Recent victories don’t erase online toxicity

My latest for The Daily Beast examines the recent sentencing of “revenge porn” king and the “most hated man on the Internet”, Hunter Moore, in light of ongoing toxicity so many face. I don’t think his sentencing carries the weight some think it does and I highlight some contours of why combatting bigotry online is so difficult – and maybe some small ways we can help.

(Basically: if you understand why I find overt racism less troubling than constant dismissal from people who should be allies, then you understand what combating bigotry is so hard.)

A Voice For Men doesn’t speak for me

So GQ published a profile piece by the excellent Jeff Sharlet on the Men’s Rights Movement – specifically the colourful cast at the awful A Voice For Men at a conference. Given that it’s examining men’s rights activists, there would be some disturbing reading. I Tweeted some.

Here on fatherhood and rape…

There is a horrible description of how they treated Sharlet’s (woman) friend, Blair.  She was taken aside by the collegiate-activism director of A Voice for Men, Sage Gerard.

[Sage says] “You could put down your book right now and yell ‘Rape!’ and I would be led away in handcuffs.” They think about this. Sage says, “I hope it’s okay if I hug you.”

Before she can respond, he pulls her in, pulls her up out of her chair, pulls her against his chest, and holds her there. He rubs her back. An embrace Blair will later describe as “the most unconsensual hug I have ever known.”

Blair: “I still don’t know what to do about the poem.”

Sage loosens his grip. “I apologize for dragging you away,” he says. “I wasn’t going to feel okay until I talked to you.” He warns her not to send mixed messages. For instance, she shouldn’t put her hand on a man’s knee if she doesn’t want to have sex with him. Sage puts his hand on Blair’s knee. This is not a mixed message, he wants her to understand. She’s here, in the VFW. She’s taken the red pill. She needs another hug. He needs to give it to her.

Later, they joke about raping her.

“I’m curious,” [Paul] Elam says. “What did your friends think when you told them you were coming here?”

“To be honest?” Blair asks. Elam nods. She says, “I had friends who said I’d get raped.”

Blink. You can almost see the struggle in Elam’s bones: Play the nice guy? Or the perv? No question. “All right!” he booms, swinging his arms together. “Let’s get started!”

Jazz winces.

“Get the video camera!” Factory yells at his girlfriend, who giggles weakly.

I should be very clear here: At no point does it seem like Elam or Factory is actually going to rape Blair. We know they’re joking. Just a couple of middle-aged guys joking around about rape with a young woman they’ve never met before in a hotel room at one in the morning.

Sharlet’s piece is hard to read. And Voice for Men were certain to respond. They did in a way only A Voice For Men would: by targeting Blair as being “pimped” out by Sharlet. It’s literally in the title.

Elam doesn’t say what Sharlet got wrong, only that he takes offence at the idea that a writer needs to highlight Elam wasn’t actually threatening rape. Why would anyone think that of someone who claims women beg to be raped, likes inflicting pain, gets aroused by targeting his opponents, and makes website to put feminists alongside murderers?

It’s also unlikely that Blair consented to the pictures the site has of her, which link to her Facebook page. That’s some serious unethical media. Elam also refers to her as “pretty young Blair”, while trying to wave off worries about an attempted rape. That doesn’t exactly help, dude.

UPDATE:

My brilliant friend David Futrelle has a better write up about AVFM’s response.

 —

This site doesn’t speak to me or for me. It’s the voice of misguided men, filled with toxic masculinity that leads to fathers dismissing and mocking their own daughter’s claims of rape; to entitlement to women’s bodies because of their wardrobe; to rewards for being decent. It’s ideas that come to someone who’s identified a sickness but looks outward, instead of inward.

Men face numerous troubles and MRAs blame feminism, not the targets of feminism – which should be the targets of men, too: a sick society, a broken world, one still struggling under the heavy load of homophobia, transphobia, poverty, inequality, racism. A world that seems designed for only a select few to benefit, while the rest of us struggle just to stay afloat.

