Source: BBC News - Technology | 3 Dec 2021 | 5:13 pm
Source: BBC News - Technology | 3 Dec 2021 | 4:09 pm
Source: BBC News - Technology | 3 Dec 2021 | 1:01 pm
Source: BBC News - Technology | 3 Dec 2021 | 10:30 am
A version of this article was published in TIME’s newsletter Into the Metaverse. Subscribe for a weekly guide to the future of the Internet.
It’s brutally hard for most musicians to make money in the streaming era. Artists get paid fractions of pennies per stream, with many struggling to find sizable audiences at all: Data from 2019 and 2020 shows that 90% of streams go to the top 1% of artists. Even a moderately successful artist like Daniel Allan—whose songs got millions of plays in 2020—only received a few hundred bucks a month from streaming, requiring him to take on jobs like mixing and mastering other artists’ music to pay the bills.
But over the past half year, Allan has turned to a different model that allows him both financial and creative freedom: NFTs. While the pandemic kept Allan largely at home and unable to make money from playing live concerts, he has been selling digital copies of his electronic pop songs as NFTs—non-fungible tokens—for thousands of dollars each. He spent months cultivating relationships with NFT enthusiasts, built a community of devoted fans online and then leveraged this popularity to raise 50 ETH ($140,000 on the day of trading) in a one-day campaign to crowd-fund his upcoming album, Overstimulated. The campaign auctioned off 50% of Allan’s share of future master royalties—with the half he’s keeping a far better deal than most major-label artists receive—while giving him a hefty advance and creative autonomy. Allan also sells songs individually on the NFT music platform Catalog—which doesn’t require him to surrender the rights to his work. Combined, he says he now makes 85% of his living off NFTs.
Hundreds of musicians are following Allan into this world. On Catalog, 140 artists have sold over 350 records for more than $1 million combined. In the digital collective Songcamp, dozens of musicians from across the world are forming teams to crank out music and multimedia creations. Altogether, the goal of these NFT-based musicians isn’t to top the charts, but to push technological boundaries and carve out a living outside of the record label system, which has dominated the music industry for decades. “I don’t think this creates rich artists,” Allan says. “What this does is create a musical middle class.”
Time will tell whether music NFTs are a mere byproduct of a bullish crypto market or a transformative force destined to upend the music industry. While optimists talk of a new “creator economy” and artistic autonomy, skeptics voice concerns about utility, and whether the current model of music NFTs will scale beyond a handful of artists who are heavily involved in the crypto community.
Who is spending thousands of dollars on records that used to be 99¢ on iTunes? Many of the early buyers of music NFTs are crypto enthusiasts who are financially invested in seeing these spaces succeed; their purchases are both speculative assets and ideological stands. “In the same way that you buy art that want to put in your apartment, I want to listen to this music and enjoy it—and it’s a different feeling to own it,” Brett Shear, an NFT collector who owns 45 songs on Catalog for which he paid more than 40 ETH (currently $177,000) says. “I’m happy spending money on artists that I believe in their vision—and in addition to that, I do believe that music NFTs are going to be significantly more valuable in the future.”
Some artists are raking in unprecedented money from these deep-pocketed fans: the Chicago rapper Ibn Inglor, for example, raised $92,000 by selling various opportunities for fans—including shares of his upcoming album’s royalties—as NFTs. But for many artists, equally important to the financial windfall has been the emergence of dedicated fanbases who are coalescing around groups on Discord, the preferred platform for NFT and crypto enthusiasts. Allan subscribes to the idea that having “100 true fans” is better than having many casual ones—so he spends 6 to 8 hours a day interacting with his fans on his Discord, where they offer encouragement, feedback and memes. Because many of them have bought a share of his masters from him, they are emotionally and financially invested in his success. For his next project, he wants to break down the wall between artist and fan even further. “I want to be like, ‘Here are 20 demos, let’s make an EP together,’” he says. “There are a lot of creative people in my Discord but they haven’t necessarily had the mechanisms to be able to exercise their creativity.”
