The Patreon Problem

On March 31st 2017 I published an article entitled, A Tale of YouTuber Stupidity, where I made the case for third party monetization sites like Patreon having a fatal flaw. The fatal flaw being that it’s a third party with separate interests that may not align with your own and vice versa.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the company, Patreon is a website launched in May 2013, that allows creators of varying content to receive financial support from their subscriber base. The content is everything from art to YouTube videos. So if you are say, an artist with a sizeable following, you could set up a Patreon account, and your subscribers can then become your patrons and help you do things like afford shiny new art supplies.

Now the controversy is not over people doing something as simple as getting new art supplies. The controversy begins when there are people who make so much money using Patreon that they pay their rent with it. It’s been nicknamed “Hipster welfare” by some online, and in some cases it’s really not far off from the truth. There are literally people who use the platform that don’t even produce content anymore and use it as a means for their friends to keep them from basically being homeless.

But even being “Hipster welfare,” keeping listless layabouts afloat, doesn’t get to the heart of the problem. The problem arises when the content and the content creator is controversial, and they use a platform like Patreon to pay their bills. Now Patreon’s terms of service has been written in such a way that any account could be up for removal at their discretion. It’s been worded this way for the past two years, and I really don’t take issue with a company defending it’s own interests.

Be that as it may, with a string of Conservative and other types of dissenters being unceremoniously booted from the platform, there is an undeniable conundrum. This conundrum is intrinsically tied to the fact that there really should be a means of people receiving money directly online without the use of a third party company like Patreon, but there isn’t. I keep hearing people talk about someone making a Patreon alternative, but no matter how many third party platforms one makes, you’re still going to run into the exact same problems that you do with sites like YouTube, Patreon, or Paypal.

As long as there is a company through which your money must pass before it reaches you, there is no guarantee that you will continue to receive that money reliably if you have unpopular views or if your views don’t align with those of the tech companies. They are certainly within their rights to do business with who they choose to do business. Certainly the people who were banned from Patreon have a right to be angry, but the people who think we need to build another Patreon or force Patreon to do business with everyone are beyond shortsighted.

Within this bizarre nesting doll of problems is also the culture war at hand. If I were to lay it out as bluntly as possible, Silicon Valley is really hyper liberal. There’s really no beating around the bush. The people there live within their own little micro culture of people who all think the way they do. Many of these well known tech giants exist in these concentrated spaces in California, and New York within a couple miles of each other. A lot of them know each other and go to the same seminars. It’s all highly incestuous.

There’s no grand conspiracy, just people who have very little in common with ordinary people, making decisions based on their own biases. Their views and values align with the white collar highly liberal culture carefully cultivated by these companies. They are absolutely not going to budge on any of the issues raised by people concerned that social media companies wield way too much power. There is no fix for something like this. There are very powerful people who see these controversial figures on their platforms, and their immediate thought is that these people have to go.

I’ve talked to several people concerned about my views on this and so I’ll try to summarize this as best as possible. The views of these tech companies are so completely different than those of the people critiquing them, that you might as well be an ant telling a human that they should watch where they’re walking. It would have about the same effect. They are not interested in appeasing users like Sargon of Akkad because they see the undesirables as a worthy sacrifice to be made in the name of a cleaner safer platform.

That’s what all of this is really about. I’m not really a fan of Sargon like I used to be. I disagree with a lot of what he’s doing now, but it’s easy to understand why platforms like Patreon would think he needs to go. There’s a lot of other companies tied up in how these tech giants get paid. Those companies have a vested interest in cleaning up social media, video sites like YouTube, and even the kinds of search results that pop up when you use Google. For them this is all just much needed house cleaning.

Everywhere you look online the purge is beginning. Tumblr recently banned all adult content. Patreon alternatives are beginning to find themselves banned from using Paypal. Twitter and YouTube are banning accounts using bizarre algorithms and learning artificial intelligence programs. This war is beginning because all of these companies know that traditional media is dying. They know that the future means even more people will be online because it will be the place you go to watch TV. So yes they are going to be really heavy handed in sanitizing everything so that advertisers feel comfortable in doing business with them.

The advertisers know that as more people unplug and switch to streaming, it will become harder and harder to reach people like they did with traditional television. They spend millions of dollars every year on promoting brand recognition and commercials so that people identify their brands with certain feelings. They don’t just want to be the brands you see on YouTube. They want to be the brands your kids see when they are watching minecraft let’s plays, so that when they get older the brand recognition carries over. They want their products juxtaposed with the approved YouTube influencers and not beside someone who even vaguely smells controversial.

So to wrap this all up, the Patreon problem is not merely the issue of one company deciding to ban conservatives and other controversial dissenters. It’s a matter of all these intertwined companies in a hyper liberal micro culture working in their best interests, by banning and demonetizing those that may be seen as undesirable. As long as there is a third party company between content creators and their money, this exact problem will keep popping up.

However I very much predict that this article will be ignored just about as much as the previous one. Many will say I’m being hyperbolic and overly pessimistic. They will insist upon a Patreon alternative, and while they’re ardently awaiting this site’s creation, the other tech giants will likely continue their heavy handed purge of all the perceived ne’er-do-wells, while the underlying issue remains unsolved.

I really wish I had a positive end for this article, but until we make it possible for people to send each other money online without a service or company attached, you really have no chance of realistically taking back the internet from these companies. Find a way for people to send money online without a third party company and you save the internet. But right now they basically own you. They own all the places you want to be, and they own the means by which you contact your friends and loved ones online. That’s already way too much power, but it’s the power that they wield, and it’s the power we gave them. Maybe it’s time we took that power back.