The Vice Thread

My neighbor is one of the good ones.

I recently moved to Brooklyn — and from time to time we’ll run into each other during our daily rituals. He’s usually sweeping the sidewalk outside of his brownstone and I’m trying to catch the next train into Manhattan. I remember the first time he and I stopped what we were doing to talk. I’d had a long day at work and was walking back to my apartment as the street lights started to flicker. We’d seen each other before and I was growing to appreciate the pride he took in tending to his sidewalk — it’s space clearly handled with care.

I thanked him for his attentiveness. He kind of chuckled and simply said, “Don’t thank me. Thank the Department of Sanitation.” Curious, I did a little digging when I got back into my apartment and learned that in New York City people who own brownstones are required to keep the sidewalk in front of the building clean. You can even get slapped with a $300 fine if it’s not done.

This got me thinking. What would the world look like if media companies were held to the standards of a city sidewalk? Would employees be handled with similar care?

When Emily Steel’s New York Times article about workplace harassment at Vice came out on December 23rd the details were bad. Very bad. But I wasn’t exactly shocked.

In one example, a woman had to use her umbrella to prevent her co-worker from kissing her. In another, a woman was fired after she refused to sleep with an executive.

Admittedly, the inner workings of media companies are not typically held to the highest of ethical standards. We’ve seen this time and time and time and time again.

When the co-founders of Vice, Shane Smith and Suroosh Alvi, told the Times that, “from the top down, we have failed as a company to create a safe and inclusive workplace”, it caught me off guard. Vice, which is a global company, has over 500 employees in the NYC office alone. Mr. Smith is on record harboring an office environment drenched with liquor.

It would seem that creating a safe and inclusive workplace for their employees — specifically those who are marginalized — was the furthest thing from the intentions. Vice may have failed our standards of what a well-kept sidewalk looks like, but in a most peculiar way, with their abuse allegations, they may have met their own standards.

This is, after all, a company that is constantly pushing out stories while allegedly rewarding their most privileged employees by letting them grope women and go on racist rants. By design, Vice, with all of its malice, may be running exactly how it was designed to run.

It’s time for media companies to start tending to their sidewalks so that the people they employ can feel safe at the place they work.

Here’s the thing about being human, reader. We take our pain with us.

Vice had indeed hurt a lot of people. But weren’t we all kind of on the sidelines just waiting for this to drop? How long have we all known? As Twitter unfolded in the hours after the Times’ story dropped it wasn’t tweets of shock that were being sent.

My feed was mostly filled with folks who have been anxiously waiting for this to come out. It was like Twitter let out a collective sigh of relief for the first time in a minute. And as I stared at my phone I couldn’t help but wonder about the stories that haven’t been told.

How absolutely agonizing it must feel to watch your abuser finally take a punch — but not the punch you’ve wanted to land with your own story behind it.

And that’s why I did this.

The thing is, we can achieve so much if we probe the realities that exist for victims.

It built slow at first. Someone sent a Twitter DM detailing experiences of lewd sexual harassment. Another accounted a racist Human Resources Director. I vetted both claims and then grabbed dinner with a friend and his partner who were in the city.

After we paid our bill I looked down at phone which was now flooded with DM requests on Twitter, emails, Facebook Messenger requests, and even a lone LinkedIn message. This was going viral.

I took a deep breath and began reading the horrible testimonies from current and former Vice employees. Before posting, I vetted the background of the person. I confirmed they were okay with me posting their stories.

Most thanked me for creating a space for the stories to be told, but if I can be honest with you, it wasn’t until I had tweeted the last of 35 testimonies that I came to understand how Shane Smith and Suroosh Alvi created such a wretched environment. Could you imagine how exhausting it must have been to go to work every day knowing this as your reality?

Doing the most good means creating space for everyone. The future of media is on all of us, and it’s not about the next ad tech or social platform — it’s about providing a platform for those voices to be heard.

Read the testimonies below. Feel them. Ask yourself: how are you going to be a good neighbor? What kind of person are you?

Will you follow Emily Steel’s lead and help clean up media’s sidewalks? Or are you going to pass by hoping the next person cleans up for you?

Robyn Kanner is a writer and designer living in Brooklyn, NY.

Thank you to Alexis Kleinman, Carlos Maza, and Eden Rohatensky for their editorial guidance.