AltSciFi DMCA Response: 2018-01-18 Github DMCA Takedown Notice for altscifi.github.io

We are an informal group of artists and technologists online who collectively go by AltSciFi.

This message is long. It is easy to repeat unsubstantiated rumours and lies mistaken as facts. It takes substantially longer to write explanations that adequately refute those assumptions and misstatements. This blog post addresses specific mischaracterisations and unfounded claims as clearly and thoroughly as possible.

The DMCA request was a result of a mistake (not a misidentification). The content has already been removed, and the artist will be blacklisted from this project unless she requests to be included from this point onward.

The incident here seems to be an honest mistake by the artist based on incorrect information, rather than purposeful misuse of Github’s DMCA system due to bad faith or malicious intent.

The worst comes first:

This part in particular, quoted verbatim from the original DMCA request, is simply a paragraph of lies based on slanderous rumours that began on Twitter and circulated via social media sites like Tumblr and Facebook:

Other artists have also commented that [AltSciFi] has taken their work and is selling these works as prints on this website – while I cannot obviously file a DMCA takedown on their behalf, you should also be aware [AltSciFi] is trying to make money off prints as well.

This is a blatant falsehood. Again, it was probably an honest mistake, but the lie is now on public display. This blog post is a response to it.

The lie quoted above began as a petty whisper campaign on Twitter after a completely unrelated disagreement with an uninvolved individual that ended months ago. As such issues tend to become a form of entertainment for some people on social media, the petty whispered lies aroused an exaggerated response of tribalistic rage among a small group of heavy Twitter users. It quickly snowballed into the culmination that is this DMCA complaint.

At no point in time did anyone contact AltSciFi for clarification. The typical excuse was “it’s not my job to contact you! You have to contact me!”

Yes, when the project is officially ready for the public, AltSciFi will make a reasonable attempt to contact all artists.

And no, if the intention of a person who feels wronged is to bully or slander others based on unsubstantiated rumours, it is always necessary to contact the potential target for clarification first.

What began as a misunderstanding based on false rumours became a Twitter slander campaign. It then transformed into a face-saving attempt at rage-filled bluster after contradictory facts emerged, and finally resulted in a full-blown mindless Internet gang attempting to destroy a project by artists, designed to help artists.

Yes, it is always your job to hear both sides of a story. There are no exceptions, especially when the only “facts” you have are rage-filled rumours (ones that ultimately turned out to be mistaken assumptions and lies in this case).

You can read more about how events unfolded in three blog entries on the topic. The blog entries were written as an attempt to clarify and counteract the bullying and slander as it was happening in realtime, over the course of more than a week. Hopefully anyone who stumbles upon this series of blog posts will read more and decide for themselves:

1. The real reason why most indie artists are starving: overcoming (and preventing) community drama as AltSciFi evolves.

2. How Artists Starve, Part 2: Lessons to Draw From Ongoing Drama

3. AltSciFi Drama, Part III: How Distorted Language Transforms False Rumours into Bullying and Harassment

The so-called “offending material” was contained on one page, not several pages.

The DMCA notice incorrectly inflates the apparent number of pages by citing several regions (called “anchor tags”) on a single page. The mistake is understandable, but it still makes the allegations of “illegal (for-profit) use of work” unnecessarily inflated, on top of being false in the first place.

The artist is right to reserve permission for use of her work. That’s not in dispute here.

Here are the relevant facts that no one bothered to find out:

– the AltSciFi project began several years ago as a hobby for finding inspiration and sharing with others online. Over time, it became an idea for helping artists using the principles of the open web, and as an alternative to intrusive advertising models prevalent on most websites today. The concepts and designs for the site, and the project itself, have changed over time. What you might dig up online from seven months or three years ago likely does not represent the project today.

– the site, as of 2018.02.06, is not yet complete, and has never spent funds toward marketing or promotion to the public as a completed business or professional entity. AltSciFi has always been an informal project by artists, for artists and fans, and will continue this way for the forseeable future.

– of those few artists and fans who were asked for feedback during development of this project, all pre-subscriptions were offered on the basis that the project is incomplete. Subscriptions help defray the hundreds of hours of skilled work necessary to build this project thus far, and toward expenses necessary to officially launch. Pre-subscriptions were always received as a vote of confidence and investment in an idea — not “profit from a business.”

– What exists at Github, as of 2018.02.06, is a test site for web development only. Artists’ pages were not listed on the first page of search results using the DuckDuckGo search engine (a popular privacy-oriented search engine), as the site was not optimised or intended to be found by search engines. Search engine optimisation and visibility are questions that will wait until the site is complete.

– we will contact artists when the project is complete. This project is not a typical approach that fits as “weblog” or “store” or “artist management”. From past experience, having visible examples to show artists tends to be easier to understand — with explanation as well — rather than using description or example alone. This is why our test/development site exists on Github in the first place, and why it’s important to communicate rather than blindly assume.

The Github site contains three or four pages with functioning PayPal links. Those links were for testing purposes only. AltSciFi was not “selling these works as prints on this website” for the following reasons:

1. AltSciFi does not maintain inventory of any kind. After we officially open, our system will enable artists’ existing sites to connect to our site, or we will help them open their own store elsewhere. This is literally the entire purpose of our “store” concept, as reflected in its structure and design.

Again, we literally can’t sell anything because we have no inventory to sell.

AltSciFi has never, and does not currently have, any interest in dealing directly with anyone’s inventory, and will not for the foreseeable future.

2. AltSciFi has not officially launched yet. A miniscule number of people have ever seen the site. If you look at the source code, the site is clearly not optimised for search engines. And if we were “selling” anything, we certainly would not keep an incomplete store website hidden away in a corner of Github where practically no one would find it on their own.

