Medium censored my stories, my voice

How can other writers avoid censorship on Medium

Ken Dow ✈️
7 min readNov 1, 2020

Okay — let’s not get into a big argument on what is the official definition of censorship. We all know that the real way that these major tech and media platforms are able to influence the content on their sites and therefore, public opinion is putting their hands on the scale of distribution.

I’ve written a few dozen articles on Medium now, some more controversial than others. Controversial defined here as what is not considered the standard mass media narrative. These articles have a range in terms of how controversial they are and a range of what their quality is. Quality defined here as read ratios, fan ratios, and external distribution size.

I’ve done the stats on the articles that I’ve written. Here are the conclusions, although this should surprise absolutely no one.

Medium has clear preferences on the content topic, which is manifest through the amount of distribution it gives a story. Quality is very secondary to the content topic.

Before I begin, I’m defining whether Medium is willing to give distribution as the % mix between internal and external views. If a story is being shared externally, the natural signal that would give is that this story is good enough to be shared by someone else externally. If this is the case, it should also be good enough for Medium to distribution internally.

Basically — higher internal view % means Medium is willing to give distribution. Higher external % means that Medium is unwilling to give distribution. (e.g., modern tech platform censorship)

Let’s dive in.

You’re not going to #deletefacebook because you don’t actually care about data privacy

I wrote this article following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. This isn’t about whether what Cambridge Analytica did was exceptionally bad or normal. It’s more about calling people out on their hypocrisy in shaming the scandal to be about abusive data privacy all at the same time that they don’t practice good data protection in their day to day lives.

This wasn’t a very controversial article and as a result Medium was willing to give decent distribution to this story.

Losing the ultimate social crutch

This is an article about my own personal journey in quitting alcohol. It’s a personal story and generally sits well within the scope of personal stories that Medium would care to distribute.

As a result, I got decent distribution for this story as well.

Why Singapore is a paradise for expats

This is an article about my personal experience living in Singapore as an expat. It’s generally pretty positive and at the same time, doesn’t really say much that’s too controversial.

I received decent Medium distribution for this story as well.

I share a few examples and there are many more, but the trend is pretty clear. For the stories that are less controversial and fit within the Medium scope of appropriate topics, internal views tends to be in that 70–80% range.

But what happens when the content falls less within the scope of what Medium is willing to publicize? Will Medium purposefully turn down distribution as a way to moderate (censor) the content?

Let’s take a look.

What Leaving America Taught Me About Racism

This is a story about how I didn’t really know how racist America was until I moved out of the country. I didn’t realize how destructive American culture was on the rest of the world, until I escaped the matrix and could finally start seeing just how crazy it is when viewed from the outside.

From what I gather on what stories I see pushed to me by Medium, the platform is generally okay with talking negatively about bad things about America so much so that it helps to support other narratives. For example, it’s okay to say that America’s economy is overly predatory on Black Americans and that’s why Black American face poor economic outcomes. However, if you just say that American culture is predatory or other facets of American society prey on other disadvantaged groups — that’s probably less within the appropriate Medium scope for distribution.

What do the stats show?

Internal views dipped to below 40%. For comparison, in the “appropriate for Medium distribution” stories above, the internal view % hovers around the 70% range. This is a pretty significant drop.

Let’s continue.

How the Plaza Accord helped the US destroy the Japanese economy

Similar to above, this article is a story about American destruction. This is a story about how the Japanese economy was recovering well following WWII and in some ways starting to challenge American dominance and hegemony. And as a result of that economic growth, America with the help of its similar culture, white allies forced the Japanese economy to crumble through the use of currency manipulation tactics and caused so much damage that in almost four decades, the Japanese economy has still yet to recover.

Again, this is not about how America is bad and therefore Black Americans or women or LGBT suffer. That would be within the scope of “appropriate for Medium distribution”. This is a story about how America is bad. Full Stop. And so what do the stats show?

Less than 10% internal views. Despite being widely shared externally by thousands of readers, Medium did not find this content topic appropriate to be shared internally.

This is what Black on Asian crime looks like

This is a story of my personal experiences, as an Asian man, and the prejudices and discrimination that I faced specifically from Black Americans. Not only do I talk about some pretty awful personal experiences, I pull in official stats supporting the case. Absolutely no where do I mention that Black Americans are bad. I am merely pointing out a phenomenon that many Asian Americans need to face.

You can imagine that Medium would not want to give this story distribution. You’re right.

Despite being shared and read externally by 10K readers, Medium just could not stomach giving this story more distribution.

We’re so focused on White privilege, we forgot about Black privilege

This is a story about how some advantages that Black people are given (such as unlimited distribution in media) actually creates problems for other disadvantaged groups (such as Asians).

This is absolutely something that Medium would never want its readers to see. And that’s what the numbers show.

Again, incredibly low internal distribution for stories not deemed as “appropriate for Medium distribution”.

This one is especially bad for another reason.

For those of you who write on Medium, you’re familiar with these charts above. You’ll also notice that there are only two charts instead of the normal three charts.

The chart that’s missing is the chart for earnings.

This story is so far against what Medium deems appropriate, it was removed from the Medium partner program and therefore I’m unable to receive payment for it.

This is the state of American media censorship on mass media publications today. Just because the story is not deleted does not mean there is no censorship.

As writers, we get personal gratification out of putting our thoughts into words. For some, this is enough. However, for many, we care about distribution. We care about getting the word out there.

We might not all agree on what is the right message to get out. However, what we should all be wary of is when it is the big platforms that decide what gets distribution and what doesn’t rather than the readers themselves.

The readers are not winning. Some writers are losing. Some writers may be winning today, but there’s no guarantee that their success will continue in the future.

Who’s winning? The mass media platforms.

Don’t forget that.