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How Mic.com Exploits Social Justice Outrage

Ian Miles Cheong Contributor

Mic.com, the website that banks on daily outrage for social justice warriors, let go of 25 of its writers last week. Their jobs were rendered redundant following an editorial shift towards video content. Former employees told their stories to The Outline’s Adrianne Jeffries, who penned a damning story about how the website exploited social justice for clicks before abandoning its most prolific contributors.

For half a decade, the site formerly known as PolicyMic has veered far towards the left by publishing countless articles harping on the latest outrage in realms as diverse as politics to movies, comic books and video games.  If there’s a social justice angle to be taken, they’ll take it.

“’Wolfenstein 2’ DLC: In a huge series first, you’ll play as a black man and a woman.” “Marvel’s ‘Iron Fist’ missed chance to recast lead white character as Asian, some say.” You get the idea.

Former employees told The Outline that the website’s founders, Chris Altchek and Jake Horowitz, are apathetic to the issues the website promotes. Formerly designed to offer balanced takes from across the political spectrum, Mic moved to bank on social justice issues when they struck gold with social media traffic—driving as many as 65 million unique visitors each month.

According to former employees, the website has writers contributing hundreds of articles each week based on SEO keywords and topics—basically anything that would allow them to mine what Jeffries calls “Facebook gold” after it discovered viral success on the social media platform.

“Mic realized earlier than most places that they could commodify people’s feelings about race and gender,” said a former contributor, who stated that the website found a way to replicate daily viral outrage through its “Identities” section, which focused on “examining the intersections of sexuality, gender, class and race in politics and culture for the millennial generation.”

A 2015 report on Digiday revealed how Mic.com managed to turn the largely insular Tumblr platform into a bigger traffic driver than Twitter by speaking the same language as its millennial users. It’s a fact that the company doesn’t even bother to hide—bragging on their entry for the Shorty Awards about how they employ a “strategist with Tumblr expertise” to engage that community. And nothing speaks Tumblrese like someone fluent in the language of social justice.

The fixation on traffic stats was a problem for employees, who wanted to feel like they were “making a difference” through social justice rather than being part of the problem by harping on every little issue.

The Outline’s damning report states that many employees were in it to promote their social justice causes and cared little about driving traffic—and actions by the site’s two co-founders were sometimes considered callous. In one 2015 instance, when a TV news reporter and her cameraman were shot on live TV, Altchek and Horowitz ordered pizza and sent an email to staff telling them to take the day off if they felt traumatized by the news.

A group of employees penned a group email to complain about this, asking why the site never offered pizza or personal days any time a black man was shot by a police officer.It’s worth noting that the murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward by a disgruntled colleague hit many journalists close to home because of their shared profession.

Another instance cited was when Horowitz allegedly interrupted a story pitch by a contributor wanting to do a story about a woman building rooftop gardens. The former employee recalled him asking: “But, is she black? Is she black?”

According to former staffers, editors focused on business lacked the sensitivity they expected from a site promoting social justice. The site’s former SEO director, Michael Cahill, allegedly instructed employees to replicate New York Magazine’s viral cover story of all the women who accused Bill Cosby of rape. Speaking to the Outline, a social justice writer found it “gross” that he wanted contributors to find rape victims and share their stories, as if they were a commodity.

To any business-minded person, what Cahill did only made sense for a publication that butters its bread with social justice topics. But to its former contributors, his actions were insensitive.

It only went downhill from there—The Outline highlights how Mic baited Facebook readers into “getting worked up over everything” from pointless stories about random people doing problematic things.

“Mic trafficked in outrage culture,” said a former staffer, who added that these efforts only made people desensitized to “huge breaks in social and political norms.” No kidding.

Despite pivoting towards video, the Mic.com appears to be unflinching in its drive for daily clickbait. Just today, the website dragged a sexy male unicorn character in a relatively unpopular video game for being “gay minstrely.” The outrage couldn’t be more pointless.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.