3. Of all the galleries on the site, only a few pages had any links at all. This is because they were used for testing purposes only. If we were “selling” anything, we would have created functioning links for all pages, not an apparently random few. Nor would we try to sell images copy-and-pasted from Instagram or anywhere else on the web.

Our intentional obscurity, current in-development status, and lack of printing-quality images, makes notions of “selling art” logically nonsensical and empirically unsupportable. It simply doesn’t make sense. We are not selling artists’ work without their permission, because that violates our core philosophy and more importantly, we quite intentionally have nothing to sell (ironically, this decision was made in part to help avoid entanglements about who sold what to whom).

If you were an artist or writer, ask yourself:

Would you spend years creating a project designed to help independent artists, only to throw it all away by trying to sell low-quality prints from an incomplete, hard-to-find website without the artist’s consent?

It’s mind-boggling that anyone could believe that, even for a moment.

Rumours, lies and misplaced rage are very, very powerful things, especially in combination.

Again, the incident here seems to be an honest mistake by the artist based on incorrect information, rather than purposeful misuse of Github’s DMCA system due to bad faith or malicious intent. This blog post seeks only to clarify and correct the rumours and lies on which the artist unfortunately based her DMCA notice. Now that you know the other side of the story, you can make up your own mind.

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AltSciFi Drama, Part III: How Distorted Language Transforms False Rumours into Bullying and Harassment

Since the social media harassment campaign against AltSciFi began, one hurdle facing this project has become increasingly clear.

(The storm seems to have mostly passed now. These three blog entries serve as documentation and a guide for the future. 1 2 3)

Artists are just people. Like any group of humans online, many artists suffer from weak or absent critical thinking skills. This often combines with high fluency (loves Twitter) and low reading comprehension (rarely reads anything longer than an tweet). The problem only grows when narcissism and cynical “positive thinking” are added to a tribalistic mentality. This results in a babbling pseudo-logic such as “we special good artists against all the mean bad people who steal our art and make us poor victims get really mad.”

And yes, in this case, the behaviour involved was as petty and childish as it sounds.

This entire episode of cyberbullying began due to a false rumour about AltSciFi “stealing art.” The rumour was repeated and gathered steam the more people talked about it, spreading across various social media sites.

No One Asked A Single Question

The most frightening aspect is that, throughout the entire course of bullying and harassment, not one single person thought to ask, “wait — is this true or not? It might be a good idea to directly contact the people being harassed. Maybe there’s another side of the story.”

No one questioned the rumour. No one looked for evidence. Not a single person. Everyone fell for the lie, and hundreds of people thoughtlessly repeated it.

That’s pretty scary, especially in the age of social media where an entire ecosystem is designed around passing emotionally charged information among peers at dizzyingly high speed.

Textual Harassment By “Visual Thinkers”

Visual artists might not like to read. There’s a reason why they’re not writers, after all.

That’s written half-jokingly, but many people believe the false pop psychology concept of learning styles. No matter how naively true it may feel, the idea of a “built-in learning style” or sensory modality isn’t real (dyslexia is an obvious exception). Learning styles are a myth, one step less credible than the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and your “emotional intelligence quotient.”

There’s no such thing as a visual learner; you probably just need to read more. But for most adults, it’s too late. If you believe a falsehood and it’s repeated enough times, it eventually becomes true and real to you. In that sense, false rumours and discredited urban myths work in much the same way.

Artists have no excuse for spreading misinformation and engaging in harassment due to poor reading skills, or “I’m an artist; I don’t need to read. I’ll just ask my art friends on Twitter for their opinions.”

Under the Spell of Distorted Language

During the worst of the cyberbullying campaign, three language patterns stood out. They remain memorable for their ability to preclude and defeat basic critical thinking. These tactics were highly effective in ensuring that the harassment exploded exponentially and lingered for days, rather than being extinguished and forgotten within hours.

Pattern 1.

“If you had done y, I would have done z. But you didn’t, so I’m going to keep doing x.”

“If you had contacted me before creating your website (which was in fact a test version of the site that was never marketed or promoted to the public), I would have thought it was a great idea and helped you promote it (although promotion wasn’t even an issue yet, since the site was an incomplete test version, not for public consumption).

But you didn’t contact me (although there was no reason to do so, since the site hadn’t launched yet), so I’m going to continue slandering you using rumours and false accusations (because I need to save face after making a fool of myself in front of thousands of people on social media; I can never apologise because my ego commands me to be right at all times).

Notice how item “x” can be any arbitrary action that didn’t take place. This pattern is nothing more than rationalisation for continuing to do more of the same, while appearing to have been open-minded in a past that never happened at all. This also called arguing a counterfactual, one of many arguments better known as bullshit.

Pattern 2.

“Regardless of everything you’ve said, written and shown that you’re doing the opposite of x, I just know you’re doing x.”

“Even though you’ve written two extremely detailed blog entries documenting the events that took place, and have shown that you’re not stealing artists’ work, I just know you’re stealing artists work.”

Hopefully, the denial at work here is obvious to see. If someone demonstrates that they’re not standing on one leg, it obviously doesn’t mean they’re standing on one leg. It’s a self-contradictory statement; the statement eats itself if you pay attention to the pattern. This was probably the most popular pattern, and it’s also pure bullshit.

Pattern 3.

The fact that you defend yourself by saying and demonstrating that you’re not doing x only makes it more obvious that you’re doing x.

“If you say and show that you’re a group of artists who are trying to help other artists, the more you say and show that it’s true only makes it more obvious that you’re actually an evil middleman corporation stealing from artists.”

Instead of just re-asserting the wrong argument as in Pattern 2, this tortured syntax creates an imaginary cause-effect line between the two statements. “The more evidence you show me that the sky isn’t blue, that only convinces me more that the sky is blue.” This is a word game in which a person can say that any evidence against x actually is itself undeniable proof of x.

