And, ultimately, that’s what I felt that the book was about – the establishment of the author’s nerd cred. Any critical element that the author alights upon is quickly lost in the next obscure reference.

And there are just so many references! In the effort to establish a breadth of encyclopedic knowledge, the author neglects to develop any sort of wisdom and reproduces the logic he seems to challenge in the first place. And, much like the OASIS itself and even much of popular culture today, there isn’t anything new. There is only an an obsession with the past, what Simon Reynolds calls “retromania,” and the recreation of existing social relations. Like all of our remakes, reboots, and adaptations of our favorite series, we just have more of the same.


The Hunt for the Familiar: The Nostalgia of Pokémon GO

Pokémon GO brings players familiarity in an increasingly uncertain world

Pokemon GO has swept the globe in the past few weeks. Lest you doubt it’s success, it’s now even more popular than porn. And, of course, with the popularity comes the raging criticisms and impassioned defenses: Pokémon GO either turns us into zombies, or it is the perfect nostalgia. It brings happiness and familiarity in these dark and unpredictable times, or it is the armageddon.


As an avid player, I lean towards the impassioned defense. It’s not surprising to me that many would embrace Pokémon GO as a realm of safety and entertainment. With mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and politics run amok across the globe, Pokémon GO gives players a portal back into our childhoods. It fulfills our desire to be like Red, the silent protagonist of the original Pokémon games. We can finally be Pokémon trainers in real life (or at least, in augmented reality). The sheer joy and giddiness I felt in seeing and capturing my first Pokémon in GO was undeniable. Now, like Red, I can finally wander the streets and countrysides rediscovering the Pokémon that are now hiding in plain sight.

But on second thought, is the world that Pokémon GO revives that reassuring? In her book, Updating to Remain the Same, new media scholar Wendy Hui Kyong Chun argues that, in the time since its inception, the dominant perception of the Internet has shifted from a focus on anonymity to a focus on authenticity. In the 1990s, cyberspace emerged as a space characterized by freedom through anonymity. But today, the Internet is seen as a place where the authentic self is revealed through transparency and practices of authenticity. Far from being a symbol of freedom and security, anonymity is now seen as a danger that abuses trust and endangers security. In this new vision, practices of authentication, such as using real names and linked accounts to link together offline and offline personas, are seen as methods to foster responsibility in Internet users. Chun goes on to argue that the desire for authenticity, authenticating practices, and authentic intimacy makes the Internet more dangerous as we assume that danger lies only on the outside and from those whom we don’t know.


If we take into account Chun’s argument, we might posit that the popularity of the Pokémon GO revives the original dream of the Internet as a cyberspace of anonymous freedom only to place it inside the newer vision of the net as a place of authentic engagement. Only with this critical difference: Pokémon GO functions by making the landscape, not the player, anonymous. In this new “augmented reality,” the landscape itself is uniform, with few textures that suggest differences between architecture. Pokémon Stops can be practically any landmark or even just someone’s home. While the appearance of the player character is customizable, the customizations are limited, so trainers generally look the same.

Despite this generic landscape and player character, the player can never be completely anonymous: you are identified by a unique name and you must login to play using a Google or Pokémon Club account. This is a change from the original Pokémon games, which were not network games. Gameplay was primarily single player and you could only interact with other players directly using cables to connect devices. With the advent of network technology in handheld consoles and the jump to the mobile phone, Pokémon has transitioned to a networked game where play is now seemingly global. It brings back the feeling of anonymous connectivity that characterized the perception of the Internet in the 1990s. Yet paradoxically, it is transparency and authenticity, not anonymity, that characterizes today’s perception of the net.

We see this in the public debates and discussions. Players are not arguing for their desire to play Pokémon GO anonymously, but for their desire to play Pokémon authentically and enthusiastically.  It is not enough to simply play, after all: one must defend one’s desire to play in troubling times. It makes us feel sane in a world seemingly gone mad. It revives the original Pokémon games vision of the world as completely mappable and knowable and the dangers obvious and catalogued. As the world seems to become more and more unpredictable, Pokémon GO taps into our desires for authentic engagements with the present and the past. It is a beacon of safe haven where everything is familiar once again. And, it is this enthusiastic desire for the familiar in the form of little familiars, for an authentic form of nostalgia, that players defend.


