…Or numbers due ter honor me…
And yes, I do a fair job of being Balaam’s Ass. I’ve got the ass part absolutely perfect.
I noticed a sea-change in the last little while, which should have all sensible authors running for safe harbor. Maybe even high ground. And yes, it was about numbers.
A little tremor shook the water back when John Ringo said the Hugo Awards were biased against conservative authors. The establishment laughed at him. There was stillness on water for some years.
The water discolored and rafts of pumice were see when Larry Correia launched Sad Puppies 1 on the same thesis. The publishing establishment said ‘how irrelevant’, and sailed on down its chosen course.
SP 2, 3 and now 4 joined by Rabid Puppies sent up plumes of dark smoke, more pumice, and some waves. The publishing establishment was somewhat angered by these events… and determined to put a stop to it by sailing closer (and in the process, proving the point that ideology, not quality of story, or popularity was in fact the driver behind their decisions).
Balaam’s ass looked at the numbers and proved the bias beyond any reasonable doubt, and spoke about it. The publishing establishment said “You are a stupid donkey. I will beat you again. I would never actually wield a dangerous weapon myself, but I’ll get my MSM friends to do their best to kill your career.”
And then some bright spark leaked the Facebook ‘trending news methodology’ to Gizmodo. Which was the same story (oddly led by a fellow called ‘Stocky’ — no, his name isn’t Story and his first name is not ‘Tall’ either) as the Hugo one, as the Nebula one, as the traditional publishing in general one: ideological bias – specifically left wing bias, effectively censoring any news they didn’t like and promoting news they did. Censoring trends from basically anything but left wing sources.
Now this is not exactly news to anyone who is a goat – you know awkward, smelly nasty minded critters who don’t go where everyone else goes, and where anyone wants them to go… and who can climb acacia trees and subsist on three camelthorns and an old boot, and who… I think we’ll just stop this analogy right there – on the ‘when you’re in a hole stop digging’ basis. But you know what I mean. However, there was a pretense. And an awful lot of people, not that interested simply took it as a reasonably fair reflection. Let’s call them the ‘don’t know, don’t care’ – which is not an insult – it would have been pretty much my stance until quite recently.
“But it doesn’t have to be neutral! Facebook is a private company entitled to do what it likes!”
Indeed. It’s not answerable to any statute requiring it to present news fairly or without bias. Just as publishers are entirely free to exercise their bias in what and who they buy.
They are, however, answerable to shareholders… who care for little except making money. If dealing with Saudi Arabia makes lots of money, they’ll do it. If withdrawing from a state that doesn’t want Trannies choosing bathrooms makes money, or loses less than not doing so – they’re happy. If you lose some but would lose more by not going along… they’ll go along. It’s about money. And as far ideology in business has been concerned, that’s skewed heavily toward to kowtowing to the demands of the loud and left – many of which have focused on… numbers. Women are underrepresented, women have a wage gap, Black prisoners are disproportionate, etc.
Until fairly recently it has been pretty much one-way traffic. Even the numbers put up to argue against these points (good, bad or indifferent) are usually…. vanished. The MSM (even Fox News) really didn’t push the line much. Yes, there were centrists or even right wing site equivalents of HuffPo or the NYT gaining as the MSM news outlets got worse, but it was a struggle, like running with against other sprinters with a lead weight on each leg – in no small part because the not-that-interested didn’t know or care. Remember the US is actually a country where people predominantly self-identify as moderate or conservative, with the left being in fact the smallest ideological group. You wouldn’t think so, judging by the news or by sf/fantasy.
Then a few little things started going against the trend – Chick-a-filla (do I have that right?) to Gamer-gate.
People – (outside the left, who had been doing it for years to get their way) started using their money, their financial clout, to express their opinions. Not all were right wing – they just weren’t happy with the left’s doctrinaire positions.
Which brings us full circle to Facebook and numbers. Facebook makes its money from advertising. And advertisers – like the traditional publishing industry – generally sell their wares not just to one ideological group. What Facebook has to sell to those advertisers is a user base, spread right across the demographic base of the US – and of course many other countries, but let’s stick US market, US advertisers right now. It’s probably a little skew in somewhat older users (than say Twitter) and probably more family-middle-of-road people than the demographics of the US – but all the same it’s probably not a bad reflection of the same – and for many products those are good people to advertise to.
It’s a shop window… well a whole mall, designed to welcome a range of people.
And the last thing the advertisers need is the mall owners saying ‘Well, some kinds of people really aren’t welcome here.’ Yes, I know. That’s precisely what Sasquan did last year, and MAC II seem determined to repeat – but basically they’ve taken the decision that it’s better to exclude part of the market firmly, than lose the other part. Maybe this makes financial sense to them – they chosen between losing a little and losing a lot as their membership has long since skewed away from the US or even reader demographic. Unfortunately, the authors they showcase, and the publisher who sells their work, do not, generally speaking, have this luxury or leeway. Yes, houses like DAW and Tor have done little to appeal to readers outside their chosen demographic, and they and some of their authors have been quite upfront about their political ideology… but they still sell quite a lot of books to the ‘neither know nor care’ part of the population.
Which is all very well, until that don’t know, don’t care… suddenly does. It’s a numbers game, for those publishers as much as Facebook, or Facebook’s advertisers.
Facebook has of course hastily denied any wrongdoing. It might have been wise to find some, appropriately punish it and fire Tall… er, Tom Stocky and start from a clean slate… but I think what we’ll find has happened is that word has quietly gone out to take the thumb off the left-leaning side of the balance – at least in any obvious way. The bias will shift to important matters left coverage and trivia right or some other sleight of hand. Leopards don’t change their spots and this is a huge advantage that’s not likely to parted with easily.
But it will have to become much more subtle… and probably less effective.
Because one thing you may be sure of is that both sides are watching the numbers. The numbers of articles, the slants, the trending on one media, not on Facebook etc. Questions have been asked in Senate, and it’s an easy target, and one the conservatives would like to hit, I suspect. They won’t be keen to just let it go away.
The one thing Facebook doesn’t need is the bulk of – or even a decent number of — the audience to become aware, to stop being “neither know nor care”. Some of their executives will figure this out. Whether they’ll be able to stop it will depend on political pressure (I should imagine that their ‘friends’ are leaning hard to keep the bias, just as their foes are keen to stop or reverse it), and whether they think they can get away with it. SF trad publishing is in a worse position, because the management there is so used to being the ultimate power who need brook no bridle on their conduct… that I don’t think many of them know how to do otherwise – and nor would the left section of their audience tolerate anything but loud proclamations of faith to the absolute degree of doctrinaire perfection. These will get narrower and more extreme I think, with demands from authors for these pronouncements – and denunciations of anyone who deviates in the slightest are going to get louder and louder, and the witch-hunts nastier.
The audience has little choice but to fracture. Facebook could go the same way, easily. And that’s not good news for those who sell to the previous ‘don’t know, don’t care’ and who need those sales to survive.
The core – to me (and I am not a theologian, nor that interested, thanks) of the book Numbers was to divide the Promised land according to the census. You know, if your people survive that many thousand years… some of those idea must have been sensible. Maybe when dividing up coverage, awards, publishing slots considering the demographics of your market would be wise.
Position yourself with care, particularly if you are a left leaning author interested or involved in Trad Publishing – that’s going to be a dangerous place to be. Despite this: There is enough of a market in any broad section of the audience, provided you sell well to it, provided it is not oversaturated… and provided you get enough of the money your books make. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how my indies keep on selling.
And just for today, this one is free (click on it, it is a link)