On the Purge of Sanders Supporters at The Daily Kos

If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. It’s a basic truth about the Internet we all forget. Facebook doesn’t exist to help you reconnect with friends from high school. It exists so you can “like” McDonald’s instead of Burger King, so your spending habits can be profiled for market research. The ultra-left, “social justice warrior” community on Twitter may often feel a sense of power by blocking, shaming, and “dragging” people they don’t like. But in the end — after Twitter introduces an algorithmic time line and makes it mandatory — the joke will be on them. They’ll realize at long last that all along they’ve been guinea pigs for a giant corporation.

The Daily Kos, a Democratic Party affiliated content portal founded in 2002, doesn’t quite have the same reach as Twitter or Facebook, but its numbers are astonishing. In 2016, it was ranked by Alexa as the 272nd biggest website in the United States. In July of 2014, it received 37,090,980 page views per month. It’s all the more remarkable an achievement when you realize how the site employs only 5 or 6 full-time writers, fewer than a small-town newspaper in the Midwest. The vast majority of its content consists of diaries posted free of charge by users hoping to tap into the site’s vast readership for a large variety of liberal causes.

As of March 15, those liberal causes will no longer include the campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. While publisher Markos Moulitsas has not explicitly banned diaries supporting Sanders – the explicit ban only applies to third party candidates like Jill Stein – he done worse. He has banned words. No longer will Daily Kos users be able to call Hillary Clinton a “war monger” or refer to the United States as an “oligarchy,” a word invented by Aristotle to mean “government by the rich.” Moulitsas has, in effect, instituted a requirement that Sanders supporters use only neutered, corporate friendly language, a rule that makes a left-populist campaign all but impossible.

Mr. Jefferson, while we have no trouble with a little revolution against the British Empire now and then, why must you refer to your sovereign as a “tyrant?” It’s an inflammatory word that will make it much more difficult to win over moderates in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, people you need if you want your little “Declaration” to go down in history as anything more than a scrap of paper. Mr. Marx, while we appreciate the trenchant analysis of capitalism in your pamphlet The Communist Manifesto, we have a problem with the last line. “Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.” Don’t you think the use of the word “chains” to apply to white proletarians in Western Europe is a form of “erasure” that discounts the experience of black slaves in North America? Mr. Lenin, while the far-left annoys us as much as it annoys annoys anybody else, referring to your political opponents as people suffering from “an infantile disorder” is “abelist” and will not be tolerated. Going forward, let’s all try to be more constructive and less dismissive of people suffering from mental illness.

Liberal Democratic blogs and content portals took off in 2002 and 2003 in the aftermath, not only of the stolen election of 2000, but also of the dotcom crash. Back in the late 1990s, the biggest political website on the Internet was The Drudge Report, a far-right-wing news aggregator that played an important role in the impeachment of President Clinton. In 2001 and 2002, neoconservatives like Andrew Sullivan and Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs pushed hard for George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq. When liberal Democratic sites like The Daily Kos and Media Matters came along, they felt like breath of fresh air, an opportunity for the left to hit back against the people who impeached Clinton, stole the election from Al Gore, and used the traumatic events of 9/11 to stampede the American people into Iraq.

There was only one little problem. Websites like the Daily Kos and Media Matters were not invented to empower the left, but to act as “left gatekeepers,” to channel the anger people felt at George W. Bush safely into corporate wing of Democratic Party. Even during the darkest days of the Bush years, many people noticed. They pointed out, for example, that on the Daily Kos you could write all the diaries you wanted about the invasion of Iraq, but you had better refer to it as a “mistake” and not a “war crime.” Criticism of Israel wasn’t explicitly banned, but it was allowed only after you jumped through enough hoops to prove you weren’t anti-Semitic, and even then, you’d probably get run off the site by a well-organized gang of Zionist trolls if you tried.

