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An Introduction to Reddit’s ‘Slave Labour’ Subreddit

by Sarmad Mayo 3 months ago in feature

The popular page where people compete to work for less than minimum wage

An Introduction to Reddit’s ‘Slave Labour’ Subreddit
Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

In my junior year of college when I first decided to start looking for work as a freelance editor, I got a lot of terrible advice and ended up in some marketplaces that weren’t a good fit. I stuck mainly to Fiverr, where after six months of accumulating five-star reviews, I finally felt confident enough to charge $0.005 per word to developmentally edit people’s manuscripts.

For those who don’t know much about editing, getting paid $500 to work on a 100,000-word manuscript (about the length of a 400-page paperback) might sound like a good deal. It isn’t. It takes about an hour to professionally edit 1,000 words, maybe 1,500 words if you’re quick and the text isn’t too unpolished. But if you’re getting clients from Fiverr, trust me: the text is not polished.

Getting paid 0.5 cents a word is less than minimum wage, but because of how competitive things were at Fiverr, I felt like I was entitled for charging that much. The editors surrounding me were charging as low as 0.1 cents a word, or $100 to fully edit a 100,000-word manuscript. Despite the fact that I could barely afford basic living essentials and was constantly exhausted from overwork, Fiverr made me feel like I was charging too much.

Other freelance sites were even worse. Both Upwork and Freelancer felt like races to the bottom. Someone would post a job — “I need someone to copy edit an 80K-word manuscript” — and a hundred other freelancers would scramble over each other to offer them the best deal. If you want to be paid a decent wage and you don’t already have more than a decade of experience working at some kind of publishing firm, you will not be able to earn a decent wage on these sites.

I eventually started my own independent website and am currently charging two cents per word for a developmental edit. As a result, I am, for the first time in my adult life, not constantly low on money. I don’t think I’ve ever had a greater serotonin rush than the first time I received a $1,800 paycheck.

That might not seem like a huge deal to some of you, but for me, it completely changed the way I looked at everything. I remember spending $25 at a movie theater the next day and not feeling guilty about making such a reckless financial decision.

The advice I always give to newbie freelance editors is to stay away from Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer, and the rest. Maybe work there for a little bit to get yourself some testimonials, but as soon as you can you should set up your own site. Make it so the clients are coming to you, rather than you having to fight other freelancers for clients.

But then I discovered Slave Labour, and suddenly these freelance sites don’t seem so bad.

How Slave Labour Works

The “About” section of the site, or subreddit, says this:

“Get jobs done well below market rate. Any task (within reason) can be completed here for pay. Find casual online work. Earn a few dollars here and there completing small tasks. It will soon add up. Employers can outsource tasks instantly.

There are two types of posts that you’ll see in this sub: Offers and Tasks.

For an offer, a user will explain a particular service they can do, in the hopes that someone interested in that service will see them and take them up on the offer. Some of the most successful offers on the site are stuff like, “I will make your dating profile diggity-dapper. $10,” “Alone at your family’s Thanksgiving again? Mad at your dad? Live in the GTA? For $10 + transportation fees, I will show up as your date and be whoever you want me to be, as long as the result is funny,” or my particular favorite: “Do you have social anxiety? Need to call a store? Maybe order a pizza for you? I will do it! $1 per call. I’m a stern voiced male, I will yell or get angry if needed. $2 if I have to get angry.”

The tasks are less fun.

For a task, the user will post something like, “Native English writer needed for regular work,” or “Need someone to design a simple, aesthetic WordPress site for my interior decorating biz.”

Other users who are interested in the task will comment “$bid,” and then will usually contact the seller to make their pitch. Most of the time the seller will only need one worker, which creates an incentive for bidders to offer deals, which is troubling considering how low the pay was to begin with.

The post looking for a native English writer, for instance, was offering one cent per word. That’s better than I expected for a website with “slave” in its name, but it’s still pretty bad considering the amount of time, effort, and skill that goes into writing a 1,000-word article worth reading. And based on my time on Upwork and Freelancer, it seems inevitable that some poor fool is going to contact this seller and offer a discount because they want to edge out the competition.

But my sympathy for the freelancers on Slave Labour is hindered by the reality that, for the most part, the people finding work on this site seem content. I expected them to be like I was a few years ago: exhausted and looking for a better way to do this, but not feeling like I was skilled enough to charge any more than what I was.