In building up community and infrastructure, Allan and others see NFTs as a viable alternative to the current system of major music labels. Labels have long been powerful in the music industry because they provide artists with cash up front, mentorships, mass distribution and strategies to thrive. But in return, they usually assume creative control and the rights to an artist’s masters, allowing them to use the music in perpetuity. (Owning masters was so important to Taylor Swift that she is re-recording all of her old albums from scratch.) NFT musicians believe that a new model like the one offered by Catalog might be able to provide financial stability, creative freedom and community all in one go.
Haleek Maul became a believer in the power of NFTs after a decade in the music industry, including being signed to labels, led him to grow disillusioned with the system. “There was a large degree of manipulation and a lack of regard for my wider vision as an artist,” he says. Last month, Maul sold 4 songs as NFTs for 56 ETH (now $261,000). Maul also has a thriving Discord, owns his masters and is using the funds he made from NFT sales to build a music and art studio in Barbados, which he hopes will uplift a community that often suffers from brain drain.
“Before, your fanbase couldn’t be in the label meetings with you. But now we all are the label together,” he says. “It’s like being in the auction house window versus going and campaigning for what you believe in.”
Latashá, an L.A.-based musician who has sold over 50 music and multimedia NFTs, says that the ability of labels to nurture talent from the ground up was already on the wane before the rise of NFTs. “I haven’t connected with a label in years that was fully into developing artists anymore,” she says. “Artists had to before really cultivate numbers on platforms like Instagram, TikTok and Twitter before a label would even look at them. I think it’s important for artists to think about their autonomy.”
As individual artists build ecosystems around them, more collaborative efforts are also amassing momentum. Songcamp, a collective founded in March, has hosted songwriting camps for dozens of previously unconnected songwriters, with those new creations selling for thousands of dollars on Catalog. The songs then received both visual treatments from artists and accompanying narrative stories in their public rollouts. “Songwriting camps are often no longer fun after the music is made: it gets stuck in this thing we call the music industry, and no music ends up coming out,” Matthew Chaim, Songcamp’s founder, says. “We decided: let’s run camps where the fast and fun continues into visual creation, release distribution and monetization of the music, since we have the canvas to do that now in Web 3.”
Major industry players are also dipping their toes into the space, hoping to not get left behind. Warner Music Group has a partnership with Genies, a company that creates digital avatars and wearables. The Grammys are selling NFTs. And Universal Music Group is hoping to strike gold with a Bored Ape Yacht Club band, featuring primate characters from the incredibly popular NFT collection of the same name.
NFT records will likely never replace the streaming powerhouses and their ease of use. (Audius, a crypto streaming platform built in 2018, has about 7 million monthly active users, compared to Spotify’s 381 million.) The NFT music space has high barriers to entry for many: it prioritizes artists who are tech-savvy, extroverted, and able to be constantly online and releasing content. “You can only give so much of yourself to your community,” Maul says.
And for now, the purpose that NFTs serve for music fans on Catalog is more conceptual than functional. This isn’t like Martin Shkreli buying the only copy of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. Others can still listen to the song all they want. In most cases, buyers also aren’t purchasing the actual rights to the recording or composition, meaning they’re mostly paying for virtual bragging rights and to support artists they feel are undervalued by the traditional system.
Mat Dryhurst, a technologist who works on projects at the cutting edge of digital music—including in AI—is skeptical about the way that NFTs are being rolled out in the music space. “I’m not 100% convinced that the mechanisms of collectibles are a perfect fit for a crypto music ecosystem that I would like to see,” he says. “I would like to see ways to support artists in the album process that don’t involve doing all the things that Web 2 [the current iteration of the internet as most people know it] made you do, like going online all the time and updating people with music you made in the last week.”
