Longtime readers might remember my ongoing beef with Patreon. And perhaps I have good reason for beef – since their October 2015 security fuckup, I’m certainly reluctant to trust them with my credit card info. And I’ve written at length about how certain creators on Patreon use the platform to crowdfund abuse. It’s true that I think Patreon’s fee structure gives them a vested interest in not investigating reports of abuse, especially when a popular/profitable account is accused of wrongdoing. And it does seem inevitable to me that this environment allows for a cottage industry of professional victimizers, people who make a living by putting other people – often other Patreon Creators – on a virtual pillory.
But I don’t want to lay all the blame at Patreon’s feet, because the vast majority of creators on Patreon are not scam artists or abusers. I want to think that my experiences with Patreon represent the exception, not the rule. I’d be the first in line to congratulate Patreon if they managed to fix the issues I’ve been harping on for the past year. But they haven’t, and so I’m here, writing another post about Patreon’s problems.
It seems obvious at this point that Patreon’s abuse follow-up procedure is not that good. I don’t mean the rumor that their abuse-reporting form is really a circular file – I mean that Patreon’s own staff seem overwhelmed by abusive clients on the platform. For example, on March 17, one of Patreon’s own staff members was harassed by a Creator and his Patrons for following up on an abuse complaint, basically right in front of me.
The details: It seems that Franchesca Ramsey, a writer for Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show”, was getting a lot of shade thrown her way by a well-characterized professional victimizer on Patreon – namely, Sargon of Akkad and the droogs who fund him. Ramsey was upset that Sargon (real name: Carl Benjamin) is making his rent money by ripping her YouTube videos to insult her, and Tweeted as much. One of my readers gave Ramsey a link to stuff I’ve previously written about Sargon, and then put me in touch with her. In the course of our public discussion on Twitter, a ‘community happiness’ employee of Patreon reached out to Ramsey to say:
“I am sorry to hear this. I appreciate the work you do. This has been reported to our trust and safety team to investigate.”
It seems Sargon got wind of this, and became worried this might actually rouse Patreon into taking action against his account. Tweeting at top gear, Benjamin mobilized his funding base to harass the shit out of Ramsey, the Patreon employee, and even me. Since that time, the Patreon employee is now a “Former print managing editor turned community happiness [at] Patreon.” I don’t know whether that means she was terminated, or if she still works at Patreon- as you can see the account has gone private.
Benjamin’s account, meanwhile, is still earning more than $1000 per video of him calling Laci Green “a little fucking airhead” (17:44) and posting creepily sexualized fan-art of her on his channel. Or publicly wishing that Matt Binder “got married, had his wife cheat on him and is now a broken man”. Or doing paid livestreams to repeatedly slag off Anita Sarkeesian, because he “like[s] milking lolcows”. (Note: Those are just a few examples of res ispa loquitur-grade verbal abuse to be found across Benjamin’s odious oevure.)
Sargon’s backers often say statements like these are “criticism” or “fair comment”, but it just seems like abusive open letters funded by an angry mob. What’s more, these videos generate more abuse in turn, a positive feedback loop of troll one-upmanship (or as Sargon himself put it,”milking lolcows”.) Carl Benjamin might sell it as performance art or a satirical roast, but it’s really an online pillory, with himself as the Patreon-funded master of ceremonies.
Sargon isn’t an anomaly, though – Carl’s is but one of a bunch of similar accounts. For example, “The Sarkeesian Effect”, an film by Jordan Owen and Davis Aurini, collected about $45,000 in 2014-15 for a documentary largely agreed to be an inept pile of crap. Noted male atheist Phil Mason has also cashed in on the Sarkeesian brand, making dozens of videos about her and earning thousands of dollars per recording (he even did an interview with “The Sarkeesian Effect” guys.) And for every account that earns the big bucks, there are dozens more competitors in the same stock & trade – that is to say, other trolls willing to hurl insults from a virtual pillory for money and call it “philosophy, history and satire.”
Patreon explictly states in its Community Standards that “Upload[ing] content that is offensive and/or harmful, including, but not limited to, content that advocates, endorses, condones or promotes racism, bigotry, hatred or physical harm of any kind against any individual or group of individuals” is sufficient grounds to ban creators from the platform. Yet Sargon remains, airing his bigoted, pirate-ish videos for ~$1000 per recording. Even when their own staff is getting hounded by Sargon and his fanbase, Patreon’s only response seems to be to bury the complaints about this account.
Again, Sargon isn’t an anomaly – there dozens of other creators on Patreon using similar business models (if we can call this a business), crowdfunding abuse to build their own little virtual pillories. And often as not, it’s other Patreon creators who are getting their content swiped to build some other guy’s channel.
At this point, it seems like Patreon might be a little bit resigned to what’s going on. And maybe I’m expecting too much, for a company that couldn’t get data security right to ban lucrative accounts on the grounds of abusive behavior. But if you see something, say something, right? Because it’s pretty brazen that Sargon’s harassing Patreon employees in front of me, yet that’s where we are right now.
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