You check your email and observe that someone from LinkedIn has messaged you. You read the email on the LinkedIn site. The message is curiously worded, which gives you pause, so you re-read it several times, trying to get the gist.
Someone has asked you if you are interested in writing true stories for a YouTube channel. The email contains several links which you are invited to follow to see samples of the sort of content you will be expected to produce.
All you have ever gotten from LinkedIn so far are come-ons of the “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” variety. There have also been the sort of scattershot promises LinkedIn makes of taking LinkedIn “courses” or upgrading your account to LinkedIn Premium, or purchasing the services of a professional resume writer or career coach off of LinkedIn, in order to improve your reach on LinkedIn. Either those sorts of dreary come-ons sent as a mass mailing, or offers to work for free. When you typed responses saying that you wished to be paid for your writing, you were in some cases promised the moon after the company was up and running, and in others you were simply and suddenly ghosted.
Neither one leaves you terribly interested in this latest message. Yet, gamely, you follow the links, and watch one of the videos. Sipping your coffee, you watch a poorly animated cartoon — a sort of stop-motion animation in digital, with a voice over narration in the voice of a teenage girl.
The story is laborious and repetitive, with large amounts of the narrative flow given to insignificant details of the story, while psychological background and motivations are glossed over. The voice doing the narration is annoyingly perky.
You ponder why it is that that you have been contacted to write a true story that is not your story in between clicking on other episodes. Each story is read in a high-pitched, teenage sounding female voice, and each one covers its narrative arc in around five minutes.
Of the stories you watch, you note that one has a happy ending, one has a sad ending, and one has an ambiguous ending that is neither happy nor sad.
Motivated by making money, you dash off a missive to the sender of the contact email asking how much it pays, and how you will be paid. You assume, wrongly, that there will be some mention of a contract.
The next morning there is another email from the sender of the original one. As if your email was not read or understood in its entirety, the questions you asked are not mentioned nor responded to. This one says that “they” would like you send some examples of your work.
This contradicts what was stated in the first text when they said they wanted you to write true stories for them, but you go ahead and send some links to your articles, even though there are abundant articles on your LinkedIn profile, and, after all, they contacted you off of LinkedIn.
Like clockwork, a response from the sender awaits you in your email inbox the following morning. It says that you write “good”, and asks if you are ready for your first story. You retype the questions from your earlier email message asking as to the details regarding pay, a contract, and method of payment. You also add on a new question: will you be sent interview transcripts from which to write the story?
You figured that writing these true stories is essentially a low-paying ghost writer type gig, handled entirely over the internet. You thought wrong.
This time the reply takes a day and a half, but it finally appears. You will be paid after the delivery of the story, by PayPal. You will be sent a topic to write about. Are you ready for your first topic?
As ready as you’ll ever be.
The writer of the email message has provided zero information about themselves on their profile page, excepting that they live in Canada. Another red flag is the lack of a company name, nor mention of the animated “true stories” series on YouTube.
You develop some serious doubts that the photograph is actually of the sender of the messages. Naturally, you also wonder if you will even actually be paid, because clearly a true story that you make up from a topic can hardly be called a true story.
The lack of any professional information on their profile page also seems odd to you, as does the 24-hour or more lag time between message responses. And, you being you, you can’t help but wonder why they asked you to write for them first, and only after you responded back to that email, asked you to show them stories, as well as why they hadn’t checked your profile page, which they had ostensibly perused in order for them to have asked you to write for them in the first place.
Each of these little discrepancies, taken separately, might likely be nothing more than the slip ups of an amateurish startup. But taken altogether, they seem to be pointing in the direction of something stranger.
Slow as you are, you can’t help but notice that the way the responses were worded in each and every email, in a disjointed and overly simplistic syntax, as well as the peculiar 24-hour time lag and lack of responsiveness to your questions, seems to imply that it is a machine intelligence at work here, some sort of an algorithm, rather than an actual human editor behind this email correspondence.
You’ve been given the green light. In the next email, you receive your topic.
You read the sentence fragment which is to be your topic, the same obscure topic you were talking to your partner about the night before.
With your phone by the side of your bed.
Because it doesn’t sit right with you that not only is your phone listening to you and putting ads on your phone based on words and phrases that it translated into companies and services that it wants you to buy, but is now actually generating your story topics, which implies a much more ominous machine overlord syndrome, you decide to cut the crap.
You respond to the email in a phrase that only a human would understand, that would be too complex for a computer to decipher.
You type out the sentence,
Got anything else?
You press the send button.
The next morning, 24 hours later, there is no response.
Forty-eight hours later, the response has arrived in your inbox.
Do you want a different topic?
You decide to discontinue your correspondence with the machine entity, primarily because you would really rather not know the degree to which your phone listens to your conversations, then feeds those ideas into increasingly elaborate algorithms which not only sell products but find writers for fake true stories, digitally regurgitated back to you through a panoply of affiliated websites and subsidiary digital products.
You don’t receive any response the next morning, but that night you tell your partner the whole story, leading up to the punch line of how you realize you got rick rolled by a robot. Your partner says they can go fuck themselves.
The next morning you receive your last email message from that sender:
We don’t think this is going to work out.