Everything In Between

If your project so much as pretends to have a profit motive, I will tell you to go fuck yourself and your project.

How would you design an online social network that was hostile to abusers?

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Everyone realizes that the Internet’s public squares have a harassment problem. No one seems to know what to do about it. I argue that’s because they don’t know how to think about online harassment and abuse—or even power, more generally. I argue that I do. But don’t take my word for it. Take my ideas, and implement them yourselves. Then let’s let the results speak for themselves.

“So, maymay,” I can already hear you asking, “how would you design an online social network that was hostile to abusers?” You’re probably asking this because you either don’t know that I’ve written about it before, or you haven’t been able to understand from what I’ve written how to take the lessons from code I’ve deployed in the Predator Alert Tool project and apply it to your own projects. That’s okay. You’re not alone.

Recently, I received an email from a developer asking for advice about this exact issue. They’ve told me they’d be fine with my sharing our conversation here, in the hopes that it gets other developers thinking about what they can do to proactively “protect people from abusers online,” as they put it. Here is our exchange (slightly edited for anonymity and clarity) so far. The email I received went something like this:

Hello! I’m building a new social network and want to be pro-active about protecting people. I wanted to reach out as I have little experience with protecting people from shitty people and abusers online, and the Predator Alert Tools is great. Is there any way I can help contribute to those projects, and/or utilise them somehow with [my project] to help protect people?

Any help you can give would be appreciated.

Thanks,

[Anon Developer]

I wrote back a few days later:

Thanks [for reaching out, Anon Developer].

Yes.

You can contribute to any of the PATs in any way you like. Here’s a short “how to help” page for the project. It talks mostly about Predator Alert Tool for Facebook but it’s relevant to all the tools.

Well, there are a number of themes that run through the entire suite of tools, and those are the only things I can talk about without knowing more about [your specific project]. So for now, let me just point your attention to these two blog posts about the tools.

First, “More on ‘The Match Percentage Fallacy’, or The Influence of Rolequeerness on the Predator Alert Tool project.” This post explicitly uses the language of game theory to talk about protecting people from online predation. An excerpt:

Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid highlights the signals players send when they answer OkCupid’s Match Questions to other players in order to de-silo as much information as possible, thereby hoping to expand the set of possible moves a given player (user of PAT-OKC) is aware of and enabling them to analyze the given situation (the decision tree of their “turn”) with the information they received through the tool. This is a fundamentally different approach than the one OkCupid’s “Match Percentage” interface provides, and this is no coincidence.

The “Match Percentage” interface is designed to account for “the best possible outcome” for OkCupid itself, not the best outcome for the OkCupid user. This makes sense when you realize that OkCupid is a company, and they have their own incentives and have defined the win conditions of this complex game very differently than their users (we) have.

In other words, the single most obvious problem with online “dating” sites (a category which include “social networking sites,” obviously) is that they are designed from the ground-up to focus on filtering data out as opposed to considering related data important. This is precisely the environment in which serial rapists are most protected. If you are serious about building a social networking site that is proactive about maintaining an environment hostile to these kinds of abuses, you need to focus on identifying and surfacing information about signals between users that are negative as well as positive. Again: rather than burying those signals, you need to surface them. Use OkCupid’s “Match Percentage” interface as a perfect example of what not to do.

If that’s curious to you and, again, if you’re interested in pursuing this line of questioning further, write back and tell me more about [your project], and yourself, and so on. Let’s have a conversation. Predator Alert Tool’s implementations are different depending on the site for which the specific tool was intended not only because the technology of different sites is different, as you know, but also because the culture of each website is different; users interact with the sites differently based on the messaging, context, and approaches different sites take. So Predator Alert Tool also needs to integrate with a culture, not just a programming language.

For more on that, see this early post by one of my collaborators, “Rape Culture, meet Internet Culture.” An excerpt:

Probably the most well-known recent pushback against rape culture is the Predditors story, in which some Reddit users discovered and published the identities of others who had been posting sexualized pictures of young women. The Predditors tumblr has since been shut down, but its contents are still available in a GoogleDoc here. Sexual abusers have also been outed via YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Blogs provide a public square for arguments about rape culture to rage. Twitter users directly critique the media. I’ve heard rumors of a Tumblr hashtag used by survivors to post the names and addresses of their rapists. The FetLife Alleged Abusers Database Engine (recently rolled into the Predator Alert Tools suite as the “Predator Alert Tool for FetLife”) collects anonymous reports of consent violations in the BDSM community and then flags the FetLife profiles of alleged abusers. And I recently helped beta-test a new tool, The Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid, which highlights self-reported sexually violent opinions and behaviors by OkCupid users.

I don’t think any of these tools, or even all of them together, will put the nail in the coffin of rape culture. Like other kinds of abuse, rape culture adapts to new environments quickly. Activists need to stay on our games in order to keep exposing new forms of it as they appear. We need to keep experimenting, trying new things, and being creative with whatever resources we have available. What I find most powerful about these tools is the ways each seems tailored to the specific culture from which it emerged. Predditors addresses rape culture on Reddit by retaliating against its perpetrators using technological savvy, counter-rhetoric about free speech and privacy, and a “troll the trolls” sort of strategy all suited to Reddit’s particular cultural sensibility. FAADE, on the other hand, capitalizes on a mentality strongly espoused by FetLife users that the BDSM community is like a “small town” in which everyone is connected to everyone else by kinship ties. BDSMers often rely on personal references and a player’s public reputation to assess their safety, thus a database allowing FetLife profiles (the site of a player’s public reputation online) to be tagged with negative references from community members has a powerful impact on the sub-cultural consciousness. What would a similar tool look like for Twitter or Facebook?

So again, the question you’re asking is bigger than an email. I’d be interested in having that bigger conversation with you, if you are serious about having it, too.

Thanks again for reaching out.

Cheers,
-maymay
Maymay.net
Cyberbusking.org

I was pleased by the developer’s response:

Thank you so much for all this information.

I often struggle to digest information like this; I’ll be re-reading these articles a few times to try to understand them more fully.

I would like to have the bigger conversation, but […] I need to watch out I don’t bite off more than I can chew. I regard this topic as highly important and a responsibility I now have.

The use of game theory resonates with me, as I’ve used ideas from my basic understanding of game theory as influence in the structure of [my project] (only very crudely). So if I can expand those ideas in a way which protects people, all the better.

Am I right in my understanding that one core idea is that negative information is intentionally hidden in most places, in order to benefit the company? So (and this is a contrived example) where [my project] might track how many messages a person receives as a positive, it should also track, process, and weight the negative events associated; messages which go unrelieved to, messages reported as abusive etc?

Thanks again,

[Anon Developer]

My response tried to elaborate on “negative” signaling:

Of course. That’s fine. Take your time.

It’s good that you consider this a responsibility you have, because you already had this responsibility, even before you were developing [your project]. ;)

You’re almost right about your understanding.

The bigger point being made here is that, from the perspective of users, [your project] is a hostile, not a friendly. You, as the company, are not a passive facilitator of information. You are in a decidedly dominant position over your users, and this means that you have the capacity to be predatory in relation to them, because when it comes to their interactions with or through [your project], you are obscenely more powerful than they are.