I reached out to a bunch of regular users on the site and asked them a bunch of questions, and the results surprised me.

“What’s your age, gender, and nationality?”

LinktoU: “22 years old, Male, Venezuelan.”

Moonlight_23: “21, Female, Filipino.”

Kidr0: “I’m a 22-year-old male from Mexico.”

Brittany_1: “22, Female, American.”

Liquid_PL: “15, Male, Polish.”

Echomunisdone: “I am an 18 (just turned it recently!) year old female from Scotland!”

Cottoncastle: “21, Female, Filipino.”

Horse_Cosby: “35, M, USA.”

Ihateusername: “23, Female, Honduran.”

Hamchorado: “25, Male, Kenyan.”

Libinbabu53: “23, Male, Indian.”

Green-Zucchini: “25-year-old female from Greece.”

Klayer89: “I’m 31, Female, Italian.”

I should point out that the cost of living varies a lot from place to place, which explains why so many of these people aren’t living in America, where $10 wouldn’t last you a day’s worth of food.

“When did you discover Slave Labour, and how?”

LinktoU: “Three years ago, while browsing other online working subreddits.”

Moonlight_23: “End of May 2020. I was asking a friend of ways to earn money online and she told me about subreddits where you can earn money. One of those was Slave Labour.”

Kidr0: “I discovered the subreddit this summer. I was planning to get a summer job but couldn’t due to COVID-19, so I looked for ways to make money online.”

Brittany_1: “The same day I created a Reddit account which was May 5th, 2019. I don’t recall what I searched for specifically but I was looking for methods in which I could make side cash online. I came across a post from Slave Labour and after browsing the subreddit, I realized it was exactly what I was looking for.”

Liquid_PL: “Nine months ago. I had someone commissioned from a different sub and he consistently missed his deadlines, so I looked through his post history for any good reasons for that and I found his offerings on Slave Labour. I’ve been on it ever since looking for work.”

Echomunisdone: “Discovered it a little while ago — shortly after I first joined Reddit. I was looking at another subreddit which was about those surveys you get paid like a couple of pence to do, and someone mentioned that there was a sub where people put up offers/tasks.”

Cottoncastle: “September 20th, 2020. I’d read someone’s comment about it on the Working From Home subreddit.

Horse_Cosby: “Late 2018. I don’t remember the specific Google search, but it was something along the lines of “homeless with laptop make money online.”

Ihateusername: “About three weeks ago. It got recommended to me after I searched for tasks on how to make money in other subreddits like r/beermoney or r/workonline.”

Hamchorado: “Six months ago. I was looking for work on r/beermoney when a certain user suggested that I check out Slave Labour after seeing my post whereby I was asking if any user knows of any ways I can make some cash.”

Libinbabu53: “Around six months back. During the COVID lockdown I was looking for jobs or some way to earn money and I came across this subreddit as a source for some income.”

Green-Zucchini: “I was looking for online job opportunities. Being a Reddit user for many years, I tried searching there about it and I discovered a post/comment (cannot remember which one) mentioning r/slavelabour.”

Klayer89: “About a year ago. I was already familiar with subreddits like r/beermoney, but r/slavelabour was a new one for me. I was browsing Reddit for some way to make a bit of money on the side, and I think I found r/slavelabour from a comment on r/workonline. Either that or I googled ‘reddit how to earn money’ or something similar.”

“What was the highest amount of money you’ve made off a single job on Slave Labour?”

LinktoU: “I’ve been working on a constant basis for over two years now with someone I met over Slave Labour, though I think that the highest I ever got for a single task was $80. It was a data research/entry job. I would get this spreadsheet of company names and my job was to research stuff about them like the number of employees, revenue, how many employees per department, etc., on sites like AngelList and LinkedIn. It took me a couple of days to finish, probably like 12+ hours.”

Moonlight_23: “I earned $60 to compile a list of business, email, and contact numbers in a certain area which I worked on for 14.5 hours.”

Kidr0: “The highest amount I’ve earned off a single job was $10. I had to find the outfit a dancer was wearing on a YouTube video, and it took me about two hours to find it. I’m into fashion and I could tell their shoes and shirt from the first look but struggled to find the brand of the joggers they were wearing.”

