Sunday, 9 February 2014
Yesterday I clicked, by accident, on a piece by Kathleen Ann from New England: "I'm a Member of the American 'Used-to-Haves'". K A tells the story of how after losing her comfortable job and consequently her home, she now lives a precarious existence based on uncertain freelance income. I'm sympathetic, and I'm sure there are many others in a similar situation in her country, mine and across the world who are not starving but whose once predictable lives have been upturned by economic and political circumstances beyond her control.
The piece made me wonder, given HuffPo's notorious reputation of giving its founder, Arianna Huffington, hundreds of millions of dollars while paying its contributors nothing or damn-near-nothing, how much Kathleen had been paid for her time and effort in contributing to Ms H's well-being. So, I attempted to post a comment making that very point. Having registered on the site some time ago, I expected no problem, but to my surprise I was asked to "verify" my status. I clicked the appropriate button, to discover that verification consisted of only one thing - connecting via Facebook.
Sorry, Ms H, but while I understand you may want to know a little more about me - and I would be happy to give you my name and country of residence, for the purposes of commenting on a piece on your website, you really do not need to know where I went to university, what friends I have, my birthdate and so on and so on. And so my comment remains unposted.
What does remain is a nasty smell in the air. Firstly it is the smell of hypocrisy, that HuffPo will make use of an individual's valuable capital (her time and intellectual input) to make money for itself, not for her. Secondly, there is the smell of - is it hypocrisy again? I'm not sure - HuffPo offering me choice between censorship (my comment will not be posted) or invasion of my electronic privacy (my comment will be posted only if I allow it to invade my privacy. Oh, I know that HuffPo would not be able to hack into my bank accounts and I seriously doubt that they want to use the information posted on Facebook to harm me - I presume they need the data for commercial purposes to raise more money through advertising - but I grew up in a world where a letter to a newspaper editor would be published merely on the strength of giving one's name and address and was not dependent on also providing one's history and personal preferences in music, film and politics. And strangely enough, that is a world I still want to live in.
I have always been wary of large organisations, media or otherwise and I dislike giving more power to people who are already powerful. I never read the British HuffPo because I can get enough information about what is happening in the UK without contributing to Ms Huffington's overblown ego (the number of countries where she has set up partnerships is now, I believe, heading towards baker's dozen). I will continue to dip into the US version, but with increasing unwillingness. As for Kathleen Ann, I hope she finds an employer worthy of her hire, who rewards her appropriately. In an ideal world, it might be me.
Posted by Martin Foreman