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I’ve written before about my frustration with junk science reporting, and how so much of it begins with special-interest funded “studies” that land in news articles, cited as gospel. Similarly, I read this viral Medium piece with a similar amount of frustration when it comes to disclaimers and critical thinking when it comes to journalism.
All over my social media, a piece at the self-publishing site Medium about sexual predation of young girls online has been making the rounds. The writer is Sloane Ryan, who runs the Special Projects Team at Bark, a tech company committed to child safety. In the piece, about what it’s like for a 37-year old to pose as an 11-year old girl on the internet, things appear dire. Ryan writes,
At the beginning of the week, on the very first night as Bailey, two new messages came in under a minute after publishing a photo. We sat mouths agape as the numbers pinged up on the screen — 2, 3, 7, 15 messages from adult men over the course of two hours. Half of them could be charged with transfer of obscene content to a minor. That night, I had taken a breather and sat with my head in my hands.
Nine months of this, and we still continue to be stunned by the breadth of cruelty and perversion we see. I imagine this trend will continue tonight.
While she works for Bark, she in no way makes the obvious, yet necessary, disclosure that she has a financial incentive for parents to come away from her piece with a certain impression; namely, that the Internet is crawling with thousands of men waiting to pounce on their children within moments. To a critical reader, of which there don’t seem to be enough, the piece at Medium reads like an advertisement for Bark. To drive home that point at the conclusion, Ryan leaves her email address for readers to contact her.
Few readers are likely aware what comes with publishing at Medium; there are no strict oversight editors like at regular publications on both the left and right, there is no fact-checking, you can mostly just hit publish.
In this Wild West of Internet publishing, of “studies” and “stories” funded by private entities, readers need to be more discerning if publishers won’t clearly disclose financial incentives in play. If you come away from a piece with surprising new information that radically alters your previous view (on the thousands of predators waiting on the Internet, or, in the post linked above, about how many people don’t shower after swimming in a public pool), first reflect about if anyone involved in the piece has financial incentives for you to come away feeling that way before clicking “share.”