What’s the word for this one? It starts with a “b”.

These are all real language patterns that appeared as they’re shown here. The problem is that AltSciFi is doing something different; words are necessary to explain how this project works. There needs to be some way to communicate to artists, many of whom have weak critical thinking skills, high fluency and low reading comprehension. There’s no easy answer, but we’ll see. Maybe the average artist online is more capable of independent thought than many have recently shown themselves to be; hopefully that’s the case. The success of this project might depend on it.

What Did Ursula K. Le Guin Really Think About Dystopian Science Fiction?

Disdain seemed to overtake the voice of Ursula K. Le Guin in the passage quoted below about her life and work. The article by Zoe Carpenter suggests that Le Guin was disenchanted, or perhaps even bored, by the mere idea of dystopia.

For someone preoccupied with humanity’s ability to destroy itself and the rest of the natural world, Le Guin is notably disinterested in dystopias. Frankly, they bore her. “I think they’re just ground out,” she told me. “They’re just the latest way to write sci-fi novels. Don’t readers ever get tired of being told that the world is coming to a nasty, ugly end and only a very few people will survive, by luck and by violence?” Nor does Le Guin think much of the kind of shallow moralism used to justify invasions and torture. She has written through plenty of dark territory, but with an eye fixed on the constant stars of kindness and bravery.

Ursula Le Guin Has Stopped Writing Fiction—but We Need Her More Than Ever

This take on dystopia seems to completely miss the purpose of that story world. Is it possible Le Guin thought so little of dystopian stories as to dismiss the entire subgenre completely?

Dystopia isn’t necessarily a “fad” or “shallow moralism.” Some writers will jump on nearly any shiny new literary bandwagon, but Le Guin isn’t likely to have stereotyped an entire subgenre of science fiction just because she couldn’t imagine new stories to be told using that approach.

Based on the quote alone, Le Guin says that dystopia itself is “ground out” and “just the latest way to write sci-fi novels.” Dystopia is as old as science fiction itself, and is an integral part of the genre. Trends and fads don’t render an entire subgenre obsolete.

The quotation overgeneralises in a puzzling way. Anyone can write whatever they want, but it’s strange that Le Guin seemed to dismiss dystopias completely in the quoted passage. If she had focused specifically on superficial ways of writing dystopian fiction, the quote would have made more sense.

Dystopia, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is

1 : an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives

2 literature : anti-utopia · writing a dystopia

—dystopian \-pē-ən\ adjective

The definition of dystopian is not “and it all comes to a nasty, ugly end, and only a few people will survive, by luck and violence.” Dystopia is a state of society and/or the physical world, not an event in the story itself (‘a nasty, ugly end’). That’s what’s odd about the Le Guin quote. It doesn’t make sense.

Given that Le Guin was one of the most well-regarded figures in science fiction and fantasy, it’s not likely that she spoke carelessly. So what did Ursula K. Le Guin actually mean?

Two quotations might clarify her perspective. For Le Guin, the oppositions that create dystopia (and utopia) are gendered. Yang is male, and yin is female.

Le Guin’s approach is informed by Taoism, where opposing forces are interdependent.

She elaborates in No Time to Spare: “Yang is male, bright, dry, hard, active, penetrating. Yin is female, dark, wet, easy, receptive, containing. Yang is control, yin acceptance. They are great and equal powers; neither can exist alone, and each is always in process of becoming the other.” For Le Guin, there’s an overabundance of yang in American culture—one that’s reflected in its science fiction. She says, “Many contemporary dystopias provide such a great opportunity to wallow in gratuitous cruelty and mindless violence. Yin is for losers.” So much, then, for the philosophical cautionary tale.

Ursula K. Le Guin, the sci-fi giant, takes on dystopia and social injustice

In this passage, Le Guin doesn’t dismiss dystopia itself. Her rejection is of an opportunistic use of cruelty and violence. The excess of yang (male) destructive “penetration” energy overwhelms and drowns out the “receptive” yin (female) energy.

That’s a decent start, but does Le Guin offer any thoughts for how to escape the endless cycle of dystopian yang in science fiction — and perhaps in society itself?

Definitive elaboration on the question naturally comes the celebrated author’s unabridged thinking, expounded upon in the completed essay as published in a 2017 collection, NO TIME TO SPARE: Thinking About What Matters, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

The essay is titled, “We keep writing dystopias instead of envisioning a better world—maybe what we need is balance“. Le Guin continues with the Taoist metaphor of yin and yang, ending on a perhaps-hopeful note (emphasis added):

Through psychological and political control, these dystopias have achieved a nondynamic stasis that allows no change. The balance is immovable: one side up, the other down. Everything is yang forever.

Where is the yin dystopia? Is it perhaps in post-holocaust stories and horror fiction with its shambling herds of zombies, the increasingly popular visions of social breakdown, total loss of control — chaos and old night?

Yang perceives yin only as negative, inferior, bad, and yang has always been given the last word. But there is no last word.

At present we seem only to write dystopias. Perhaps in order to be able to write a utopia we need to think yinly. I tried to write one in Always Coming Home. Did I succeed?

Is a yin utopia a contradiction in terms, since all the familiar utopias rely on control to make them work, and yin does not control? Yet it is a great power. How does it work?

I can only guess. My guess is that the kind of thinking we are, at last, beginning to do about how to change the goals of human domination and unlimited growth to those of human adaptability and long-term survival is a shift from yang to yin, and so involves acceptance of impermanence and imperfection, a patience with uncertainty and the makeshift, a friendship with water, darkness, and the earth.