So, yes, you should also track, process, and weight negative events. But you should also not presume to necessarily know what events are negative and what events are positive. The minute you think you can determine what negative signaling is for someone else, you become much more likely to fail to empower that other person. It’s not up to you to determine what’s negative or what’s not. You can, of course, do some things to make this more obvious, and the “report abuse” feature is a start. But the problem with “abuse reports” is that those reports are sent to the entity in the [project] ecosystem that already has the most power: [the project/website/company itself]. That’s a recipe for disaster.

One simple way to tweak this system would be to simply display a tally of all the abuse reports a given profile has received next to their profile. Allow people to click-through on that icon to a list of all abuse reports filed against that profile. Don’t hide it. Don’t make excuses for it. Don’t arbitrate it. Don’t moderate it. In a centralized system such as I understand [your project] to be (I signed up for an account today and had a look around), a moderation system is far more likely to end up as a “benevolent” dictatorship rather than an effective means of anti-abuse behavior. You should not appoint yourself as the police.

For more on this point, see my blog post, “Revisiting why ‘no moderation’ is a feature, not a bug, in Predator Alert Tool for Facebook.” An excerpt:

“Moderation” is a governance tool that may make sense in the context of online communities with a relatively homogenous populace, such as multiplayer video games or topically-oriented forums. But moderation is inherently in conflict with the goal of dissolving authority and dispersing power amongst a heterogenous populace already prone to conflict. There is no system of moderation that is not also a system of social control. And in the context of a project explicitly designed to overcome the iniquities introduced to human experience by traditional mechanisms of social control, adding a traditional mechanism of social control is shortsighted at best and active sabotage at worst.

We realize this is difficult to understand at first. After all, there is currently no physical-world social context wherein we are free from the power of authorities we did not choose and also do not agree with. Everyone has a parent, a teacher, or a boss—even the fucking police. As one PAT collaborator wrote:

We’re all so accustomed to having our spaces monitored and moderated and overseen “for our own safety” that sometimes, when we take the well-being of our communities into our own hands, we appear to be doing more harm than good. That’s only because we’re comparing our efforts to the imaginary “safe” world we’ve been told that we live in, not to the dangerous realities that survivors actually face online and off.

Put another way, from the perspective of a vulnerable populace, namely people who are the targets of rape and physical abuse, a system that erodes the power of central authorities (such as website admins, or the cops) is a move towards safety, not away from it.

In other words, the premise of [your project] is to connect people with different characteristics who want to engage positively. This means you have to provide them with the information both to find people they like and to avoid people they don’t like. You can’t do this effectively if you only surface positive signals while hiding negative ones. And to effectively surface negative signals, you have to re-examine your assumptions about what “negative” means because, if you don’t, especially in the context of a diverse user base, you’re going to get it wrong for at least some users. When you get it wrong for them, you create an environment in which it is particularly easy to predate on that specific subsection of your user base.

That’s why most dating sites are a breeding ground for predatory users. Most dating sites are, after all, programmed by men.

Again, feel free to email me whenever you’re ready for another round. This is basically what I do for “a living.” :P I would strongly encourage you to read the posts tagged with “Predator Alert Tool” on the archives of my various blogs, of course.

My hope in sharing this is to encourage other people to think more critically and creatively about what structural changes are necessary to facilitate anti-abuse action. Recent attempts by Twitter and WAM have been decidedly stupid. And I don’t say that lightly. These are some exceptionally talented people in a number of fields ranging from gender advocacy to technology. And yet most acts I see being taken—”moderation superpowers” to use the most recent buzzword—is downright counterproductive. Obviously.

It’s time we stopped believing that authority or authorities in public spheres are a solution. The longer we wait to face the fact that power corrupts, the more abuse we’ll bring down on ourselves, our communities, and our peers. Heed this warning: do not police.

There’s a world of difference between “taking drugs” and “drugging people.” Best know which one you’re doing.

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unquietpirate:

ritavonbees:

unquietpirate:

maymay:

A comment of mine, cross-posted from Facebook, replying to a friend who shared a link to this HealthyPlace.com article about Bipolar Disorder:

So, as a person diagnosed first with unipolar depression, then a slew of “social anxiety” labels, and finally bipolar disorder, first at the age of 12 and then continually for the rest of my young adult life, and for whom the uncritical belief in the utility of these “treatments” had disastrous, near-suicidal consequences, the information presented here strikes me as an incredibly damaging taxonomical justification for the mortal sin many humans commit called “having feelings.” I don’t mean to imply here that the taxonomic framework is useless. Obviously, naming a thing that is hurting people can begin to offer pathways to recovering from the hurt a previously unidentifiable thing has caused. What I am suggesting, however, is that this information is presented in a way that is incomplete, irresponsible, and ultimately hurtful. It is an uncritically authoritative narrative about this particular mental illness that is dangerously misleading.

The fact of the matter is that Western medicine has no theory with a shred of consistent internal logic that even approaches an explanation for what the fuck bipolar disorder even is. You can see this immediately in their taxonomy of “types” of bipolar disorder, in which they describe “type I,” “type II,” “cyclothymia,” and then the magic catch-all “unspecified.” They also have prefix modifiers, such as “atypical,” which is just psychopharmocologists’ fancy way of saying “well it SEEMS like MAYBE it’s THIS type of bipolar disorder but it’s not really matching up with all our measurements and we have no idea why so we’ll just say it’s an ATYPICAL CASE of that thing.”

Look, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that if your categorization scheme includes a “miscellaneous” category, then it’s a pretty shitty categorization scheme. And if what your shitty categorization scheme is categorizing is OTHER HUMAN BEINGS, and then you are using that categorization scheme to justify forcibly drugging children (like me), then you are a piece of shit doctor and you should die in a fire for knowingly violating the Hippocratic oath you purport to care so much about.

Now, zooming out a little bit, the “theory” Western medicine proposes to “explain” these disorders—which, if you’ll notice, have gone from non-existent to UNBELIEVABLY FUCKING WIDESPREAD in the population at the same time as the boom of the pharmaceutical industry, what a coincidence—is that people diagnosed with these disorders have “chemical imbalances” in their brains. That is to say, they either “lack” or “have too much” of one kind of neurotransmitter or another. Neurotransmitters are the physical molecules used to jump-start electrical impulses in nerve cells and hop over the gaps between nerve cells called synapses. The theory goes that certain amounts of neurotransmitters (most commonly either serotonin or dopamine or both) are required for “happiness,” and thus if there is not enough of these chemicals swishing about in the pool of chemical jelly that is your brain, you are sad.

To resolve this “problem,” Big Pharma funded the development of a whole class of drugs they term SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, which is a fancy name for “stuff that clogs up your brain cells so that they can’t absorb serotonin and thus leaves more of the serotonin floating around in your brain bath.”

