Discussion starter: Reddit, Predditor, and outing bad behaviour

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

So there’s Reddit. For the Reddit abstainers like me (I’m also not on Tumblr or Facebook, I’ll move on and set up neo-Luddite Feminism Blog any day now), a quick intro: discussion forum, encouraging the creation of Reddit subforums (subreddits) around any topic you can think of. Hugely popular: the mainstream press tends to cite Barack Obama’s Ask Me Anything thread as proof.

Reddit is strongly committed to what their users call freedom of speech, but that isn’t a very specific term on the Internet: it can mean anything from “I believe governments should not restrict expression” to “I believe that never deleting comments* from a forum improves the quality of discussion” to “I believe that never deleting comments from a forum is the only ethically correct way to run a forum.” (Or the disingenuous version: “I believe that I personally should be able to say what I want in any forum.”)

In Reddit’s case, freedom of speech basically amounts to “we believe that any user should be able to create a subreddit and moderate it how they and fellow moderators choose.” They host, for example, hate speech subreddits. They also until recently hosted r/CreepShots, a subreddit for sharing non-consensual photos of girls and women (up-skirting and such).

Over the last week, there’s been several eruptions around Reddit. Recently, Samantha** set up Predditors, which posts publicly available information about contributors to r/CreepShots, gathered from other sites linked to their Reddit pseudonym. It’s up and down: right now the first entry lists the full name, date of birth, employer, marital status and several photographs of one Eric Gore, Reddit username “ocbaud”, who submitted covert shots of women taken in his workplace. Jezebel posted about Predditors on October 10: How to Shut Down Reddit’s CreepShots Once and for All: Name Names. Predditors was temporarily closed by Tumblr shortly after, although at time of writing it is back with two profiles of Reddit users.

“Reddit’s defense of [CreepShots] is that it’s ‘technically legal,’ [Samantha**] explained. (The subreddit’s bio mansplains it well: “When you are in public, you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. We kindly ask women to respect our right to admire your bodies and stop complaining.” You can also click here for information on how little Reddit’s administrators seem to care about policing the subreddit.) “So I’m doing something that’s technically legal, but will result in consequences for their actions. These fuckers think they can get away with it scot free, which is one of the reasons why sexual violence is so prevalent around the world.”

In addition, on October 12, Gawker published Adrian Chen’s Unmasking Reddit’s Violentacrez, The Biggest Troll on the Web, identifying Reddit user Violentacrez, a moderator of r/CreepShots and several other subreddits hosting racist, misogynist and/or sexually abusive content, as Michael Brutsch, a computer programmer in Texas. Brutsch apparently moderated most of the subreddits out of a commitment to a “I believe that never deleting forums from Reddit is the only ethically correct way to run Reddit” version of free speech, but was more personally interested in r/CreepShots, regularly contributed content. Chen also describes a reasonably close working relationship between Reddit staff and Brutsch, who was active in training other moderators, and in identifying illegal content so that Reddit could remove it (that they don’t want to host).

It’s not yet clear how things will go from here: will Predditors survive, will Samantha** survive burnout, will creep shots remnants pop up all over the web like zombies? (The last is already happening***.)

Some of Geek Feminism’s authors have had a backchannel discussion over the last year or so about various Database of Harassers proposals. The proposal there is for documentation of in-person harassment incidents, for people who would rather not make their harassment accusations public in a blog entry or etc for the usual reasons We’ve taken a pretty skeptical view of the likely success of such a project. What do you think? Does the success of the wiki’s own incidents listing (which relies on third party public reports) or Predditors change your opinion?

* No one seems to believe this about spam.

** The pseudonym that was used in the Jezebel article.

*** Link is to a Jezebel article, not directly to a creep shots site.

I take it we aren’t cute enough for you?

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

A few times within the lifetime of this blog, there’s been a major emergency in geekdom: a geek girl has needed a confidence boost.

I hear you cough. Someone just said “geek girl” on Geek Feminism, the home of “ahem, geek women, THANK YOU”?

No really, I mean it, a geek girl. A prepubescent girl has been bullied or heard some gender essentialist crap, and a call to arms goes out. The best known is probably Katie Goldman, the then seven year old whose mother wrote in November 2010 that Katie was being bullied for liking Star Wars, a boy thing:

But a week ago, as we were packing her lunch, Katie said, “My Star Wars water bottle is too small.  It doesn’t hold enough water.  Can I take a different one?”  She searched through the cupboard until she found a pink water bottle and said, “I’ll bring this.”

I was perplexed.  “Katie, that water bottle is no bigger than your Star Wars one.  I think it is actually smaller.”

“It’s fine, I’ll just take it,” she insisted.

I kept pushing the issue, because it didn’t make sense to me.  Suddenly, Katie burst into tears.

She wailed, “The first grade boys are teasing me at lunch because I have a Star Wars water bottle.  They say it’s only for boys.  Every day they make fun of me for drinking out of it.  I want them to stop, so I’ll just bring a pink water bottle.”

