The Problem With Patreon

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.

Having Achieved Its Goals, Eron Gjoni’s Legal Saga Continues

One year and eight months after writing a tell-all blog post designed to ruin his ex-girlfriend’s career (if not her life), Eron Gjoni has made it clear that he is not moving on. In a recent update on his extremely boring intrigues with the Massachusetts appellate court, Eron Gjoni seems prepared to litigate against his ex for the remainder of his natural life, provided he’s given sufficient cash to do it by his #Gamergate backers.

Even though he restraining order against him has been lifted and the criminal charges pending against him have been dropped, Eron persists in suing his ex Zoe Quinn. He seems to have two fairly nebulous goals, 1) to “clear my name a little” and 2) “try to make case law protecting other people (in Massachusetts anyway) from being unconstitutionally subject to similar orders.”

Going through qrios/Eron’s recent postings in KotakuinAction, these court dates seem more like an exercise for Eron’s ego. He takes court date selfies for his #Gamergate fans, and at least once brought a date to court. His lengthy updates/retellings about what exactly Gamergate was and why he needs to keep litigating Zoe Quinn are so distorted and unreliable that reading Eron Gjoni at this point is like reading Humbert Humbert.

Dude, Eron, it’s painfully obvious you’re not over her. Nothing screams “I’m not over this relationship” like continuing to litigate your ex-partner *after* the restraining order was vacated. Nothing says “I am not over this” like complaining to the Daily Dot that you think orders of protection “are kind of a golden ticket you can get in about 5 minutes with pretty much no evidence whatsoever”, and that “the order ZQ opted for is notorious for its potential to be misused as a means of subverting the First Amendment.” But my question is this: Were your 1st amendment rights ever even curtailed?

I mean, think about it. Eron Gjoni has gone on – at length – about Zoe Quinn for a year and eight months now, restraining order or not. In fact, he violated it several times, and never spent a night in jail (or faced any other real penalty) for doing so. What the hell more could Eron want out of his free speech rights? It seems to me they have gotten a lot of mileage.

I am not sure how Eron expects to “clear [his] name a little” by litigation and posting on Reddit when to date doing these things just made his life worse. The court can’t change public opinion, or rule that that Zoe Quinn totally deserved to have The Zoe Post written about her. Nor can they award Eron with the book deal or the movie deal or restore the robotics job he used to have, but lost after publishing The Zoe Post.

It seems like Eron’s life is all about Gamergate now, that he’s prepared to keep holding on to whatever he can to stay relevant and e-famous in those circles, even if it means treating Massachusetts courts like his personal reality TV show. I only hope that his backers figure out eventually that the only people profiting off this circus is Eron and his legal team.

 

What’s New With Margaret Pless

My treasured readers may have noticed I have not written blog posts this past month. I have never published according to a set schedule (it’s part of the “idle dilettante” thing) but in the past month I didn’t post any, and my blogging output is likely to remain much reduced until at least mid-May.

As some of you already know, I’m currently a Master’s student in Biology at CUNY, having been accepted to the program Fall of 2015. As of 1/25/16 I accepted a job working in the Structural Biology Lab – chiefly in protein chemistry, but my work there also involves some crystallography and other tests. The research specifically focuses on proteins involved in processes of nucleotide excision repair – in plain language, the processes by which DNA heals itself from everyday wear-and-tear caused by exposure to water, oxygen, or UV rays. It’s a critical function to life – without it, DNA would not have sufficient fidelity to transmit genetic information.

That said, the new job can be quite taxing. Obtaining a sufficiently pure protein solution from cell lysates requires about 14 hours of active work – and that’s just to get the protein, without doing any experiments to it. The work is time-bound as well – just like a steak in your fridge, protein in our cold rooms becomes unusable if purification isn’t completed within a few days. I estimate that I spend about 30 hours per week in the lab, which doesn’t include time spent preparing for classes required to complete my degree, or time spent applying for grants & fellowships (so I can receive additional compensation.)

Work in the lab is mind-intensive in addition to being time-intensive. I personally still have a lot to learn about the science and techniques of protein purification, as well as the microbiology techniques my supervisor uses to create the bacteria I destroy in order to get protein. I come home from work tired, and yet I lie awake at night thinking about the laboratory, about what I left to run overnight & what needs to happen tomorrow.

Which brings me  to this blog. This update isn’t a resignation letter – if PZ Myers can find the time to blog, surely I can too – but a heads-up that my dilettantish blogging schedule is likely to become more dilettantish for the remainder of this semester. I have responsibilities to uphold with CUNY which simply take precedence over entertaining Sargon of Akkad’s & his fans’ complaints that Nightly Show writers may read and link to my previous posts. (Or that this high-profile RT might get the attention of staff at Patreon.) These things haven’t escaped my attention, but I’m too busy with these proteins to do much more than Tweet about it.

So, if you’re wondering where I’ve been, and why no blog posts throughout the month of February, that’s the reason. I am, of course, still reachable – per email in every case (mpless@gm.slc.edu) and via Twitter if you’re cool.

Sincerely

Margaret Pless