Many months ago, I came across a blog post titled “Why I no longer visit “The Mighty”. Unfortunately, that blog post, and the friend’s blog through which I stumbled across the post, are no longer.
That’s unfortunate indeed, because the author of that post shared some excellent information. And, regrettably, that information is correct.
Let me back up a bit and catch everyone up, for those who might (understandably) be scratching their heads right now.
Here’s what I know about “The Mighty”: it’s an online article aggregate website, featuring essays, op-ed pieces, and articles written by people with a variety of disabilities and chronic illnesses. It spans a wide range: everything from autism to cancer to lupus to paralysis to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to…well, you get the idea.
Their “Who We Are” page states that:
We publish real stories by real people facing real challenges. We are building a brand and a community around them.
Well, that’s a half-truth. The people and their stories are indeed (claimed to be) real (although that detail itself is up for debate).
However, I’m not convinced that they’re building a brand or community around the people themselves. It feels more like The Mighty is building a brand and community around The Mighty.
The way I understand it, people can be published on The Mighty via one of two ways:
- They can submit their story (after which it must go through an approval process)
- Much like spotting the next teen model sensation at the mall, The Mighty can spot a story and approach its author
Here’s the problem with that: The Mighty doesn’t pay any of the writers/creators of these written pieces for the content submitted and published. That’s just plain parasitic, and completely disrespectful of peoples’ time and energy. Especially when most of the people making submissions are likely to be financially strapped. A fellow blog-writer outlines the issue very well in this post. (She has written a feistier version of the issue on her other blog, complete with appropriate R-rated language, here. Both are excellent posts.)
The Mighty is a for-profit site that, according to this article, garnered 30 million “hits” or views during its first year, 20 million more during a six-month period that bridged 2014 into 2015, and according to this article, written this last December, the founder himself (Mike Porath) now boasts two to three million hits/views per day.
That’s a lot of eyeballs.
What does The Mighty have in store for such eyeballs?
Up until now, very little, in terms of advertising. At this time, the articles occupy the entire screen, with a refreshing lack of “sponsored links” at the bottom (except for the videos that annoyingly auto-play, unfortunately about topics that not only should not auto-play, but carry Trigger Alerts/Content Warnings, such as suicide), which are sponsored by a mysteriously-shrouded outfit known simply as “Connatix“, a publisher-focused advertising company (the link points to their profile on Crunchbase)).
But that’s the present; what comes later?
Well, according to The Mighty’s Crunchbase profile, it has received three rounds of venture capital funding, totaling nearly $2.5 million USD over the past couple of years. (Pretty posh digs for an entity that refuses to pay the writers of these stories for the work (time and effort) that they invested in creating the content.)
Companies can’t stay in startup/venture-capital-raising mode forever, though; those venture capitalists tend to want their money back, and then some, at some point in the near future. They’ll only fund projects that show promise, and the more promise, the better.
Mike Porath and The Mighty intend to make good on that promise. According to Porath’s Crunchbase profile, he’s currently an SVP (Senior Vice President) of the SpinMedia Group, a $76 million-dollar conglomerate that presents itself as a Millennial-targeted family of (mostly-clickbait) websites, such as PunkNews.org, The Frisky, and about 35 more.
Peering into his past shows that he’s been well-groomed to break it big. His pedigree includes an eleven-year timespan of involvement with mega-media bigwigs, such as The New York Times, ABC, AOL, and MSNBC.
In other words, The Mighty ain’t Porath’s first rodeo (a Texanism for “attempt”, “project”, or “endeavor”); he knows what he’s doing. (Sidenote: perhaps his extensive experience with major media outlets plays a role in how slimy-mainstream The Mighty’s stories seem to be? And maybe it also influences the undeniable over-representation of articles written “About Us, Without Us”? Just an observation.)
According to a post written by Porath and published on his LinkedIn page, he says:
“…we [The Mighty] have to make a lot of money. I’m confident we will because in a fairly short time, we’ve already built the most engaged audience in the most lucrative category on the Internet.”