Dryhurst is more interested in looking into how NFTs and NFT-adjacent technologies might be used to cultivate music collectives that might communally own a physical concert space or recording studio. “Fundamentally for me, the lifeblood of a lot of music is giving people a place to make music and enjoy music together,” he says. “The optimistic part is thinking about how to take the vibrancy of strangers with a shared purpose in virtual space—like a Discord group—and coordinate them to support spaces, or a network of spaces, in real life.”
But whether music NFTs ever reach mainstream saturation, they’ve already transformed the lives of many artists for whom the previous system was failing. “I felt that a lot of my career was making a certain type of music that I had to make—and at times I didn’t really connect with,” Allan says. “From an artistic standpoint, I just feel like NFTs and Web 3 in general can create a much brighter space for art.”
Source: Tech – TIME | 2 Dec 2021 | 10:45 pm
A House hearing on Wednesday, which included new testimony from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, laid bare the deep partisan divisions that continue to hamper any legislative or regulatory reforms to hold tech platforms accountable for how they amplify dangerous content.
“Facebook wants you to get caught up in a long, drawn out debate over the minutiae of different legislative approaches,” Haugen, who worked on the company’s civic integrity team and leaked tens of thousands of internal company documents, told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. “Please don’t fall into that trap. Time is of the essence… You have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create new rules for our online world.”
But Wednesday’s hearing—at which lawmakers waved copies of George Orwell’s 1984, heatedly disagreed on the very definition of misinformation, and discussed their own “victimization” at the hands of Big Tech censorship—was a reminder of why a slew of recent legislative proposals to rein in social media companies are unlikely to go anywhere. While lawmakers from both parties support tougher internet regulations, and seem to agree that tech companies should be held responsible for business decisions that impact how online content is amplified, their underlying reasons diverge sharply.
The recent debate has focused on targeted reforms to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which gives online platforms immunity from liability for content posted by third parties. While it has come under fire from both sides of the aisle, Democrats want to amend Section 230 to hold social media platforms accountable for the lack of moderation of hate speech and disinformation, while Republicans have alleged that it allows for censorship of conservative views.
“The Internet has grown substantially since 1996, and it is clear Big Tech has abused this power granted to them by Congress,” Rep. Bob Latta, an Ohio Republican and a ranking member on the subcommittee, said on Wednesday. “They censor conservative voices and use algorithms to suppress content that does not fit their narrative.”
In Wednesday’s hearing, Democrats cited four tech reform proposals. The Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act, which was introduced by senior House Democrats after Haugen first testified on Capitol Hill last month, would amend Section 230 by making social media platforms liable when they “knowingly or recklessly” use algorithms to recommend content that leads to physical or “severe emotional” harm. The legislation would only apply to platforms with more than 5 million unique monthly visitors, and exclude web hosting services. They also laid out the SAFE TECH Act, which would remove Section 230 protections for ads and other paid content, the Civil Rights Modernization Act, which focuses on targeted ads that violate civil rights laws, and the Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act, which would strip Section 230 protections from platforms “if their algorithms amplify misinformation that leads to offline violence” like civil rights abuses and international terrorism.
“Social media platforms like Facebook continue to actively amplify content that endangers our families, promotes conspiracy theories, and incites extremism to generate more clicks and ad dollars,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, the New Jersey Democrat who serves as the committee’s chair. This echoed Haugen’s testimony in October, in which she cited internal research that Facebook acts against just 3 to 5% of hate speech and 0.6% of violence incitement.
None of these bills have support from Republican lawmakers, although some have proposed their own legislation to hold platforms liable. Republican proposals have focused on preserving constitutionally protected speech with exceptions. These include a “Bad Samaritan” carve out removing liability protections from companies that “knowingly promote, solicit, or facilitate illegal activity,” a carve out for companies with direct or indirect connections to the Chinese Communist Party, and carve outs for cyberbullying, terrorism and doxxing. “Rather than censor and silence speech, the answer should be more speech,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Washington. “That’s the American way. Big tech should not be the arbiters of truth.”
