The New York Times reports on the continued depressing infiltration of every interesting nook of the Internet by advertising. Vancouver blogger John Chow got $200 for allowing online advertiser Ad.ly posting this one Tweet flogging customized M&Ms. Such simple ads in October earned him $3000.
I'll admit, my reaction is not pure anti-commercialism. I run ads myself here on the blog. If someone offered me $3000 a month for occasionally telling you to go get M&Ms, I'd jump at the chance. But I don't buy the advertiser Joey Carone's claim that “We don’t want to create an army of spammers, and we are not trying to turn Facebook and Twitter into one giant spam network.... All we are trying to do is get consumers to become marketers for us.” Turning consumers into marketers feels like a double dronification of the masses. It's not enough that we eat corporate stuff; the corporations want us talking about their stuff.
Twitter ads are a step up from brand-name clothing and other logo-laden consumer goods. Kids marching around in their Aeropostale and Adidas gear are actually paying for the privilege of acting like billboards for those corporations. Online advertisers are at least compensating their Twittering marketers for their button-pushing.
But when money buys speech, it changes the public discourse. Every moment spent talking about what to buy is a moment lost to talk about what we could make in our gardens, our garages, and our culture.
I'm guilty of the same compromise. I could certainly use the advertising chunks of my sidebars to promote good causes, run polls, promote more conversation. Instead I take some pocket change and allow others to promote their wares on portions of my online real estate.
Last spring, I did consider creating a separate, more aggressively commercial blog. I imagined sidebars stacked with Google Ads and main content consisting of nothing but fluff, search-engine-optimized celebrity gossip and images dutifully tuned to the fads of the moment.
I also imagined being physically ill over the complete surrender of authenticity such a meaningless website would entail. I couldn't bring myself to create a public space where all I care about is that you keep clicking and consuming. That media model doesn't even ensure financial security: corporate TV networks and newspapers have followed that model, and we can plainly see the decline in their quality and their profitability.
I'll still take ads. I especially love the ring of the tip jar. Voluntary donations don't buy speech or change the discourse; they're just another way of signaling the value of the service or entertainment you find here... and that signal just happens to help me buy a RAM upgrade, or dinner at El Vaquero for my lovely wife. (No, El Vaquero didn't pay me for that mention; I just like their food!)
But you won't see me turning my blog content or Twitter space over to any advertiser. My pockets remain light, but my words remain mine and mine alone.
p.s., arguably related: in the fledgling Cuban blogosphere, the government may be paying students to write pro-Castro comments on dissident blogs.
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