Katie’s story went viral including at the official Star Wars blog and a year later CNN reported that at GeekGirlCon when a brigade of Storm Troopers formed an honor guard for Katie, and that there’s an annual Wear Star Wars day as a result.

We had our own smaller burst of geek support on the Geek Feminism blog in May this year, for five year old Maya, who was turning away from her love of cars and robots. 170 comments were left on our blog for Maya, second only to Open Letter to Mark Shuttleworth (200 comments) in our history. In addition, it wasn’t an especially difficult thread to moderate as I recall: a few trolls showed up to tell Maya goodness knows what (sudo make me a sandwich LOL?) but in general people left warm, honest, open stories of their geek life for Maya.

Here’s something I was struck by: when I tweeted about Maya’s post, back in May, I saw replies from men saying that they were crying (with joy, I assume!) about the response to Maya. I have to say I do NOT see a lot of admitted crying about other posts on our blog, no matter how positive or inspirational. (People love the existence of the Wednesday Geek Women posts, but they are consistently our least read and commented on posts.) Or crying about stories that are negative and horrifying either.

It’s going to be hard to stand by a statement that I don’t begrudge Katie and Maya their outpouring of support, but: I don’t begrudge Katie and Maya their outpouring of support. I don’t think they should have less of it.

… but I think geek women and other bullied or oppressed geeks should have more.

Thus I do want to ask why girls? Why do we not have 170 comments on our blog reaching out to women who are frustrated with geekdom? I want to get this out in the open: people love to support geek girls, they are considerably more ambivalent about supporting geek women.

I’ve compared harassment of adults with bullying of children before: they have a lot in common. What they don’t seem to have in common is a universal condemnation from geekdom: bullying children? Totally evil*. Harassing adults? Eh… evil, except you know, he’s such a great guy, and he hasn’t got laid in a while, and (trigger warning for rapist enabling) he does have the best gaming table, so what are you gonna do, huh?

There are a number of reasons, I know, even aside from the (provocative!) title of the blog post. Some of them are more sympathetic than others:

  • Talking to adults about overcoming difficulties is harder. There can’t always be as much optimism or tales of It Gets Better. For some adults, that’s bullshit. (It’s not always true for children either and telling children this can be a disservice too, but it is more culturally comfortable.)
  • Adults are often angry when they’ve been mistreated. In this case, feminists are often angry. It’s harder to engage with angry people. They (we) are less appealing. We may not be grateful for your thoughts. Sometimes we pick them apart publicly if we don’t like them enough. And call you mean names.
  • When a child is bullied by another child, the bad guy is reassuringly definitely not you.
  • Children don’t talk back, or can’t. If an adult says that It Gets Better, the appropriate role for the child is to smile and look grateful. (This is also true of women when listening to men, but generally somewhat less so.)
  • Many of us are more familiar with the experience of being a bullied child than being a harassed or oppressed adult, and can be empathetic more easily.
  • We really really want to believe that things will be basically OK for Katie and Maya, even if they haven’t been for us and people we love.

There’s no easy answer. Many of us are very deeply invested in It Gets Better rhetoric, because the alternative is sure pretty sucky. But at the same time, if you’re doing one thing to stop gendered bullying this year, say, leaving the 170th supportive comment for a five year old girl, while kind, was probably not the single best use of your one thing. Join the fight. Make it better yourself. And, since you aren’t in fact limited to one thing, leave kind or supportive or co-signed righteously angry comments too, while you’re at it, and not only for children.

* At least, in the context of these discussions. I am far from believing that geeks are universally actively working to save children from bullying, nor that they are incapable of perpetrating child abuse.

Online harassment as a daily hazard: when trolls feed themselves

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Trigger warning for discussion of and graphic examples of threatening online harassment.

Seen s.e. smith’s post on blogging and harassment yet? You’re about to see it everywhere (on the social justice blogs) because it’s very powerful and true:

by the time I’d clocked around 20 threats, and was up to around 30 readers, I’d learned the art of triage. The quick skim to find out if there was any actually personal threatening information, like identifying details, or if it was just your garden variety threat with no teeth behind it. I kept them all in a little file in case I needed them later, and forwarded the worst to the police department, not in the belief they would actually do anything, but in the hopes that information would be there, somewhere, in case it was needed someday.

“I hope you get raped to death with a gorsebush,” one email memorably began. I gave the letter writer some style points for creativity, but quickly deducted them when I noted he’d sent it from his work email, at a progressive organisation. I helpfully forwarded it to his supervisor, since I thought she might be interested to know what he was doing on company time. “Thanks,” she wrote back, and I didn’t hear anything more about it. Several months later I attended a gala event the organisation was participating in and watched him sitting there on stage, confident and smug”¦

I was careful in all the ways they tell you to be, to make it difficult to find my house, for example, and most of the rape threats, and the death threats, the casual verbal abuse from people who disagreed with my stances on subjects like rape being bad and abortion being a personal matter, weren’t really that threatening in that they didn’t pose a personal danger to me, and I was rarely concerned for my safety. That wasn’t the point, though, which is what I told a friend when she got her first rape threat and called me, sobbing. I wished she’d been spared that particular blogging rite of passage, but unfortunately she hadn’t been.