While there has been broader bipartisan support for legislation narrowly targeting child exploitation, cyberbullying and terrorist groups, Wednesday’s hearing shows how much the politically sensitive debate over misinformation, free speech and bias is likely to derail more comprehensive efforts.
Haugen cautioned lawmakers to be aware of unintended impacts from legislative reforms, referring to a 2018 law that carved out an exemption from Section 230 for sex trafficking and prostitution that advocates say ended up harming sex workers. “I encourage you to move forward with your eyes open to the consequences of reform,” Haugen said. “I encourage you to talk to human rights advocates who can help provide context on how the last reform of 230 had dramatic impacts on the safety of some of the most vulnerable people in our society, but has been rarely used for its original purpose.”
In his own testimony in front of Congress in March, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed the company’s hate speech removal policy “has long been the broadest and most aggressive in the industry.” While Zuckerberg said he supports some reforms to Section 230, he proposed that Congress should require platforms to have “adequate systems to address unlawful content” in place in order to keep legal protections. Critics have said this approach would favor large companies like Facebook over smaller start-ups and companies who might find it harder to meet the requirement.
The company, which recently renamed itself Meta, has declined to comment on specific legislative proposals.
“Facebook wants you to have analysis paralysis, to get stuck on false choices and not act here,” Haugen told lawmakers on Wednesday. Despite the renewed bipartisan push for action in the aftermath of her revelations, for now it seems Congress may still be stuck.
Source: Tech – TIME | 2 Dec 2021 | 11:30 am
Meta Platforms Inc. said it removed a China-based network of more than 500 Facebook accounts that sought to push a false narrative about the U.S. government’s attempts to blame the Covid-19 pandemic on China.
The campaign involved the fake persona of a Swiss biologist named Wilson Edwards, who in July posted on Facebook and Twitter Inc. that the U.S. was pressuring World Health Organization scientists to blame the virus on China, according to Meta’s monthly report on coordinated influence operations on its social networks.
Within days of the first post, hundreds of social media accounts and a handful of Chinese state media sources amplified the story about alleged American intimidation, Meta said on Wednesday. But the following month the Swiss Embassy in Beijing said there was no Swiss citizen by the name of Wilson Edwards, the company said. Facebook investigated and removed the account the same day.
Meta said it took down 524 Facebook accounts, 20 pages, four Groups and 86 Instagram accounts involved in the campaign, according to the report. The Menlo Park, California-based company said it found connections between the network and individuals in China, including employees of Sichuan Silence Information Technology Co. Chinese government officials also appeared to interact with the content posted by the network.
The social network also removed a group of accounts based in Italy and France linked with an anti-vaccination movement that targeted journalists, medical professionals and politicians.
Meta, formerly known as Facebook Inc., said bad actors continue to change their tactics to evade detection and enforcement action. One such strategy is known as “brigading,” where adversarial accounts work together to post or comment en masse in an attempt to harass or silence particular users. Another tactic these networks employ involves submitting a deluge of reports on an account or piece of content to get Meta to take it down.
“What we have seen consistently is that the threat actors behind these harms are evolving their techniques,” said Meta Head of Security Policy Nathaniel Gleicher. “We build our defense with this expectation in mind: they are not going to stop. They are going to shift their tactics.”
Source: Tech – TIME | 2 Dec 2021 | 11:09 am
In August, Savannah’s entire monthly income was at stake. OnlyFans, the social media platform where she built her career, making an average of $2,000 a month from subscribers, had just announced it would be removing content like hers from the site. But there was little she could do about it. She remembers thinking: “OK, well, this is another Thursday, I might as well finish my Chick-Fil-A, and I’m just gonna chill here and wait for us to get some sort of response.” Savannah, 24, is part of a vibrant, supportive community of online sex workers that underwrite OnlyFans’s considerable financial success; it’s now valued at over $1 billion. But in a move that may foreshadow changes to come, that community was shaken when OnlyFans announced it would be banning explicit content on the site. “The sky falls on OnlyFans, like, every three or four months,” Savannah says, wryly.
