WeSearchr was finally launched last week. Which reminds me: want to see Nick Denton’s gay sex tape? Or maybe Justin Trudeau’s? Straight one’s fine too. Hey, Bernie bros: how would you like to finally hear Hillary’s secret Goldman Sachs speeches?
Briefly summarized, WeSearchr is an online information marketplace that crowdsources funds for desired information bounties. First, someone puts up a bounty for some information — say, evidence of wrongdoing by a politician. Then, the bounty gets funded according to how much money people are willing to pay to hear it. Someone else – a researcher, whistleblower or journalist – then has a serious and obvious incentive to acquire the information. If they do, they get paid and the desired information is released. Somebody out there hiding something gets skewered. The gory details can be read here.
There are a lot of start-ups with snappy slogans and big, pie-in-the-sky dreams, but WeSearchr is one that is, at best, understating its significance. The home page proclaims: “WeSearchr crowdfunds the truth.” That sounds innocuous enough to an honest man. Liars might take notice, however. There are a lot of them out there, and in a late-stage democracy such as ours, lying is something between a national pastime and the structural basis of society. Such a society ought to watch the truth warily.
To such a society, the truth might be positively explosive.
It’s still campaign season in America, and WeSearchr is predictably starting off with a slew of juicy political and tabloid bounties. No reason to signal that you don’t read that kind of stuff here – this is information that people want to hear. Signalling won’t help much. Demand shall be satisfied.
The Invisible Hand touching journalism is going to uncover tremendous demand for a lot of other kinds of information though. Sex tapes and affairs are one thing. Evidence of crimes are a level up. Right now, there are bounties for evidence of crimes by various politicians and media figures.
Unless The New York Times finally produces video footage of Donald Trump raping someone (and boy do you bet they’ve been trying), those will probably be white-collar crimes. But why not eventually offer bounties for information on unsolved murders, robberies, rapes or assaults?
The police might be expected to satisfy that demand already. The keyword is ‘might.’ The Economist notes:
America’s homicide clearance rate—the percentage of solved crimes that lead to arrest—has fallen considerably in the past 50 years, from around 90% in 1965 to around 64% in 2012, according to federal statistics. This means more than 211,000 homicides committed since 1980 remain unsolved. Every year introduces nearly 5,000 more.
That’s a lot of unsolved murders. A lot of grieving family members. A lot of injured people who would give anything – anything – for justice. Best of all, the demand has been consistently growing since the ‘60s! Whether police investigators are failing to solve crimes due to budget cuts or crime-friendly ideological directives from above is beyond the point. The victims and their friends, family, supporters and sympathizers can now fund justice themselves.
WeSearchr may have to hire a Criminal Evidence Evaluation Team – or make a lot of lucrative deals with police, or spark a quadrupling of the private investigation industry – but all that will likely be peanuts compared to the pay-off. The publicly-funded investigators become either superfluous or dependent entirely on private contractors to function, a fate that has already befallen the U.S. military.
If the FBI’s interracial crime statistics are anything to go by, there are a lot more affluent people being murdered – and, one could infer, assaulted, robbed and raped – by the poor and impulsive than the other way around. That’s exactly how you’d like it to be if you were running an evidence marketplace. The victims have money. The perpetrators? Unless they committed the crime alone and/or had incredible opsec – the kind of opsec impulsive criminals are not famous for – there will be astronomically high incentives for their peers to rat them out.
Snitches get stitches, except when they use WeSearchr.
How much does crime drop just because criminals can’t trust each other not to snitch anymore? All we need is a WeSearchr mobile app and every Obamaphone will have access. Thanks WeSearchr!
How about academic research? Academia is an expensive and cloistered freakshow outside of STEM, and the freaks have succeeded in making a number of research topics completely haram. Researching these topics violates progressive morality, and academia isn’t known for being kind to non-leftists, so they are left to be researched under cover of darkness (well, except in China).
Research on intelligence – especially race and intelligence – is de facto banned. Gregory Cochran notes that “the most likely explanation for human homosexuality is that it is caused by some pathogen.” Not that he would ever get funding to find out. (Note: the professor’s hypothesis is illuminating; the linked page is otherwise unrelated but worth mulling over.) With the growing hullabaloo about ‘gender fluidity,’ it may not be long before research involving our chromosomes is frowned upon, if not deemed outright suspicious – why do you care so much about chromosomes? What are you trying to prove? Are you a transphobe or something?
