Writing in the new age of travel.
ASTORIA, NYC- I’ve been away for a while. Traveling around the US and a couple of jaunts in Mexico, working on documentary films, editing work, and even some ghost writing for a PR firm, passing the time and making some money for when the gates of the world re-open … or I decide to do something else.
My absence here wasn’t accidental. Essentially, I suspended myself. The reason for this comes off as reasonable, clear, and normal in our current climate … but just a year ago it would have been outrageous, farcical, unbelievable:
Sites are now evaluated by search engines and social media sites based on the topics they discuss, the ideas they share, and the sentiments they expose — and if you don’t toe the line and comply with the politics, morality, and business interests of the prevailing technocracy you’re disappeared. Sure, you can write and publish, yell and scream as much as you like but nobody will be able to hear you.
In the old world, if you wanted to attract traffic to your site it was once a simple matter of producing large amounts of relevant content, getting loads of incoming links, and having a page and site structure that was easy for search bots to read. Then it was a matter of quality — sites with what the search algos felt was thin content were wiped off the map. Then branding was the next hurdle to jump — big, brand sites would be given a boost in the rankings at the expense of smaller publishers. Now it’s all of the above, plus ideology.
If you don’t believe me ask the U.S. Right to Know Foundation. From Taibbi:
USRTK, whose reporting is mostly based on public document searches, is an organization that inspires strong opinions. They inhabit a corner of the media universe focusing on who pays for what kind of research, and to what result, around topics like food additives and Genetically Modified Organisms. The material can get very personal, and thanks to headlines like “The misleading and deceitful ways of Dr. Kevin Folta,” they’re not generally in the friend-making business.
Moreover, agencies like USRTK are particularly vulnerable in the age of algorithmic moderation, as computers don’t easily distinguish between conspiracy theory and legitimate reporting that runs counter to present accepted narratives. Any organization that swims in those waters and isn’t attached to a big name now has to keep looking over its shoulder. If such an organization does end up suspended, deleted, or de-ranked, as USRTK later would be, it has to wonder: was it something we wrote?
As a nonprofit, USRTK isn’t terribly click-conscious, and director Gary Ruskin wasn’t aware initially that its traffic went off a cliff in December, 2020, dropping nearly 60% overnight:
Last summer, the USRTK began investigating the origins of the Covid outbreak. By the end of the year they were more or less cleansed from the search landscape.
There are many other examples.
I never thought I’d see the day in the USA where arguments — or even requests for information — that counter the government narrative could be punishable. I spent many years in China, where this type of authoritarianism is normal, and I always watched it with the curiosity of a spectator — it had little to do with me, I’m an American and in America people have the right to express themselves, be they right or wrong. These days are gone. Voice support of the wrong cause and you risk losing your job, access to banking, the ability to communicate online, and other basic essentials needed to exist in the modern world. This isn’t conjecture — I know people who’ve had it happen to them. This is a new age of McCarthyism, but the ideological descendants of the ones who were purged in the 40s and 50s are now the ones gloating as their political opponents are being carted away.
And like in China, you’re probably better off believing …
This blog generates a sizable portion of my yearly income … and it’s about travel and culture, so my arguments countering a faux pandemic and the raw realities of being in a country that’s shamefully reneged on its founding principles aren’t exactly relevant.
However, there was clearly a market for these types of posts. I received more donations from readers in October and November of last year than I have in the past five or so years combined. People came out of the ether to say, “I support you, keep going.”
But I knew I couldn’t. Not here anyway. I planned to publish a column addressing current events across a network of monetizable burner sites, but that hasn’t happen yet. Honestly, I struggled with my old adage:
A traveler doesn’t fight, he leaves.
I didn’t have an answer for the potentiality of there not being anywhere left to run to. I still don’t.
Where have I been?
I’ve been busy these past few months working on documentary film projects and just-for-the-check videography jobs. As far as the former goes, if you saw it on the news there’s a good chance I was there filming — I’ll leave it at that.
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