Here’s the problem with the whole SSRI drug racket: it doesn’t actually work. There is literally more scientific evidence to support the idea that PLACEBOS are more effective at treating mental illness than actual chemicals. And, likewise, those actual chemicals come with a HUGE range of really terrifying side effects. To take just one extreme example, have you ever walked into the sunlight and felt like everywhere the sun was touching your skin, your skin was BURNING? Because that’s what the tiny fine print “may cause sensitivity to light” was like for me, and no one told me that until after they started noticing me hopping from tree-covered shadow to tree-covered shadow and were like, “Dude, why is maymay avoiding the sun?”

Here’s a recent take-down of the “chemical imbalance” theory that I read the other day and think is really great, sourced from The New Yorker.

TL;DR: This is some seriously abusive bullshit, more often used to justify chemically controlling people who behave in ways undesirable to authority figures like parents and schools than it is used to help people. DO NOT. BELIEVE. THEIR LIES.

omgyes

I’m sorry that happened to you, and I fully agree with the whole bit about using pharma to sedate people whose behaviour is undesirable instead of trying to help people, but I’m pretty sure there is a difference between “mental health isn’t a virus and you can’t fix it with a pill, especially when applied non-consensually” and “antidepressants don’t do shit.”

You may as well suggest that nicotine or alcohol doesn’t really do anything Because Placebo Effect and Marketing. Yeah, we don’t understand the processes by which drugs affect our brains. They still clearly have an effect, and that effect should be judged on its own merits. I decided to try SSRIs because I tried MDMA and, despite years and years of cognitive-behavioural therapy-based incremental improvements, realised that I was still fucking terrified of humans when sober. Now, you can’t take MDMA on a daily basis without frying your brain, but I figured that meant serotonin manipulation might help me, so SSRIs it was. You know what? It does help. I don’t know whose idea it was to assume that “more serotonin helps” = “not enough serotonin was the problem in the first place”, that’s a fairly simple correlation v causation thing, but it still does help. I’ve made fucking leaps and bounds this year, because I’ve been able to work on my issues without the constant distortion and distraction of my fight-or-flight response kicking in at the slightest provocation. If it was legal to just take MDMA and do a few solid hours of therapy on it every month or two, I’m sure that would have had a similar effect. But we’re not toppling the legal system any time in the next couple years, so fuck it, I’m taking what I can get.

It’s completely understandable that having such awful experiences with pharma has given you a strong negative reaction to the entire concept. And yeah, bipolar diagnostics are pretty obviously fucked. But don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater – drugs aren’t the problem.

Lack of patient autonomy in the medical system is the problem. If you’ve read any of realsocialskills‘ stuff on ABA, you know people can be fucked over just as badly by non-chemical attempts to “fix them” without understanding them. Saying stuff like “antidepressants don’t do shit” is stealing focus from the real problem and incidentally potentially alienating exactly the people you’d need on your side if you wanted to pull apart the psychiatric system and put it back together in a way that’s a net positive to humanity.

“Now, you can’t take MDMA on a daily basis without frying your brain…”

FWIW, I actually have a friend who does take MDMA, at an extremely low dose, on pretty much a daily basis to manage his social anxiety and PTSD. His brain seems fine.

He’s also a psychiatric survivor who’s worked with radical community mental health care advocacy groups for years and studied pharmacology and neurobiology extensively. (And he’s a drug dealer, so he has more ready access re: self-medication than is available to most people.) TL;DR: “Don’t try this at home, kids.”

But my point is that drugs are tools. Prescription and “non-prescription” brain drugs alike have potentials both to help and to harm. But the people who are paid to “push” prescription psychiatric medication are, to my mind, significantly more malicious and less trustworthy than people who encourage the careful and conscientious use of other, arguably less harmful and side-effect-riddled substances to self-medicate. (Although, to be fair, those people often have an agenda too — especially if they’re the ones selling the drugs. So it’s always good to approach anything of this nature with caution and do a lot of research.)

Beyond that, I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said here. First and foremost, non-consensually manipulating other peoples’ brain chemistry is fucked up bullshit, no matter how you’re doing it or what substances you’re using. Anyway. I’m glad to hear you found something that works well for you. :)

I’m not sure I ever said “drugs are the problem”?

Most of you probably don’t know this about me, because Tumblr didn’t exist when I was 14 in 1996, when I started my first website, but the very first web site I ever made was about bipolar disorder. It was a blog before blogs were called blogs. It was about my diagnosis and my struggles in school, and it was the first web site about bipolar disorder to be made by a teen designed to be read by other teens on the whole Internet (which was much smaller back then).

I called this website “Ups and Downs: The Personal Story of a Bipolar Teen,” which later evolved to “Ups and Downs and Everything In Between” when I started using blogging software to blog instead of just putting reverse-chronologically ordered HTML pages up online, hence the name of my current blog, “Everything In Between”. The original site received a lot of attention, no small feat in the age before Google. Within a few years I had amassed several dozen thousands letters of correspondence and was so totally overwhelmed by the attention and my own life that I shut the whole thing down and retreated away from having a public personae on the Internet at all.

Then I re-emerged on the Internet as a public figure through a sex blog called “Maybe Maimed but Never Harmed” and the rest, as they say, is history. But I didn’t really provide this personal history just to invite you to take a stroll down memory lane with me. A lot of the writing and correspondence I had with readers of “Ups and Downs” was about medications. And some of it is still online.

Here’s a link to a personal archive I keep of that site. Peruse at your leisure. There’s a link titled “Email Pool” at the top which was something of an advice column that I didn’t maintain for long, mostly because I hate giving people advice. I just like telling them when they’re wrong about something. Click on “Medications” and you’ll find this “not really an email response, more like a short essay,” that past!me wrote in 2002:

Nobody likes medicine, but here’s the bottom line: in my opinion, if you are prescribed medication by your licensed psychiatrist you must take that medication because your life does, indeed, depend on it.

I was first prescribed medications for the treatment of bipolar disorder when I was at the tender age of twelve. Ever since then, I have hated my medication with a passion rivaling my personal beliefs and convictions. There was even a time, two years after I started taking the medicine, when I fell into a common place trap and stopped taking it because I felt like I didn’t need them; I felt “better.” Two weeks later I attempted suicide, spiraled into a pit of depression, and faced one of the darkest periods in my life. Looking back on the experience with 20/20 hindsight, I can see that I felt better because I was taking the medication.

My point in all this is that medications are a valuable tool for you to use to help make your life livable. Implicit in that belief is the assumption that you are taking the correct medicine for you, at the correct dosage. When I say “correct” I mean whatever makes you a functioning entity in your life. It took me a good full year to find the correct dosage of lithium that I am on now, and from the many people I have spoken with, my understanding is that one year is an awfully quick time. I was lucky. Patience is not just a virtue, it’s a necessity. But once you’ve found a working treatment, it’s helpful to understand these are variables in an equation designed to help you function in your life. If at any point things aren’t working, discuss altering your medications with your doctor.

Your treatment is just that — your’s, and you’ll find that it is both more effective and easier to handle emotionally if you’re the one behind the steering wheel.

This mirror’s what unquietpirate said, above, and I agree with her. And I agree with you, that it’s obvious pumping bodies full of chemicals does shit. What I’m trying to explain is that what it does is fuck shit up.