“They want you to shut up,” I explained. “That’s the point of a rape threat. They want to silence you. They want you to shrink down very small inside a box where you think they can’t find you.”

And it works. I see it happening all the time; blogs go dark, or disappear entirely, or stop covering certain subjects. People hop pseudonyms and addresses, trusting that regular readers can find and follow them, trying to stay one step ahead. Very few people openly discuss it because they feel like it’s feeding the trolls, giving them the attention they want. Some prominent bloggers and members of the tech community have been bold enough; Kathy Sierra, for example, spoke out about the threats that made her afraid to leave her own home. She’s not the only blogger who’s been presented not just with vicious, hateful verbal abuse, but very real evidence that people want to physically hurt her, a double-edged silencing tactic, a sustained campaign of terrorism that is, often, highly effective.

[That is a relatively short excerpt, read the whole thing.]

I think it’s time to take a look at the reflexive “don’t feed the trolls” advice, frankly.

It was developed, I think, for Usenet (at least, the earliest known usage of the term ‘troll’ in this sense is from alt.folklore.urban in 1992, which suggests that that formulation probably originates similarly), and was adopted by email lists and blogs in due course. I’ve always been suspicious of it in the case of forums like email lists where messages can’t be recalled: some people implement it as just leaving the troll to continue sending messages into the void – except that it’s not a void. Experienced people may have blocked the troll, inexperienced people are there to be frightened either specifically by the troll or by the apparent unremarkableness of the troll’s behaviour. (This is one of the reasons I am less and less on-board with the free software community’s continued preference for public mailing lists. I like my email client a lot too, but I like spaces where harassment can be removed quickly from all reader’s view more.)

There’s certainly some wisdom in “don’t feed the trolls”. Consider for example Gavin de Becker’s advice in The Gift of Fear: if you, say, return harassing phone calls on the 50th time, you’ve only taught your harasser that they need to call 50 times to get a response. They need to learn that they cannot reach you, that there is nothing they can do to make you reply to them.

So far it seems sensible, but what it doesn’t account for is having multiple harassers, who either may not be aware of each other or who may be actively encouraging each other and coordinating attacks (via hate blogs or forums or the more wildcard ‘lulz’ variants thereof). It’s not so clear there that en masse silence is a useful strategy, it varies by case, and the off-hand use of the “everyone knows that you don’t feed the trolls!” wisdom that was (arguably) effective in the case of lone trolls is in effect a message to people being targeted for harassment by a coordinated group, or who have a number of individual harassers, that no one gives a shit. Don’t talk about it, we don’t care about your problems.

It also means that we are continually surprised by the size and scope of the problem. Death threats? With your address attached? Weekly? This is a problem not only because of the continuing coziness of the “yeah right, never happens to me” crowd, but because we often aren’t sharing information among targets.

It’s not just you.

It’s not just you.

Every single time, there is someone who has been hurt by thinking it’s just them.

I by no means advocate compulsory reporting of harassment, in fact I am very strongly committed to empowering survivors by allowing them a coercion-free space to do whatever the hell they please in terms of reporting or not. But “don’t feed the trolls” isn’t any more coercion-free than “stop hir hurting someone else! report now!” The coercion is this: thirty years of Internet are saying keep this to yourself, damn you (stop hir hurting someone else)!

Thirty years of Internet, per above, don’t have the whole story.

This scale of harassment of bloggers also brings us into a realm where people without the financial resources of celebrities to, eg, pay Gavin de Becker’s people to read their mail for them and alert them only to genuine immediate threats, have to deal with the same scale of harassment. This isn’t totally new to the Internet (being, eg, the family member of someone who has either committed or been the victim of a well-publicised unusual crime, has long attracted the same kind of attacks) but it is hard enough for rich powerful people to protect themselves mentally and physically from this level of hostile attention, let alone people with the typical resources of a social justice blogger (generally relatively privileged yes, able to afford state-of-the-art personal security, no).

On that, I’m honestly not sure what to do except that it scares me. There appears to be no known effective defence against sufficiently many motivated harassers. There doesn’t even appear to be a lot of giving a toss about it.

Update: Hey folks, on reflection I realise that my last paragraph kind of invites advice, but it’s probably safe to assume that if you’ve thought of doing X in response to trolls that so have people like s.e. smith, and either X is in their arsenal, it doesn’t work, or it isn’t reasonably possible for them (that is the cost-benefit trade-offs don’t favour it).