But, as Chun observes, this desire for authenticity can actually be a site of danger. Chun observes two assumptions that underlie this desire: that the worst dangers online come from strangers and that transparency breeds responsible and acceptable behavior. As we place our trust in the familiar, friendly monsters of the past and when we search for genuine and authentic social relationships along with them, we might not realize the risk we place ourselves in.


In Updating to Remain the Same, Chun observes that the present is characterized by constant crises to which we constantly habituate ourselves. Crisis is the new normal and adjustment to crisis a form of survival. Chun doesn’t argue for enhanced privacy and security in the face of insecurity, but for embracing the revealing nature of the networked life and the right to be vulnerable. Similarly, in Network Aesthetics, Patrick Jagoda argues for a politics of ambivalence in which we inhabit the contradictory and ambiguous feelings that accompany networks. I agree with their approach of inhabiting these ambivalent technologies in order to work through the strange and contradictory feelings they bring.

As Pokémon GO slowly fades into ubiquity, becoming just another daily habit, we should take seriously the nostalgic call it sounds. Everyday life now becomes a Pokémon journey, augmented with layers of green that make the world brighter and more familiar. As AR games continue to blur the already blurry distinction between offline and online, the virtual and the real, we should pay close attention to the ways in which we habituate them into everyday life. We should pay close attention to the feeling of nostalgia Pokémon induces and the ambivalence that may accompany it.  Pokémon GO sounds the call of the safe and the familiar in a world punctuated by crisis after crisis. Yet, Pokémon GO will not bring clarity to the future. It only revives the past to cope with an unclear present.


Girl, I Guess I’m With Her

On existential jubilations and jeering

As the Democratic National Convention winds to a close, I’m witnessing many people rejoice with Hillary’s (imminent) acceptance of the Democratic nomination. Cheers for her experience, her intelligence, her qualifications, and her drive ring through the air as supporters celebrate the success of her campaign. And, they are quite right to celebrate. It was a successful campaign. But, I don’t want to celebrate.

I’ve mostly kept quiet about the election lately, having given myself over to disillusionment. But, I wanted to write about something else I’ve been witnessing besides the jubilations. I have been witnessing a deluge of scorn. This scorn isn’t directed at the usual suspects: Donald Trump, the Republican Party, the Right in general. No, this scorn is directed at Bernie Sanders supporters and the Left. The reasons for the scorn are obvious. The rationale is not so clear. The reasons:

Sanders supporters, the Bernie-or-Busters, are going to throw the election (that hasn’t happened yet).

Fact: The overwhelming majority of Bernie Sanders supporters will support Hillary in the general.

Trump is too dangerous to allow to be president. This issue is unprecedented and demands the suspension of your values in order to stop the greater evil.

True. Donald Trump is too dangerous and should not be elected President. If you’re in the center or on the Left, you will probably agree with this. If you disagree, you might not actually be on the left side of the political spectrum. However, Donald Trump is certainly not unprecedented. Abroad, he reminds Italians of Silvio Berlusconi. At home, Barry Goldwater supported the use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Or, we might remember the foreign policy blunder of the Iraq War, which killed over 500,000 people and lead to the creation of ISIS. The amnesia is astounding.


Sanders needs to reign in his supporters. They are disgusting, selfish, sore losers who just can’t admit that they can’t have what they want. They are children who can’t admit when they are beat. Their booing and jeering is causing a split in the Party. Their uproars and disruptions are demonstrating weakness in a time when we need Party unity.

Because calling the people you supposedly need to court disgusting is certainly the best way to win them over. People love being called disgusting and selfish.


As Emmet Rensin points out, this behavior is strange and paradoxical: Sanders supporters are painted as threats to the Party who will hand this election to Trump while they are simultaneously a minority force to be laughed at and dismissed. They are a force that does not need to be taken seriously, yet the threat is serious enough to warrant a ton of coverage. The question this attitude asks is not: Why is there so much discontent in the Party, but why are they doing this to us?

Meanwhile, the protestors outside the convention, whose number is much greater than the protestors found at the RNC, are being kept behind high barricades. It almost looks like the wall Donald Trump promises to build, but that might just be my dark sense of humor.

It’s quite interesting to see otherwise calm people rage at Sanders supporters for throwing an election that hasn’t happened yet. They point to Ralph Nader in 2000. They laugh at the supporters who have thrown their support behind Jill Stein. Again, the question is not: What causes people to make such decisions, but why are these fools so foolish? Don’t they know what’s good for them?


