The Garbage Hydra of Menlo Park

This piece originally appeared as part of my weekly newsletter, The Full Lid on 1st March 2019. If you liked it, and want a weekly down of pop culture enthusiasm, occasional ketchup recipes and me enjoying things, then check out the archive and sign up here.

Take it away, kids

Facebook, or ‘uncertain but all-pervasive 21st Century guilt if it was a website’ to give it it’s true name, has had an idea. It’s a terrible idea. Let’s talk about why.

Dami Lee at The Verge has a story up about Facebook’s all new Fan Subscriptions feature. This was rolled out last March apparently, to 10 creators across the US and UK and the second wave of invites went out this week. Here’s the deal:

  • You offer a paid subscription service ($4.99 is the most common) which allows your followers to get exclusive content and an opt-in Supporter badge.

So, basically it’s Patreon, but not quite as function heavy and nested inside the worst designed social media network on Earth. With an optional badge.

…Cool.

Anyhoo, superficially this is a dull and unwanted idea instead of an actively stupid and malicious one. Patreon isn’t making good choices but, well, I’m pretty certain it’s not been used to start a genocidepermanently maimed the mental health of staff it doesn’t hire enough of or spent years refusing to take down the pages of a Sandy Hook truther who harassed grieving parents only to somehow flub finally taking the pages down.  I’m not saying Facebook’s what happens when you make a social network based on the complex emotional algebra of ‘hot or not’ but…*gestures at all the everything*.

Yet, superficially, Fan Subscriptions looks kind of okay, doesn’t it? It’s another drip feed in the never ending run of taps indie creatives especially need to stay alive in this blasted hellscape and hey if even one person gives you the 5 bucks, then that’s a cup of coffee on Facebook! That’s a thing real humans who feel things do for one another! They do care!

They do not care.

Always read the terms of service my friends, ALWAYS, because as others have spotted, these are a doozy. For a start, once the system formally launches, Facebook are going to increase their cut.

By up to 30 percent.

Patreon takes 5 percent.

This by itself? Is very bad. Not just because you could be forgiven for assuming Zuck has bought every hoodie on Earth now so maybe doesn’t need the money but also for a much larger reason. This is, again, systemic undervaluing and exploitation of creatives and it’s being enabled by one of the largest forces on the planet. 

Oh it gets ‘better’ too. Turns out they will also offer free or discounted trials to your fans from time to time. Which is fine! It’s not like you’re trying to sell your creative endeavors to buy food, clothing and heat, right?!  Especially as on top of all of this, Facebook owns anything you put out through this service. The Hard Times‘ Matt Saincome dug into this and discovered that signing up means giving them a functionally eternal licence that grants:
‘us (and our affiliates) a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use such Supplementary data.’
Facebook can and will use any data in any form you put out through this service in any way they see fit. They’ll sell it, they’ll sub-license it, they’ll send it round the world and absolutely no money for your hard work will come back to you.  This is a blisteringly greedy, unprincipled Intellectual Property land grab and Facebook is the planet’s unwanted, unneeded, janky sixth sense so a good chunk of folks will go for it despite it sucking this badly. 

Please, don’t be one of them. Your work, your time and your ideas deserve to be seen and you deserve to be properly compensated for them. I know Patreon isn’t perfect and I know, in my BONES, how exhausting it can be to be a creative constantly rushing to keep your minuscule takings ahead of the Borg swarm of venture capitalists who really do seem to want All The Money. But I also know the Garbage Hydra of Menlo Park deserves nothing but contempt and none of our hard work or money. Hold the line. Give it nothing.