Brittany_1: “$92. I was tasked with writing descriptions for AliExpress products. They gave me products in batches of 13–15. I had a couple of days to complete it and then they’d give me another set. This was a while ago but if I had to guess, I’d say I did between 5–7 sets. So overall, I think I spent a couple of weeks on it.

Liquid_PL: “I’ve received $20 in bitcoins from a Russian dude for a seven-hour long discord call where we discussed how to become a content provider/investor. Nothing really came of it but we talked for seven hours and I taught him some basic editing along the way, so he gave me some bitcoins for the trouble.”

Echomunisdone: “£11. It was a few written pages for some book or website blog about witchcraft and types of herbs and how to use them, I spent maybe two or so days.”

Cottoncastle: “$10, voice-over for a demo project, five hours.”

Horse_Cosby: “Approx. $140. Writing a few shopping/buying guides for consumer electronics. Approximately ten hours.”

Ihateusername: “$40, I spent about four hours on it and it was about making an ‘advertisement campaign proposal.’ I had to research about advertisements on social media, how to create your own ads and pricing, all benefits, and more. It ended up being five pages of information in a PDF document. It was not just paperwork, but an attractive proposal with a good design that could convince the company’s administration why they needed to create advertisements for their products through social media and other websites.”

Hamchorado: “I made $30 by outsourcing a logo for someone. The task was quite easy since I have a friend who makes logos for fun and was more than happy to help me out. I only spent less than twenty minutes asking my friend but he finished making the logo in six hours. So I would say that I spent six hours until the task was completed.”

Libinbabu53: “$5 is the highest I have made off a single job. The job required me to translate texts given by OP from Hindi to English. The job took around one hour to complete.”

Green-Zucchini: “The highest amount as a ratio of money/time was $25/hour. Total amount was $50 in two hours. The job was a very easy data scrapping job with a pre-made online tool.”

Klayer89: “I’ve taken a total of two jobs on r/slavelabour. The highest paying offered from 1 euro to 5 euros, and I earned 2.50 euros. I had to take a picture in my city holding a happy birthday sign. I spent maybe twenty minutes looking for the right spot, and ended up sending two pictures.”

“What was the least amount of money you’ve made off a single job? How much time did that job take?”

Moonlight_23: “I earned $0.50 for a really short survey which took no more than three minutes of my time.”

Kidr0: “The least amount I’ve made was $0.00 for a logo that took me about five hours to make. The client and I agreed on a sketch but they stopped replying after I sent the link to the finished logo.”

Brittany_1: “$5. I added a beat to a song and refined it to existing vocals. It probably took me thirty minutes to an hour.”

Liquid_PL: “I did one of those ‘Baka mitai’ memes for 99 cents. It took about half an hour to set up.”

Echomunisdone: “$5. It was just to walk about your area. Took me about thirty minutes — and I fell into a stream, haha.”

Cottoncastle: “$2, about three hours.”

Horse_Cosby: “I have been scammed on a couple of small jobs — did the work and didn’t get paid. The jobs were (thankfully) brief and easy; I lost a total of maybe three hours. As far as the least money paid-out? $2 for five minutes of work.”

Ihateusername: “A $20 project that took about eight hours and I had to search for every email and phone number of about eighty doctors. This was for a researcher that needed to contact all of them.”

Hamchorado: “The least amount I have made is $1. I spent around two minutes taking a photo.”

Libinbabu53: “The least amount of money I have made from a single job is 50 cents, it took me around thirty minutes to complete that job.”

Green-Zucchini: “The least amount was $1. I have taken quite a few of these $1 tasks and they’re usually something very quick and easy, like take a photo of a monument in your city or write a note in your language for my friend/boyfriend/etc or take this short survey. At first glance, these tasks look like it’s not worth the effort but you can make some extra money with minimum effort and time.”

Klayer89: “0.50 euros, and it was a survey that took less than five minutes.”

“What’s the worst job offer you can recall seeing on Slave Labour, even if you didn’t take it?”

LinktoU: “I’ve seen some pretty abysmal ones, though one that comes to mind at the moment is an audio transcription for 10 cents a minute.”

Moonlight_23: “I remember seeing one about hacking an account, which seems illegal.”