Ursula K. Le Guin wasn’t just “bored” by dystopia. She wanted sci-fi creators to use it as a radical agent for change. Although Le Guin is no longer among us, her energetic words can continue to reveal new alternatives, undiscovered elsewheres that science fiction might describe in hopes that society might follow, before it’s too late.

Fixing Reddit for Women and Diverse Science Fiction Fans (and everyone else)

Reddit has been broken for a long, long time. The situation only becomes clearer as the site grows and tries half-heartedly to repair itself. The problem may be embedded in the structure of how Reddit works.

What Reddit rather sadly depicts is that the idea of a broad, open, public space for discussion is likely impossible to create. Reddit, and by extension, a lot of the early web, is often thought of as a kind of a prelapsarian state before Facebook, Twitter, and those darn social justice warriors ruined everything.

Trouble is, saying that freedom came first gets things backwards: idealized states of purity from the past always conceal the power relations that enabled them. Reddit’s free speech, enacted, is mainly a home for young, naïve, and mostly white men to talk in the abstract about equality and philosophy without having to confront their biases.

Reddit Will Always Be a Home for Hatred and Harassment

The only other options seem to be Voat, which is basically 4Chan + Reddit, and Raddle, which is the political opposite of Voat.

So there’s no real alternative right now for people who just want to talk about sci-fi. Reddit seems structurally broken and its creators are unable or unwilling to repair it in meaningful ways.

Those problems haven’t gone away.

What Nithyanand came to realize was that Reddit represents an important part of the story about the spread of misinformation across social media platforms. While it may seem that Reddit forums are insular, the site punches above its weight in influence on the internet, said Brian Solis, an analyst focusing on social media at research firm Altimeter. It’s the fifth most popular website in the US, according to analytics firm Alexa, with more than 250 million users.

“It is where a lot of information starts and spreads,” Solis said.

Reddit was a misinformation hotspot in 2016 election, study says

Since the existing Reddit seems irretrievably broken…

…what if we create a new Reddit that works for everyone?

(In case you don’t use Reddit, a “subreddit” is a community created and run by its members on the Reddit website.)

Here are four key issues that Reddit refuses to fix.

1. Blocking doesn’t work properly.

At present, blocking a user doesn’t prevent them from seeing your posts and comments. It only prevents you from seeing theirs. That amounts to a blocking function that “empowers” you to become completely deaf when other people are talking behind your back on Reddit.

In other words, the blocking function is at least 50% useless.

2. Reddit won’t help if you’re being harassed.

If you’ve ever been harassed on Reddit and asked the site moderators for help, you probably experienced this yourself. In one recent case, Reddit’s “help and support” team openly admitted that they prioritise gaining new users rather than helping existing ones. They got rid of their “probation” period for new users where you had to answer a Captcha for a week or so. Combined with an API that allows you to automatically reply to other users’ posts and comments, Reddit “empowers” its users to stalk and harass each other across the entire site.

And as you know, subreddit moderators are often not technically skilled enough, or just are too apathetic, to deal with the issue on a subreddit-by-subreddit basis.

3. There’s no reliable way to discover new subreddits you might like.

Aside from relying on useful sidebar listings like you’ll find on a few pages, there’s no reliable way to find other subreddits you might like. If you contact users directly, Reddit will delete your subreddit and your account for “spamming”. That’s a big part of the reason why there are so few successful new subreddits. The discovery mechanism is pitifully inadequate.

4. The “dudebro” culture.

Have you noticed that everyone on Reddit refers to each other as “dude” or “bro”? That’s a problem.

You see a woman on the street, or in class, or at work. Do you automatically walk up to her and say “hey dude” or “what’s poppin’, bro”? Cutesy answers aside, no, you don’t, any more than a woman would walk up to you and say, “what’s up, sis?”

Reddit doesn’t have a woman problem. It has a dudebro problem. Reddit’s official statistics say otherwise, but in everyday use, there are practically no women here. Or the women are hiding their gender for fear of being harassed, which actual women will often tell you is the case.

The same is true for LGBT people and essentially any ethnicity or culture that isn’t the majority Internet demographic in North America (i.e. white and middle class or above). You don’t notice because diverse voices don’t bother to come here.

In other words, Reddit sucks if you’re not a white, straight, dude (or bro, or dudebro). Compare Reddit to the diversity you find on Twitter, for example. Things are strangely plain-vanilla here on Reddit, and everyone misses out because of it.

So what do you think? Would you join a version of Reddit that sucked less in these four key ways? The code for “old Reddit” (from 2017) is open-source and freely available for anyone. So we can make this real if we decide to go ahead and do it. Add a comment with your thoughts if you want to help, contribute, or sign up. And if you want to take this idea and create your own project, go for it.

What is AltSciFi now? Primer and invitation, 2018 January

This project aims to be a small group of independent sci-fi artists and writers, and fans who want to support their work. Our ultimate goal is to finance indie sci-fi films, created only for fans and artists who love science fiction.

The project has been in development for a few years.

Background: we’re only weeks away from officially opening to the public. An artist found a prototype page on our web development site and thought we were selling their work. The page had working PayPal links — only for testing the payment system — but we don’t have anything to sell, so no one could buy anything yet. We literally have to connect to artists to sell anything, because that’s the whole purpose of the project.

Naturally, instead of talking to us, the artist sent a Twitter mob to slander a project she knows nothing about, because mobs of outrage are just what people do on Twitter for entertainment.

So as you read the “introduction” letter below, keep in mind, if you were writing this, the recipient might have heard false claims and slander about you on Facebook or Twitter.

The key point is that no one actually knows what we’re about, because this project is intentionally different from what already exists.

Our project will feel like it immerses you in a small world of mainly hard sci-fi and cyberpunk, to connect fans with artists who love that specific style and aesthetic. We have a traditional site, experimental web magazine, “online PDF” reader site, free email newsletter, bi-weekly mini-zine, and four store sites to support the artists directly by buying their art.

