"Am I Here?"
Vocal's head of Content Moderation reflects on a varied and heartfelt year of storytelling.
As Senior Content Manager and de facto head of Content Moderation at Vocal, I read a lot of stories.
I read a lot, because I have to. We are a platform that fights back against hate speech and misinformation by employing a powerful army of human moderators. Every story is read by me or someone on my team before it goes live, to ensure that it does not contain:
- offensive slurs
- gratuitous violence
- dangerous conspiracies
- implicating personal beliefs about race, religion, etc.
If you want to learn more about our moderation processes, my manager wrote a great resource explaining how and why our team works tirelessly to protect your voice and your brand on Vocal.
So, how many stories did I read this year?
It's hard to say exactly how many of your stories landed in my personal queue. Vocal has grown exponentially over the last few months. Our parent company, Creatd, uplisted to the Nasdaq in September. We have also fostered a talented, recurrent community around our weekly and monthly Challenges.
Thanks to these and other developments, our daily submission numbers have doubled, even tripled since March. Remember that opening scene in "Parasite" when water was flooding into the living room? It wasn't an onslaught fast or furious enough to warrant panic, but everyone in the house knew that something had to be done, and soon. That's how I felt in August.
Of course this is hyperbolic; I was not smoking a cigarette on the toilet in despair over rising submission numbers. As the voices on Vocal have multiplied, our staff has grown, and we couldn't be more excited.
I'm stalling, I apologize. Let's get back to the question.
How many stories did I read this year?
Yes, that's correct. 35,000 stories. 35K. 3.5X10^4. However you want to denote it, that's my number. Of course I don't remember all of them. In fact, I don't remember most of them. Heck, I won't even flatter myself and say that I remember a lot of them.
I do remember the creators behind the stories. Every day I scavenge for stories by the writers who impact me the most: every installment of the Filmmaker's Guide by Annie Kapur; every thoughtful take on life in New York City from Christian Johnson; of course, every story by the incomparable Kathryn Milewski.
I remember our creators, and I remember their best stories, as well as a few random ones. I weirdly remember learning about every kind of salt. I remember how much Michael Martinek hates D*sani water. How could I forget Katherine Carnes Coleman and her fearsomely cute miniature dragon, Smaug? In a year of civil unrest, I remember Muse.Monkey's portrait of humanity in Tompkins Park following the first Coronavirus shutdown:
The gentle afternoon breeze carried the silent buzz of gratefulness and good weed, and even without the contact high, you could feel everyone's gratitude to be alive.
This must have been what Woodstock was like.
Still, 35,000 stories is just too many to remember, even for a memory champ. What's the name of that guy who won the Guinness World Record for memorization? I remember watching a video on YouTube a couple years ago. Challenged on live television by Regis Philbin to memorize the random orders of ten decks of cards, this wunderkind from Canada never missed a beat.
I daresay the fact that I can't remember the name of the man who holds the world record for remembering things is... well, unfortunately, it's fitting.
Farrow. That's his name. Dave Farrow.
Still, even though I can't remember most of the stories I've read this year, I do remember some of them.
Some of them are stories I will never forget.
One such piece is actually the first story I read as a member of this team. It wasn't technically published this year, so I'm breaking my own rules by including it in this roundup, but it has become my comedic North Star for short- to medium-length prose. "Gummy Bears," penned by creator James Tilton for a #MyWorstDate challenge, is a flatulent tale of first date malfunctory mayhem that is forever worth ten minutes of your time.
“You take every girl here?” she asked, her eyes still glued to the window and the starlit sky beyond.
“You’re the first,” I said. And I knew it was too early, I knew it was only our first date, but I couldn’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, she’d be the last girl I took here...
Another story that wedged itself into my mind is a more surreal, less gaseous look at first date magic. Using the subtitle "Love, Sex and Living Things," storyteller G. Russell Cole weaves an unassuming narrative around two unfeigned characters in a thematically "Gentle" look at life itself.
And that’s when it happened. Maggie returned her glass to the kitchen and Jonas was close behind. Suddenly, she froze. On the counter adjacent to the sink she saw a large spider. It was a common jumping spider—black with delicate markings on its back. Instinctively, she grabbed a nearby dish rag and prepared to swat it, but Jonas grabbed her arm.
“No.” He whispered. “I don’t want you to kill her.”
There's one more story from 2020 that I will never forget. How could I? Unlike every other story I read this year, "Am I here?" by poet Daisy Florence did one thing differently.
It mentioned me in the prologue.
So far, I haven’t published a poem just as I’m writing it, but right now it seems fitting. When I post this - even if only the moderator sees it - I won’t be invisible any longer.
And that is a happy feeling indeed.
Daisy wrote her way into my soul by voicing a simple hope, one that I and countless others would echo if we just had the courage to speak the truest desires of our hearts. We want to be seen, and as creators, we want our creations to be seen as well.
Daisy's prologue to a poem about feeling invisible reminded me why Vocal exists. It only takes one person to notice the struggles, the failures, the existence of another, and quietly validate their most earnest efforts with a simple: "I see you."
I love working for Vocal. It's truly fortunate that I'm able to say that, and even more so that I can say it with sincerity. Vocal is a microphone for any voice willing to speak up. Seeing one another, truly seeing each other for who we are is the foundation of this platform, even if it's just me, a Moderator, reading and publishing a poem. There are those whose lifeblood runs with ideas for the next song, podcast, movie review, poem, and story. Reminding these talented individuals that they are not invisible?
I can't think of a more fulfilling career than that.
Here's to the next 35,000 quirky, insightful, beautiful stories I will soon read. I honestly can't wait. My team is here, ready to remind you that you are seen.
You are not invisible.
And that is a happy feeling indeed.
Joshua Luke Johnson is a senior content manager at Creatd and head of Content Moderation and Curation at Vocal.