Kidr0: “I’ve seen some pretty weird offers on the subreddit. I’d say the worst one was of a kid looking for the address of a ‘friend’ to ‘send them a letter’ because they were just ‘so old fashion.’ Funny thing is the only information they provided was the ‘friend’s’ private Instagram account.”

Brittany_1: “Someone posted about three different times that they were looking for a specific photo on the internet. There was no context, they didn’t know where they saw it, they just described the photo and hoped someone could find it. It generated a lot of interest but considering the number of reposts, it probably wasn’t found. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

Liquid_PL: “I’ve seen someone want an entire video game done for him for $60, with specifications like ‘realistic graphics’ and a ‘long campaign’. To be honest the guy seemed to be about ten or so.”

Echomunisdone: “I think I remember seeing this person trying to sell their (sadly) awful artwork — like an actual child did it — for £80 commissions.”

Cottoncastle: “Phone sex roleplay-mate.”

Horse_Cosby: “An anorexic woman wanted someone to visually monitor her progress on a weekly basis and berate her for not losing enough weight, presumably in order to motivate her.”

Ihateusername: “I don’t exactly remember what it was about, but I remember that it was a very hard task that required a lot of time and they offered $1. I also recall a person that wanted a picture photoshopped but would only give the money ($10) to the best picture or the one they liked the most, no matter if they had received around twenty $bids already.”

Hamchorado: “I once saw a job where a guy was willing to pay anyone to spy on his girlfriend’s Instagram posts.”

Libinbabu53: “I once saw a post asking for translations of texts for $0.01–0.03 a word, that was bad.”

Green-Zucchini: “The ‘worst’ job that comes to my mind is actually the saddest one I’ve seen. About a couple of months ago someone posted a task asking for someone living in Mexico to kill them and hide their body. The Redditor said he wanted to commit suicide but he didn’t want his family to go through the hard process of finding the body. I made sure that the post was reported to Reddit’s moderators. They have specialized teams to care and help such individuals that mention suicidal thoughts or self harming.”

Klayer89: “Usually the ones where Redditors offer their translation and editing skills for 1 cent per word. I’m a translator, and I know the subreddit is called Slave Labour but damn, that’s rough.”

If you’re anything at all like me, you’re starting to get the impression that Slave Labour is a pretty shady website. A lot of these people’s highest paying jobs are still abysmally low, and because there are none of the payment protections offered on professional freelancing sites, sometimes they don’t even get paid at all for their work. There’s nothing to stop the buyer from taking the work and disappearing.

But as I kept asking questions, it became clear that these people had a different view of things:

“What’s the worst job you’ve ever taken on Slave Labour, and why?”

LinktoU: “I wouldn’t call any of the jobs I’ve taken bad.”

Moonlight_23: “I don’t really have a bad experience in Slave Labour yet so I think the worst one will be when I was tasked to find clients for a designer, because I failed to do so and therefore didn’t earn any commission.”

Brittany_1: “I took a job where they wanted me to find social media influencers (I don’t remember what platform it was for) and ask them what their price would be to do an advertisement. I emailed a bunch of people and I think I only got three responses. The only way I was going to get paid was if I got responses from everyone. The buyer was messaging me every day asking if anyone replied and every time the answer was no. Eventually, they stopped messaging me and since I can’t make anyone reply, I just moved on, basically fruitless effort.”

Liquid_PL: “Someone wanted ‘a photo upscaled on the cheap.’ The thing that he didn’t mention is that the photos were from a hardcore BDSM orgy. My poor eyes. But ten dollars is ten dollars.”

Echomunisdone: “Luckily I’ve never really had any bad tasks on Slave Labour yet!”

Cottoncastle: “I created digital art for someone that didn’t pay me.”

Horse_Cosby: “Recording advertisement voiceovers for a company that makes vinyl stickers.”

Ihateusername: “That one I mentioned about the picture needing to be photoshopped. I did the task and the Redditor knew I was working on it and even asked me to upload the picture to a site so they could check it. They didn’t give me the money and said they had chosen the first bid because they were the first. I asked why they asked me to upload the photoshopped picture if they were going to choose the first bid anyway? They only apologized and moved on.”

Hamchorado: “I once took a Facebook scrapping job that I regret until now. I took this job because I was really broke and at this point, I believed that I could take on any job just to survive but it turned out to be frustrating.”

