Tell me what social network you use and I'll tell you what your struggle is

17 December 2012

With the development of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Google+, Linkedin, and others, users can share content, interact, and create communities based on similar interests.

These networks have become a promising business for independent companies, artists, and professionals. They are a new tool that also reproduces the values of daily life.

It makes sense to think about the existence of predominant practices that constitute subcultures on these networks. Under the shelter of “freedom of speech”, those who use the networks can find a way to express machismo, xenophobia, or racism, just as they would in their “disconnected” lives. But, what is it that sustains this type of behaviour? Are there differences between the social networks? Do the user profiles vary for each network? Is it the same if you use Tumblr, Reddit or Facebook Where does the difference lie?

Although we cannot give a precise answer to these questions, we think that it is essential to ask them. An analysis of isolated behaviors cannot point to patterns, but it can help us see what the new tendencies are.

Facebook and the censorship of feminist organizations

Facebook is perhaps one of the most popular social networks of recent years. With more than 900 million users, Facebook was originally created for use by students at Harvard, but was later opened to anyone with an email account.

Some women’s organizations have argued that Facebook’s policies are unclear when it comes to defending the rights of women. Or, at least, to not preventing their defense.

In the article Does Facebook Hate All Women – or just Feminists?, the author maintains that “what is troubling is that Facebook has allowed certain posts, which are derogatory towards women, to remain on its pages, while penalizing feminists for speaking out against them. Facebook has allowed hyper-sexualized images of women to remain, as well as comments, posts and pages that support rape culture”.

Sonya Renee Taylor, owner of the page The Body Is Not An Apology, created a petition on Change.org (1), because the page was suspended by Facebook after publishing an image in which Senegalese women showed their breasts.

The Body Is Not An Apology, is a radical international movement toward radical self love and body empowerment. Its account on Facebook was suspended after publishing a photo of Senegalese women showing their breasts. We believe that this type of cultural and gender discrimination is unacceptable. We want to end the machista hypocrisy that suspends accounts and erases nonsexual images sent by women. The Body Is Not An Apology had more than 12,500 friends in more than 25 countries that shared images, articles, and their affirmations, which were centered on the celebration of our bodies and embracing self-love. As a community we are indignant at the sexism and hypocrisy of the policies of Facebook. (See the full text of the petition here)

The petition mentions that Facebook has censored images of women with breast cancer, women with children born with birth defects, and women nursing.

As a result of Taylor’s petition several other organizations have also expressed their discontent with Facebook. One of these is The Uprising of Women in the Arab World, a site with more than 63 thousand fans worldwide, which on November 7th issued a press release explaining that their five administrators were censored by Facebook.

It is difficult to find clarity about what the policies of Facebook are on the matter, and why these publications are suspended. It seems that they were blocked because some users denounced content that they found offensive. As the author of the article argues, although this can be useful in various ways, the rules do not seem to be applied equally to all pages, and there does not appear to be much analysis as to whether the page is truly offensive, after a complaint has been made. This sort of investigation into whether something really is offensive involves very little consensus. But, after all, what is offensive, right?

Without a doubt, Facebook should be more transparent when making this sort of decision. To eliminate a message or suspend a user can be a form of discrimination and a violation of their freedom of speech. Added to this is the aggravating circumstance that it is not clear how users can appeal these, often arbitrary, decisions, that have been used to target and censor women.

With attitudes like this, Facebook shows itself to be a sexist social network, and as such it affects the rights of women. The internet must be an open tool so that all the people can assert their rights, as well as guaranteeing a space in which they can participate and actively defend their rights, without censorship nor reprimand.

The Reddit experience

Reddit is a very popular social network in the United States, with about 35 million users. The profile of its followers shows a strong racist male slant. It adheres to the principles of freedom of speech and open platform. One of the most sordid things shared was on a forum called creepshots. Creepshots are photos taken of women in public (generally without their knowledge or permission) and shared on the platform.

The members can create “subreddits”, forums on specific subjects. Some of most well known are the subreddits I am a and Ask me anything.