She could’ve gotten a more standard job when she graduated from college in 2020 with a business degree—maybe at a bank, as a mortgage loan officer. But while career-hunting, she was working three part-time jobs and her boyfriend at the time suggested trying out OnlyFans. She opened an account in January 2020, posting sassy videos and photos that showed off her passion for Star Wars cosplay and her cheeky sense of humor to attract subscribers. “It was nerve-wracking,” Savannah admits. At first, the subscribers just trickled in; she made $80 that month.
Then the pandemic lockdowns started, and Savannah’s online star began to rise. “It was an extreme case of right place, right time,” she says. “Everyone was suddenly locked inside. And they were horny. And it just all came together.” By September 2020, she had earned enough money to buy her own house—a goal that had always seemed elusive with a traditional career path. “I never, ever thought that I would be stable enough to buy a house, period, in my lifetime,” she says.
That sense of stability was put to the test by the new August policy—briefly. OnlyFans backtracked just days later. For many, online sex work is easy to ignore or view as the internet’s titillating sideshow. Historically, though, the conditions of sex work serve as an indicator of the health of a society, and the inconclusive OnlyFans incident could predict the future of the growing digital creator economy and its workers.
Savannah considers herself half sex worker and half “online creator,” a burgeoning and nebulous category of workers who have turned to online platforms to profit off their talents and speak to niche audiences. But the creator economy that took off around 2011 with YouTube has evolved as creators seek autonomy over their intellectual property and freedom from brand sponsorships and social media restrictions. Writers, gamers, academics, sex workers, chefs, athletes, artists: anyone with a point of view, or a video to share, has flocked to sites like Twitch, OnlyFans, Patreon and Substack in hopes of selling their skills directly to their fans.
A September study from the Influencer Marketing Factory estimates some 50 million people around the world participate in this economy, broadly—that’s a third the size of the entire U.S. workforce. The study valued the creator market north of $100 billion in 2021. Direct subscription creators are a fraction of that, but a rapidly growing one. There are over a million creators on OnlyFans; streaming platform Twitch boasts over 8 million active streamers; Patreon, which hosts pay-to-view visual and written content, says it has over 200,000 active accounts. And the money generated by this new class keep going up, with OnlyFans announcing it has facilitated over $3 billion in payouts to accounts since their founding five years ago. Patreon says its creator accounts have racked up over $2 billion. Twitch’s in-app purchases neared $200 million in the first half of 2021 alone.
Creators skew Millennial and Gen Z; digital natives are, after all, more prepared to capitalize on and take risks online. One study from research firm PSFK suggested that over 50% of Gen Z Americans are interested in becoming an “influencer” as a career. But some of the most successful subscription creators—historian Heather Cox Richardson, musician Amanda Palmer, photographer Brandon Stanton, and model Blac Chyna—are in their 30s or older, and were well established in their careers before selling their skills online, a fact that lends the subscription creator economy more credence.
These days, Savannah—who goes by Savannah Solo on her Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and OnlyFans pages—counts hundreds of thousands of subscribers to her public profiles, and 6,500 paying subscribers to her more risqué content on OnlyFans. She doesn’t want to stop. “Not only has it absolutely changed the trajectory of my life forever, but I have fun, I’m my own boss, I wake up and I put on makeup and I wear a stupid costume and make fun content. You can decide if you want to be a persona—or if you just want to be yourself,” she says.
But, as she has learned in August, the reality of a creator career is more complicated.
The job title “creator” is a new invention, born in the past decade thanks to the rise of self-publishing opportunities. First there was YouTube, the ür-influencer platform. Then came Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. These web2 behemoths offered anyone the ability to build a fanbase with little more than an internet connection (and, for the most successful, access to a way to photograph or video themselves). At first, little money was transferred into the hands of the creators; success in the form of wide viewership was a badge of honor, not a moneymaking scheme.