Green-Zucchini: “The worst job was the only one so far that I got scammed. Some guy wanted to change the date some files were shown that were modified. I had software to do so, so I took the task. I completed the task wasting about an hour or so (a lot of files) and sent him screenshots as proof. That wasn’t enough for him and he asked me to send him the files before he paid me. I argued that this is not fair to me and it seems like a scam since I had proof of completing the work. He wouldn’t send the money so since I’ve already wasted my time I thought I would send them just in case he was legit. Long story short: he wasn’t.”

Klayer89: “I wouldn’t say any of the jobs I’ve taken are bad, to be honest with you.”

“What’s the best task you can recall seeing on Slave Labour, even if you didn’t get it?”

LinktoU: “Probably some from people looking for someone to keep them in check and text them throughout the weeks.”

Moonlight_23: “I recall something about just observing the moon, preferably near Illinois, which would only take a few minutes a day, but I don’t live near Illinois so I didn’t apply.”

Kidr0: “The best task I’ve seen was someone paying $200 for someone to hand-make them a scrapbook. Now, this may not seem like a lot but that is not an amount you’d normally see on this subreddit.”

Brittany_1: “Recently, someone posted that they wanted 3D renderings of a building. I sent them the renderings of an office building I did as a favor to someone. I enjoyed creating it and I think it looks nice. It turns out that the buyer liked it too and so they gave me the job. This is the best task I’ve come across because it’s very rare that I get a job that’s fun.”

Liquid_PL: “I remember I saw a really nice editing gig for an alright YouTube channel that wanted some videos in a style extremely similar to what I was doing anyway on my channel. Sadly someone lowballed him into like 10 cents per video which I’m not really prepared to do.”

Echomunisdone: “Oh one was to find a song. I did it but I found it after someone else haha, it was a beautiful gospel church melody and it was a blast to try and find.”

Cottoncastle: “Observing the moon for a week.”

Horse_Cosby: “I’ve seen a couple of people hiring a ‘friend.’ I don’t consider bidding on such offers as I feel I’d be an awful friend to the sort of person who would pay me to be their friend.”

Ihateusername: “The person was going to pay $1 every day for someone to call him to remind and motivate him to exercise, for at least thirty days. It only had to be about a one minute call, but I believed you were gonna get $30 for not much time.”

Hamchorado: “The best task I have seen on Slave Labour was one where a user wanted someone who could download a video and send it to him on discord from a website he had. The pay was quite good, $50, although I did not get it.”

Libinbabu53: “The best task I have seen on slave labour is where the OP required us to send pictures of our city and videos by walking around the city.”

Green-Zucchini: “The best/funniest task was a guy asking for a happy birthday photo of your cat. The concept was that it was his cat’s birthday and he didn’t want him to be lonely so he was paying others to send him photos of their cats with birthday hats and a note saying ‘happy birthday *cats name.*’ The pay was actually pretty good, if I recall correctly it was $4 for one cat and $7 for more than two cats. The cutest way to waste a few dollars.”

Klayer89: “This one that I saw being posted a couple of times: “I’ll pay $5 for a video of you walking around your city.”

“Are you happy with your experience on Slave Labour so far?”

LinktoU: “Yes.”

Moonlight_23: “Yes, even if it has lower payment than other subreddits, it requires less skill and there are tasks always.”

Kidr0: “I’d say I’m 70% satisfied with my experience on r/slavelabour. Moderators are very good at their job and I spent about a month on a temporary ban for being silly and not taking a rule into account when bidding on a task. Also, I’ve had a few people ghost me when the job is already done. Apart from these, my experiences have been great and a few dollars will never be taken for granted on my part.”

Brittany_1: “Overall, I guess I’m happy with it. There are days when I don’t see any tasks that interest me and other days where I get three or four back to back. It’s a little bit annoying when I miss out on tasks because someone has chat messages turned off or they forgot to reply.”

Liquid_PL: “I like the green stuff, and people don’t expect so much of you, and there aren’t many entitled folks on Reddit. Customers are usually respectful as long as you are too.”

Echomunisdone: “Yes, I have. It’s worked out well for me so far.”

Cottoncastle: “Yes.”

Horse_Cosby: “Mostly. It’s given me unique opportunities and impetus to learn new skills. One gig has evolved into a long-term part-time job that I really enjoy (and pays pretty decent).”