Responses from people with unusual expertise on personal security or on community management and similar areas giving facts advice or facts might be useful, but if your expertise is “average experienced netizen” please step back and give people affected a chance to talk.

Sexual harassment discussion in the atheist and skeptical communities

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Warning for quoted misogyny, Islamophobia and descriptions of violence against women and harassment, not to mention Oppression Olympics.

On June 20, Rebecca Watson of Skepchick posted a video discussing a panel she spoke on at the World Atheist Convention in early June. Here’s an excerpt of the relevant segment:

And I was on a panel with AronRa and Richard Dawkins [which] was on ‘communicating atheism.’ They sort of left it open for us to talk about whatever we wanted, really, within that realm. I was going to talk about blogging and podcasting, but, um, a few hours prior to that panel, there was another panel on women atheist activists… I don’t assume that every woman will have the same experience that I’ve had, but I think it’s worthwhile to publicize the fact that some women will go through this, and, um, that way we can warn women, ahead of time, as to what they might expect, give them the tools they need to fight back, and also give them the support structure they need to, uh, to keep going in the face of blatant misogyny…

So, thank you to everyone who was at that conference who, uh, engaged in those discussions outside of that panel, um, you were all fantastic; I loved talking to you guys—um, all of you except for the one man who, um, didn’t really grasp, I think, what I was saying on the panel…? Because, um, at the bar later that night—actually, at four in the morning—um, we were at the hotel bar, 4am, I said, you know, “I’ve had enough, guys, I’m exhausted, going to bed,” uh, so I walked to the elevator, and a man got on the elevator with me, and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more; would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?”…

I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at 4am, in a hotel elevator with you, just you, and—don’t invite me back to your hotel room, right after I’ve finished talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.

This excerpt is from Melissa McEwan’s full transcript of the relevant section of the audio, which is available at Shakesville. There’s more interesting stuff in the full transcript, including an example of the kind of dynamic where an individual woman who hasn’t experienced sexism denies it exists at all. But Watson’s criticism of the man who sexually approached her in the elevator has let to the Internet exploding, predictably enough. Especially when Richard Dawkins commented, most unsympathetically.

Here’s the setup:

  • PZ Myers, Always name names! [beware comments]: It’s not enough. Maybe we should also recognize that applying unwanted pressure, no matter how politely phrased, is inappropriate behavior.
  • Richard Dawkins, comment on “Always name names!”: Dear Muslima… Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with… Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee… And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.
  • Richard Dawkins, comment on “Always name names!”: Rebecca’s feeling that the man’s proposition was ‘creepy’ was her own interpretation of his behaviour, presumably not his. She was probably offended to about the same extent as I am offended if a man gets into an elevator with me chewing gum. But he does me no physical damage and I simply grin and bear it until either I or he gets out of the elevator. It would be different if he physically attacked me.
  • PZ Myers, Twitter: For those curious, confirmed: those comments were from Richard.

Commentary (warning: some of these links contain extensive discussion of rape, including news coverage): Continue reading “Sexual harassment discussion in the atheist and skeptical communities”

Breastfeeding anti-discrimination changes passed at the Federal level

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

Via the Australian Breastfeeding Association on Twitter, this press release from the Federal Attorney-General:

A pale skinned woman reads 'Breastfeeding: A Parent's Guide' while nursing a baby

Attorney-General Robert McClelland and Minister for the Status of Women Kate Ellis today welcomed the passage through Parliament of the Sex and Age Discrimination Legislation Amendment Bill 2010.

The new law will provide greater protections by… establishing breastfeeding as a separate ground of discrimination, and allowing measures to be taken to accommodate the needs of breastfeeding mothers…

Here’s the text of a Senate review of the Bill as regards breastfeeding:

Creating a separate ground of discrimination for breastfeeding

2.9 Item 17 of Schedule 1 of the Bill would insert a separate ground of discrimination in relation to breastfeeding into the Sex Discrimination Act, to implement Recommendation 12 of the Senate Report. The Senate Report recommended that a separate ground be created because:

…the intent of the Act is to protect women from discrimination based upon them breastfeeding. This is achieved by providing in subsection 5(1A) that breastfeeding is a characteristic that appertains generally to women. This seems a somewhat circuitous path. It would be desirable for the Act to provide for specific protection against discrimination on the ground of breastfeeding.[17]

2.10 The separate ground of discrimination, provided for in proposed new section 7AA, only applies to women who are breastfeeding. ‘Breastfeeding’ would be defined as ‘the act of expressing milk’; ‘an act of breastfeeding’; and ‘breastfeeding over a period of time’. The inclusion of a reference to ‘breastfeeding over a period of time’ would ensure that a respondent cannot claim that a discriminatory act was lawful because the complainant was not actually breastfeeding at the time the act occurred.