Oh, and we also have a new “sci-fi library” initiative to collect and archive science fiction of past and present. That’s still in early stages, though.

You can see that this project is a small world unto itself. Our main topics are:

  • future science
  • surveillance
  • (ethical) hacking
  • Net neutrality and the open web, and why it matters
  • increasing corporate domination of everyday life (and what can be done about it)
  • fashion and style, and
  • an “18+” section for the parts that people will actually pay to see. :)

We can support concept art, webcomics, manga, short films, short stories, novellas, and excerpts of novels that readers can pay for.

You’ve probably seen updates about our progress over the past year or so. Now we’re almost ready to start telling artists, so what do you think of the letter below?

P.S. If you want to know when we officially start up, we’ll add you to the list. And if you’re an artist, writer, filmmaker or other kind of creator, feel free to get in touch as well.

Sample Letter to Artists about the AltSciFi Project

> Hi [name],
>
> Your art is great. We’re an informal group of sci-fi artists
> and writers who support other indie artists and writers.
> We’re just creators, not some giant brand or corporation.
> Your art is featured on our site. Have a look:
>
> [link to artist page]
>
> Our project does not run advertising. Ads on sites
> like Facebook are free because they track people and sell
> everyone’s personal data. We don’t do that. This project has
> a small base of subscribers to help pay the costs
> of running this project. Our ultimate goal is to commission
> new stories and art, and the dream is to finance indie films.
>
> This project is designed to stay as informal as possible;
> to help artists and writers escape from dependency on sites
> like Amazon; and to use the open Web to make it easy to
> find great art and artists like you.
>
> Beyond that, our core values are anti-racism, anti-sexism,
> anti-misogyny, and anti-surveillance. We protest
> police brutality, militarisation, and nuclear war.
> This project embraces sexual diversity and supports
> universal human rights. (We want to help prevent dystopian
> sci-fi from becoming real, and teach why privacy matters.)
>
> If you want, you can sell your works through our website as well.
> We don’t have any art to sell, so we can’t sell anything ourselves.
> That’s a completely separate process we can discuss later.
>
> If for any reason you want us to remove your work,
> reply to this message and it will be removed as soon as
> possible (usually within a day or two).
>
> We always want to find great artists who do unique work
> like yours. If you have other art you’d like to see
> featured here, reply with a link and we’ll discuss further.
>
> Thanks,
>
> —

How Artists Starve, Part 2: Lessons to Draw From Ongoing Drama

The previous post has become unexpectedly popular. Issues addressed there are ongoing.

As in that post, the privacy of all involved is preserved here. No personally identifying details are included here or anywhere else. AltSciFi protects your privacy, and will continue to do so.

Unfortunate aspects of the situation aside, this is a fascinating example of how social media accelerates and distorts issues that could otherwise have been resolved quickly and simply.

Over the past two days, Twitter has revealed a pattern that’s worth keeping in mind moving forward. Read the previous post first if you haven’t already.

A snowball becomes an avalanche. AltSciFi is a bystander at this point, marveling at how strange all this has become. This is how artists destroy each other. No wonder nothing ever changes as corporations take over our lives. They don’t need to force us to work for them. We’re too busy fighting amongst ourselves to do anything worthwhile at all.

The Vicious Filter Bubble

You’ve probably heard of the “filter bubble” effect, where users of sites like Facebook and Twitter cocoon themselves inside opinions that agree with their existing beliefs.

This also applies to disagreements, but in even more amplified form. Here’s the scenario:

One user with a large social media following (in this case, Artist B) hears a rumour from someone she likes. The rumour — in this case, a wrong one concocted by someone looking to spread gossip — was “someone is stealing your art”. Instead of asking the target of the rumour (in this case, AltSciFi) “is it true?”, Artist B decided to crowdsource for more opinions.

On a social network like Twitter, typical gossip quickly becomes a campaign of cyberbullying, as followers “take sides” to “protect” their friend. Note that AltSciFi doesn’t play this game — we’re not part of the Artist Twitter clique, so the bullying was one-sided from the start. What’s fascinating is how the bullies convinced each other that they were just an unusually massive, loud and assertive group of victims.

Bullies in an Echo Chamber

No one looked further for facts by asking the target of the gossip, because within minutes, an echo chamber emerged. Everyone began entertaining themselves with the juicy tea of the day. That’s the whole purpose of social media for most people: to use others as a form of free entertainment. In this case, artists were doing to each other what Twitter “fans” usually do to artists (i.e. demand entertainment for free), only in a more blatantly malicious way.

The real problem arises when people try to use social media to transact business with each other.

As we see in this ongoing situation, Artist B could have sent email saying “AltSciFi, please take down my work” or in a more cool-headed moment, “I found this site. What’s going on here?” Instead, Twitter was used, leading to a predictable pile-on of the mindless herd seeking rage as entertainment. Even worse, as the bullying intensified, legitimate voices asking AltSciFi for clarification went unheard amid the noise. The purpose of these blog entries is to at least have some way to counter the louder narrative. But of course, gossip-seekers and angry mobs aren’t exactly known for their reading comprehension.

There’s a second dynamic at play which is more important.

The second aspect here is the misuse of language, and its effects.

To Weaponise a Group, Convince Them That They Are Victims

If you follow AltSciFi, you’ve recently read about how easily individuals and groups can be misled into doing the wrong thing when they feel threatened.

What’s the easiest way to create and weaponise a group?

Convince them that they are victims, and demonise the evil “other”.

AltSciFi was targeted by Gamergate a few years ago. The dynamic was identical to what’s happening now. The roving horde showed up and started talking trash for whatever reason, probably something related to their hatred of women in videogames. But the strangest part of it was that they — about fifteen or twenty howling at once — consistently repeated how AltSciFi was impinging on their “freedom of speech”.