Maybe that’s something you want. Maybe those drugs are fucking shit up for you in a way that jostles you out of whatever destructive pattern you were in before long enough to grab onto a lifeline or fall into a different pit. Maybe you’re meaningfully consenting to something you know will fuck you up in some way. I’m not you. I don’t know.

But I’ll tell you what I do know:

  • I know that there is a world of difference between approaching medications the way you did, paraphrased as, “I tried MDMA once, so I figured I’d give legal SSRIs a shot” and the way I did, paraphrased as, “I hated school so they forcibly drugged me for most of my teenage life.”
  • I know that this approach alone accounts for a huge part of the differences in our experiences.
  • I know that SSRIs aren’t just legal but encouraged for children, despite the known risks and side effects, while MDMA, a drug that is in its purest form essentially the same drug concentrated so it actually has a marked (and temporary) effect is illegal to make, use, possess, sell, and so on, and only very recently are people even beginning to question why that might be.
  • I know that drug classifications are political bullshit because SSRIs are handed out like candy by teachers and doctors while MDMA is criminalized to the point of sending police on no-knock, unconstitutional raids in efforts to cage, shoot, and kill people, usually poor people and Black and Brown people, and especially poor Black people.
    image

So I take it very personally when you say that dissing antidepressants is like “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” There is no baby here and the bathwater is actually Drano. “Taking drugs” is one thing. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about drugging people.

By way of analogy, hammers can be used to kill people. I wouldn’t suggest someone who wants to put a nail into a wall not use a hammer. But I also wouldn’t suggest that someone who picks up a hammer to put a nail in the wall is doing the same thing or even using the same kind of object as someone who picks up a hammer to kill someone with. One’s a carpentry tool and the other is a weapon, even though they’re the same hammer.

Finally, I think it’s worth explicitly pointing to two points cognitivedefusion made in the piece I linked in the original post where they respond to a defense of antidepressants:

2) “In fact, since there is no theory to replace it as of yet, continuing to use and refine drug therapies is probably the best option.” – Why? Why is it best to continue refining therapies which are inferior to other working treatments? When you look at the long-term data, behavioral treatments surpass medicinal treatments. This has been verified in anxiety, depression, even ADHD, which many people assume requires pharmacotherapy.

3) Interestingly much of the dysfunction associated with psychosis stems from the persistent attempts to reduce said symptoms. This finding is transdiagnostic, in that all distress from mental illness stems at least partly from attempts to avoid or escape. Teaching functionality at an earlier place in time (i.e., during prodromal phase) yields better outcomes than trying to reduce symptomatology. And interestingly, antipsychotics are not found to be too effective either. They reduce some positive symptoms (sometimes), but do nothing for negative symptoms, and will bring on some of their own symptoms as well. It’s really not a particularly sound treatment when looking at the data.

So that being said, I don’t think our opinions are actually that different. But I’m not going to entertain the idea that antidepressants are in any way a reasonable, safe, or even preferable first, second, or third resort for people suffering with bipolar disorder. If someone can acquire and use it safely, and if they have the appropriate social support structures to self-medicate with it (a thing that most people who are seeing doctors are actually trying to seek but have to pay for Because Capitalism Destroys Relationships) I would suggest illegal MDMA before I would suggest seeing a clinical psychopharmacologist.

That is, unless someone is in a situation so dire that they are already trapped inside of the medical industrial complex for one reason or another, like I was because I was not an emancipated child and I was going to school, so I had no legal power of my own. Similarly, I would never suggest someone seek the “help” of a lawyer unless they were in such dire straights that they were already ensnared by the legal system. Eschewing antidepressants and prescriptions for such versus mindfully self-medicating just seem like such vastly different spheres of concern to me that the distinctions between them seemed obvious.

I hope this makes my position more clear.

“To Fix School, Make It Consensual,” which is to say, abolish school

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Long commentary on this news item is long, but worthwhile.

privileged-person:

socialjusticevegan:

gincoffee:

socialjusticevegan:

I’m really happy to see people talking about the inherent abusiveness of compulsory schooling, even if they don’t quite take the step of pointing out that forcing someone to do something without their consent is abuse. When it gets to the part about how parents should approach their children, however, you can still see that they’re prioritizing adults over children:

A self-directed parent who wants her kid to take violin lessons doesn’t just sign him up for lessons. She explains her reasoning to him: “I want you to appreciate music,” for example. She suggests other activities that could provide the same benefits, such as guitar lessons, digital composing, or attending the symphony. She sets clear expectations for any classes or tutoring: “I want you to give your best effort to three lessons.”

I mean, yeah, they say to not force the kid to do what you want, but they still assume that what the adult wants is something that should be centered in the child’s life. Why are you trying to decide what your child’s hobbies and interests should be? Instead of starting from a place of what you want to happen, you should start from a place of discovering what your child is interested in. It’s fine if you start with what’s of interest to you, but the idea that you decide that your child ought to appreciate something specific and have that as a goal that you are trying to lead them toward, however “nicely”, is manipulative. Better approach:

“There’s a symphony in town performing music I really love and appreciate, would you like to go see it with me?”

“When I was young I learned to play the violin and really loved it (or really wish I had learned). Do you think you’d be interested in learning to play the violin or any other instrument?”

It might seem similar, but it’s actually very different than saying “I want you to learn the violin because I have decided that you should appreciate music. If you don’t want to learn the violin, which will disappoint me, I will begrudgingly allow you to learn another instrument or go to the symphony instead. Which option do you choose for learning to appreciate this thing that I have decided you should appreciate?” Obviously, I’m exaggerating, but this is the kind of thing that comes through when you approach a child with the thought, “I want you to do X, how do I get you to do it?”

And that completely arbitrary, ”I want you to give your best effort to three lessons”? Ew. If they want to give up after one lesson (or no lessons), then that’s up to them. Instead, talk to them about why they want to quit. Maybe they simply decided it wasn’t for them, but maybe the instructor or class was a bad fit, or maybe they were just discouraged by the difficulty and you can talk to them about how to approach difficult tasks and see if maybe they want some help in giving it another shot. But any of that could happen after 1, 3, or 30 lessons, and you should be willing to have those conversations with them regardless, and then trust them to make the decision about how many lessons they need to know if it’s something they want to continue or not.

Your children are not obligated to appreciate or be interested in the same things your are. You should be centering their wants and interests, or helping them to discover what their interests are without centering your own wants. Approaching them with the idea of “I want them to do this thing, how do I convince/persuade/cajole/trick/push/manipulate them into doing it?” is not prioritizing consent.

gincoffee:

bolded for emphasis.

although lets remember a lot of families can’t afford to pay for lessons (maybe the parent themselves can’t actually play an instrument, for example, but its what the child would like to do) although barter of goods and services may be an option in this case, but again we are assuming that the parents have access to transportation and people who know what the child may want to learn.

also a lot of parents send their kids to school so they can:

get a hot meal (breakfast and lunch) that’s free

and have a place for the child to go while the parent goes to work.

obviously as the child gets older then maybe they can do more self directed learning.

I’m not saying this isn’t something that need to be fixed in society. but for now it’s an only choice for a lot of families.

