Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Commentary: YouTube's Pandora's Box

By Aaron Clarey

There were two important life lesson's I've learned in the recent 2-3 years in my life.  One was that people are the number one cause of problems.  I learned this watching a friend try to run a business that was full of moving parts.  Yes, those moving parts did invariably break down, throwing the standard monkey wrench into the works, but it was nowhere near as problematic as the people involved with the firm.  From management to low ranked employees, from contractors to vendors, from sponsors to customers, it was people (and their mistakes) who cost my friend the most in terms of time and money.

The second lesson I learned is that time inevitably becomes more important than money.  This is true the closer you get to the "escape velocity of poverty" or more ideally "The Position of Fuck You."  It rings especially true if you paid attention and learned the value of minimalism and that humans are the most important thing in life.  The irony is I've know many people who've blown past the escape velocity of poverty, some multimillionaires, who keep insisting on pissing away 40-100 hours a week as surgeons, law partners, developers, etc. etc. even though the day of their demise is rapidly approaching.  But the larger point is my time has become INCREDIBLY important to me that I simply do not suffer fools or inefficiency.  There's too little time my sentience and consciousness has left on this planet and (as anybody who's hung out with me will tell you) it is an immediate tackling and aggressive pursuit of the day's duties, followed up by an immediate and equally aggressive pursuit of happiness and fun.  And this is not possible if I'm dumb enough to choose to deal with stupid people in my life.

Though a bit lofty and philosophical, the world's social media giants can learn a thing or two from this.  And it applies specifically to their community standards they've insisted on forcing all their users to conform to.  Because if you think about it, to...

track
observer
record
notify
discipline
and ultimately baby-sit

the speech, actions and behaviors of sometimes up to half a billion users, that's gotta cost more than the East Germany Stasi apparatus.

Now, yes, of course, with today's technology a lot of work can be done by algorithms, programs, and formulae.  And if you look at Facebook's profitability, it's certainly possible to have such a spy network enforce such community standards on your user base.  But whether you're profitable as Facebook, unprofitable as twitter, or "questionably" profitable as YouTube, I have a simple question:

Wouldn't all these companies be better off financially if they just didn't get involved with something as onerous and taxing as regulating speech on their platforms?

Admittedly there is the argument that if they don't clean up their act then the precious, precious advertising dollars would dry up as offensive language, political opinions, and other politically incorrect speech drove advertising dollars away.  This came to fruition with the 2017 "Adpocolypse" wherein several large advertisers with YouTube threatened to cancel their support once they found out their ads were being ran on hate-speech videos.  Certainly a concern, but one would think a somber, sober analysis of the situation would have logically resulted in the FAANG companies making the argument to their advertisers that...

"Look guys, we don't control speech on the internet.  And we think that most people today know that if a Coke ad runs before a hate speech video that doesn't mean Coke endorses hate speech.  Instead of asking us to open up and then jump into this pandora's box, can you first see if sales drop conclusively due to your ads being occasionally paired with politically unpopular videos?"

That would have saved the world's social media giants billions in time, money, and resources, not to mention foregone opportunity costs had they not been baby sitting the world's online speech (I would like to also argue allowing from ALL speech, hate or not, would allow them to help law enforcement track/find terrorists, pedophiles, slave trafficking, etc., much more easily, but, meh, that's just me).  Instead these companies opted to open Pandora's Box and are dealing with a managerial and technical nightmare, not to mention the psychological toll that comes from all the internet drama they stirred up.  The totality of this painassery and cost makes my aforementioned buddy's company seem like a cake-walk and I do NOT envy the complaint departments are YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook.  

But while it may confuse most of us as to why the FAANG companies simply didn't make a plea to advertisers that this was a "new normal" and there wasn't going to be any fallout with having ads being associated with politically incorrect speech, there's an alternative theory that may explain why they capitulated so quickly.  And that is the new, and seemingly only, modern day marketing strategy most companies have today - corporate virtue signaling.

I've delved into this before, but the short version is that over the past 2 1/2 generations trillions has been dumped into K-college education.  Some of that went to actual education, teaching kids reading, writing and arithmetic.  But at least half also went into establishing a nation-wide religion in the form of brainwashing which championed, or at least psychologically predisposed weaker minds into some variant of leftist politics.  Environmentalism, feminism, race relations, or just plain socialism.  The brilliance of this indoctrination was that in merely taking the correct and popular political stances  value would be immediately conferred upon you without requiring you to put forth any actual work, toil, or effort.  And so now everybody is "going green," everybody is "a feminist," everybody is "organic," and everybody "drinks fair trade coffee." But while one can argue whether there was a larger political motivation behind this, there is no argument that it has laid down this incredible psychological, tribalistic infrastructure that makes marketing to most sheep Americans incredibly easy.  You just pander.  You just virtue signal.  You tell those kids your burritos are organic and fair trade, and you also tell them you're opening up your bathrooms to whoever wants to use them.

Dick's sporting goods is the most recent example that comes to memory.  Veritably stepping on the corpses of the high school students unfortunately shot in Florida last month, they decided to ride the anti-gun wave to make some money.  They calculatedly virtuously destroyed all their assault style guns, ne'er letting a crisis or corpse go to waste.  But let us be very clear.  They did NOT do this because they cared about safety, shootings, or murder.  They did it to make money, period.

We can go on about the unlimited number of examples of corporate virtue signaling, the point is nearly ALL of modern day Corporate American marketing is virtue signaling, which inexorably intertwines them with politics.  And since they decided to make this deal with the devil, they can't simply market good quality products at low prices, but now have condemned themselves to dancing around the fragile, fragile eggshell feelings of the most spoiled and easily-offended Americans in the entire history of America.  And since this is the boat American Corporations are anchored to, ANY complaints that call into question the appropriateness and correctness of their political stances has the potential to immediately render the entire efficacy of their marketing strategy moot and ineffective.  Thus, if Coke gets a complaint their ad was seen on some obscure white supremacist's YouTube channel, the ENTIRE INDUSTRY has to react rapidly and drastically.

If we were mature adults, we would appreciate the freedom of speech, and neither corporate America nor the FAANG companies that rely on their advertising dollars would have to deal with monitoring and regulating speech online.  They would not have to set up costly Stasi-like digital apparatuses to see if Bob in Bolivia offended Frank from France.  And they would not have have to employ entire divisions of programmers to create bots that would identify "naughty words."  Even the baby boomers, in the depths of their 60's pot-inured days, understood this with the cliche "I disagree with you, but will defend your right to say it till the death."  Alas, since we don't have this level of nation-wide maturity and prefer corporate virtue signaling over the freedom of speech, Corporate America and the FAANG companies can expect to expend unnecessary resources doing the Eggshell-Easily-Offended-Virtue-Signaling-Waltz for the rest of their marketing days.  I just sincerely hope some people at heads of their marketing departments learned the two lessons I mentioned above.



Editor's note: This article was originally published at Captain Capitalism and has been rerun with permission.