“The Violentacrez case”:http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/11/does-facebook-hate-all-women-or-just-feminists

Violentacrez was almost legendary on Reddit until Gawker (2), journalist Adrian Chen revealed his true identity.

Under the pseudonym Violentacrez, Michael Brutsch, 49 years old, controlled some of the sickest forums on Reddit. In the article Unmasking Reddit’ s Violentacrez, The Biggest Troll on the Web, Chen describes the activities of Brutsch: the publication of images of 14 year old girls in bikinis, taking photos of women walking on the street without authorization and sharing them without consent, as well as the creation of anti-semitic subreddits and promoting justifications for domestic violence. These were some of Brutsch’s “hobbies”, as exposed by the journalist (3).

One of his most abhorrent creations more was the forum “Jailbait”, that specialized in the publication of sexually suggestive photos of minors, in addition to “Niggerjailbait”, with racist connotations, and “Rapebait” which made fun of the crime of rape.

I think that it is clear that this type of behavior harms the rights of women. But it is also necessary to question the term “troll” or “trolling” and its relationship to anonymity, security and attacks online or, as Whitney Phillips, the author of the article What an Academic Who Wrote Her Dissertation on Trolls Thinks of Violentacrez, puts it “the antisocial side of the social web”.

As Phillips emphasizes, saying disagreeable things online does not turn a user into a subcultural troll. The line that separates a subculture troll from “good faith attackers” or, put another way, genuine racists, sexists or ignorant people, is more and more difficult to distinguish, as this culture becomes more predominant on the internet.

The author enumerates a series of basic demographic indicators that, in her experience, are common to most trolls, at least amongst English-speaking users of the internet. Like Violentacrez, many of them are white, male, and in some way privileged. She emphasizes that these are much more than individual pathologies. Trolls are a direct reflection of the culture from which they emerge. “Until the conversation is directed towards the institutional incubators out of which trolling emerges — as opposed to just the trolls themselves — no ground will be gained, and no solutions reached” (4), she concludes.

A social network with principles

Tumblr is a media company that, like Facebook, offers a place to share content. The difference with Tumblr is that the platform wants to define itself as a place for editorial products, and not simply a repository of images.

As a global platform, Tumblr supports freedom of speech. Nevertheless, it establishes limits around some types of content or behaviors that, according to their community norms, ““jeopardize our users, threaten our infrastructure, or damage our community”:http://www.tumblr.com/policy/en/community.”

They detail some uses that are not allowed, such as malicious bigotry, harm to minors, impersonation, stalking, harassment, invasion of privacy, and uploading sexually explicit videos.

Clearly these conditions of use do not imply an a priori respect by those who use the platform, but the fact that they are explicit is a good start, particularly when they are accompanied by a message from the lawyers of the site, published on the Community guidelines page.

We have to recognize that advances have been made, and that to think about ways to use social networks in ways that are respectful of the rights of women is not merely a matter of expressing a desire. Daily, and around the world, thousands of women work to achieve this goal. As writer Irene Ocampo puts it in an article written for GenderIT.org, “men as much as women in the 20 to 30 year-old age group are extreme users of the internet, combining in their daily practices the fruits of years of fights against different prejudices. As much in those that have to do with machismo in sexual-emotional expressions, as in the use and appropriation of new technologies, we can begin to enjoy a small change in the attitudes of a new generation, which makes possible to think of a future that is less stereotyped”. In that sense, respecting the rights of women online is not a simple task, but it is a necessary one.

—- end —-

Image taken from Day 15 – Misogyny online | Freedom of expression & violence story of the 2012 Take Back the Tech! campaign.

Visit Day 15 of the campaign

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Footnotes

(1) The world's largest petition platform, which seeks to empower people to generate the changes that they want to see.
(2) Founded in 2002 by Nick Denton, it is an influential media group that at the moment produces eight original brands with a collective public of tens of millions of readers in the United States. One of the goals of the site is to equally attract both fans and critics of its inimitable delivery of the news, scandal, and entertainment.
(3) More information and analysis on the case: www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/10/what-an-academic-who-wrot...
(4) Idem.

 

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