They came to bully AltSciFi, yet the gang was genuinely convinced that the target of their bullying was the aggressor.

It was amazing.

Gaslighting, Shaming, and Victim-Blaming

The same situation is happening how. Artist B incited a Twitter mob to harass AltSciFi, all the while whining about being “gaslighted”, “shamed” and “victim-blamed”.

Gaslighting

is an emotional abuse tactic where Person B tells Person A that they’re “crazy” in order to undermine their self-confidence. At no point in time has anyone done that here. It’s bizarre to assume that anyone who disagrees with you automatically thinks you’re crazy.

Shaming

is the weaponising of a crowd to enforce social norms by isolating and applying group pressure against the targeted individual. AltSciFi has never retweeted or mentioned anyone directly during this entire drama.

The only people who know about this situation are those on Artist B’s side, because Artist B brought out the horde. It’s quite likely that most of AltSciFi’s followers don’t know or care about Artist Twitter, just as Artist Twitter doesn’t know about Hacker Twitter (the other half of our audience).

Victim-blaming

requires a victim. Taking the posture of a victim does not make you one, and the misunderstanding in this case could have been resolved before that posture seemed necessary to anyone. But that’s not how things happened here. The mistake made by AltSciFi here could have been resolved in a way that was useful for everyone. How frustrating that years of work have been reduced to a rage-fueled trash fire by people who couldn’t be bothered to send an email before releasing the hounds.

(The whole point of the store site is that it has no inventory — we have to collaborate with artists in order to sell anything. What’s online is a prototype, not a finished store. The whole bit about “stealing art” is a bullshit soundbyte repeated ad nauseam based an a complete lack of anything resembling facts beyond surface assumptions.)

Connect a lie to a person’s values, and anything will become a fact if you repeat it often enough. And so here we are. Gossip becomes viral bullshit, and viral bullshit becomes sanctified fact.

It Ended Before It Began

By the time the conversation began, it was already an argument, like a circle of elementary-school children on the playground goading two kids in the middle to fight each other. The circle prevents Kid A from leaving, as the circle is friendly with Kid B. What happens? It’s not even a fight, fair or otherwise: it’s an episode of violent bullying.

If you’ve ever experienced this in real life, you know this all too well. It’s happening between adults right now, bleeding out from Twitter as you read these words.

So why does this blog post sound so calm and detached?

Mainly because it’s impossible to control other people. There is no way to de-escalate situations like this, even if you apologise for honest mistakes (to an already-suspicious person, there are no “honest mistakes”) and deal with the issue quickly (there is no such thing as “quickly enough”).

For most people, their emotions rule their lives, and it has nothing to do with gender.

The Only Thing to Fear

Humans are primarily emotional animals. The strongest emotion is fear. If you can convince a person to be afraid — then connect them with others who are similarly persuaded — you can weaponise them against nearly any target. Even their own allies. Fellow citizens in their own country. Friends. Neighbors. Random strangers. People of a different sexuality, culture, economic background or ethnicity.

Read the previous paragraph again and ask yourself when this tactic has been used to influence you, because it definitely has been. The question is “were you aware it was happening?”

This is just how humans operate. It’s unfortunate, because once a person has been persuaded emotionally, very little can be done to change their perspective. Thinking ends. Reacting begins. Snowballs naturally roll downhill.

In this specific situation, this drama interrupted other work in progress yesterday, so the completion of that work came first.

Now, Artist B’s complaint has been dealt with, as will anyone else (privately via email, not publicly on Twitter). This is the professional way to deal with situations as they arise. Social media is not the place for professional communication or dispute resolution.

In any case, it’s a fascinating example of how this type of situation unfolds, isn’t it?

Suspicion and Trust

If you study the lives of successful people, you’ll see that this type of problem is inevitable. Either intentionally or inadvertently, others will try to destroy anything new, because it is unknown, and therefore seen with fear and suspicion. You don’t need “evolutionary psychology” to know this is true.

Examples:

– electric car makers versus the oil industry.
– indie music labels versus the majors.
– people who defend the rights of women and minorities, versus those who yearn for a return to a misogynist, sexist and racist past.

With the addition of social media, situations like this one can lead to people using misplaced rage and self-validation to justify acting against their own best interests — jumping to conclusions and weaponising entire groups in pointless tribal warfare.

We’ve seen how this has transformed politics and society since 2016. The ways that social media have changed communication on a smaller scale are equally important, and in this case, troubling.

AltSciFi is designed to help artists, and it is artists who are trying to destroy AltSciFi.
Isn’t it ironic? :)

And yes, sad as well. But this is life. You have to roll with it, preferably with a sense of humour. There’s no other choice. The horde’s next tactic is to howl, “it took too long to fix it! You’re still the devil!”

Well, okay then. That doesn’t change AltSciFi’s purpose, which is to help artists. Your feedback is still welcome if our purposes align.

Choice

So what to do from here? Unfortunately, not much can be done, aside from responding promptly to reasonable suggestions and professional requests, and ignoring the rest.

This blog entry ends with a question: from the beginning of this drama, had you already made up your mind? (Hint: the answer is probably “yes”.) Really, it’s not truly answerable. We all rationalise our decisions immediately after the fact; everyone is 100% right in their own minds. Rightness is feeling, not fact.

These blog entries are not intended to change anyone’s mind. Hopefully, at least you’ll think before joining a social media mob next time. In the worst-case scenario, it could be too late for AltSciFi, but good enough if it helps you as an individual and as an artist.

P.S. The two main thinking-related issues here are called self-confirmation bias and the consistency principle. Look them up and read more if you want, especially if you intend to deal with groups of people, and even if you just want to better understand yourself.