That changed with the rise of models in which creators received a cut of advertising associated with their content (like pre-roll video ads on YouTube) and sponsored content and ambassadorship programs (like many of Instagram’s influencer programs). This kept content free for fans while still paying the creators—and it’s the model that still dominates the market. But positioning image-conscious brands in between fans and creators who value authenticity is not always a natural fit. Brands drop creators when they post something the brand doesn’t like. Creators lose autonomy when they spend all their time crafting sponsored content.
Enter the paid social media model, in which audiences can contribute directly to their favorite creators. “From the creators’ point of view, it gives them more control and empowerment,” says OnlyFans CEO and founder Tim Stokely, about the potential for direct-to-creator paid social media to be the economic engine of the online future. The company is famous for featuring sex worker creators like Savannah, but Stokely is pushing the platform’s PG accounts, where users can subscribe to a chef’s cooking videos or a trainer’s workouts.
Twitch was early to this game, launching in 2011. “The digital patronage model we see popping up today in other iterations exists because of Twitch’s early entry in and focus on the creator economy,” says Mike Minton, Vice President of Monetization at Twitch. Twitch prefers to consider itself a “service” rather than a platform: it serves creators with access to audiences and monetizes their viewership, and serves fans by making it easy to watch and contribute.
But it’s not all profit for creators. Hidden in the slick appeal of be-your-own-boss social media entrepreneurialism is the role of the platforms themselves, and sticky questions of ownership. Twitch, for instance, provides the necessary infrastructure for popular gamers to stream hours of high-resolution content to mass audiences of live viewers. But it also takes a 50% cut of any subscriptions. OnlyFans says the 20% it takes helps offset the costs of the security and privacy features that adult content in particular requires. Patreon takes from 5 to 12%, depending on your plan; Substack takes 10%, minus processing fees. Consummate middlemen, these companies have created low barriers to entry while still gatekeeping, at least financially.
“There’s a history of artists being taken advantage of, and artists have to keep criticizing and keep skepticism at a high level,” says Jack Conte, CEO of Patreon. “I think that’s mission critical. Artists have to be educated, and choose wisely and watch platforms carefully.” Patreon, for its part, offers its users full access to their email lists in an attempt to offer greater control over their audience relationships.
Patreon has had its share of controversy: a 2018 kerfuffle surrounded their choice to ban certain politically-extreme voices from the platform; payment snafus and hikes in processing fees have ruffled feathers; and their current content policies exclude sexually explicit work, to the frustration of some. The company is eager to try to keep up with creator-favored trends, however, announcing plans to integrate crypto payments and considering developing “creator coins,” and developing a native video player to more directly compete with YouTube.
Stokely doesn’t try to promise financial stability or freedom to OnlyFans’ million-plus creators, especially given the complications of banking regulations (on which the company blamed the brief August ban of sexual content). He knows that change is inevitable, but he does promise one thing: OnlyFans will not become “littered with paid posts and adverts” like the free platforms.
Writer and musician Amanda Palmer, 45, is intimately acquainted with the challenges of creative autonomy. Palmer, the frontwoman of indie rock duo the Dresden Dolls, extricated herself from an album deal a decade ago, choosing to embrace independence—with all its financial risks—and gather income from her fans directly.
“There’s been a general shift in consciousness, that people are no longer scratching their heads when an artist or a creator comes to you directly and says, Hey, I need 10 bucks,” she says. “You’re seeing it in right wing podcasting. And you’re seeing it in feminist journalism on Substack. And you’re seeing it with musicians and gamers on Patreon, and you’re seeing it with porn stars on OnlyFans.”
Palmer started a Patreon in 2015, where she now posts bits of music, videos and blog posts to 12,000 paying subscribers. The direct, monetized line of communication with her fans has meant she could weather the pandemic storm—when she couldn’t play live concerts—using honesty and openness in the content she shares as bartering coin for their cash. She says she has made over $5 million in subscriptions to support her creative endeavors, although her net profit mostly just pays rent and living expenses. Still, it has been an effective solution to the conundrum of monetizing fame and artwork for a niche audience.
