Idée Fixe Interlude #20

Deplatforming is a lever but it's not the solution.

Thank you for being here. You are receiving this email because you subscribed to Idée Fixe - the weekly newsletter for curious minds. If you are new to Idée Fixe, welcome.

I’m Toni Cowan-Brown and each week I share with you insights from tech, politics, and pop culture that matter and dominate our minds. I’ve also added a section on the latest in the F1 2020 season. And each month I dig into one specific idea that is particularly top of mind. 🧠


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First up.

Two new podcast episodes went out. And like every week, the conversations were real, fun and educational. Unapologetic Women, the podcast, is closing out its second season (wild) and we will be taking a short break until February - until then listen to our 2020 wrap-up.

🎙 There’s no such thing as ‘data’ (Another Podcast w/ Benedict Evans)

Somehow, 'Data' is everything these days - it's power, money, electricity or the new oil. It's at the centre of every tech policy and every tech argument. But... what is data? What does that mean? Really, there's no such thing. In this episode, Benedict and I talk about data, buzzwords and TED talks.

🎙 The strength of humanity (Unapologetic Women w/ Sorcha Rochford)

For the past few weeks, our inboxes are inundated with a look back at 2020. In this episode, we wanted to do a year in review but from our own personal lens. We reflect on how 2020 impacted us both personally and professionally from remote work, to a massive increase in content, the global pandemic, social injustice, virtual friendships and more.


What I’m reading.

🤯 The Wildest Media Corrections Of 2020. 💰 After riot, major corporations suspend donations to the Republican Attorneys General Association🗽 I binged watch Pretend it’s a City on Netflix (see the end of this newsletter) and came across this great piece on Fran Lebowitz and how she will never leave New York. 💻 Building your own website is cool again, and it's changing the whole internet. I’ve bored people to death with this - yes it’s great to take advantage of existing platforms and the network, but please also make sure your content lives on your own website/space. ✨ What is glitter?


Politics 🗳️

House Debates New Article of Impeachment for Trump (New York Times, January 2021)

Right now, lawmakers in the House are gathered to discuss and vote on the potential impeachment of President Trump. This comes after the formal call on Vice President Mike Pence to use the 25th Amendment.

“The president must be impeached and convicted by the senate. It gives me no pleasure to say this. It breaks my heart. It should break your heart.” says Speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

The concept of canceling and cancel culture was brought up by some republicans. Let’s be clear this is not an example of cancel culture, in this case it’s about right and wrong and facing concequences.

Meanwhile, Pence has reached his limit with Trump. It wasn’t pretty according to the NYT and Mitch McConnell privately backs the impeachment.

He has concluded that President Trump committed impeachable offenses and believes that Democrats’ move to impeach him will make it easier to purge Mr. Trump from the party, according to people familiar with Mr. McConnell’s thinking.


Technology 📱

What social networks can learn from public spaces (Platformer, January 2021)

Deplatforming, like censorship, doesn’t solve anything long term. It’s often more dangerous as it creates resentment, martyrdom and mystery surrounding the individual you are trying to silence. It’s a quick fix that will only create further problems. And yet, right now there aren’t that many options presented to us.

As Newton lays out in his piece, there is a need up-front to “design better digital spaces” and a desire from the community to take ownership - it’s one of the things I’ve deeply appreciated about the Formula 1 subreddit and the hard working moderators there. I would also argue that they have actually done an incredible job at creating a collaborative mindset, ownership, programming, bounderies… and it works.

In the offline world, healthy communities have traditionally been served by thriving public spaces: town squares, libraries, parks, and so on. Like digital social networks, these spaces are open to all. But unlike those networks, they are owned by the community rather than a corporation. 

What is missing, more than anything right now, are clear engagement and content guidelines as to what is and isn’t tolerated on these platforms. As well as rules/legislations in place to help guide companies in the creation of these guidelines. Without any of this in place, we will still be playing wack-a-mole in fifty years.


(Pop) Culture 🍿

The creator economy needs a middle class (HBR, December 2020)

A few weeks ago I talked about how the likes of Substack may not actually be ‘democratising’ their spaces within the creator economy as these platforms are first and foremost attracting creators who were successful elsewhere. Their seemingly new success on these new platforms attracts other who aspire to the same level of success, and yet they might not realise that it’s not the platform that allowed for this level of success - sometimes it is, but more often than not, it’s the same kind of people experiencing continued success that started elsewhere.

For these ‘new’ creators these platforms are a huge opportunity if the platforms cater to them first and foremost - by being a platform for the many, not the few. However, in many cases, the focus seems to be on the few at the top, rather than the many.

Right now, the creative economy on platforms like YouTube and Instagram looks a lot like the U.S. economy — there are a few big winners and a lot of people hustling to make a living and barely getting by. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Platforms can be — and sometimes are — the new vehicles for the American Dream, offering a stable, middle-class income and the promise of upward mobility.

How 2020 killed the Instagram brand (Digiday, December 2020)

I laugh at the concept of ‘doing it for the gram’ but the reality is that many brands in recent years have seen much success selling directly to consumers on Instagram, and they have built their brands with the platforms’s aesthetic in mind. In doing so they have by-passed my third party actors and going directly to the customers that might have historically been overlooked. With new platforms, such as TikTok, the aesthetic is changing nd so is the business model.

The first crop of direct-to-consumer startups built their business models around selling products online that had previously only been sold in stores, or selling more fashionable versions of household staples (think Away with luggage). That helped fuel now familiar sans-serif and pastel-heavy aesthetic.

Now, newer startups are zeroing in on different opportunities — and making loftier claims. Olowe, for example, said that Topicals wants to “destigmatize” chronic skin care conditions. That requires a branding playbook that’s less muted. 


Formula One 🏎

Whilst we wait for the 2021 season to kick-off, you can join me here on TikTok where I continue to answer all your F1 questions. I’m also starting to think about v2 of the F1 Beginners Guide so more on this to come in the coming months.


“The Cliché of Beauty, the Cliché of Luxury, the Cliché of Banality” (In Vogue five-part podcast series)

This is a piece well worth ready, as well as listening to the five-part series from Vogue about how the 1990s - the decade that changed us and fashion.

The 1990s feel relevant, modern, even iconoclastic in a way that no other decade does in terms of style, culture, and ideology. Our visceral attachment to the era goes way beyond a slip dress and combat boots. In the 1990s creativity of all kinds was given a global platform, enabling community building and encouraging self-expression and difference: “Come as you are.”


Pretend it’s a city (Limited series, Netflix)

Not sure why, but I successfully binged-watched all available episodes of this within an afternoon - and it was delightful, infuriating and inspiring all at once.

Sitting down with filmmaker Martin Scorsese, humorist Fran Lebowitz weighs in on New York City tourists, money, subways, the arts, and the not-so-simple act of walking in Times Square.

Ann Friedman’s pie charts

Friedman creates these fun doodle-like pie charts that never get old.


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