Men who use their platforms to berate women for problems are acting unethically: they are using finite time, finite resources and a powerful tool on the wrong target. Instead of trying to make better men, we’re making bitter ones. So many are straight, able-bodied, cis men who’ve never faced serious pain until a woman rejected them to some degree; and they use that poison to paint all of women in a single, ugly colour, smearing their humanity across the canvas of their worldview.

Women want to help men; women with platform and voices have spoken out in defence of male rape survivors. I know where Lindy West was, during the Shia Labeouf rape allegations – where was A Voice For Men?

It’s a voice for men – just not alleged rape survivors. So some men, who have non-problems and blame feminists. Oh, they’ll mention prison and suicide and work-deaths, but they won’t do anything about it. They never have. Indeed, they make it worse by making it seem like they’re a voice or men who have these issues – they make it worse by using these as touch points to launch nonsense diatribes about the evils of feminism.

This is not a voice for men, it’s a voice for poison. It’s a voice for toxicity that makes any efforts we want to make toward helping men who have mental health problems, who are rape survivors, who are abused by their wives much, much harder. Our gender requires serious self-reflection, we need to be helping men, creating better men, with better views, to learn how to listen, how to apologise, how to be… just better.

Don’t let A Voice for Men be the voice for men. Let’s show that men can be and are better than Paul Elam and his band of unethical content creators.

UPDATE:

My friend David Futrelle has a better wrpte

Public shaming and modern media

Jon Ronson has an adaptation excerpt from his latest book age out public shaming in the digital age. It primarily revolves around Justine Sacco, who you might remember as sending out that racist/unfunny Tweet.

Ronson writes:

The furor over Sacco’s tweet had become not just an ideological crusade against her perceived bigotry but also a form of idle entertainment. Her complete ignorance of her predicament for those 11 hours lent the episode both dramatic irony and a pleasing narrative arc.

[…]

By the time Sacco had touched down, tens of thousands of angry tweets had been sent in response to her joke.

[…]

For the past two years, I’ve been interviewing individuals like Justine Sacco: everyday people pilloried brutally, most often for posting some poorly considered joke on social media. Whenever possible, I have met them in person, to truly grasp the emotional toll at the other end of our screens. The people I met were mostly unemployed, fired for their transgressions, and they seemed broken somehow — deeply confused and traumatized.

At the time, I wrote about why Sacco’s Tweet wasn’t the worst part about the whole affair (and was subsequently quoted in the New York Times, when they wrote about this same issue): I was horrified by the reactions to it – and, mainly, how she was targeted by those with much larger platforms.

There’s an ethical dimension many haven’t considered with platforms and engagements: It’s difficult and tricky areas. I engage publicly on social media with people, quite often – but always with people who have anonymous accounts and aren’t traceable in any way. I don’t even try show up legitimate problematic individuals, unless they are threatening the livelihood and safety of others: if it’s just some loser Gamergater or MRA, I tend to just block, though inform others of the individual.

The point is it’s tricky and it should be tricky. Shaming shouldn’t be as easy as a Retweet, but it is and that’s dangerous. Platform holders like the Buzzfeed editors and Gawker’s Sam Biddle who thrive on public shaming deserve severe ethical scrutiny for their work and conduct.

Indeed, Sacco isn’t the one who should be ashamed; it’s those with major platforms who decided to draw the world’s attention to her, for her innocuous and clearly outrageous Tweet.

Why it matters that the internet’s made by men

The amazing Soraya Chemaly has a piece up about the internet being made of bros and why that matters.

Tech’s institutionalised male dominance, and the sex segregation and hierarchies of its workforce, have serious and harmful effects globally on women’s safety and free expression.

This is what Soraya documents throughout the piece. From revenge porn to the kinds of abuse women face, that segregates it from the kind men receive.

[Read more…]

Bros are not happy with Men’s Magazines getting rid of pick-up artist bullshit

As surely as night follows day, men angered by having creepy behaviour questioned and criticised will stand proudly to defend such behaviour. I, for one, am glad to know who to avoid and inform my friends of. I feel compelled to send them Meninist hoodies, the poor things.