Palmer’s experience with Patreon is a prime use-case for the company: a non-major artist finds financial freedom through direct-to-consumer content sharing. “Because of what’s happened over the last 10 years, there’s now hundreds of millions of creative people who identify as creators, putting their work online and already making a lot of money and want to be paid and want to build businesses,” Conte says. “Patreon is tiny; compared to the amount of creators in the world, we’re a speck.” But with $2 billion in payouts over the years, it’s proved to be a meaningful speck for a collection of creators.
Conte says that about half the money that Patreon processes goes to creators who are making between $1,000 and $10,000 per month. “It’s not Taylor Swift rich, it’s not Rihanna rich. It’s a middle class of creativity: a whole new world of creators that are being enabled by this,” he says. It’s a group like Palmer: people who have a specific viewpoint, a built-in audience and an effective grasp on how to optimize their dynamic with fans.
Still, even Palmer, who has “very warm feelings” about Patreon, recognizes that it can’t be trusted forever. “I’ve been ringing the warning bells for years about how dangerous it is to get into bed with a for profit company, and use them as the only avenue to reach your audience, right? Because it is dangerous, because at any moment, Facebook can take that away from you, at any moment, Patreon could sell up to Facebook and decide to change all of the rules of engagement. I really hope that doesn’t happen. But there are no guarantees in this dog eat dog tech world,” she says. “In order to protect myself, I always keep a lot of phone lines open with my community.”
In her Instagram photos, Jahara Jayde doesn’t look real: technicolor eyes, luminous, airbrushed skin, ears elongated into elven tips. In her five-plus-hour Twitch streams every evening, though, she’s a bit more human, video chatting in real time with her thousand-plus viewers and slurping noodles from an unseen bowl as she plays Final Fantasy XIV through her dinnertime.
When she streams, it’s just her and her subscribers. But she has discovered how vital it is to have a community of creators in this business, too.
Twitch averages nearly 3 million concurrent viewers; in 2020, people watched nearly 20 billion hours of content on the site. By nature of its freewheeling live video DNA, it’s a place that is hard to regulate and populated by a wide array of characters. “I deal with racism on all of the platforms,” says Jahara, a 30-year-old BIPOC woman, citing in particular a recent influx of “hate raids” targeting BIPOC and LGBTQ+ creators on Twitch. Some creators even led a day-long streaming boycott to draw attention to the issue. Twitch has had to regulate the use of certain words and emotes (their version of custom emojis) in user chats in order to limit problematic language and content.
Because of—and despite—that, Jahara has built a keenly supportive, tight-knit community that is expanding the definition of what it means to be a gamer or a creator, and who gets rewarded for the work. She’s a member of The Noir Network, a collective of Black femmes who work in content creation and help each other navigate the often-confusing Wild West of digital work, one that she is committed to continuing with. She loves the work, she just wants to make it better.
Jahara didn’t mean to become a full-time gaming streamer when she first tried out Twitch in August 2020; she was already a business analyst with a side gig as a Japanese tutor, making use of her college degree. But soon she was gaining steam with eager subscribers: she got 300 followers in a month, more than enough to start monetizing her streams. “I was like, Oh, maybe I could be good at this,” she says over the phone from her home in Arizona. After just four months on Twitch, Jahara quit her day job.
These days, thanks to Twitch’s subscription system, she brings in about $2,000 a month. With her tutoring clients, who she picked up because of her Twitch, she’s now matching her prior income. “And it’s awesome, because it’s doing the two things that I absolutely adore,” she says. “Ever since I was a little kid, my dad used to bring me into his room and talk to me about how I should work for myself, and the entrepreneurial spirit,” she says. She surprised herself by being able to take his advice.