Ihateusername: “I am. I can choose the task that fits my needs whenever I want to. I’ve gained $65 in 2 weeks for about only 10 hours of active work with tasks that I felt comfortable with.”

Hamchorado: “Yes. I get to meet lots of different guys and it’s so interesting.”

Libinbabu53: “I would rate my current experience on slave labour as 5/10 . It’s not something special and not too bad.”

Green-Zucchini: “I’m generally happy so far. There are a lot of decent people with work that needs to be done. So far it has been a great way for me to earn a few $ during quarantine as I couldn’t work due to the COVID situation. However, the mods of the subreddit are really strict and will ban people with extreme ease. Even for cases where there wasn’t an absolute violation of a rule. This seems kind of heartless. Let’s be honest, the subreddit is called Slave Labour, but for a lot of people, the money they make is money of regular labour. Some have a beer with that money but others feed their families with that. The mods shouldn’t forget that.”

Klayer89: “It’s alright. I don’t really use it that much, because the pay is usually extremely low for a lot of effort, but from time to time I’m able to find something simple for a few bucks.”

“Have you tried other freelance platforms besides Slave Labour? If so, what did you think of them?”

LinktoU: “Yes, but other platforms are rarely as active as this subreddit.”

Moonlight_23: “Yes, but I mostly tried other subreddits like r/beermoney. They’re good and have helped a lot of people, both those who are hiring and those who are finding jobs.”

Kidr0: “I think what sets this community apart from other freelance platforms is how easy it is to take on a task. There’s no long waiting processes, you bid, message the client directly and get a reply within a few minutes or hours. Things aren’t as formal or intimidating as applying for a job and sending your CV.”

Brittany_1: “I tried Fiverr way before I came across Slave Labour. Initially, it was a little difficult to get clients since there’s so much competition. I eventually generated some work and even got a good review that someone left but when I got an email from Fiverr that I need to upload my ID in order to continue using it, I left.”

Liquid_PL: “Not really. Reddit is the only one I can operate legally right now.”

Echomunisdone: “I haven’t tried others — and don’t really know any others! But I’d love to.”

Cottoncastle: “Yes. I think they’re overrated and they pay less, with more complications in the application process.”

Horse_Cosby: “Fiverr — too much competition; not interested in advertising myself. Freelancer — same as above.”

Ihateusername: “I have not tried any other. Most freelance platforms are not available in my country (Honduras) and that’s their biggest flaw.”

Hamchorado: “Yes. They suck because some demand that you pay before bidding for a job and you end up not getting the task. I never recommend these platforms because my personal opinion is that they are so close to being called scammers.”

Libinbabu53: “Yes, I have tried Appen and Lion Bridge and my applications are still pending there, or the jobs are always full because of the inflow of participants they have.”

Green-Zucchini: “I have only tried a couple of other task-oriented websites but they were paying extremely low (even for the slave labour standards).”

Klayer89: “I work on Upwork, which is my main source of income right now. It’s a good platform, although there’s tons of competition. I also use Prolific, which ranges from being great to not sending you any studies for weeks. There’s MTurk, which doesn’t let me withdraw the money to my bank account (I’m in Europe), so I plan on using it for charity reasons. I tried Fiverr but didn’t put much work into it. I prefer working on Upwork.”

“Do you plan to continue working on Slave Labour? If so, how long do you expect to do so?”

LinktoU: “Yeah, for as long as its reasonable.”

Moonlight_23: “Yes, I probably will find work in Slave Labour until the middle of 2021 when I get to do my board exam and be a certified engineer.”

Kidr0: “I do plan to continue working on the subreddit. I think I’ll continue doing so until I graduate from college or get a real job.”

Brittany_1: “For now, yes but it’s mostly dependent on how much free time I have. I expect to at least continue using Slave Labour until the end of the year.”

Liquid_PL: “I plan to get on Fiverr when I won’t breach their TOS for being too young, and get some skill in editing and a good demo real.”

Echomunisdone: “Honestly I plan to as long as possible — it’s really helping me out get some extra travel money to go to my college and things.”

Cottoncastle: “Yes. As long as doable tasks still exist.”

Horse_Cosby: “Yes. For as long as I have free time and worthwhile tasks are posted. Or until I become aware of a better board/site for freelancing.”