2.11 The protections against discrimination on the ground of breastfeeding would be extended to both direct discrimination and indirect discrimination, under proposed subsections 7AA(1) and (2) respectively. Under subsection 7AA(1), direct discrimination would occur if a person treats a woman less favourably than someone else, ‘in circumstances that are the same or not materially different’, by reason of:

…the woman’s breastfeeding; or

…a characteristic that appertains generally to women who are breastfeeding; or…that is generally imputed to women who are breastfeeding.

2.12 The EM also provides an example of both direct and indirect discrimination in relation to breastfeeding:

  • direct discrimination would occur where an employer refuses to hire any woman who is breastfeeding, or a restaurateur declined to serve a breastfeeding patron; and
  • indirect discrimination would occur where an employer imposes a requirement on employees that they ‘must not take any breaks for set periods during the day under any circumstances’, which would have the effect of disadvantaging women who ‘need to express milk’.

2.13 The Bill provides that discrimination on the grounds of breastfeeding is also prohibited in the following areas of public life (subject to certain exemptions in Division 4 of the Sex Discrimination Act):

  • education;
  • goods, services and facilities;
  • accommodation;
  • land;
  • clubs; and
  • the administration of Commonwealth laws and programs.

2.14 Item 60 of Schedule 1 would prevent a man from bringing a complaint of unlawful sexual discrimination on the basis that a person grants to a woman rights or privileges related to the fact that they are breastfeeding. This amendment recognises that breastfeeding may ‘give rise to special needs, such as for private areas for breastfeeding, or hygienic areas for storage of expressed milk’, which should not be subject to complaints of discrimination.

I am assuming that the wording that regards all people lactating and feeding a baby as women is a pretty pervasive problem in this area? Otherwise this seems like very good news on a number of fronts.

The bill also has provisions about discrimination on the basis of family responsibilities, and increased protection for students who are harassed, including provisions about the harassment of a student by others from a different institution (I’m recalling now the University of Sydney strengthening their internal provisions regarding their residential colleges), and harassment of students under the age of 16.

Image credit: the image of the woman nursing and reading is Breastfeeding on a park bench by space-man on Flickr, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike-Non Commercial.

Harassing photography and recording; ethics and policies

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

We’re starting to collect some examples of photography/recording harassment experiences (still open , and some of the kinds of problems people mention there and elsewhere are:

  • photography/recording conducted in a way that is designed to hide the fact of the photography/recording from the subject both before and after the shot/recording happens
  • photography/recording that is indifferent to or careless of the subject’s feelings about being photographed/recorded
  • photography/recording that is othering: “wow, women! *click click*” or “hey, babe, smile for the camera!” or later posted with othering, sexist or creepy commentary
  • failing or refusing to stop photographing/recording on an explicit request or appearance of discomfort (eg turning away or frowning or covering one’s face, etc)
  • publishing photographs without the subject’s consent, or after the subject’s explicit refusal of consent
  • use of photographs to implicitly or explicitly endorse an event or community, eg, using pics of smiling participants from the previous year in publicity materials, without consent

Now most of these things are legal in my region (see NSW Photographer’s Rights, which as you will guess from the title is not focussed on subject’s concerns, but which is informative) and in many others. I believe the only exception (in NSW) may be the last, because the use of someone’s image to promote a product requires a model release, that is, consent from the subject. Whether/when using someone’s photo on a website is considered promotion I don’t know but that’s a side point.

For that matter, I’m not even arguing that they should be illegal or actionable (in this piece anyway, perhaps some of them are arguable). I’m sympathetic to many of the uses of non-consensual photography, even (art, journalism, historical documentation). I’m arguing more narrowly that in the context of geek events, which are usually private and which can therefore impose additional restrictions on behaviour as a condition of entry, that restrictions on photography could prevent some harassment. (As a short and possibly sloppy definition for people who haven’t seen many harassment discussions, I would define harassment as “unwelcome interpersonal interactions, which either a reasonable person would know are unwelcome, or which were stated to be unwelcome but continued after that.”)

I’m arguing that this collection of behaviours around photographs makes geek events hostile to some participants, especially women. After all, even though it’s (I think) legal to sneak-photograph a woman’s face, write a little essay about how attractive you find her and try and get it on Flickr Explore even as she emails you to say that she’s upset and repeatedly request that you take it down, that doesn’t mean it’s ethical.

Now, obviously it would be nice not to have to spell ethical behaviour out to people, but the need for anti-harassment policies (and, for that matter, law) makes it clear that geek events do need to do so.

There’s quite a range of possible policies that could be adopted around photography:

  • the status quo, obviously, which at many geek events is that any photography/recording that would be legally allowed in public spaces is allowed there;
  • photography/recording should be treated like other potentially harassing interpersonal interactions at an event, that is, when one person in the interaction says “stop” or “leave me alone” (etc), the interaction must end;
  • photography/recording shouldn’t be done in such a way as to hide from the subject that it’s happening, and upon the subject’s request the photo/footage/etc must be deleted;
  • subjects cannot be photographed/recorded without prior explicit consent; and/or
  • the above combined with some kind of explicit opt-in or opt-out marking so that one doesn’t need to necessarily ask every time if one can see the marking (in various conversations on this I have to say my main concern tends to be the need to peer closely at people’s chests to see their “PHOTOS/VIDEOS OK” or “NO PHOTOS/VIDEOS” marking on their badge, however, Skud says it works well at Wiscon).

