Remember when the Internet used to be anonymous? I do. Now it’s full of avatars, bios and videos. People want to know who they are working with, where that person is located, and what country they hold allegiance to. While I can completely understand the rationale behind this practice, it is quite troubling to me for one reason. It makes it extremely easy to discriminate and prejudge based on factors other than actual qualifications.
The Internet Should Not Be EEOC
Let me start off by making that very clear. I believe that the Internet is the ultimate free economy. Anyone with the ability to go online can theoretically offer their product or service. Ten years ago it was the perfect playing field. It is the reason a bookseller could become a cultural icon, and a dating website the marketing tool of businesses. People made decisions based on the merit of the product or service being provided, not the attractiveness of the creator’s avatar. We didn’t care who wrote it, we cared about what it said.
So I am not in any way suggesting that there should be some type of quota to ensure that disenfranchised populations get equal access at the Internet economy. (That would mean that someone would have to regulate the Internet, and that is when you start opening up a huge can of worms.) I am suggesting that it would be awesome to have a blind internet economy. Otherwise, what solution does someone who knows they will be discriminated against have in today’s economy?
Most of What You See Is an Illusion
What would you think if you knew that the Connecticut legal blog you referenced the other day was written by a 20 year old Ukranian college student? Regardless of whether or not the information was correct- would you feel cheated? Did you have an expectation that the blog would at least be written by a paralegal?
What about the online profile of the attractive girl you viewed the other day. Did you think that was her real picture? When you chatted with her, were the responses a little bit too perfect? Maybe it’s because the picture was purchased and you are actually chatting with a motivated professional from Bangladesh.
The point is, those making money from the Web have learned that Internet users are prejudiced. Since anyone can promise the world, these users make decisions based on information they already know.
Well he clearly looks like a lawyer, I’ll click there.
She likes the same television show I do, and look at her gorgeous eyes! I’m sure she is trustworthy.
Instead of focusing on the information being delivered, they instead focus on the package it is delivered in.
How this Affects Freelancers
When you are working as a freelance writer, this stark reality will quickly hit you in the face. Potential clients don’t judge you by your capabilities- they judge you by your profile picture.
The oDesk community is made up of professionals from around the globe. To maintain a high-quality workplace for all oDeskers, identity information associated with an oDesk User Account must be real and verifiable.
This includes pictures and videos.
I still wonder: why do clients need to know what I look like in order to determine whether I can write well? I would understand if I was still modeling, but I work remotely and I write.
Regardless, I play the game. I upload the clear profile picture, I record the video.
As a result, I get clients who expect me to write in ebonics, know something about fashion or decorating, or be willing to write about television shows. I get passed over for projects ‘seeking a male voice’ as well as those who ‘prefer not to work with Americans’. Five years ago, I would have been at least able to get my foot in the door, because they wouldn’t have a profile picture to base their ridiculous assumptions on.
I knew we were headed in the wrong direction when I was contacted on twitter about my dystonia blog 5 years ago. A fellow advocate of dystonia awareness sent me a private message. He had read my tweets, my blog, and visited my portfolio websites. (At the time my income was from promotional modeling.) Regardless of all of the effort I had put in concerning awareness, he was most struck by the following fact:
You’re pretty for a black girl.
I would have had better luck spreading awareness had I worn a dystonia bikini.