In other words, he’s been luring visitors to the site, getting people to share and spread the links all over social media platforms, accumulating a fan base, and eventually plans to spring ads on them.
To clinch this idea, his LinkedIn post goes further to salivate over the financial success of WebMD…
“…look at WebMD. Display advertising is their main ad product, it is dying, and yet last year they still made more in revenue — $625 million…”
And, just like the alternative band Oasis infamously bragged that they were “more popular than Jesus“, Porath exudes a similar vibe when comparing The Mighty and its potential to WebMD…
“Advertisers want a targeted and engaged audience and that’s exactly what we’ve built. More than 90% of our visitors identify with a specific health condition. Our stories get more likes, comments and shares than WebMD and the other top 10 health sites combined.”
Then comes the golden nugget: a hinting glimpse into the future:
“We’ll soon be offering brands the opportunity to join our community in an authentic and transparent way. Beyond advertising, brands are asking us to connect them to people who are interested in clinical trials.”
Orly? To me, that means (potentially) that real people could be used once again–this time as guinea pigs for untested drugs. After all, they could simply comb the massive visitor following and even the stable of contributing authors; the ground would be fertile.
This is locust behavior at its “finest”. So far, here’s what we have:
- The acquisition of content (their bread and butter) for free
- The soon-to-be-released advertising for consumer brands, drugs, and other
- And now, the potential solicitation of people to offer themselves up as “subjects” of drug trials, the benefits of which will no doubt circulate back to The Mighty once again
Yeah. I’m stoked. Can you tell?
In case it’s even possible, I have a few more bones to pick with The Mighty…
Bone #1: The Prevalence of About Us, Without Us stories:
I’ve already touched on one of them: a disproportionate number of stories written not by autistic people themselves, but rather, the parents and caregivers of these people. This may not be as true in cases of autoimmune disease or other chronic illness, but it’s particularly obvious in regards to the Asperger’s/autism spectrum.
Let’s put the rubber to the road, with real numbers. As of today, under their “Autism Spectrum Disorder” category, of the 120 stories listed (four pages’ worth, 30 articles per page), 67–over half–of those articles were written by parents and grandparents of autistic children. Fewer than a third were actually written by autistic people ourselves.
Bone #2: The Prevalence of “Inspiration Porn”:
“Inspiration porn” is a term used to call out various stories, headlines, photos, and such as patronizing and insulting to disabled people. Although I consider myself mostly non-disabled (although holy cow, there are days!), I have written about this topic in support of others.
There are several variations on the theme. One flavor involves a disabled person engaging in an activity or accomplishing something that non-disabled people do, and making a big show of it, usually to the sheepish-feeling embarrassment of the person with the disability. Another type consists of an able-bodied/minded person treating a disabled person like the human being that they are and getting crowned as a hero for doing it.
Another blogger has written an excellent post about this here.
(Newsflash (to the perpetuators of these stories): disabled people are people. They can do things, too, and they don’t do them to inspire the able-bodied/minded population. They do it on their terms, to go about their business in their own daily lives. They don’t need a “human interest” headline or a socially-viral meme; they need to be respected as humans and held in the same regard, having the same value, as anyone else. Treating disabled folks with regular human respect doesn’t earn anyone any medals or royalty status, either; do it because It’s What You Do; That’s How To Treat People.)
Many people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum actually find these stories to be at least semi-insulting. Sure, it’s great that someone treated someone else nicely, or it’s wonderful that a disabled person accomplished a lofty goal, but the way in which disabled people are used by the outlets that publish these stories and the way in which these stories are perceived by the public is problematic and disturbing. Don’t Be That Guy/Girl. 🙂
Bone #3: The Partnership With Autism Speaks (Autism $peaks, or A$):
I want to be extremely clear that I mention this creepoid “charity”/”advocacy” group by name not because I’m any kind of fan or supporter. In fact, the truth is (quite) the opposite: I name names to call them out, and to make it easier for people researching A$’s dark side to find search results and real information. I remember googling terms like “autism speaks sucks”, “autism speaks criticism”, “autism speaks is bad”, or “autistic people don’t support autism speaks”, and I remember being extremely grateful to find blog posts written in dissent of A$. If the authors of those blog posts had never used the organization’s name in their posts, then my googling wouldn’t have turned up those results–or that information–and all I would have found in my searching is pro-A$ junk.