The real reason why most indie artists are starving: overcoming (and preventing) community drama as AltSciFi evolves.

Seriously, Artist Twitter? Are we going to do this every few months?

*sigh*

Okay.

This blog post exists as a point of reference in case similar situations arise in the future. A comprehensive blog post can be useful due to the appearance of behaviour patterns that are worth learning from (and not repeating).

Note that all parties involved are not personally named, and no personally identifying details are included here. AltSciFi protects your privacy, regardless of who you are or any relationship between us.

This post contains two parts: this part, and guidelines for the future, further down. You can read straight through or skip between them as you like. “Artists” referred to here also includes writers, and all independent creators in the science fiction genre. “Artist Twitter” refers to artists who are also heavy Twitter users, as you probably guessed already.

Fact and fabrication, gossip and misinterpretation

This post is dedicated to all the random Bored Artists and Angry Stans of Twitter who have arrived (again) to hunt witches and exercise their right to act like an mindless zombie mob.

Isn’t that what Twitter is for, though? Apparently so.

> the real reason artists r starving?! Bcos ur stealing it!1!!! #arttheft

— 300+ idiots on Twitter, in the space of a few hours.

Months ago, AltSciFi posted an image created by an artist. The image was tagged. “Tagging” means the artist’s Twitter username (“handle”) was included. The tag didn’t show properly, so a second tweet was added with the artist’s handle.

The only reason the artist (Artist A) knew her work was posted is that her handle was added (i.e. she was given credit). Twitter automatically notified her, which is the intended effect. It’s like saying, “hi, we re-tweeted/re-posted your work”.

That didn’t fit her personal specification, however. She soon demanded her full name be used. Fine, no problem there. But…

…instead of sending a DM (a private message on Twitter) and saying, “can you cite my name and/or contact details”, she quote-tweeted the image. Quote-tweets are like using quotation marks to tell your friends what someone else has said to you. She added nonsense about “stealing art” to her quote-tweet, and this triggered a mob from Artist Twitter screeching about “stolen work”.

This is how Twitter works…?

Artist Twitter seems to love this condescending bit about bragging “this is how Twitter works” then arbitrarily saying, “it must be as I demand”. Tagging an image cites the artist; no “stealing” involved.

Rather than argue for days with a zombified mob of people who weren’t reading (or thinking) before barking and howling, a massive number of people were blocked, including Artist A.

Fast-forward to now, literally months later. All was forgotten from the previous incident, or so it seemed. A notification arrives, including Artist A and Artist B. Artist A’s tweets were invisible (blocked), but clearly she’d been waiting for an opportunity to howl again.

Now we have Artist B. Her work is brilliant and unique. This is why it was included as one of the first around which a concept design was built for AltSciFi’s online store site.

The Opposite of Amazon

The essence of a store, obviously, is having items you pay for. AltSciFi is about helping indie artists get paid without corporations that gouge us like Amazon. So while building the site’s backend (database/etc.), a payment structure naturally needed to be built as well.

The key to this is AltSciFi does not have inventory of its own. The idea is to work with artists who have existing online shops, or help them create theirs.

This approach is something no one has done before (at least, perhaps not). That’s the whole point of doing it. In order to explain how it works, it’s better to use a “show, then tell” approach. Artists in particular are obsessively (rightly) wary of having their works stolen, so it’s necessary to paint a full picture before asking anyone to sign on.

Over the past few years, AltSciFi has tested prototypes and requested feedback. Artists and fans tend to fail to see value unless they have tangible work to lay hands on. There’s no point in giving an audience the first draft of a screenplay if you can show them the completed film. Likewise for the AltSciFi project.

How to Unleash the Undead Hordes…. by Mistake

Now, back to today. Artist B says she found the concept site via search engine. That was not independently verifiable, but there’s no reason to assume she was lying.

So what happens? Minutes later, yet another horde of frothing Angry Artist Twitter appears as if by magic.

A few pages on the concept site, including Artist B’s page, have functioning PayPal links. In theory, it’s possible to buy items. This is a proof of concept. It works. Finally. :)

In practice, as mentioned previously, there are no items to buy. No inventory. Plus, at least while using search engine DuckDuckGo, the concept site is nowhere to be found. But apparently Artist B found it somehow.

So here’s where the problem begins. Instead of contacting AltSciFi, Artist B replicated Artist A’s behaviour and sent a Frothing Twitter Horde of Doom.

Unfortunately, over the past few years of development, this is just the sort of thing that happens periodically. People don’t know what they’re looking at and sometimes decide doomsday is nigh. Instead of just blocking all who arrived with pitchforks at the ready, this is a thread (now, blog post) for the next time someone decides to bark instead of think.

Ironically, with proper demonstration of a completed project, Artist B probably would have thought this project could work well for her, as an indie artist with a unique style. Indeed, she backhandedly admitted exactly that.

Instead of reserving judgment, Artist B and the unthinking horde burned the bridge to AltSciFi before it could be built.

Mistakes Were Made, But More Importantly, Who Wins?

Was it a mistake to leave a “functioning” store site online? Yes. It was an oversight. The site is not being marketed or promoted and no one has tried to buy anything, so it was assumed to be invisible for now.

On the other hand, it’s also somewhat strange to unleash a bully-mob when you’ve only heard one side of what’s happening. In this case, Artist A clearly spewed nonsense about “art theft” when she had no clue, as she was blocked for months already.

AltSciFi is for artists and techies, by artists and techies. Our followers are constantly reminded of it.

As it is, apologies were offered several times to Artist B for the oversight. Artist B was too busy winning a fight. If you want a fight, well, okay. But you’re fighting against your own ally here. This is years of work spent, zero dollars for marketing or promotion.