One such fellow is Christian McQueen who writes a blog for men dreaming of “living the playboy lifestyle”. His Twitter bio reads “I didn’t invent the playboy lifestyle. I just perfected it”, which is great and I am super happy for him. However, he doesn’t appear to be happy with my country’s Men’s Health’s recent decision to purge itself of pick-up artist bullshit.

There could be a good discussion on ethics policy: Is MH going too far? Are they not unecessarily removing content that’s proven to help and not harm? We can have those discussions, but I’m not certain Mr McQueen is interested in that, so much as yelling at “weak-kneed beta bitch boy editors”.

Let’s see what’s upset him. [Read more…]

Steve Jobs is anti-boner

This is quite an old little screencap and I saw it again today.

Here we can hear the lamentation of the boner, as it cries out against the wall of earbuds caging it in a blue kingdom. Woe to the boner that stands up but can find no release that women’s choice, decision and Steve Jobs hath design’d!

My favourite is how he misses everything:

“You can’t approach a woman with earbuds in her ears.”

Give the man a bells! Truly amazing. It’s almost… well, like woman intentionally wear earbuds to avoids creeps?

Now you may ask: But how will women know who are creeps and who are the nice guys, if they have their earbuds in? The answer is: If you are thwarted by earbuds, you’re a creep. If you feel that earbuds – and the subsequent intentional isolation they allow – are less important than you, you’re a creep. Indeed, the whole point is earbuds help identify who the creeps are, while simultaneously helping people not deal with them.

That’s their beauty.

And if you’re a dude who yanks earbuds out women’s ears or demands/requests they take them out so you can comment on their body, well I hope that Meninist Hoodie fits you nicely.

HT @ThatSabinGirl 

The ethics of fucking your father: It’s not about disgust

NYMag published Alexa Tsoulis-Reay’s interview with a woman who has been in a relationship with her father for many years – and, indeed, plans to get “married” and have kids with him. The important part is that she hadn’t seen her father for more than a decade, before she met him again as an adult. It is apparently a common enough occurrence that there’s an acronym.

In the late ’80s, the founder of a support group for adopted children who had recently reconnected with their biological relatives coined the term “Genetic Sexual Attraction” (GSA) to describe the intense romantic and sexual feelings that she observed occurring in many of these reunions. According to an article in The Guardian, experts estimate that these taboo feelings occur in about 50 percent of cases where estranged relatives are reunited as adults (GSA’s discoverer had herself become attracted to the son she’d adopted out when she met him 26 years later, but her feelings were not reciprocated).

Thus, this is not a case of an parent grooming his child into being his lover when she becomes an adult. There are other elements to be concerned about.

I’ve written about adult consensual incest before, pointing out that there are too many similarities in how homophobes react (“Ew! It’s wrong because it’s gross!”) that should make us concerned, if we push for calling such relationships always wrong. That doesn’t mean these relationships can’t be wrong – but they can be wrong for reasons other than the clickbaity “sharing more than Dad’s genes” part.

And this one has numerous problems. Please remember: I’m not convinced by blanket arguments against incest. But that doesn’t mean I support every case of adult incestuous relationships. And this is one of them.

First, the interview makes clear that this is a young lady inexperienced in relationships and indeed sexual encounters. She paints a rather troubled biography. Indeed, she had not had a male sexual partner before her father – only non-sexual boyfriend before.

Did you tell [your father] you were a virgin?
Yes. I told him I wanted him to be the first person I made love to. We talked about how it could be awkward if it didn’t end up working out. He also said that if I didn’t feel comfortable at any point I should tell him.

What was it like?
There’s a reason I lost my virginity to him — because I’d never felt comfortable with any other man. It was insanely sensual. It lasted for about an hour and there was a lot of foreplay. We both had orgasms. We are so similar so it’s so easy to sexually please each other. For example, we both hate neck-biting. I’ve never been in a more passionate, loving, fulfilling situation.

