Why the Online Freelance Economy Is Great for Racists, Nationalists and Sexists

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.







It’s Just Not What It Used to Be

Nearly twenty years ago I started communicating online. Yes, you read right. The crazy thing about that is, my connection depended on the free 30 days trial CDs companies sent to my parents in the mail.

Late at night, while my parents were sleeping, I’d plug a phone line into my Windows 3.1 computer, insert the AOL, Prodigy, Netzero or whatever free sample CD I had not already used, and anxiously awaited connection.

For me, the Internet represented a place to connect with people that I would never meet in person.  It was my lifeline when high school wasn’t as friendly as I would have liked it be. It was my safe haven when I needed to talk.

At 1 am in the morning, I could fire up my ICQ, (15708764), and mIrc and find anyone I wanted to talk to. At that time it typically meant other teenagers in South Africa or Malaysia, but I didn’t mind… Besides, it gave me the opportunity to figure out where Malaysia was.

By the time I went to college, the Internet was beginning to change. AOL users and their obnoxious buddy lists were popping up everywhere. Now the Internet was becoming a popularity contest of who could have the most connections and the cutest emoticons.

Geocities also began to emerge, (and I have to admit- I had one) but they generally were half- completed gaudy waste of internet space filled with shiny graphics and self proclamations of awesomeness. It was a novel idea at first, but I hardly found any real connections off of them.

Except for one.

As I navigated myself through the rapidly changing Internet of the late 90’s, I managed to make my first blogging connection with a fellow teen from Germany. I guess you could call it an online pen pal, if there is even such a thing anymore. He found interest in my geocities page, which I actually put words on rather than shiny sparkly graphics, and left a complimentary message in my guestbook.

We continued to chat via email for a couple of years until he was accepted to a transfer program at the University of Georgia, and I, conveniently living in South Carolina, chickened out on meeting him.

Thinking back on the situation, I don’t think I was ready to make that connection from the anonymity of the Internet to the very real aspect of life. I didn’t even have my photo online until ten years later.

Now, all of that is gone. The Internet is an extension of real life. We don’t trust people who aren’t online. When you meet someone, or are about to meet someone, you Google them. If they don’t show up in a search, they’re creepy and have something to hide.

Anonymous online chats have been replaced by video chats. Personal websites are now monetized blogs. Chat rooms are used by businesses for virtual employees. We don’t share words for the sake of sharing them anymore. Our Internet is now a tool of our everyday lives rather than an experience to escape from our everyday lives.

It’s just not what it used to be.