I don’t know what I’d do without twitter. Maybe that’s a silly thing to say, I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s true. The power of twitter is its sense of an ongoing conversation, it’s immediacy and its intimacy. I think it’s probably the best medium for casual written interaction there is. Of course, it has it’s trolls and they’re often very destructive. People can be guarded, and every so often you can get yourself in to trouble, start hanging around in all the wrong places. And before you know it, you’ve hit rock bottom. Blocked by someone you like, for something you didn’t even know was a crime.
My name is Owen Adams, aka @illogicology, and this is my tale of despair, adblock, and being blocked by a mild-mannered video game reporter on twitter,
If you don’t know what adblock is, the internet is probably a scary and confusing place for you, but the answer is very simple. Adblock is a simple browser plugin in that does its best to recognise adverts and surgically remove them from the web before you see them. It was created in 2009, it is free, it is easy to use and for many people it is invaluable.
I don’t blame them.
Y’see, I don’t like advertising. I don’t like it on almost any level, but I can tolerate it in certain designated advertising spaces. Places where as a society we come together and say “Yes, you can advertise here.” I have a real low tolerance for advertising that is shoved anywhere and everywhere, advertising that is of dubious legality, and worst of all, advertising that pretends not to be advertising.
The web is infested with all these things because monetisation of the internet is a tricky thing, and large companies have exploited this by creating responsibility-free advertising services where sites hand over a space for ads and abdicate all oversight in favour of some algorithm driven marketing bot. The internet, for advertisers, is the ultimate free market, where only the largest companies are subject to any kind of regulation, and only then because their ads end up being the most visible. There are only two kinds of restrictions placed on advertising across most of the web. Self imposed restrictions by the host sites, and AdBlock.
This is the climate in which a tiny plugin like Adblock becomes huge, and it is the climate the site owners have created for themselves through lack of restraint. And unfortunately they’re suffering for it, because they’ve rested their entire business model on a method of monetisation that can be destroyed with a single browser extension.
And so, periodically, AdBlock critics come out and make their case. This too, is understandable, if a little self involved. The line goes like this: Sites generate their revenue from ads, people using AdBlock cuts into that revenue, if you continue using AdBlock your favourite sites will go out of business.
And it’s true. It conveniently ignores that sites would do better to diversify their income, that widespread abuse of advertising across the web means most people refuse to browse without adblock and that it isn’t the responsibility of the reader to keep your site in business. But it’s still true. Sort of.
The argument also has en ethical dimension. Hey guys, you’re reading our content, don’t you have an ethical responsibility to disable AdBlock and let us get some cash to feed the kids. The problem is, if we’re going to talk about ethics, we also need to discuss the ethics of the ads themselves. Why should we be compelled by an appeal to morality, when this is currently the preferred type of ad on the web right now:
For those who usually surf with AdBlock enabled, what you’re looking at is a large, ugly adbar from a prominent gaming site. It appears to feature cultivated articles, but leads to a selection of sites trying to sell you something. Sites are encouraged to place these boxes alongside their own “Articles you might also like” spaces, to deliberately muddy the waters for the potential clicker. The text marking it as advertising is the smallest font in the box, of course. These ads are intrusive and hideous, sure, but the sites they lead to are almost always incredibly dodgy too. Reports of scam pages, phishing sites, malware abound. And this is one of the nicer ones.
AdBlock critics want you to believe you have a responsibility to view these ads, but I doubt they want to take responsibility for what happens if you actually click on one of them. Responsibility is a two way street, but so often today the consumer is expected to ignore this. Businesses want to push, and push, and push, but when the customer pushes back the conversation suddenly becomes about ethical behaviour.
So why did Stanton block me? Well, it’s sort of my fault.
If you’re wondering what the specific trigger was:
I can’t take blame for the “idiot” remark, but whining. I’ll cop to that, though, I think he took it a little more personally than I intended. I probably could have phrased it with a little more restraint, but I think my point was fair. Too much focus is placed on trying to get the audience to change their habits, change their opinions. The focus is never on working with the conclusion the audience has already reached. I suspect Rich knows this, because it’s quite a defensive response to what is really not that controversial a point. He just doesn’t like the way I said it. I don’t either, but the fact remains, complaining about AdBlock really is stamping your feet, trying to change the minds of people who have nothing to gain from it.
See, I like Richard. I’ve interacted with him on Twitter a few times. I only found out I was blocked because I read an amazing article he wrote on Peter Molyneux and rushed to twitter to praise him on it. He recognises people use AdBlock because some types of advertising are excessive, though I’m sure he and I would differ on what constitutes a “normal” ad. It’s Snape that riles me up. See, Snape is quite a bit more forthright than Stanton. His view is, “don’t like the ads, don’t view the site” which is a silly sort of argument to make when your goal is to stop sites from going out of business. This kind of thinking is destructive, and I told him. Of course it doesn’t surprise me, because Snape also thinks using AdBlock is comparable to piracy…
…and what can you do with that kind of mindset.
I don’t really mind that Richard blocked me. I’m sad, sure. I like his work, and I like him. He’s free to block whoever he wants, and I know that when you work in journalism, particularly games journalism, you’re used to a certain amount of hostility from a fairly rabid fanbase. It’s symptomatic of the barriers people have to build online, in a world of trolls and sealions, there’s only so much “legitimate criticism” one can take. It probably gets easier to click that block button after a while.
But I do find it interesting in the way it sums up how conservative businesses on the web have become. It used to be a place for breaking new ground, now any criticism of advertising as the primary financial model is taken so harshly. “Adapt or Quit Whining” used to be the internet’s call to arms, now it’s a blocking offence.
It’s an interesting example of how conversations become only for certain people. Card carrying journalists get to call the public selfish and entitled, they get to use their platform to amplify the voices of those who would compare finding ads annoying to copyright theft. But it’s a one way street, broadcast only unless the replies are on message. If you think they’re whining, well, you’re selfish and entitled and you don’t get to be part of the audience anymore.
In the end, I’m a small fish. I’m not a journalist, I’ve never met Richard and I never will. I don’t run a site that uses ads. I’m not even a businessman really, I’m just a guy who writes books and blogs about what I see. But I know better than to tell people I’m going out of business because they won’t let me hock them someone else’s dodgy diet pills.
So I can’t be all bad.