Notice the key part: “I’d never felt comfortable with any other man.” Well. Yes. You were young. Are young.

Indeed, even her views about sex and relationship are rather naive (and/or conservative, ironically).

I told him I was saving myself for someone who I’d be committed to for the rest of my life. It was important for me to make it clear that if I made love to him he was in a relationship with me.

I’ve always hated talk of “virginity” being lost or taken and “saving yourself”, where sex is put on a pedestal. It’s troubling because we come to wrap life-changing moments and views around it: No sex before marriage, the creation of kids, sex with only one person. The more we wrap sex up in sanctity, the more distant from reality it becomes. It’s no wonder that people go from “sex” to “the only person I’ll ever be attracted to or ever want forever” (a concept I find unbelievable, judging by, for example, divorce stats) .

And that this is her father? Yeah. That’s actually soooooooort of secondary to the fact that, as a much more experienced person, the power dynamic can’t help but exist – knowing what “sex” means to this young woman, I can’t see his acquiescing as being anything but manipulative regardless of his intention. She admitted her complete vulnerability to him and his response was to go along with it. This part isn’t actually a matter of consent, so much as it is responsibility on the part of the older, more experienced man thinking maybe she needs to grow up. That maybe her decision isn’t as informed as she thinks.

Again: this doesn’t mean consenting adults can’t engage in successful relationships despite being related; but we can pin down our concern over her age, her inexperience, her troubled history, her juvenile views of sex and relationships and how a more experienced, older man responded. That he’s her father only adds to the power dynamic – and therefore responsibility – and it seems like he made the wrong choice.

Indeed, she was around 16 when it first started  – that is, her second decade of life (“Here, an 18-year-old woman from the Great Lakes region describes her romantic relationship of almost two years with the biological father she met after 12 years of estrangement.”)

We can’t ignore how none of us knew anything at this age – let alone whether getting involved with an older person, who is a parent, is a good idea despite consent.

I can’t help see her relationship views as being entirely created from Disney films: she, in so many words, goes with “the one” narrative, and it happens to be the first person she has sex with. And also her father. Notice, again, that it’s her father can be put last in terms of reasons to be concerned.

The interview continues:

How quickly did he end things with his girlfriend?
We made sure to move out of the girlfriend’s immediately because we knew we couldn’t be together there. Before her, he was with a woman for eight years and she’s now our roommate. Talk about awkward for the first three months!

So this seems to imply her father cheated on his then girlfriend. Again: nothing to do with incest and there we can see that it’s wrong.

You’re engaged?
I’m planning on a full-on wedding but it won’t be legally registered. And personally, I don’t believe you need a piece of paper to prove that you want to be with the person you love.

Remember what I said about Disney films?

And now we come to my main concern: Kids.

So would you have kids together, or would you adopt?
We’ll have kids together

Will you tell your kids that their father is your dad, and their grandfather?
We’ve decided that most likely we won’t. I don’t want to give them any problems.

Would you feel comfortable keeping such a big secret?
That’s something I’ll have to figure out. His mom and dad will want to spend time with the grandkids, so we will have to decide how everyone will be known.

Do you worry about the potential genetic problems associated with having kids with your biological father?
Nope. I wouldn’t risk having a kid if I thought it would be harmful. I’ve done my research. Everybody thinks that kids born in incestuous relationships will definitely have genetic problems, but that’s not true. That happens when there’s years of inbreeding, like with the royal family. Incest has been around as long as humans have. Everybody just needs to deal with it as long as nobody is getting hurt or getting pressured or forced.

There are so many people having kids who will be passing on health problems, people with diabetes or mental health issues, or AIDS. My mom was allowed to have kids and both her and her mom were bipolar. My research tells me that the only real genetic risk is high blood pressure, which is controllable. I think people only worry about it because they look to the genetic problems that occurred when incest was happening generation upon generation. They say, Well, look at King Henry VIII — but he was only a genetic mutant because they had kept it in the family for so long.