Above all, Democratic Party affiliated websites like the Daily Kos allowed a small, and usually elite group of digital entrepreneurs to monetize discontent, to turn people away from the anarchist Indymedia network and from truly open-source platforms like Usenet, and lead them back into the tightly controlled world of the “free market.” For many people it initially seemed like an acceptable trade off. You could build your reputation, polish your “brand,” and eventually move into a paid position, either at a traditional newspaper, or at one of the newer on line journals like Slate or Salon. Reporters and photographers would continue to get paid. Salon, at its height in the late 1990s, for example, employed over 100 people. What many people never quite realized was that once the venture capital dried up, the model for political and cultural expression on line would be not capitalism. It would be neoliberal capitalism. After the dotcom crash of 2000, newly minted college graduates with degrees in English or Political Science would no longer be able to move into $75,000 dollar a year full time jobs at what would be essentially an on line version of the traditional media. Instead, a small, elite group would make a profit, and the rest of us would become their unpaid interns. It would be our content, but their money.

In other words, Markos Moulitsas has been a very successful political grifter, but he’s really only the tip of the iceberg, part of vast system of the digital extraction of intellectual and emotional labor that’s just getting started. What’s the solution? I don’t know. Maybe it’s time just to break the Internet.

8 thoughts on “On the Purge of Sanders Supporters at The Daily Kos”

  1. I think what has happened is the internet writing content has become a double edged sword. With the advent of blogs, anyone can start a blog for free, or if you want to be fancy, pay a small hosting fee and host your blog, and you are off. You can write what you like, when you like, however good or bad it doesn’t matter. This forced mainstream print media such as NYT or WaPo to publish ‘online’ content along with print content to compete. Now the work of journalists is worth almost nothing. Why spend money on investigative, good, thorough journalism when almost anyone will write for free. Anyone can be a ‘source’ now, journalistic standards have fallen and the fact that one needs to verify what they say or write is no longer true. In fact, so many words have proliferated the internet that there are people paying to get themselves published as opposed to the other way around. People’s words and ideas are worthless now. So, let’s break the internet – the non-Kim Kardashian way.

    1. I agree. But I also think there was a conscious effort in the early 2000s to build a system that depended on unpaid, not paid professional labor. Ask any photographer or videographer today how many times that he/she has been approached by Fox or CNN for “free” content. It didn’t have to be this way.

            1. It could be. I know that back in 2007 Bill Clinton had a meeting with most of their most prominent writers and after that the site stopped being a progressive Democratic party site and simply a Democratic Party site.

              But their revenue model goes back to the very beginning in the aftermath of the dotcom crash. Nobody was making money putting out content back then. So everybody, including Salon, fired all their staff, and remodeled themselves into much more stripped down operations.

              Places like Salon and The New Republic do get venture capital and do pay their writers. The Daily Kos obviously spends a lot of money on bandwith but their expenses for writers are almost nothing. They can easily turn a profit running ads but I honestly don’t know how big that profit is.

              That they let all the Sanders supporters on the site at all is interesting. It argues that they needed the clicks for the advertising revenue. Their paid writers usually bully leftists off the site without any explicit bans. But in this case, the Sanders supporters were too stubborn and too numerous.

  2. The digital news sites bait writers into thinking “their” mammoth platform will garner you exposure, create more followers, facilitate a contributor position at a National glossy publication or a book deal—and one should drop their pen and fall on their arthritic knees to be on their masthead.

    But once on-board it’s more like off with your head as providing free content months on end, gnaws at your muse, while endless hours of conceptualizing, interviewing, writing, editing and re-writing merely invokes needles to cloud your vision, and whittles your fingers down to chalky bone.

    The only thing green you see is mold around that cup of coffee squeezing into a brown ring atop last weeks drafts.

    In 2011 I witnessed the sale of The Huffington Post to the corporate mainstream giant AOL for $310 million / $300 million in cash.
    Arianna lined her silk stockings with Ben Franklin to keep from being frigid. All the while not even a thank you to her 6000+ devoted writers that made “her” the commodity “she” became.

    More exploitation followed with AOL as they amassed a pool of free labor. All on the heels of her new book, “Third World America,” aptly titled, as she helped create a Third World mentality in the U. S.—by not paying her writers.

    Huff puffed out two more books after she experienced a life changing event by falling to the floor from lack of sleep. How apropos…I surmise her sub-conscious kept her awake at night–recounting all the dedicated writers she intentionally mistreated over the years. Now she’s on a new path of self-discovery…as she Greek immigrant leaves the weathered cattle of invisible writers in her wake.

    It is the Masthead solely that benefits from their association with these behemoth digital news sites. The rest of us…merely carry them to higher ground atop our blistered backs.

    Former HP Contributor –R. B. STUART
    But it’s all about forgiveness..NOT };-)

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