Don’t even get me started on the taboos placed on certain sensitive areas of historical research.
With all that in mind, why not crowdfund bounties for new information in fields that used to be the provenance of academia? If academia refuses to do it, the demand hasn’t disappeared, only the supply has. I’m certain that there are at least a million people in Texas alone willing to donate some money towards an independent scientific study to test whether homosexuality is caused by a pathogen. Can you imagine the fireworks that would ensue?
To return to the opsec problem: all organizations, not just criminals, will feel the heat. All organizations – businesses, sports teams, news agencies, political parties, government bureaucracies, militias, criminal groups, and so on – depend on some amount of exclusive information to function. Only the coach and the players know the gameplan. Only the CEO knows the safe combination. Only Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi knows the names on the European jihadi infiltration program list. Well, only he and his poorly paid assistant. Uh-oh.
Once the information bounty’s dollar value – public and open for all to see – exceeds the dollar value of whatever position somebody with sensitive information has, it becomes just a matter of time. The cost of opsec will skyrocket globally after a chaotic period of adjustment. I’m especially interested in seeing what an anonymous information marketplace will do to a twenty-two-sided war like the one in Syria. How quickly does backstabbing and betrayal between rival militias accelerate? All those jihadi warriors – like petty criminals in America – are inexplicably posting on Twitter 24/7, they’ll surely be able to figure out WeSearchr.
I should clarify I am not suggesting WeSearchr itself will or should do these things. I’m sure WeSearchr has ethical boundaries forbidding instigation of an information war between terrorist militias, but the idea of an anonymous information marketplace is out there now, and somebody else won’t have those ethical boundaries. There’s a Pirate Bay for every Netflix.
When defection becomes easy and lucrative, loyalty is going to become very expensive. Convention, inertia and legal agreements will only go so far. I’m betting a lot of blood oaths are going to be sworn. Traditional methods of solving the trust and loyalty problem will go into fashion. Oaths, duels, rituals, honor culture, and so on. The Amish and the Church of Scientology will probably not have as many problems as the rest of us. Some more enterprising people will begin to ask: why are they immune?
Chuck Johnson, who co-founded WeSearchr, wrote an article on his site framing the founding as the death blow for traditional media institutions that depend on ad revenue and traffic. While that’s one way to look at it, I’m not fully convinced.
The media as such was never about the truth, or even about making money from ad revenue and traffic. The media has been about galvanizing the masses for power practically since the invention of the printing press. That kind of mass democratic power pays for itself from the owner’s perspective, whether or not the claimed goals of informing the public or getting ads seen for money are actually viable by themselves.
That’s exactly why billionaires and oligarchs have been buying up media properties, despite the hand-wringing about media’s protracted and sputtering death. Off the top of my head I can think of Carlos Slim and The New York Times, Jeff Bezos and The Washington Post, Chris Hughes and The New Republic, and now Viktor Vekselberg and Gawker. It’s true that Chris Hughes is now selling TNR, but that seems to be more due to his incompetence than anything else. The article I linked even dryly notes TNR “has always lost money.” Since 1914, when it was founded? How did it survive 102 years of losing money?
Politico is feeling intellectual about ‘The Fall of Salon.com,’ but is apparently having trouble connecting the logical dots between statements like ““We were inmates who took over the journalistic asylum,” [Salon founder] David Talbot [said]” and “Adobe Ventures swooped in with a $2 million investment that allowed Salon to get off the ground.” Your friends at Social Matter can only dream about that kind of rebel grit and stern commitment to truth-telling.
I think Nick Land has a deeper appreciation for what’s coming. “There is no longer any need for meta-lies about the essential character of contemporary journalism.” Indeed. But that doesn’t mean it will go away quietly, or even quickly. The mainstream media won’t disappear, but its smiley veil will be torn off. That, and the coming information wars, are worth purchasing an extra pair of sunglasses.
The future has never looked so bright – and orange – for those with eyes to see it.