This ignores the material conditions in which people make their political decisions. Critics assume that all Bernie supporters are white and privileged and they can afford to live under four years of Trump. “People of color and women will all suffer under Trump, but you’ll be just fine.” Never mind the people of color and the women and children who have suffered from the perils of regime change and the humming of drones. It also ignores the year of rhetorical hyperbole from the liberal media where Donald Trump has been painted as an existential threat that no one will survive. It ignores the obvious fact that not all Bernie supporters are white men. Many of them are women. Many of them are people of color.

What drives this disdain for the Left, those who liberals should supposedly be in solidarity with? It’s usually not the moral reasoning. Most liberals would agree with helping the poor, addressing terrible race relations, and a general reformation of the voting process. But, maybe it is the moral reasoning. It is not that the Left and liberals disagree on the moral issues, it’s that the Left doesn’t put them aside when it comes to policy and platform. All know and agree when something is unjust, the Left just doesn’t know when to shut up about it.


And, that’s the wedge. It’s easy to have disdain for the Right because we can feel they are ludicrous and always unjust. But, for liberals, those farther Left are a reminder of a vision that they agree with in principle, but fail to adopt when given the opportunity. They might be forced to admit they agree with the principle but won’t act. Or, they actually don’t agree with the principles which means they no longer have the moral high ground which bound them together against the Right. I don’t think they can handle the dissonance that creates.

The Right does not seem to have this issue. Those in the center usually capitulate to those further on the Right. You only need to look at the government shutdown and the advent of the Tea Party to see evidence of this tendency. Yet, on the Left, it is those further left who need to capitulate to those in the center. And, this is only done to capitulate to those further right than they. This is why the Democrats can run a candidate and platform that is supposedly progressive, but lacks support for a single payer health care system, is not critical of the TPP, and does not even mention the word fracking (to be fair, it does advocate for a $15/hour minimum wage and treats gun violence as a public health issue).

One of the great successes of Hillary Clinton’s campaign was not its platform. Her platform was basically: “Well, at least I’m not that lunatic.” This is the reason Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders threw their support behind Clinton. Why Sarah Silverman, who originally supported Sanders, can call Bernie-or-Busters ridiculous. And, why Elizabeth Banks can make a speech comparing Trump to the dystopian world of The Hunger Games. It is all to stop Trump, the harbinger of the end of days.


The great success of Hilary Clinton’s campaign was its ability to pit feminism against socialism. It made the Left, socialist supporters look like sexist assholes; Bernie Bros who don’t like Hillary because she’s a woman. And, it separated the feminist movement from it’s engagement with class relations. It articulated feminism not as a collective movement about the liberation of women from both oppressive social and labor conditions but as a project of neoliberalism: trickle down feminism we just need to lean into.

“It’s Hillary Clinton’s turn. It’s time we had a woman in charge and voting for her is a feminist act.”

But by that logic, voting for Sarah Palin, for Michele Bachmann, for Marine Le Pen, or for Margaret Thatcher is also a feminist act.

“Hillary Clinton is going to shatter the glass ceiling and demonstrate that a women will be capable of leading a nation.”

I’m sure the election of Hillary Clinton will not end sexism in America any more than the election of Barack Obama ended racism.

“Hillary Clinton will be an inspiration to girls everywhere, proving that, they too, can lead nations”

Yes, Hillary Clinton will inspire girls everywhere, proving  that, they too, can grow up to drop bombs on people.


The defense of Hillary Clinton’s record and character misses one crucial point: Hillary Clinton does not need us to defend her from sexism. As one of the most powerful women in the world, she is insulated (not immune) from much of its effects. She still managed to become an influential lawyer. She still managed to be an influential First Lady when Bill was governor and president. She and Bill have always been regarded as a power team. She still managed to be a powerful senator and a powerful secretary of state. She did this despite the ridiculous amount of sexism facing her. And, I’m sure she won’t lose any sleep over my criticism of her either.

One of the great powers of Clinton is her ability to inspire thousands of tepid defenses of her right to make obscene amounts of money from the very structures she vows to dismantle and then getting to call criticisms “hating the player, not the game” as if she doesn’t actively (as a political actor) have a hand in making the rules of the game herself! This is why we can paint the mythical Bernie Bro as sexist and the protestors at the DNC as sore losers. It turns their valid criticisms of Clinton’s political history into character assassinations. It turns their rightful criticism of a Party that has ignored them into a political spectacle where the protestors are the Fools.