She has the freedom to be herself professionally, the flexibility to take care of her four-year-old daughter in the mornings before preschool, and the hope that her fiancé will eventually be able to leave his job as a manual laborer to support her online presence full time. (He already takes and edits all her photos, and does her marketing.)
To her, it feels good to be a part of something. “I get a lot of messages, parents and teens and kids that tell me, like, ‘My daughter saw your photos, and her friends told her that she couldn’t copy that character because it’s not the same color as her, but now she’s excited to do it,” Jahara says. “People tell me that they feel more comfortable, they feel represented and they feel seen just by being able to see my face in the space. It wasn’t something that I expected when I set out for it. But it’s something that definitely keeps me going every day.”
It’s networks like that one that have helped organize and provide a modicum of power to creators who are learning as they go.
Longtime adult performer Alana Evans, 45, has an inside view of how this works; as president of the Adult Performance Artists Guild, she has helped hundreds of performers navigate issues with tech platforms including Instagram, Tiktok, and, of course, OnlyFans. “I was seeing hundreds of performers lose their pages, for very obscure reasons; you would be given an email that had vague reasons as to why maybe you were deleted, and they were absorbing all of their money,” she says.
She and her organization have been able to help many rehabilitate their accounts. But these days she preaches the gospel of diversification, and of making sure that performers do their due diligence about who owns and profits from the platforms they share on. Beyond that, Evans has her sights set on the big picture: working through legal avenues to classify anti-sex-work restrictions, like those set by payment companies, as “occupational discrimination.” It’s only once they deal with the banking side of things, Evans explains, that online sex workers will be able to participate in the creator economy fully and safely.
Creators in the music industry are trying to find power by banding together, too. By day, David Turner, 29, is a program manager at the music streaming service SoundCloud. By night, he publishes a weekly newsletter, called Penny Fractions, that goes into the nitty-gritty of the streaming industry; it’s been his pet project for over four years now. After publishing with Patreon for a few years, Turner realized only a small segment of the most popular creators were truly generating the income the platform touted. “They don’t care about me,” he says over the phone from Brooklyn.
Now, Turner hosts his newsletter on an independent service and serves on the board of Ampled, a music services co-op whose tagline is “Own Your Creative Freedom.” Collectivization, as Turner sees it, is the safest way for this next generation to protect themselves from the predations of the market.
Other decentralized social platforms like Mastodon and Diaspora, music streaming services like Corite and Resonate and sex-worker-backed sites like PocketStars have popped up to provide alternatives to the more mainstream options. Their selling point: bigger payouts to creators, and opportunities for creators to invest in the platforms themselves. But mass adoption has been slow. If the calling card of the independent platform is their bottom-up approach, that is also their limiting factor. By nature, they are scrappier, less funded and less likely to be able to reach the wide audiences that the top user-friendly sites have already monopolized.
When OnlyFans made its policy change in August, collectivization is what got sex workers through. Alana Evans helped lead the charge. To Evans, who has been in the industry for decades, it was just the latest iteration of exploitation from more powerful overlords. She saw her community speaking up against the change—particularly on Twitter, where sex workers and performers quickly renounced the policy and began proactively publicizing their accounts on other, friendlier platforms. To her surprise, their vocal opposition worked and OnlyFans moved quickly to find a solution.
But Evans knows that this latest golden era of online work is already ending. “The writing is on the wall,” she says. Even successful creators like Savannah have begun actively promoting accounts on alternate platforms like PocketStars and Fansly. They know no solution, and no single site, will be forever.
“The advice I’ve been given is to expect it all to crumble, and to have to rebuild again,” Savannah says. That advice isn’t specific to OnlyFans; it’s echoed by Amanda Palmer about Patreon, and Jahara about Twitch. As platforms inevitably seek a better bottom line, the creator workforce has no choice but to trust the tech companies will do right by them.
In the meantime, they’re taking a note from the labor movement that has risen up in other industries this year: solidarity works.
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