Header image credit: Medium.com
I quite like the idea behind Medium. For people who don’t want (or need) a blog, it lowers the bar and lets them post ideas or longer stories. It lets people have their stories interact and crosslink, to share ideas in a way that expands people’s horizons. You get to see more than just one voice. Also the editor is pretty sweet stuff.
But I don’t really like it for two reasons: accountability and ownership. Mostly ownership, because the accountability thing isn’t Medium’s fault, it’s the world’s.
Personally, I don’t use it because I have my own blog. I have quite a few blogs, actually. While posting on Medium might introduce me to another audience, it’s not something I feel I need to do as it might cause more dillution of my online identity. Having too many places to find and follow a person is as bad as none at all. So that’s the ownership issue I have. It’s not that I don’t own my stuff, it’s that it’s not as easily followable as me. A good example of this is my friend Helen, who writes some very thoughtful stuff on Medium and even though I know I can go to her page there and follow, I never do because I’m already following her blogs and why do I have to go somewhere else?
This may just be me, but I don’t like it. I have my blog here where people can follow my personal Mika-ness. I have a techy blog. I have photos. Those three make up the brunt of my long-form posts (and my store blog I suppose, which I still don’t have a real feel for). Point is, between them and Twitter and Facebook, I think there’s enough of me-ness to go around. That’s why I post about SCA stuff here and not sca.ipstenu.org (or elfwars or something silly). It’s a part of my personal, fun, life that is just stuff I do.
Accountability is a bigger thing.
There was a big riot over in Github about Julie Ann Horvath, an engineer at GitHub, who left due to sexism and harassment. Always these things become a he-said/she-said argument, and in Julie’s case, an anonymous person posted some ‘Facts Conveniently Withheld‘ on Medium.
Regardless of where you side on this one, it’s a concern that Medium, which is a kind of managed agora, affords that level of anonymity without moderation.
Okay, I know what I just said and someone will shout “I should be allowed to be anonymous on the internet!”
Yes, you’re right! You should! I think accounts like OohaKala’s and his(?) post about why he’s anonymously writing are hugely important. I believe strongly that GooglePlus and their real name bullshit is bullshit. I think people should be allowed the veiled protection of anonymity on the internet. I think it’s great Medium, like WordPress.com, allows people to express opinions that may not be welcomed.
At the same time, when someone steps up, like Julie did, and says “This happened to me.” I can’t help but get pissed off at people who hide and say “No it didn’t.”
This is a rather extreme example of the issue I have with accountability, but it bothers me that many of us feel we cannot express thoughts that may cause anger (like my acceptance of people who hate the gay) without being hidden. Medium, and WordPress.com, and Twitter, and Facebook, and everything else where we can pretend to be other people. Someone will use that to hurt others. I’ve been on the internet for a long time, long enough to see people make fake personas to garner attention, and long enough to have made real online friends and had them die. I’ve been talking to people in text for what is now the majority of my life, and for some people, their entire lives have been where we can communicate with strangers around the world, and that’s okay.
Anonymity isn’t the issue though.
When you feel that the only way to express your opinion safely is to do so anonymously, there’s a problem. It’s a problem that people live in fear that they can’t say what they want. Sometimes what you want to say isn’t going to be well received. I have those days where I turn to my wife, in private, and say “I’m a bad person and I can never say this out side.”
Not everything has to be said in your outloud voice. Not everything has to be public. But what is public should be things we can stand behind and believe in. We should be able to stand up and say “No, that is not the whole story and I know because…” The very fact that this Jane Doe person hide herself (or himself) like that makes me discount the validity. Would I have taken Julie’s story as seriously had I not had the name and face behind it? Probably. I would have said “Yep, it happened again.” But with her name, with her honesty, and with her face I look at her and say “Wow, this really had to be bad and painful to give her this courage.”
We laud transparency in our companies. We praise them when they say “This outage was caused by Bob unplugging the server” and when people like Andrew Nacin step up and say that we’re sorry about pushing WordPress 3.8.2 that broke quickdrafts. When we make mistakes, we’re honest. But we still can’t be that honest with our personal thoughts. Or at least not 100% honest in all things we say in public.
I can’t say “If you can’t say it as yourself, don’t say it at all” because we don’t live in world where that’s safe. But I wish we did. I wish the world was a place where Medium’s anonymity wasn’t needed. And that’s my issue. It’s not really with Medium, it’s with everyone else who makes it so people don’t feel safe or listened to. It’s with the world. I want everyone to be able to own their words, always, in all things.
But it’s just not possible.