Donald Trump is the personification of America’s narcissism and the most extreme hubris of American exceptionalism.  I don’t want him to be president. But, there is something extremely wrong with voting based on fear. It only encourages us to cast votes to avoid trouble instead of casting votes to create conditions where such trouble will not arise. Hillary Clinton is not immune to the hubris of American exceptionalism either. It takes hubris, after all, to claim that America “has never stopped being great” while running a progressive platform. Spoiler alert: This is not a progressive attitude.


There is also something wrong with painting any criticism of Trump as support for Clinton and painting any sort of dissent against Clinton as the creation of an existential crisis that will only help Trump get elected. This is the result of the two-party system which turns everything into a zero-sum crisis. It ignores the fact that on November 8, 2016, most Americans will go to the polls to decide between two individuals who are completely out of touch with the lives of everyday people.

And, perhaps that’s what the Left is fed up with. The false choices dressed up as empowerment. I am told that my only two options are an overblown, fascist Cheetoh and a neoliberal war hawk. While we might call one the lesser evil of the two, it doesn’t mean the lesser evil is not still evil. To me, neither of them are good options and I don’t quite understand why they are appealing options to so many.

I will most likely vote for Hillary Clinton in November. But, do not tell me that this is empowering or that it will be good for America or the world. Do not tell me that I should feel good about this choice because I’ve averted us from some crisis. That is neoliberal thinking at its finest: the idea that I, one individual, have the power to swing the world between good and evil, the Light Side and the Dark Side, with the mere checking of a box. That is a false sense of power and we should not be seduced by it.

Girl, I guess I’m with her.
But, I don’t have to like it.

Mama’s Gotta Work: The Feminist Origins of Wages for Facebook

Why do we do all of this work for free?

At the moment, Facebook currently has over 1 billion active users. If we were to tally the total number of posts (which would include photos, videos, and text status updates (including checkins) on the site, I imagine it would be in the trillions. Each post is linked to tons of metadata, points of information about the user including name, age, gender, locations both geographic and commercial. This information is then repurposed for targeted advertising, as you can purchase ads based on the users who fit a desired demographic, location, device, interest, or behavior. Targeted advertising is how Facebook generates the bulk of its profits. Start posting about baby showers or liking the local day care and your ads will be full of baby clothes, diapers, strollers, and other commercial objects for the soon-to-be parents. Pregnant? They might even know before you do. In short, this is how Facebook makes money.


The content Facebook users generate is the product which is then sold to advertisers in exchange for access to our eyeballs and clicks. By assembling our personalities, desires, habits, preferences, and relationships, we provide businesses with the raw material through which they extract value. Put another way, Facebook users are part of the labor force which makes Facebook run. Some have made this connection and have decided that this form of labor deserves wages.

The Wages for Facebook campaign made just this connection. Created by artist and curator Laurel Ptak in 2014, the campaign demands to know: Why do we provide untold hours of unpaid effort into Facebook so that they might generate billions in profit from that labor?

“They say it’s friendship. We say it’s unwaged work. With every like, chat, tag or poke, our subjectivity turns them a profit. They call it sharing. We call it stealing. We’ve been bound by their terms of service far too long — it’s time for our terms.”

How much money does Facebook make from us? In 2015, the average Facebook user generated $12.76 in revenue for the company. This is projected to increase to $17.50 in 2017. However, analyzed by country and region, a Facebook user in the United States generates about $48 in revenue, even though 85% of Facebook users are outside the US or Canada.


You can trace the origins of Wages for Facebook back to Wages for Housework campaign, a 1970’s Italian Marxist campaign which demanded that women be compensated for housework. The vast amount of time spent cooking, cleaning, tending house, raising children, and other duties were seen, and continue to be seen, as being done for the good of the family. Italian Marxist-Feminists sought to demystify the work in housework so that women might ultimately struggle against it. The wage was actually a step towards the abolition of housework.