I’m just throwing out some things I thought of while reading this. I probably missed something. I’m also thinking of personal experience. I’m not trying to discount these ideas at all.

socialjusticevegan:

You’re absolutely right, I was just trying to focus on the particular attitude behind the given example and how it isn’t really taking consent into account despite the focus of the article being about consent. In reality, though, everything is much more complicated. I think maymay covers some really important points about this in their reply here. Excerpt:

[W]hen parents force their children to go to school they are acting abusively AND in the best interests of their children, because the parents are under massively coercive forms of violence from places like the State (they will be judged “negligent” parents if they do not force their children to go to school), the economy (they are forced to have jobs and thus not spend their time raising and helping their children educate themselves, as well being restricted from forming relationships with other adults who are not parents who may be able to help in a “it takes a village” model, see “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: A Radical Parenting Allies Handbook” for more on this), and the abusive social norms of what parenting really means (such as the idea that children “belong to,” i.e., are the human property of, their parents, see John Bell’s “Understanding Adultism” for a primer on this).

Obviously I am not suggesting that parents should NOT cede to the threats placed on them if it is not actually safe for them to resist. And we are in a very dire situation right now where it is in fact not safe for many parents to resist acting abusively towards their children because of these external and internalized threats and fears. But that does not in fact mean that these parents are not acting abusively.

To take this to its hard radical conclusion, what this means is that if you choose to have children in the context of current society, you are virtually guaranteeing that you will have to abuse someone with less power than you at some point. This is no different from the claim that if you believe there is such a thing as wholly ethical and uncomplicated consumption under late capitalism, you are deluding yourself. And it is also the same logic that I use when I say that if you choose to have sex in the context of rape culture, you have to take it as a given that you will probably violate someone’s consent at some point.

All of these are issues we have to learn to address in ways other than abject denial. That is what Consent as a Felt Sense is all about. That is what the work to “break the abusive/consensual binary” is all about; dissolving the abuser/abuse victim binary is the only way to effectively end the cycle of abuse.

privileged-person:

Also, @ socialjusticevegan’s first response, “having a conversation with your child” is not something you can do on command. Forcing your child to interact/communicate with you is abusive.

Yes, all of this.

I have only a couple things to add, nothing to refute.

Here they are.

First, when socialjusticevegan describes it as “an exaggeration” when parents do things that translate to, “Which option do you choose for learning to appreciate this thing that I have decided you should appreciate?” the exaggeration is more about the overtness of the ultimatum, not the fact that there is an ultimatum. The less trivial a given task or action is perceived by the parent (or any other authority, really, like teachers), the more likely it is that their ultimatums will be presented more overtly.

As an example of this, see this excerpt from Alessandra Orofino’s speech, “It’s our city! Let’s fix it!”

So far, most city governments have been effective at using tech to turn citizens into human sensors who serve authorities with data on the city: potholes, fallen trees or broken lamps. They have also, to a lesser extent, invited people to participate in improving the outcome of decisions that were already made for them, just like my mom when I was eight and she told me that I had a choice: I had to be in bed by 8 p.m., but I could choose my pink pajamas or my blue pajamas. That’s not participation[.]

(Emphasis added.)

Second, when gincoffee describes the predicament that many parents are in, they are not exaggerating when they suggest that for many families, economic conditions are so bad that their decision boils down to, “If I don’t send my children to school, I can not ensure that they will have at least one minimally nutritious meal a day.” But like so many other things in capitalism, this is not really a choice, it is a threat.

Wage slavery or stavation? *scratches head* That's not a choice, it's a threat!

Beyond that, if you actually examine the contents of school meals, you will find that the food safety and nutrition standards of school lunches are far worse than the standards of fast food companies. The takeaway from this is not that we should “privatize school lunches because corporations do it better.” The takeaway is that food itself is a weapon of class antagonism; the classic bumper sticker, “It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber,” isn’t only relevant to money, it’s also relevant to food.

Finally, gincoffee‘s also correct to point out that another reason compulsory schooling survives is because society needs to “have a place for the child to go while the parent goes to work,” but I would rephrase this to focus on the cause of this problem, which is that “parents are forced to abandon their children in order to labor for other people’s profit.”

The fact of the matter is that there is a direct line between the abuses of schooling and the abuses of employment. I’m not merely speaking here of the abuse individual children endure at the hands of school faculty (trigger warning for graphic video of electrocution torture of a youth in school), nor am I speaking solely of the specific abuse perpetrated against a worker by their boss. I am speaking also and intentionally about the fact that schooling as well as employment are both abuses, themselves. Moreover, they are the same abuse mutated in different forms and applied at different ages of our lives.

The direct line between these two abuses should be obvious to anyone who has ever gone to school or felt the need to get a job in order to survive: you go to a good school to get a good job so that you can labor for other people upwards of 40 hours a week in exchange for paltry sums of currency tokens (that don’t grow on trees, after all) that you are then forced to trade for things that you need to survive, like food, which literally grows on trees.

And that says nothing of compulsory education’s designs dating farther back than the formation of The Education Trust in the early 20th Century, whose intentionally classist objectives was described in a polemical fashion I find delightful in Chapter 2 of John Taylor Gatto’s book, “The Underground History of American Education,” titled “An Angry Look at Modern Schooling.” An excerpt:

School was looked upon from the first decade of the twentieth century as a branch of industry and a tool of governance. For a considerable time, probably provoked by a climate of official anger and contempt directed against immigrants in the greatest displacement of people in history, social managers of schooling were remarkably candid about what they were doing. In a speech he gave before businessmen prior to the First World War, Woodrow Wilson made this unabashed disclosure:

We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.

[…]

With the breakdown of home and village industries, the passing of chores, and the extinction of the apprenticeship system by large-scale production with its extreme division of labor (and the “all conquering march of machinery”), an [“]army of workers has arisen,[“] said [Ellwood Patterson] Cubberley [one of the most influential theorists of compulsory education administration], [“]who know nothing.[“]

(Emphasis added.)

And this, of course, is the entire design of both school and jobs. Jobs are school for adults, devoid of education, disdainful of learning, and retributive of exploration. And so is school. That was always the point.

Well, that was part of school’s purpose. Another purpose of school is genocide. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

Dear friends, please help. I am asking you for help.

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Yesterday I posted Professor Kevin Westhues’ “Checklist of Mobbing Indicators,” and, as if by clockwork today I was mobbed on Twitter in a thread that matched 13 of the 16 indicators, point for point.

I’ve been the target of what Westhues describes as mobbing, which is evidently a sociological term that sometimes also goes by various other terms in other contexts like “bullying,” “group think,” “epistemic violence,” “gaslighting” and so on, for going on 3 years, now. As others & I have stated time & again, these mobbers’ unwillingness to examine history, and to re-write history so it begins at whatever most recent retaliation or refutation I make, is a constant theme. I’ve been discussing this on-and-off for as long as it’s been happening, but mostly in a detached, academic way. Others, notably unquietpirate​, have written much more deeply personal accounts of the impact this has had on them, as well as on me.

