Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Ghosts Among Us

It started some years ago. I started seeing ghosts. Ghost writers writing blog posts. Ghost conference proposers. Ghost tweeters. And when I saw it, I could not unsee it.

My first encounter with the phenomenon of ghost contributions was when I sought advice on how to blog regularly from one of the people I looked up to on their steady pace of decent content, and learner the answer was "Fiverr". Write title and a couple of pointers, send the work off to a distant country for very affordable prices, and put your own name on the resulting article. You commissioned it. You outlined it. You review it, and you publish it. 

If you did such a thing as part of your academic work, it would be a particular type of plagiarism where while you are not infringing someone else's copyright, you are ethically way off mark. But for buying a commercial service and employing someone, there is an ethical consideration but it is less clear cut. 

Later, I organised a conference with a call for collaboration. This meant we scheduled a call with everyone proposing a session. Not just the best looking titles, every individual. It surprised me when the ghosts emerged. There were multiple paper proposals by men, where the scheduling conversation was with a woman. There were multiple paper proposals by men, where the actual conversation was with a woman they had employed to represent them. The more I dig, the more I realise: while one name shows up on the stage, the entire process up to that point, including creating the slides may be by someone completely invisible. 

As someone who mentors new speakers, partial ghost writing their talk proposal has often been a service I provide. I listen to them speak about their idea. I combine that with what I know of the world of testing, and present their thing in writing in best possible light. What I do is light ghosting, since I very carefully collect their words, and many times just reorganise words they already put on paper. My work as mentor is to stay hidden and let them shine. 

Not long ago, I got a chance of discussing with a high profile woman on communication field on social media presence. Surprised I learned she was the ghost of multiple CxO level influencers in tech. She knew what they wanted to say, collected their words for them and stayed invisible for a compensation. 

I'm tired of the financial imbalance where ghost writing is a thing for some to do and others to pay for. I'm tired that it is so often a thing where women are rendered invisible and men become more visible, on an industry where people already imagine women don't exist. Yay for being paid. But paid to become a ghost in the eyes of the audience is just wrong.

It's a relevant privilege to be financially able to pay for someone to do the work to remain invisible. Yet it is the dynamic that the world runs on. And it seems to disproportionately erase work of women, and particularly women in low-income societies. It can only be fixed by the privileged actively doing the work of sharing the credit, or even, allocating the credit where it belongs. 

We could start with a book - where illustrations play as big if not bigger role than texts - and add the illustrator's name on the cover. We should know Adrien Szell

I have not yet decided if I should play the game and pay my share - after all, I have acquired plenty of privilege by now - or if I should use my platform to just point out this to erase it. 

It makes my heart ache when a woman calls me when her 6 months of daily work is erased by the men around her saying the work she put 6 months to is achievement of a man who was visiting for 6 months to work as her pair. 

It makes my heart ache when I have to every single time point out to my managers what and how I contribute. 

It makes my heart ache that Patricia Aas needs to give advice that includes on not sharing an idea without an artefact (slides - 10, demo -11) and be absolutely right about how things are for women in IT. 

We can't mention the underprivileged too much for their contributions. There's work to do there. Share the money, share the credit.