The Wages for Housework campaign is the precedent for Wages for Facebook, whose goal is also to demystify:  in this case, the labor that takes place interacting with our screens. But, the skeptic might ask, how is this actually work? If Facebook users voluntarily decide to use Facebook and share revenue-generating information, then isn’t that their choice? Further, if all of this is for leisure and the joy of sharing, then is it actually labor? Ptak might say that this is the logic of capital at work – a logic that has convinced us to accept unpaid labor in many forms. We are seen not as laborers who might have solidarity in a common struggle, but as users or potential friends.

In order for the idea of Wages for Facebook to make sense, one has to make the leap and imagine oneself not as a free internet user, surfing the web and participating at will in various forms of social media, but as a laborer in the digital economy. Ptak has observed that this is a difficult leap for some to make. Indeed, the very idea of Wages for Facebook feels alien as it rolls of the tongue. But, the supposed implausibility of the campaign is not a critique. For one, since when is something we choose to do not work? What does choice have to do with whether or not something is considered work? In addition, what about the number of people whose “actual” job it is to interact with Facebook? The company employs almost 14,000 with offices around the world. Outside of Facebook itself, there are thousands of people employed in fields like advertising and PR, people who receive their own wages (or salary) to interact with Facebook and other social media sites. It is so well known that celebrities and politicians have staff managing their social media that they sometimes resort to initials to indicate when a post is actually by them rather than simply on their behalf.

Further, wages for Facebook already exist in some sense: Facebook employs many people to do “content moderation” – the constant removing of offensive and questionable material from our feeds. Facebook came under fire recently when it was revealed that humans, not algorithms, influenced what was displayed in the trending news ticker. Putting aside the question of whether algorithms are neutral (they aren’t), this situation brings to the fore issues of who does all the hidden labor that makes our online lives seem so seamless. Similar to the women who scan books for Google, much of this work is done by low-wage laborers. Clearly, there is much labor that goes into making our social media seemingly free and fun. Why not admit that our contributions are also a form of valuable labor?


While the argument for wages has gained some steam, it doesn’t yet have a strong movement behind it. There are, however, groups of people who have taken up this argument in a different form: artists and freelancers. From unpaid internships to artists and writers producing work for free, the current iteration of neoliberal capital attempts to hide unpaid labor under the guise of leisure, passion, and creativity. For the promise of future, potential earnings, employment, or skills, many people are asked to provide their work in exchange for exposure.  But, as anyone who has produced any sort of creative work online can tell you, exposure doesn’t pay the bills. Artists such as Will Wheaton have declined to write for multi-million dollar enterprises like the Huffington Post because they refuse to pay their writers. Other writers, such as Yasmin Nair have also commented on the absurd notion that writers should be expected to write for free since writing is a “labor of love” (an expression that still has the word labor in it). Sites like Patreon have come into being precisely as a response to artists who struggle to find people to support their work, transforming the centuries old practice of patronage for the digital age. If we can accept that artists and other creative workers should be compensated for their work, then perhaps we can begin to extend the argument to our unpaid labor on social media sites like Facebook.

One must be careful to not get caught up in the practicality (or lack thereof) of the campaign. As the Wages for Facebook website states, the purpose of demanding wages for Facebook is to undermine the logic of wage labor in general. Wages for Facebook is deliberately utopian; it is a form of consciousness-raising. The goal is not to be paid for our labor for Facebook, but to question labor and wages as we currently understand them. The demand for wages for Facebook is a demand to make that labor visible. And, once this labor is visible and demystified, they gamble, we can better critique and refuse it.


Additionally, demanding wages for Facebook can put us on a path towards rejecting the commodification of our relationships and the exploitation of social relations. Facebook and other sites have an active interest in not only the obfuscation of labor but in the disguising of this labor as a form of pleasure, as seen in Facebook’s potential plan to weigh posts in the News Feed based on how we React.

While most utopian dreams involve grand and sweeping changes (the eradication of sexism or racism, for example) Wages for Facebook seems deceptively mundane in scope. But, it is in this mundanity that we find its power and reach. 1 billion people use Facebook daily and it has managed to integrate itself into everyday social life on a global scale. While Wages for Facebook asks a simple question (Why do we do all of this work for free?), its reach is extraordinary in the sense that it calls into question some of our most basic socioeconomic relations (What qualifies as work?). Social relations emerge and are constituted in the everyday and it is in the everyday where our most familiar habits and beliefs are formed. Like the demand for wages for housework, wages for Facebook demands a reformulation of everyday relations.