There might be certain additional freedoms or restrictions regarding crowd photography/recording and/or photography/recording of organisers, scheduled speakers and people actively highlighted in similar formal events.

What do you think? Whether a photographer/videographer/recorder or subject of same, what do you think appropriate ethics are when photographing/recording at private geek events, and what do you think could/should be codified as policy?

Note to commenters: there are a couple of things that tend to come up a lot in these sorts of discussions, which are:

  1. “but this is perfectly legal [in my jurisdiction]”
  2. some geeks, including geek photographers, are shy and asking strangers for permission to photograph them is a confronting interaction, and thus very hard on shy people

I’m not saying that you need to totally avoid discussion of these points in comments here, but you can safely assume that everyone knows these points and has to some degree taken them into account and go from there. (My own perspective on the last one is that it’s odd at best to pay an enormous amount of heed to the social comfort of photographers at the expense of their subjects. You could, of course, consider both together.) Also if talking about legal aspects, do specify which jurisdiction(s) you are talking about: this is an area where laws vary substantially.

On feeling less safe

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Over at Hoyden About Town, Wildly Parenthetical considers Tackling Misogyny: Procedures or Social Sanctions?:

But more interesting has been the discussion about formal and informal mechanisms for dealing with sexual harassment. There are lots of reasons that formal mechanisms don’t work for lots of people… So we have the suggestion of informal “shunning’. Some have, with more and less hyperbole, suggested that without the formality of systems of justice and the “certainty’ they’re meant to bring, individuals could wind up excluded on heresay; this is the “OMG WITCHHUNT!’ objection. And others have pointed out that social sanctions are applied to all kinds of behaviours that are disapproved of in our society, and why should this particular behaviour be any different? I am pretty much with the latter group, although I understand those who think that we should be putting our energies towards fixing the formal systems rather than developing shun-lists…

I left a comment that I want to re-post here, since it captures neatly a lot of my more negative feelings about discussions around anti-harassment policies and such, which a lot of people in the geek community consider informal since geeks themselves will enforce them.

My response (very slightly edited here) was as follows:

I am a fan of social sanctions in an ideal world. There tend to be two problems with introducing it in practice:

  1. Some people at either the level of instinct or the level of rational analysis find it almost impossible to distinguish from bullying (see the Geek Social Fallacies, especially #1) and refuse to participate or actively attempt to defend the person sanctioned or decide to sanction the sanctioners, causing a lot of internal community conflict.
  2. It often turns out (at least in communities that I’m a part of) that not as many people are opposed to sexual harassment as one might hope. So a substantial fraction of participants oppose social sanctions or vow to not enforce them because it turns out they like sexual harassment just fine.

Option 2 is always a really distressing conversation to have in a community you felt safe in; you seldom feel safe after it turns out that a loud minority feel that sexual harassment is the effective/normal/desirable (at least, but not exclusively) heterosexual mating strategy.

How is everyone else feeling about the geek community after whatever their latest local round of feminist discussion was? I’m far from entirely negative, but there are definitely whole new places I don’t feel safe from harassment and indeed assault now.

Quick hit: getting too close to power

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Trigger warning: this post describes and discusses harassment and threats.

Sady Doyle writes on Tiger Beatdown:

When feminist women reach a certain critical mass of readership or influence, then mass negative exposure and harassment invariably comes their way. Sooner or later, there are just too many people who know about you, and the threats become credible: Blacklisting, hacking, smear campaigns, invasion of private property, maybe even straight-up bodily harm. At a certain point it goes beyond grudges or trolling or sarcastic comments or even just isolated scary dudes; it becomes a large-scale Thing, and it attracts its fair share of people who operate without anything even vaguely resembling a conscience.

I mean, let’s review just a few of the more famous cases. They often have something to do with women approaching positions of power: As we all know, when Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan were hired for the John Edwards campaign, there was a national and frequently televised campaign aimed not only at getting them fired, but at making them functionally unemployable. It went on for a long while, it was vicious, and it involved Bill O’Reilly, which is never fun. Furthermore, Jessica Valenti was accused of slutting it up with Bill Clinton because she was in a room with him along with some other people… In each case, this happened because the women were getting too close to power: A President, a presidential candidate. The idea that these women might be doing politics, not “just” gender politics. That was enough to set it off.

