Selecting the correct tone of voice for an article is so much more than just writing what you think – or what you feel. It has quickly grown to a complex game of politics and playing various informal games to get people’s attention for what you really want to say – not much different from how oldmedia works.
I’d like to write mostly thoughtful, reflective articles on information policy and the growth of the Pirate Party movement in historical parallels (there are many). Those articles get a couple of thousand readers, and while I get a lot out of writing them, they don’t really increase my audience, which you need to do if you want to change the world.
It’s also a matter of your relative size and footprint. In the election campaign leading up to the 2009 European Elections, right after the gross injustice of the #spectrial (the trial against the former operators of The Pirate Bay plus a fourth unrelated individual), I was angry as all hell and wrote and spoke in the according tone of voice. All of a sudden, the Pirate Party was the third largest party, and there was no longer any need to use a loud voice to get attention; people were actually listening to what you had to say, and you could afford to be reflective. So I tend to be mostly philosophical and reflective, but I don’t hesitate to raise hell when I see injustices being committed, no matter against whom. This variation of my tone of voice is part of a larger strategy, which I’ll returning to later in this article.
In writing those angry articles, I am still very careful with language – I use as strong terms as can be objectively motivated, but no stronger. I use “corruption” if that is what a person on the street would call it. I use “censorship” only in its most lexical sense – when a (government-mandated) third party prevents specific communication between two consenting parties. For some reason, this always results in some people relativizing the terms I use in their thoroughly lexical sense, saying “it could be worse”, and then using that as an argument that the entire article is factually wrong. This frustrates me; I perceive it as intellectually dishonest. Perhaps it’s just an easy attack surface, and other people are playing by their own rules as well; I don’t know.
One recent example was the censorship of the German Piratenpartei three days ahead of the elections; the party was being censored in schools. Somebody on Reddit painted my entire article as false with the statement “there’s no centralized censorship in Germany! This article is ludicrous!”. Well, no, there may not be. But I didn’t claim there was centralized censorship. That wasn’t in my description at all. I claimed there was local censorship, yet one that the state was responsible for. That there’s a strawman if I ever saw one. There were plenty of them, attacking over semantics rather than discussing the quite democratic problem that a particular party’s platform could be selectively made inaccessible by the state without anybody being accountable.
Another was the example of the corrupt judge Chris Hensen, who shared commercial activities with the plaintiff’s lawyer in a monopoly case. There was no shortage of people lashing out at my use of the word “corruption”, and saying that in their favorite specific context, the word would not be applicable. Well, as I said, I am a geek and acutely lexically aware; I use words to their exact meaning and nothing else. Also, this corruption is not a superficial incidence; it is the root of the problem, in more countries than NL. The judges have associated for so long with copyright-maximalist lawyers that they have internalized the worldview of the monopoly hawks, and read the law in a completely different way than somebody who hadn’t associated with those people. They’re biased but without capability to realize it, and judge relentlessly against anybody who reads the law in a non-hawkish way.
(If we were describing any court system in a foreign faraway land where cases were predetermined like this, over 95% of us would use the word “corrupt” without hesitation. What was rare in this case was that I had come across documentation showing that judge and plaintiff’s lawyer didn’t just associate, but associated commercially. The exact same thing happened in the trial against The Pirate Bay in Sweden, where the judge Tomas Norström was a formal member of the same copyright-maximization association as the plaintiffs’ lawyers.)
When I see things like that, I get very angry, very fast. And I write exactly what I feel, while still being careful about not using stronger words than I can motivate from a purely lexical standpoint. At the same time, many social news sites complain about the emotion-laden, tabloid-style writing that results from such anger of mine – yet, upvote them into the outer stratosphere. They easily reach Reddit’s front page, and can even top it.
That article about the corrupt judge Hensen is one such example. It got 250,000 views in the first 24 hours. That’s a good result for any article. That draws attention to the other, more thoughtful and reflective articles here – I have designed this site quite intentionally to show many old articles beside the one you’re currently reading, with a lot of eye-candy to them for easy attention. So my idea is to mix reflective with emotional, using the emotional to draw an audience in quantity and reflective articles to retain the philosophical high ground.
Just to put those numbers in perspective, it would have taken an old-style newspaper a circulation of 10-20 million to reach that kind of readership for an article. Thoughtful articles don’t get readers. Angry sensationalism does. Despite everybody’s claims and wishes to the contrary.
TL;DR: Scumbag Reddit complains about sensationalism, then upvotes every piece of tabloid writing to outer frakking space.
To carry this reasoning over to electability, yet other people again get nervous about when I use that strong a tone of voice, as it decreases the overall likeability of the Pirate Party brand. Indeed it does, but that’s confusing likeability with electability. I write to optimize the latter factor. I write to optimize the vote count, not the like count. They are completely different mechanisms, and to quite some extent, are opposing concepts: you must get disliked by some to get votes by others.
The nightmare scenario is that 100% of people think that the Pirate Party are quite nice chaps and all have us as a second-hand voting preference. That means we don’t get any votes at all. I write to optimize for the scenario where 10-20% think we’re radical and aggressive enough about very real problems to get their vote, but where the other 80-90% or so most likely hate us with all their guts. That scenario means real election winnages.
Of course, this article will not get a lot of readers, being philosophical and reflective. It doesn’t work like that. But this particular article is not written to optimize readership numbers. Its purpose is to be a reference post — one that I can link to the next time people complain about me using a certain tone of voice for a certain occasion, and explain why I write like I do.