And indeed, junk is junk, and that’s exactly what A$ is…
…and so is anyone who partners with them. After all, one is only as clean and spring-fresh as the company they keep. On the website Mad In America (which looks to be an excellent one), Twilah Hiari (link to her profile on that site) explains why, soon after going to work for The Mighty as a young, fresh, impressionable content editor, she handed in her resignation, citing The Mighty’s intent to monetize their website by pairing with pharmaceutical companies (when she herself had experienced medical industry-induced brain damage from a psychiatric medication). She was also extremely disappointed in their partnership with A$ and their de facto alliance with all the (horrid) ideas, practices, and propaganda they promote.
Who one forms alliances with speaks volumes about their own character. We begin to proverbially “smell” like those with whom we surround ourselves. And A$ stinks to high heaven. Thus, by the Law of Transitivity (aka the Transitive Law) (because math!), so does The Mighty.
It’s wonderful that The Mighty also partners with The Art of Autism, which remains one of my favorite non-profit autism organizations to date, but what’s glaringly absent and sorely missing is a partnership with the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN). (Theory: maybe it’s because ASAN’s tagline is “nothing about us without us”, and The Mighty has tromped all over that).
All In All…
The Mighty could not call themselves an “ally” with a straight face. It’s fairly obvious that their goals are purely financially-driven and profit-motivated. The proof is in what they publish (About Us, Without Us), how they go about doing it (soliciting content or accepting submissions without offering any compensation), what the future plans include (if aligning with pharmaceutical giants isn’t greasy enough, the advertising for being a clinical trial drug guinea pig is over-the-top, in my opinion), and who they continue to build bridges with (A$, as opposed to ASAN).
A true ally would pay its writers, especially those who are disabled and likely to be financially limited.
A true ally would not attach their name to companies that seek to drug us, nor organizations that promote the traumatic treatments (not to mention the additional aims of cure and prevention).
A true ally would not spend more time talking about business models and revenue generation than it spends talking about concrete ways to truly bring people together (and not merely for the sake of aggregating eyeballs in one spot and counting clicks).
A true ally would employ (more) disabled people and pay them equitably.
A true ally would spend much more time amplifying our own voices than it does signal-boosting the voices that already get heard, the voices of the people who “deal with” and make a big show out of “accommodating” us.
A true ally would support self-advocacy and provide resources and links to entities with tangible strategies.
I’m boycotting The Mighty, indefinitely. I’m not suggesting or recommending them to anyone. I’m not sharing their links on social media.
Hell – now that I’ve gathered the data off their site for this post, I’m not even going to give them the satisfaction of clicking on their site again. 🙂
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Related Posts (from this blog, and other good posts from sources outside this blog):
Inspiration Porn Is Actually Insulting ~ December 8, 2016
Failing At Asperger’s / Autism…? ~ September 24, 2016
One Year Since Crippling The Mighty ~ by Carly Findlay, on Blogspot, December 23, 2016
Blogging, Submissions, “On Spec”, and “For Exposure”: When, Where, and Why You Should (Not) Write For Free ~ by Dani Alexis, WordPress, December 23, 2015
If You Like It, Then You Shoulda Put a Paycheck On It: My Real Problem With The Mighty ~ AutisticAcademic, WordPress, December 31, 2015
(Note: this may be updated periodically as I come across additional excellent posts, and when I do, I’ll link to them here, so please check back in on this space periodically!)
(Image Credit: Cyril Rolando)