If it’s not power, it’s geek stuff. Because we are on the Internet, and the geeks are powerful. Kathy Sierra was subject to one of the most vicious, frightening campaigns of harassment and death threats that anyone has ever seen, because she spoke about software development. And being a lady, but mostly: Being a lady as it related to software development. “I am afraid to leave my yard, I will never feel the same. I will never be the same,” she wrote, to explain why she had to quit working and earning money as a speaker for a while… Then there was Harriet J and her criticism of Google Buzz — no, not Google Buzz!!!! — or McEwan, again, who got one of the biggest pile-ups of her career on a post about a video game called “Fat Princess.” Video games, tech, Google, basic Internet geek stuff: These are the things you’re not allowed to approach, for fear of harassment…

Other people are allowed to seek popularity. Other people are allowed to think it is a good thing. And yet, over here, we know that popularity is not good, but BAD. Feminists often RUN THE HELL AWAY FROM POPULARITY. At least, we do if we’ve got any darn sense in our heads or have seen this happen often enough. (I have a little sense. Not a lot, or enough.) Or if we don’t run away from it, our first instinct is to disavow basic things to which all writers should be entitled, like pride in our work, or a hope that our work might be read and respected. And the reason is this:

Because you cannot so much as mention “not deserving to be raped,” in a blog post about freaking GOOGLE PRIVACY SETTINGS, without getting hundreds of comments about how you should go get raped immediately, because you deserve to be raped so very much.

It is, as I hope is obvious from the quote, worth reading the whole thing.

But I wanted to highlight the relevance of this for this blog and the people who write for it or are in its community. None of this is news, and it is fairly obvious what I mean: we are critiquing geekdom, and geekdom is powerful here on the Internet.

And consequences like these have in fact of course already happened to us and near us. This blog itself doesn’t right at this moment undergo persistent trolling in moderation, it has in the past and undoubtedly will in the future. To give the best known example, MikeeUSA has been reappearing periodically since 2005, and that’s just in communities that I personally follow, and making threats of violence or death all that time, including explicitly invoking and praising the actions of murderer Hans Reiser and mass murderer Marc Lépine.

People who describe themselves as geek feminists and geek feminist activists regularly burn out or take planned breaks in various ways: they go back to technical blogging and technical work, they stop giving unicorn talks, they move their commentary partially or entirely to locked networks rather than public spaces. They may or may not come back to public activity.

I myself have not been a target of sustained personalised harassment campaigns—and even saying that is indicative of the problem, that someone who has “merely” experienced one-off incidents, or harassment aimed at women geeks in general rather than her in particular doesn’t feel like she’s experienced the “real” problem—but I have seen the weapons that are being used against my friends.

I want to, here, acknowledge these people and the work that they did, are doing, and will do. As firecat wrote a long time ago now:

Let’s say that fighting sexism is like a chorus of people singing a continuous tone. If enough people sing, the tone will be continuous even though each of the singers will be stopping singing to take a breath every now and then. The way to change things is for more people to sing rather than for the same small group of people to try to sing louder and never breathe.

Harassment and bullying

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Warning: discussion of harassment and bullying. There is mention of self-harm and links to real-life bullying accounts at the end.

The substantive part of Corey’s comment which was not published on my “Why don’t you just hit him?” post was the following:

It’s like if you’re a parent of a bullying victim, and you find yourself repeating ignore it
So I’m supposed to treat women like they’re my children. Isn’t that extremely sexist and patronizing?

I didn’t reply to it initially because I think it’s a misreading: here’s the full paragraph of mine that Corey excerpted (emphasis as per the original post):

This is the kind of advice given by people who don’t actually want to help. Or perhaps don’t know how they can. It’s like if you’re a parent of a bullying victim, and you find yourself repeating “ignore it”, “fight back with fists” or whatever fairly useless advice you yourself were once on the receiving end of. It’s expressing at best helplessness, and at worst victim-blaming. It’s personalising a cultural problem.

I am, of course, saying that if one advises that women should or must hit back at harassers/attackers, then it resembles giving a bullying victim the same advice. Since the entire post is discussing why that advice is often bad advice, I’m fairly clearly not making the argument there that people should treat women as if those women are their children; I’m making the argument that they do, and they shouldn’t.

So much for that.

Except… that’s not quite right is it? Of course you should not treat unrelated adult women who complain of harassment at geek conferences like they are your children, because Corey and I would both tell you that’s sexist and patronising.

But the way we treat harassment victims and the way we treat child bullying victims have many parallels:

  • we tell harassment victims it’s the price of admission to the awesome community; we tell bullying victims that it’s character building, the price of admission to adulthood
  • we tell harassment victims they asked for it by wearing certain clothes or being a certain gender or not being a certain gender enough among many other things; we tell bullying victims that they’re so satisfying to tease, because of the way they react, that they are different from their bullies in some way and hiding that difference is the way to go
  • we tell harassment victims that he’s basically a nice guy and he’s just a bit inexperienced with women, or with alcohol, or with both, and that his social skills need gentle nurturing; we tell bullying victims that their bullies are actually fine kids with good qualities that we don’t want to crush by labelling and punishing them as bullies
  • we tell harassment victims that it’s a private matter that they could solve by ignoring it, or fighting back; we tell bullying victims that it’s… a private matter that they could solve by ignoring it, or fighting back

When they do report it, we also often leave them both with such failures that bullying victims and harassment victims both come to internalise the lesson that their persecution is a private matter, or at least that better keep it a private matter than tell anyone with power about it, because people with power will just back each other up.

