The Hypocritical “Wokeness” Of Medium

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

My name is Ajit Nathaniel, and I’ve had a premium Medium membership since January 2019. My motive behind obtaining a paid membership was to access the amazing writing on relationships, technology, self-improvement, and art that abound on this platform. Understanding that my premium membership comes with the privilege to share my writing, I took my chances, and have published 18 articles on Medium since then. Of these, four articles have been picked by Medium curators to be featured in publications on investing, photography, privacy, and relationships. Emboldened by this, I decided to sign up for the Medium Partner Program.

Now Medium, through its partner program offer the opportunity for its writers to be paid for the views that their work generates. This is great, because it provides an incentive to produce great work and allows writers to invest financially in their writing. for instance — were a writer from the Orient to write an article about the human rights abuses in factories in Bangladesh; the impact of taxi aggregation services on the Indian automotive industry; or perhaps the impact of palm plantations of on Indonesia’s ecology, there will be costs related to research. Through its Partner Program Medium helps build a business case for this, but mostly to White or privileged nations. This is the list of countries that Medium’s Payments Partner Stripe permits payments to:

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong SAR China, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States.

This list reads like a roll call of privilege and whiteness — Barring Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore, there’s no representation from Asia, and there is absolutely no representation of Africa and South America. Articles by western writers about how they made $10,000 in a single month from writing on Medium mock Asian anglophones — our highly talented writers for whom such a sum would cover expenses for a family for an entire year. From looking around, I can see that Medium has readers from India — I suspect there are many Indian writers too — if Medium is able to charge us for our membership, why can’t it find the means to pay us for our writing? Or has Medium written off India’s 125 million anglophones as only consumers — incapable of delivering quality writing?

Beyond this, my investigator’s instincts are piqued by the potential discrimination and anti-trust angles of this situation. Permitting US and European writers to be paid for their writing and denying this option to those from Asian and African nations — this is textbook variety racial discrimination. Also, Stripe, the platform’s single-option payments partner, and Medium have a shared early-stage investor in Andreessen Horowitz. If Medium is restricting the choice of payment partners at the behest of Andreessen Horowitz’s desire for “portfolio synergy” or whatever they’re calling it these days, they’re likely to be violating US anti-trust laws. Using an established provider such as Paypal that allows tax-compliant payments to India and many other Asian countries is a much better way to go — both ethically and legally.

On 4 March 2020, I wrote to Medium CEO Evan Williams with my concerns on this. His office hasn’t extended me the courtesy of even acknowledging these issues. For a company that claims to tap into “the brains of the world’s most insightful writers, thinkers, and storytellers to bring you the smartest takes on topics that matter” this evasion reeks of hypocrisy. Sure Medium may deliver “fresh thinking and unique perspectives”, but it consciously ensures that these are the voices of privilege — the voices of colour from Africa and the Orient should just lump it.

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