Picking the Wrong Fight

If you want a fight, fight against the social media companies that create social norms around endlessly churning out work for free. Fight against the idea that artists (and techies/programmers/hackers) should give away their work for “exposure”.

Realise that if you’re using social media as your primary marketing platform — and even worse, if you’re using your personality as your “brand” — you’re throwing away your work and your identity to corporations who are selling you out to anyone who pays.

Squabbling about who tagged whom, forgot to add perfect citations, or didn’t email about a site that isn’t even finished yet…? That is fucking frustratingly stupid. It’s an understandable mistake. But gathering hordes and making sport of harassing people is fucking stupid.

We’re artists. Probably half of AltSciFi’s followers are hackers, makers, tinkerers and engineers (and others who Know Things). We’re weird. Some are outcasts. The urge to bully when given the chance may be strong. It’s still wrong, though, especially in this instance.

You Are Not Special, and Life is Too Short

This isn’t “damage control” or “artist management”. This is artists versus artists; the most pointless kind of conflict. No one wins. The strife created does the dirty work of keeping mega-corporations like Amazon as the only option. You’ll see more about exactly what that means in the set of guidelines below.

Next time someone gets chafed that AltSciFi blocked them, it’s because life is too short for bullshit — hours were wasted, today alone. Stop wasting time quibbling about bullshit. Find out the situation. instead of reacting (and feeding the social media machine), think and respond.

If you want a fight, a fight you might get. More likely, anyone who comes with more noise will be blocked and ignored. Explanation is usually a waste of time, especially for those whose minds are set to “off”.

A hard lesson learned over years: your ego is not special. Your work is not special. The world doesn’t need you or your art; that’s why it’s hard to get paid.

It’s also why AltSciFi exists. We need to build better alternatives. Allow yourself to make mistakes along the way.

This was a messy moment, but a necessary one. Better deal with misunderstandings now than fight endless brush fires later. “Move fast and break things” is how you end up with Facebook, after all (not a good idea; doing it right — not “perfectly” — is more important than doing it fast).

AltSciFi isn’t a business yet. We’re close, but doors have yet to open; until then, useful thoughts are welcome. Approach with an open mind, and receive the same in return.

Guidelines for Professionalism in the Attention Economy

Beyond the childish pettiness described above, here are a few thoughts on professionalism. These informal notes are based on experience and study, not about how to be a “superstar”. Key points are rephrased or repeated, and merit re-reading.

Never make accusations until you understand the situation at hand.

Anyone with a few thousand social media followers is a superstar in their own mind. AltSciFi maintains a small following; the “followback” game (where you follow someone in exchange for them to follow you, thereby increasing both users’ “popularity”) is silly.

For independent devs, infosec people and artists, Twitter is a “professional networking conference” where everyone is saving face while desperately looking for work.

Never rely on gossip or the insider voices of your comfortable little clique.

Do not use your work as a business card.

Pour energy into no more than four unpaid projects per month that add to your portfolio. Young artists and hackers especially fall into the trap of churning out new art and working themselves to the bone on open-source projects.

Resist “positive thinking”: thousands of indie creators give away their work. This creates an expectation that no one need ever pay for it. Remember: your style may be unique, but your ego and your art are not “special”. If your art is absent, someone else will step in and do the job. Welcome to capitalism.

Value your time and work. Do not give it away. Asking people to pay after giving work to them for free is like billing relatives for Christmas gifts.

Ignore social media popularity.

Followers can be bought. Bots and spammers accumulate. Twitter gets rich, indies stay broke. In the so-called “attention economy” of social media, if you’re an indie (sole proprietor/independent contractor), protect your time. Do not spend time on people who will waste it. The business model of social media is to seduce you into doing the work (organising and sharing information) while the social media company gets paid by running ads and selling your personal data.

Remain aware that the most important opportunities you lose may be the ones you never hear about. More about that in a moment.

“If you need the money, don’t take the job.”

Always have an alternative if negotiations fall through; never resort to begging or bullying. If potential colleagues or clients display tendencies to bully or abuse you and your time, gladly fire the client and find new workmates.

The inverse: be glad to discover unprofessional people who engage in gossip, whisper campaigns and backstabbing. Cut them all out at once.

Those who can help, elevate your work and be mentors, are already well aware of you.

Drama always reflects badly, even if you “win”. You will lose far more than you gain by bickering and squabbling with your peers. Those above you will assume you don’t have what it takes to join them. And until you learn to avoid or prevent drama, you will never know why you remain stuck near the bottom. Those at a higher level will never waste their time on you.

Inverse: if your industry worships “superstars”, be ready to defend yourself. Bullies and hardline negotiators steamroll over anyone they perceive as weak.

Four caveats:

0. Do not act based on gossip or incomplete information. Never request secondhand facts if a firsthand source is accessible. If there are two sides to a story, listen to both.
1. Immediately apologise for mistakes and fix them as quickly as possible.
2. Walk away even if you can “win”.
3. Never make an enemy due to a bruised ego.

That’s all for now. These are exciting and interesting times for AltSciFi, but when has that ever not been the case? :)

P.S. One more guideline for time management and emotional wellbeing: never engage with those who deliberately misinterpret your words.

P.P.S. This isn’t “damage control” or “artist management”. This is a signpost, and a warning for every artist dealing with others online. You will probably encounter similar behaviour if you decide to do anything that challenges the status quo. People can rarely imagine beyond what they already know, and nearly always fear that which is foreign to them. Artists are not exempt from herd thinking or acting like childish bullies; open-mindedness often stops where social interactions begin.

Beyond that, hopefully you’ve learned something you can use in your professional, and perhaps even personal, life and evolution.

And if you’re new here, welcome to AltSciFi. This is as good an introduction as any. :)

Update: this post now has a second part (click here).