A ethical question to you

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I’m writing to you today to bring up for discussion a question that is currently bothering me quite a bit. I would like to share my thoughts with you and ultimately ask for your personal opinion.

Over the past few years, I’ve received a quite large number of well-paid requests for freelance work, which I’ve almost always turned down or passed on. These have included companies like Russia Today (RT), Cartier, an Asian energy company, Apple, all sorts of international agencies working for big brands, and half a dozen NFT projects.

Requests like the one for RT, i.e. Russian propaganda, I naturally turned down without thinking. At Cartier, time was too short and some other clients simply expected me to do things that I could not do due to lack of competence or time constraints. For me it is absolutely clear that my Patreon and my small company trcc must be in the foreground of my work, this is my baby and the cause I want to promote above all. And so I have only ever accepted projects that I could do with managable effort, with a clear conscience and for good pay.

In the course of the last few years I have been intensively engaged in philosophical questions that revolve around the technologies we use in everyday life. One argument of my master thesis (German, English) was that Creative Coding is a thinking instrument that can enable us to deal with everyday technologies in a more critical and creative way. I’m particularly moved by a certain discrepancy at the moment: Tim Berners-Lee‘s had the big idea of a free Internet at the end of the 80s, which should give people all over the world equal access to culture and knowledge. That utopia has failed, as a handful of corporations have hijacked the Internet to sell it to us at the price of our data, our privacy, and increasingly, our mental health. For younger people, so-called Generation Z, free social media is effectively “the Internet.” I myself see the leading social networks a bit like a new way of smoking. I can judge this wonderfully, because I smoked regularly for a number of years and know how addictive nicotine can be, and today I would say of myself that I am a bit of an Internet addict: As someone who benefits greatly from an enormously successful Instagram channel and has since developed a hard-to-control, almost automatic reflex to open the app dozens of times a day, I know: social media is extremely addictive!

It is no longer a secret that this is exactly what is desired: free social media platforms earn their money by creating digital profiles of us users in order to then show us personalized advertising and manipulate our feed in such a way that ads sell particularly well. Tristan Harris, a former Google engineer and founder of the Center for Humane Technology, once said that our smartphones are the interfaces between our brains and the world’s largest supercomputer. There’s some truth to that: giant server farms are using advanced AI to compute our feeds and manipulate our fragile neural system.

On the other hand, social media also have gigantic potential: they connect people with each other. They also give tiny companies (like me, or rather my platform trcc) the opportunities to grow and even make it compete with bigger players. I am excited about the possibilities of the modern internet, networking, individual personal growth, education and self-realization. And I simultaneously feel contempt for the monopolized commercialization of the Internet.

Exactly in this in-between space I move like many of you. Social networks are both a curse and a blessing, and I wish there were more far-reaching changes.

Now I’m getting to the point: As I mentioned before, I’ve always been very principled about who I work for and who I don’t work for. Now that my platform is growing and I need more and more help to stabilize and expand it, it becomes increasingly important that I earn money to pay people to support me. I need help with editing texts, editing videos, programming features, community management, and I would like to host physical events and invite people to them. In short, to grow I need to bring in more money.

Right at this moment, one of the corporations that run the social Internet approaches me. It’s about an order for an illustration for a blog, nothing evil per se. The pay would be excellent and the job wouldn’t take too long. Yet here I come to an ethical dilemma. On the one hand, to criticize fearlessly the current structures on the Internet is a subject that is very important to me. On the other hand, there is a lack of money to let Plaftorm grow and consolidate through external help.

This is the question I would like to ask you today. What would you do? Would it be a break with my own values? Can I still have integrity afterwards when I write about the topics that bother me?

I would be really happy to get a message from you and read your opinion on this.

Have a great day!

Many greetings,

Tim