The media attempted to destroy Josh Ostrovsky, “The Fat Jew,” this week with headlines such as “’The Fat Jew’: joke-stealing parasite or social media genius?” and “@TheFatJewish Is a Thief” Such polarizing headlines are undoubtedly clickbait, driven by the desire to make more money/sell more ads, and it sure does work, Gawker has claimed 50 million dollars in revenue this year. The media onslaught has driven Josh to issue an apology,
At the end of the day, I get it: I should have been providing attribution for all posts. It’s always been important to me. The internet is a vast ocean of stuff, and sometimes it’s hard to find the original source of something. I now realize that if I couldn’t find a source for something, I probably shouldn’t have posted it in the first place.
As someone who has been using the internet for almost 20 years, I don’t think there is an ethical issue of reposting content without credit. For instance, myself and other folks on a image based chat site I helped start called dump.fm, were the driving force behind the “Deal With It” meme.. this month the phrase is featured on the cover of Time magazine with Donald Trump.
Do I care? Do I want credit? No. I think its super cool! I have made many memes, and contributed to ideas that I have never gotten credit for, that have made other people LOTS of money. It would be corny and smug to start listing all of them, so I’ll spare you. This type of unfettered sharing is what the internet has always been predicated on — the earliest example I can remember was a cartoon from The New Yorker that appeared on countless people’s GeoCities pages in the 90s, it wasn’t until recently I even knew its origin.
The Peter Steiner panel has been the most reproduced cartoon in The New Yorker’s history and is an image macro that continues on in modern meme form –
Point being, the reality of this type of adaptation and divorcement from the authorship of an image/joke is nothing new online.
That being said, I don’t want to focus this on defending the ethics of sharing content online as it pertains to The Fat Jew, Dirty South Joe already wrote a piece about that.
I want to focus on the dangers of hyperbolic online news media practices.
Such practices were put into question in February by Jon Ronson in his NYTimes piece, “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life,” which chronicles how a former IAC employee’s stupid Tweet, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” unjustly ruined her entire life — losing her career and receiving countless death threats personally and towards her extended family. Said tweet gained attention when it was posted to Gawker’s Valley Wag by Sam Biddle –
A year later Biddle did some self reflection and posted an apology on Gawker in post, “Justine Sacco Is Good at Her Job, and How I Came To Peace With Her.” Biddle met with Sacco, which effectively humanized her, and he realized she wasn’t a terrible person –
And, as it turned out, Justine Sacco is not a racist monster. She is a kind and canny woman who threw back cocktails, ate delicately, and spoke expertly about software. She was friendly, very funny, instantly relatable, and very plainly not a cruel sicko. We talked about college, jobs, home, family, and work — she’d recently landed on her feet as the communications boss for a small New York startup, and seemed to be happily rebuilding her career.
Clearly Sam Biddle didn’t take his words to heart, as he continued to transform multifaceted human beings and subjects into sensationalist “news stories” — being the first to “report” The Fat Jew controversy in his vitriolic Gawker post “@TheFatJewish Is a Thief.” Here he attempts to expose the obvious, as if to be some type of revelation — THE FAT JEW DOESNT WRITE ALL THE CONTENT HE POSTS ON INSTAGRAM AND TWITTER– juxtaposing screenshots of things Josh posted with screenshots of other places the same joke appears. Toward the end of the article I began to question if it was sincere at all, or just a giant troll, or a rant masquerading as news — this doubt occurred when I got to the part where Biddle interviews the owner of BrownCardigan on getting “ripped off” online. Hysterical, coming from a long running meme blog that’s been doing the exact same shit as Josh since its inception.
I tweeted to Sam, telling him he should apologize to Josh in the same manner he did to Justine Sacco.
To which he curtly replied “I don’t think so”
Then I tried to find out if the post was truly an exposé, if he truly thought it was some type of revelation that Josh reposts content –
Although Sam completely deflected my question, his response offers a pure insight into his post’s origin story — that he was butt-hurt about something. Prior to Sam’s post I found out from Josh that he had requested an interview, which was denied for whatever reason — I brought this up in my next tweet to Sam –
I continued to tweet questions to Sam, but this was his last reply to me. Yet to me, these replies were enough. They clearly establish that Sam Biddle’s story was written out of anger and spite. I believe framing such vindictive writing as “news” within the authority of a large publication is dangerous and fucked up. Do I care that Sam believes Josh to be a thief? No. Do I care that comedians are mad at Josh and do I believe their opinion is without merit or value? No. I feel that large publications online should aspire to higher standards. Biddle could have written a fantastic piece explaining the dynamic complexity of attribution online, instead he wrote a piece which opened up the floodgates of hate — framing Josh as a monster and contributing firsthand to the sensationalist churn that travels like a virus from one news outlet to another.
Regardless of what side you are on with this issue, there is no productive outcome of such a thing — Memes are still getting shared by millions without credit and comedians are still not getting paid for their Tweets. Some might argue that it hurt Fat Jew’s career, which may or may not be true. I would argue that those who want to hurt another person, without actually fixing a problem, are destructive people who’s hate infects the world — one person’s life is another persons venting bag to unjustly direct their pent up anger towards, because lets face it, there is a lot to be angry about. Hold up one sec, there are a couple parties involved who profit. First the platforms, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc etc all profit when people share crap on their sites. The media corporations and the people who work for them also profit. Yes, undoubtedly Gawker and all the other big clickbait websites turn a nice profit peddling their anger-journalism. For Sam Biddle, drinks were on Nick Denton (Gawker’s owner) the night after the Fat Jew “exposé.” For Nick Denton, drinks were on Lexus or whatever corporation is sinking ad dollars into his click machine.. Meanwhile, those same companies become more reluctant to work with The Fat Jew. Sam Biddle profits from his vindictive hyperbole, and gets to hide behind the publication/corporation he peddles it on — while Josh Ostrovsky, an individual, has to recoil in shame, without a corporation to shield him.
So let me ask you the following — which is more wicked — The Fat Jew marginally profiting off posting other people’s jokes, which bring joy to his followers? Or Gawker majorly profiting off slanderous op-ed character assassinations masquerading as journalism, that fill readers with hate? In one scenario nobody gets hurt in any real way – in the other – careers are potentially ruined, relationships are wrecked, family members are sent death threats and reputations are tarnished all because a writer, who the common reader doesn't even know the name of, needed to publish an easy story that would get clicked on to meet a quota and receive a corporate pat on the back.
Why am I writing about this? Because I love the internet and I think sharing on it should be encouraged. What gives me the authority to write about this? Because I too was victimized in basically the exact same way, when an artwork of mine called “Art Whore” was myopically and inaccurately publicized by writers looking to turn a complicated issue into sensationalist clickbait. In the wake of their posts, I was the only victim. Their selfish anger was guarded behind the authority of the publications they write for. Such publications, profiting from slander, inspired people who don’t know me and who didn’t read past the media’s hyperbolic framing of me as “scummy” and “offensive” to send me death threats to this day, for a work that is far more multifaceted than how it was presented.
Ultimately, I hope for an internet that rewards writers who can address, embrace and make sense of the complexity of this place — not cop out for clicks addressing topics with tried and true tactics of sensationalism and anger.
– Ryder Ripps, 29/M/NYC