(Should be obvious: I don’t support required reporting, or shaming people into reporting. I do support solving the problem when they do report.)

So harassment and bullying are the same class of problem, in fact they blur into each other very strongly: bullying of children and adults often includes harassment and assault (among the other forms of bullying, like sudden unexplained ostracism and you’re-our-friend-today-no-you’re-not yoyos and so on), an individual incident of harassment or assault might be the beginning of or part of a bullying relationship.

And neither can or should be solved by the victim, whether by ignoring, or by fighting back, or by changing themself into someone or something that the bully or harasser will approve of.

While, yes, adult harassment victims are not the same as child bullying victims, and they shouldn’t be treated exactly the same, here’s what I would argue: we should be treating them both a lot better. If you think that it would be extremely patronising if your chosen approaches to dealing with bullying in a child community resemble approaches to dealing with harassment in an adult community, then perhaps your understanding of the rights of children who are bullied isn’t bloody good enough.

It also really puzzles me, frankly, that geeks, who I think are a population that has disproportionate experience of being bullied at some point in their life, are so unwilling to recognise the dynamic and similar ones when it occurs in their culture.
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“Why don’t you just hit him?”

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

Warning: this post and links from it discuss both harassment and violence, imagined and real.

Valerie has had a lot of comments and private email in response to her conference anti-harassment policy suggesting that a great deal of the problem would be solved if women were encouraged to hit their harassers: usually people suggest an open handed slap, a knee to groin, or even tasers and mace (no suggestions for tear gas or rubber bullets yet). I sent her such a lengthy email about it that we agreed that I clearly at some level wanted to post about it. What can I do but obey my muse?

OK. Folks…

This is not one of those entries I am thrilled in my soul to have to write, but here’s why “hit him!” is not a solution for everyone and definitely does not replace the need for people with authority to take a stand against harassment.

And I know some people were joking. But not everyone was, you’ll need to trust me on this. Your “jeez, guys like that are lucky they don’t get a knee in the groin more often… hey wait, maybe you should just have a Knee In Groin Policy!” joke was appearing in inboxes right alongside material seriously saying that all of this policy nonsense wouldn’t be necessary if women were just brave and defended themselves properly, if they’d just for once get it right.

Here are some samples:

  • Duncan on LWN: What I kept thinking while reading the original article, especially about the physical assaults, is that it was too bad the victims in question weren’t carrying Mace, pepper-spray, etc, and wasn’t afraid to use it. A couple incidents of that and one would think the problem would disappear…
  • NAR on LWN: I’ve read the blog about the assault – it’s absolutely [appalling] and in my opinion the guy deserved a knee to his groin and some time behind bars. (NAR then goes on to note that women should also wear skirts below the knee; which is very much making it about the victim. Dress right! Fight back!)
  • A comment on Geek Feminism that was not published: …you also need to make it known to women that they need to immediately retaliate (preferably in the form of a slap loud enough for everyone in the vicinity to hear)… Women -must- stand up for themselves and report the guy, preferably after a loud humiliating slap immediately following the incident.
  • crusoe on reddit: You need to end right then and there. Its one thing to make blog posts, its another to call a jerk out for it on the conference floor, including stomping a toe, or poking them hard in the belly… Do not stew about it, do not run home and write a blog post about it. Just call them on it right then and there. (As long as crusoe doesn’t have to hear about it…)

First up, one key thing about this and many similar responses (“just ignore him”, “just spread the word”, “just yell at him”):

Harassment is not a private matter between harasser and victim, and it’s not the victim’s job to put a stop to it.

The harasser is responsible for their actions. The surrounding culture is responsible for condemning them and making it clear those actions and expressions of attitudes that underlie them are not acceptable. (See Rape Culture 101.) The victim may choose to go to the police, yell, hit, scream, confront, go to a counsellor, tell their mother, tell their father, tell their friends, warn people. They may choose not to. Whether they do or not, we are all responsible for making harassment unacceptable where we are. Harassment, and stopping it, is not the victim’s responsibility. (See But You Have to Report It!)

Am I against hitting a harasser in all situations? No. Am I advocating against it in all situations? No.

However, here’s a lengthy and incomplete list of reasons why victims may not be able or may choose not to hit a harasser and why it is definitely not a general solution for the problem of harassment. I even have a special buzzer on hand that will sound when the reasons are related to gender discrimination. Listen for it, it goes like this: BZZZT! Got it? BZZZT!
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