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Media FAIL

November 12, 2009

Jezebel links to an offensive YouTube video on “How to Draw Asian Women”.

Yikes. How does something like this happen? Through eHow, that’s how.

Demand Media is the entity behind eHow. They came onto my radar after they sponsored a webinar on freelance writing that I participated in last week. It sounds like a pretty sweet deal. You apply to be a freelance writer, copyeditor, or filmmaker with them and they present you with a wealth of gigs, no negotiation necessary. You choose which ones you’d like to take, write your article or make your video, and they send you the fee. Sounds great, right?

A quick Google search of “Demand Studios scam” (so sue me, I’m a skeptic) turned up some interesting results. Namely, this article by Erik Sherman on the issues with Demand. I don’t know much about the business of freelance writing yet, but it doesn’t take much to start smelling something fishy. The comments on that post and the related post are telling. This is not something that anyone serious about establishing a freelance writing career would want to get involved in.

I also found this Wired article on Demand Media. It sheds some light on how this video might have came to be. At the risk of oversimplifying, the Demand model goes something like this: Demand decides which articles/videos to make based on an algorithm that includes search terms, keywords dictated by the ad market and existing articles/videos. An additional algorithm, a set of proofreaders and an editor refine the results for presentation to Demand’s pool of freelance writers. One of them bites, writes and submits the article, which is checked for plagiarism and copyedited. The final result is posted on a site such as eHow.com (one of several Demand-run sites). A similar process is used for videos.

Here’s what I think happened: “how to draw Asian women” was a popular enough search term to wind up as an algorithm result. However, this wasn’t drawing Asian women in the cartoon sense of the phrase, this was in the dating sense, as in “how to attract Asian women”. I’m not going to go into the the politics of Asian fetishes, but I suspect that dating Asian women is a much more popular search than simply depicting them on paper. Somewhere along the way, the proofreaders, editors, or filmmakers took “draw Asian women” in the literal sense, with the result we have here.

I could be wrong. Then again, this could be a good demonstration of what can go wrong when you crank out media based on algorithms, underpaid/inexperienced labor, and an utter lack of common sense.

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