Reading Westhues’ descriptions of the traumatic effects mobbing behaviors have on targets resounds very deeply and very painfully. But it is also an enormous relief. Finally, I can name this specific abuse I’m enduring with terms endowed with the magic cultural legitimacy of the academe, and even though I think academics are classist hogwash, I’m hopeful using the sociological term and framework may convince more people to step outside their “not my problem” bubble and pro-actively support me against this rather than remain uninvolved bystanders.

So, I am asking you for help.

  1. Please read about mobbing. I’ve just begun to do this, too. Maybe we can help educate each other. I’m currently going over the “Virtual Mobbing” article. It’s long and dense but obviously specifically relevant to my “workplace,” the Internet.
  2. Help me find answers to “What to do about it”, which is a topic I’ve found mentioned but only briefly at the end of, “At the Mercy of the Mob.” If there are no solutions provided by the texts, help me imagine possible countermeasures and think through potential solutions, mitigations, harm reduction tactics, and so on.
  3. Send me notes of encouragement, tell me what you like about my work, about me, speak kindly to me, and perhaps even more importantly, speak kindly about me and do so in public. Here’s a simple example of how to do this.

I want to highlight number 3, in the list above, because this is one the things that people still don’t seem to understand about the Internet. One of the unique characteristics about “Virtual Mobbing” is that the Internet enables a kind of plausibly deniable stage whisper. This kind of talking about someone but not necessarily to them is one of the most pernicious and common tactics of cyberbullies and virtual mobbers, because of the scale, speed, and confusion at which the Internet amplifies fearmongering.

The fact of the matter is, I can hear anything and I do in fact hear everything that is said about me (or my work) on the Internet, if it’s said in a public venue. A Twitter conversation from an unlocked account is not private. A public Tumblr post is not private. If people are talking about me, I know about it, usually within a few days.

Most of the time, when people speak ill of me to others, they are doing so under the false belief that these other people who don’t know or even care who I am are “lauding” me, and this makes the mobbers feel “uncomfortable” because they, personally, believe that I am only worth contempt and must be punished for my many mortal sins. A perfect example of this from just the other day is @cythesomething here on Tumblr.

I responded on Twitter:

As I’ve said numerous times before, turning discussions of survivor support tools and other such anti-abuse technology that I work on into a discussion about me, personally, is harmful to survivors—it is most harmful to one survivor in particular (guess which one), but it is also harmful to all other survivors. Taking actions motivated by the impulse to get helpful information to survivors is one thing. Taking actions motivated by your discomfort at seeing the work of someone you dislike welcomed by others who say that work is valuable to them is quite another.

It is no coincidence that this mobbing behavior intensifies at the very same time as the Predator Alert Tool is signal boosted. This has always been the pattern, from the very beginning. Had it happened only once, I might have called it a misunderstanding. Had it happened twice, maybe I could have dismissed it as a mistake. That it has happened more than three times makes clear, these are intentional mob assaults.

This got long, but I hope you’ve taken the time to read it anyway. For now, if you don’t have it in you to slog through academic material (it’s time consuming and exhausting, I know), then consider simply reblogging this. Maybe add a nice thing about me or, even better, the work I’ve been doing lately. Then, some time from now, please don’t forget that this is still happening, like a slow-motion bashing, and remember that this is the context of what’s happening when you see me bashing back.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this mob’s hatred for more than 3 years. I don’t expect it will stop anytime in the next 3 months just because I asked for help. In fact, it’s likely going to get worse. (See Westhues’ checklist, item number 15, “Outraged response to any appeals for outside help the target may make.”)

So, if all you can do is send me a nice ask once in a while, I will really appreciate you for that, too. Thanks.

A case study in cyberbullying using Tumblr’s broken “Report Abuse” feature

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Earlier this week, I wrote “Tumblr is not a safe place for me,” in which I make the claim that the “report abuse” feature on corporate-controlled social networks fundamentally empowers cyberbullies, not their targets. (Here’s an archived copy in case it gets taken down.) Predictably, I just received a vaguely threatening email from Tumblr Support warning me of unspecified action against one of my posts. To demonstrate how this type of abuse of these “report abuse” systems work, and showcase yet again why that feature is so fundamentally broken right now, I’m going to be liveblogging my interactions with Tumblr Support across three different blogs: maymay.net, days.maybemaimed.com, and maybemaimed.wordpress.com (a backup auto-crossposting blog).

So without further ado, their email to me:

From: Tumblr Support <abuse@tumblr.com>
To: maymay <bitetheappleback@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2014 20:40:54 +0000

##- Please type your reply above this line -##

Hello,

We are writing regarding your post located here: http://days.maybemaimed.com/post/101074626300/on-rolequeerness-sharpening-the-blade

As there are a few privacy concerns regarding this post, we are requesting that you remove the full name and link to their LinkedIn profile from the text within 24 hours. If you do not remove the information, we may take action against your entire post.

If you have any questions or concerns, please let us know.

Thank you,

Tumblr Trust & Safety
abuse@tumblr.com

This email is a service from Tumblr Support.
(#GLOAP3DKZB4J8CMQRSCM)

And my reply:

To: Tumblr Support <abuse@tumblr.com>
From: maymay <bitetheappleback@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2014 17:23:19 -0500

Hello,

I understand that you are concerned about my post located here: http://days.maybemaimed.com/post/101074626300/on-rolequeerness-sharpening-the-blade and also available here http://freze.it/onrolequeernesssharpeningtheblade and https://archive.today/HsMBK and http://pages.citebite.com/m3c8j6p6e3xwb at the moment.

I do have a few questions and some concerns. Please address them promptly so that we may move towards resolution of this issue within the 24 hour deadline you imposed on us. Here is a list of my questions:

1. What “action against [my] entire post” are you implying you will take, specifically?
2. What action, if any, are you willing and able to take against Sara D. Luterman’s own post that, I understand, also violate Tumblr content guidelines by comparing me to a pedophile, located here: http://beyondthevalleyofthefemdoms.tumblr.com/post/100914743747/on-rolequeerness and also available here http://freze.it/saradlutermanonrolequeerness and http://pages.citebite.com/k3a8l6n6v1qui and https://archive.today/2Xerq?

Also, not that I have much trust in your concern for safety, dear “Tumblr Trust and Safety” admins, I will nevertheless remind you of the context of these posts, which you can read at http://maybemaimed.com/2014/10/27/rolequeer-thoughts-a-reply-to-princess-poopheads-concerns-about-current-public-conflicts/ and which I’ve excerpted here:

This conflict largely began when, again, to repeat unquietpirate’s words[0] in case you missed them:

On this episode, Crosswords compares Maymay to pedophiles and racists for having the temerity to say mean things on the Internet about people who violated their consent — and to yell at those peoples’ friends and supporters when they try to shoehorn their way into our conversations about consent and identity so they can tell us how wrong we are and then play “trendy rolequeer dress-up” back at the BDSM club.

Crosswords, meanwhile, decided it was a good idea to start a discussion group in which to dissect, discuss, and debate the ideas in work such as Consent as a Felt Sense,[1] which had come directly out of months and months of Maymay and I helping each other process trauma and grief related to past abusive relationships and having our consent violated by people and in communities that told us we weren’t being abused. Crosswords made it very clear that Maymay was not welcome to participate in this academic discussion of their own rape (‘cause, y’know, they’re too angry about it), but DID very publicly invite Maymay’s former Dominant partner to join in the fun!