Ihateusername: “Until I can get a stable job, which is probably not until next year.”

Hamchorado: “Yes. I plan on working on Slave Labour until I am old and I cannot type or bid. So I guess for a lifetime or until I get a permanent job.”

Libinbabu53: “Yes I plan to continue working on slave labour as long as I have time to check the subreddit from time to time. Basically, until I get a stable job, so I will be around for another 2–3 years easily.”

Green-Zucchini: “I will definitely continue to do so. I will keep doing it until I find something that pays better for my time and can suit my schedule.”

Klayer89: “Probably yes, but from time to time. I use other platforms way more.”

By the time I finished interviewing these users, I was left with the rather uncomfortable truth that this subreddit, despite having “slave” in its name, wasn’t exactly evil, and the people finding work on the site aren’t exactly desperate victims with nowhere else to turn. (Or at least, they certainly don’t think of themselves in that way.)

I still think the site is bad, and I still think the people finding work there — especially the people living in countries where the dollar doesn’t go very far — aren’t doing themselves any favors by sticking around.

But ultimately, with the way hustle culture and the freelance market has evolved, a website like this one is kind of inevitable, and it makes sense that a pandemic has made the site more popular in recent months. Employers will always be trying to get work for as low a cost as possible, and there will always be someone desperate enough to accept those criminally low offers.

And then there is, of course, the problem of skill, which comes into play the most with writing-related tasks. A lot of freelance writing advice relies on the assumption that writing is just like any other kind of labor: you should be compensated for the amount of time you spend writing an individual piece. Because that’s hard to measure and hard to estimate from the start, people will instead suggest charging per word.

Most guides suggest charging at least ten cents per word, not one cent per word as is often seen on Slave Labour. But the unfortunate fact is that from a reader’s perspective it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to write a piece; all that matters is if it’s good, and there’s not really an objective way to measure that.

So if you’re starting to learn how to write or edit, it makes sense that you’d want to offer your work for free, or nearly free. After all, how is that any different from a modern-day unpaid internship? How is that any different from Medium’s platform, where over 90% of writers don’t even make over a hundred bucks a month?

When you’re not skilled yet, you’re not thought to deserve a living wage from unskilled labor, which is why aspiring writers are advised to have some kind of day job, as a backup for the common outcome of your writing never going anywhere.

But the thing about internships is that they’re supposed to be temporary. You start off charging low rates, even giving away free content. As you get more skilled you should be raising your rates, but most freelance sites are designed to make that impossible to do. A lot of content mills aren’t that interested in quality, and if you raise your prices too high they will just move on to someone cheaper.

There are still plenty of employers who are interested in quality, but quality is hard to measure, especially when you’re measuring yourself. When I started freelance editing, I didn’t feel like I was being screwed over when someone paid me $500 to edit a 400-page novel, because I didn’t think of myself as skilled. I didn’t have a degree yet, after all, so how could I charge professional level rates?

It was only when I realized that one of my clients had his own editing website that everything changed. Turns out, this guy would offer to edit someone’s novel for, say, $2,000. He would then pay me $500 to edit it, then send my work back to their client and pocket the leftover $1,500 for himself. All he had to do was secure the sale and wait for me to finish up the work.

When I realized what was happening, I felt a little betrayed, a little outraged, and honestly a little impressed by how smart of a hustle this was. (Extremely unethical, but smart.) But my main takeaway was the fact that this guy was getting five-star reviews off my work. People were paying professional rates for me to edit their stuff, and they were genuinely satisfied with the work I provided.

Even though I was very much getting the raw end of this deal, this moment was a game-changer because it provided undeniable proof that I was good enough to offer professional rates. I wasn’t being arrogant for charging $500; I was actually selling myself short. It was only then that I had the confidence to leave Fiverr and create my own independent site, and my life has been so much better ever since.

I worry about the people on Slave Labour, though, who get paid literal slave wages and seem to be content with it. I have no idea how skilled these people are at the jobs they do, but assuming they’ll improve their skills with more work, and assuming they’ll be aware of how their skills are improving, they still aren’t in an environment that will allow them to raise their rates to compensate for that.

They won’t consistently make a reasonable wage unless they get the hell off that site, and unfortunately, most of them aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

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Sarmad Mayo
Sarmad Mayo
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