My thoughts:

1. Why procreate and not adopt?

1. Why not adopt if you want to be parents?

1. Adoption is an option and there exist kids who need homes.

1. Why are you procreating and not adopting?

Ok those are the same, but that’s a key question (which anyone and everyone should be asking themselves, not just incestuous couples).

2. She says:

“We’ve decided that most likely we won’t [tell the kids their father is their grandfather]. I don’t want to give them any problems.”

Then don’t have them. The only way you won’t give your kids problems is if they remain non-existent. Considering how many people from your life already know, how exactly would your enforce this code of silence? The kids will more than likely discover this, given that they’ll be growing up in the internet age. How devastating will it be to them to be involved in a relationship they might not consent to?

You might say that’s society’s problem – and to some degree, yes. It is. But these kids still have to live in a society where it’s regarded as bad; there’s a reason she herself is hesitant about telling them! Maybe the fact that you don’t want to tell your kids about your relationship is exactly why you shouldn’t have kids – not why you should have secrets. It seems like an unnecessary harm that will shadow them for the rest of their lives, no matter how much you or I think incest isn’t as bad society makes it out to be.**

3. She raises a somewhat good response to the “what about kids from incest!” view. Again, if she wants to maximise the least harm, she should just not have them. And she can still be a parent, by adopting.

Anyway, this is a troubling case. But I hoped to try outline some reasons not premised on mere disgust that we can and should be concerned about it.

UPDATE:

** This is a shit argument and I can’t believe I made it. As Michael Brew points out in Comment #4: “This part sounds a bit too much like a similar argument against gay adoption or gay people with children having gay relationships.”

Tech support (bullies and creep)

After a DDoS attack, 8Chan has eventually been taken down because the domain was “seized”, due to it hosting child abuse images - as nauseatingly documented by Dan Olson. (Please call it abuse images, not “pornography”).

This happened due to numerous complaints sent to ‘the “pass-through” content delivery network that had been operating 8chan’s servers’, as Sam Machkovech describes it, called Cloudshare. The complaints highlighted 8Chan’s hosting of abuse images and called for them to cease hosting illegal, horrific content. However, Cloudshare did something really fucking disgusting.

Machkovech writes (my emphasis):

In accordance to Cloudflare’s abuse-report policy, the company responded to complaints by forwarding them back to 8chan’s administrative address—essentially telling an alleged offender who blew a whistle and how they did so. Brennan responded to those complaints by reposting them, complete with the complainants’ full names and e-mail addresses for 8chan and Twitter users to see. As a result, the complainant quoted above, who used his real name and e-mail address when writing to Cloudflare, was subsequently “doxxed” by imageboard users, and his personal and private contact details were posted on 8chan-friendly boards.

Cloudflare gave information, including details of identity, of people concerned about child abuse imagery to the very people hosting that content. This seems akin to telling an apartment block super that you dislike the loud metal from Apartment 34, then the super telling the thuggish gang that lives there you complained and your apartment number.

This is a wonderful example of internet culture catering to abusers and bullies, creating new targets and insulating the continued harassment of marginalised people. See creeps defending catcalling; see Gamergate; see online harassment of women.

The Internet is a pretty shitty space and we need better thinking when it comes to who we’re giving information to and how we think they’ll use it. Seriously, fuck Cloudflare.

EDIT: Wrote Cloudshare instead of Cloudshare, for some fucking reason. HT Comment #1.

EDIT2: Wrote Cloudshare twice in my correction Edit about writing Cloudshare instead of Cloudflare. I can brain.

I won’t treat Muslim people like children

But apparently Anjem Choudary will continue to.

I tweeted this in response to him yesterday

Plenty of people are discussing opposing Islam, the radical aspects of its tenets and community – and of course ex-Muslims are not being referred to or included. Regardless, I thought I’d respond to Choudary’s view that, for some reason, USA Today decided to host on its platform. There’s something to be said about providing “both” sides of the debate and one of those is give it to someone who isn’t himself spouting bigotry and undermines a whole group of people. [Read more…]