So again, the point here is not to say that I do not behave viciously to some people. I do. The point is that I behave viciously to some people—and it is your responsibility as readers, not mine as the writer, to do your own work putting my actions in whatever context you wish to draw meaning from them.

I don’t have any objections to being called vicious, or an abuser, or disagreed with. I have an objection to seeing Crosswords and others who have been victim blaming me for my own rapes for years using the work that has come directly out of my own painful, personal healing work with UnquietPirate for ill-informed reformist wedge politics and for armoring their own reputation[2] while at the same time comparing me to pedophiles as they do it.

So, Tumblr Trust and Safety, my third question:

3. Given this context, how would you propose I handle the continued and years-long use of your publishing platform by Sara D. Luterman to discuss me and my personal traumatic experiences as though I am an abusive pedophile?

If you have functions beyond merely “Ignore” (which does not actually help protect people who care about me, as described here)[3] or your own “Report Abuse” feature, which only seems to be effectively used by bullies themselves, I would like to know about them.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of my questions and concerns.

Sincerely,
-maymay

EXTERNAL REFERENCES:

[0] http://unquietpirate.tumblr.com/post/100967967978/on-rolequeerness
[1] http://bandanablog.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/you-can-take-it-back-consent-as-a-felt-sense/
[2] http://days.maybemaimed.com/post/101072050885/on-rolequeerness-blunting-the-tip
[3] http://unquietpirate.tumblr.com/post/59321895608/community-fuck-the-community-this-isnt-for-them

My third question is the really important one, of course. The problem with current “Report Abuse” systems and the whole reason they ultimately benefit cyberbullies is that current “Report Abuse” systems are an appeal to authority, and authorities are often the most egregious bullies and abusers. Here’s how the introduction to the Predator Alert Tool for Twitter describes the problem:

Despite many “anti-bullying” campaigns, online harassment and cyberbullying are prevalent behaviors. Most anti-abuse efforts fail because they tend to focus on appeals to authority. The now-ubiquitous “Report Abuse” buttons on social networking websites like Twitter are one such example, yet their ubiquity have not curbed the behaviors or harm they purport to address or mitigate.

We believe these efforts have failed because cyberbullying and online harassment are cultural, not technological, problems inherited from a society where coercion and abusive behavior offline are normalized. Abusive behavior is no more successfully mitigated in the physical world through appeals to authority than it is likely to be mitigated in the online world through the same sorts of appeals. This is doubly true in an environment where the biggest “bullies” are the authorities themselves[.]

What to do in the face of deliberate provocation is a very tricky one; expert abusers know that in order to continue bullying others with impunity, they need to create provocations that authority figures will not interpret as provocations, and they are very skilled at doing this. The single most powerful tool in their toolbox is the erasure of context; they rewrite history to ensure the authorities to whom they eventually appeal treat the moment the target retaliated as the start of the story.

Anyway, I will either publish this post anew or edit it with updates as the conversation progresses. Watch this space. :)

Quick Hit Remix: 3 Reasons Why Rape Fans from Both Sides of the Fence Hate “Consent as a Felt Sense”

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Both feminists and anti-feminists routinely make 3 arguments against changing cultural understandings of consent towards a “Consent-as-Felt” and away from a “Consent-as-Permission” model.

The first is that understanding consent as “being okay with an experience one is having or has had” rather than as “expressing permission to do a thing” is incompatible with the legal system. We consider this a feature, not a bug. Obviously, the legal system is also incompatible with providing peace of mind for its citizens and justice for the alleged perpetrators.

The second is that consent-as-felt “attacks personal responsibility” (in anti-feminist jargon) or “removes individual agency” (in feminist jargon). This logic asserts experiencing sex that one later “regrets” is categorically different and mutually exclusive from (“real”) rape because (“real”) rape is always identifiable as such at the moment bodies collide—and anyways, nevermind that intimate violation, not regret, is rape’s defining element. And even if we were to cede the ridiculous point that rape survivors “should take personal responsibility and not put themselves in a situation to get raped,” this still means the people who raped them are rapists. In other words, they are arguing that your regret is a false accusation.

The third is that accepting consent as a felt sense would “trivialize” the instances of rape currently recognized as rape because we would be forced to accept that things we don’t today consider (“legitimate”) rape are, in fact, also rape. Put another way, they argue we should not want to call all rapists rapists because our priority must be auditing and ranking rape survivors’ experiences. In this logic, not all rape is, y’know, RAPE, so they have euphemistic modifiers like “date,” “gray,” and “marital,” which all convey the meaning: “only sorta.” But it is certainly not “trivializing” rape to say that rapists are rapists any more than it trivializes photography to say that photographers are photographers. Endlessly debating these semantics while ignoring how many rapes, how much trauma, is being experienced right now, today, that we are not even willing to name is pedantic at best, and cruel at worst.

All three of these arguments anti- and pro-feminists are making against our Consent as a Felt Sense essay assist in the perpetuation of an environment so universally coercive that the rapes we can recognize as such are but a mere fraction of the trauma experienced. What the reaction to Consent as a Felt Sense shows most of all is that folks from “both sides” of the issue want discussion about consent to stay firmly rooted in lawyerly debating which rapes are “rape” and which are not.

We don’t think that’s helpful.

A more succinct remix of my longer essay, “3 Reasons Why Rape Fans From Both Sides of the Fence Hate ‘Consent as a Felt Sense.’”

See also:

Written by Meitar

October 1st, 2014 at 2:53 pm

“How I Explained Heartbleed To My Therapist”

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This is an important post by Meredith L. Patterson:

“Remember back around April or May, when you had to change your passwords on all the websites you use? Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn, everywhere?” He nods, vigorously. “Do you remember hearing the word ‘Heartbleed’ back around then?” A blank look. Maybe I should have worn the T-shirt. Too late. I have to press on.

“That part’s not important. It doesn’t matter what the problem was called. What matters is, there’s one piece of software that nearly all those websites use to make sure that all the messages that go between your browser and their site are private. And nobody pays for it.”

“Nobody at all?”

“Nobody. The people who write it have been working on it for like fifteen years now, and they’re basically all working for free, the same way I’m doing on the work I’d rather be doing, even though Google and Facebook and practically every company with a website relies on that software these guys make. ‘Relies’ as in without this software, all their business evaporates.” I leave out the part where half of “these guys” are my dead husband’s friends and they’re not all guys; there will be time to talk about that at a later appointment. “And back around New Year’s in 2011, one of those guys made a little mistake with a really big consequence. The upshot of it was that any jerkoff could just ask whatever websites they wanted for whatever private information they had on hand at the time — your passwords, your calendar, whatever.

“And nobody in a position to fix it noticed until April of this year. Which is why you and everybody else had to change all your passwords. And in the meantime, who knows how many credit card numbers and god knows what else got snatched.” My e-cigarette is nearly empty but I fidget with it anyway, calculating on the back of the envelope in my head whether I can dredge just one more hit of nicotine without burning the coil to an ashy, taste-ruining wreck. Everything has become a cost-benefit analysis on the edge of a razor in this New New Economy that has become my life: how far can I stretch the resources I have before physics or information theory dictate they snap? “And even after a disaster like this, these poor fuckers are still running on handfuls of donations. They’re still overstretched and understaffed. It’s a tragedy of the commons problem.”

That’s a catchphrase you hear sometimes in sociology, a cousin dialect to the language of psychoanalysis he speaks. He leans forward. “In what way?” he asks. I hope it means I’ve given him firmer footing than all this computery shit he doesn’t speak.

“These bugs that happen, these mistakes in software that lead to vulnerabilities, they aren’t one-off problems. They’re systemic. There are patterns to them and patterns to how people take advantage of them. But it isn’t in any one particular company’s interest to dump a pile of their own resources into fixing even one of the problems, much less dump a pile of resources into an engineering effort to fight the pattern. Google could easily throw a pile of engineers at fixing OpenSSL, but it’d never be in their interest to do it, because they’d be handing Facebook and LinkedIn and Amazon a pile of free money in unspent remediation costs. They’ve got even less incentive to fix entire classes of vulnerabilities across the board. Same goes for everybody else in the game.

See also, “Your Consent Is Not Being Violated By Accident” and “Predator Alert Tool as a Game Theoretic Simulation of Countermeasures to Rape Culture,” two posts further describing the intentional abuse by the Silicon Valley for-profits against individuals and organizations who explicitly declare a “people over profit” motive. Also relevant is this short post about the so-called “sharing economy,” bluntly titled, “Get on your knees and thank the Silicon Valley elites for your chance to serve them.

The Internet as an Identity-Multiplying Technology

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When I saw that a friend had shared this years-old post about Facecebook founder Mark Zuckerberg‘s infamous remark that “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity,” I thought I’d chime in:

Actually, Zuckerberg’s is a common misunderstanding of telecommunications.

If you’ve done even a tiny bit of academic study on media you will have encountered McLuhan’s “The Medium Is the Massage,” which talks about the ways that many people “approach the new with the psychological conditioning and sensory responses of the old.” In other words, people treat the Internet like TV we can click on, just as they treated TV like radio we can see. This is obviously wrong, but it takes a lot of time for people as a demographic whole to approach new technological abilities in what we might call a “native” way. See, for instance, the entire discussion around “Digital natives,” of which I will note Zuckerberg is not.

What’s at issue in the “nymwars” (or “Real Names Policies”) is not integrity at all, but rather power and control. Namely, that of an authoritarian entity such as a government to have the power to legitimize what your identity is (your “real name”), and to control what you can do with that identity. Facebook has a cozy relationship with governments because the interests of both governments and Facebook are well-aligned with respect to how they would like people to use identities. This is why Facebook appeals to the legal system to enforce its “Real Names” policy, see specifically the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act clauses about “misrepresenting identity” for “authorized” versus “unauthorized access.”

In point of fact, however, identities are not inherently static things—there is no “real” you distinct from any other you, at least not any more or less “real” than any other (“part of”) you. They can and do change with time, space, and other factors. The physical capability of communicating to people far away from us therefore has a direct impact on the identities we hold, and subsequently, choose to claim, because that is a fundamentally different thing than speaking to someone who is next to you. This began with the invention of writing, not the telegraph. The telegraph simply sped up the process.

What Zuckerberg and many other people don’t understand is that the impact telecommunication actually has on identities is a fracturing and multiplying of identities. They are still stuck cognitively processing the Internet as a “window” through which you can “look at things” like “pages.” (Why do you think they called it a “Browser window”?) But what the Internet actually is, with respect to who we are (as opposed to we do) is very different. The Internet is much more like a ham radio than a telephone. Just as ham radio operators took callsigns when transmitting, so do we take “screen names” when writing online forum posts.

What this means in the Internet, a world with unlimited space distinctly unlike ham radio, is that an individual body can be influential in an unlimited number of arenas that may never intersect. And, given that, it means an individual body can have an unlimited number of distinct identities, each one time-and-space-sliced. There is a real, whole “identity” in each of these time-and-space slices of influence.

The Internet is therefore unique in that exactly contrary to Zuckerberg’s self-serving assertions, the Internet is an identity multiplexing technology. It is not, never has been, and I strongly argue must never be allowed to be an identity trunking technology.

End rant.

The interaction between telecommunication and identity, as well as this interaction’s effect on societal notions of safety and privacy, has been one of my primary philosophical inquiries. For more, see also:

Written by Meitar

September 19th, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Your Consent Is Not Being Violated By Accident

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unquietpirate:

When you start looking for examples of nonconsensual culture in technology, you find them absolutely everywhere.

- Deb Chachra, Age of Non-Consent

About a month ago, someone sent me this lovely rant and asked me to publish it anonymously. I’ve been sitting on it mostly because I got wrapped up in other things. But I was reminded of it tonight when I read Deb Chachra’s “Age of Non-Consent” and Betsy Haibel’s “The Fantasy and Abuse of the Manipulable User”.

Both of the above pieces draw links between rape culture and issues of consent in software design. I recommend them both, particularly the Haibel piece, for incisive and disturbing analysis of the details of how the Stacks intentionally build software to violate their users’ consent — and what a major problem this is given technology’s influence on culture as a whole.

This coercion is picked up on and amplified by the platforms themselves – when someone I know tried to delete his Facebook account, it tried to guilt him out of it by showing him a picture of his mother and asking him if he really wanted to make it harder to stay in touch with her.

I’ve been in meetings where co-workers have described operant conditioning techniques to the higher-ups, in those words – talking about Skinner boxes and rat pellets and everything. I’ve been in meetings where those higher-ups metaphorically drooled like Pavlov’s dogs. The heart of abuse is a fantasy of power and control – and what fantasy is more compelling to a certain kind of business mind than that of a placidly manipulable customer?

- Betsy Haibel, The Fantasy and Abuse of the Manipulable User

However, where these otherwise terrific articles don’t go far enough is in explicitly acknowledging that the people who are most responsible for perpetuating rape culture and the people writing consent-violating software are the same people. It’s no coincidence that Facebook doesn’t care about your consent, because most of the people who work at Facebook wouldn’t think twice about getting you drunk and “taking advantage” of you at a party, or of defending a friend who did.

So, while both of the above authors optimistically implore high-level developers and other elite tech workers to adopt an ethic of “enthusiastic consent” when it comes to software design — as if the majority of workers in that sphere understand what that is or would even care if they did — my angry and extremely on-point friend below has another solution:

There has been much gnashing of teeth recently about how blatantly people’s privacy is violated by software like the new Facebook messenger app. These articles or editorials will rage about “companies like facebook” and often have a picture of Mark Zuckerberg’s punchable face just so people know who to have rage at.  One imagines Zuckerberg, possibly at the same table as the director of the NSA, maybe a CIA agent, and maybe the ghost of Steve Jobs all conspiring to violate your privacy and make hardware you bought do what they want against your will. The villain in these stories is either the CEO of some company or “the corporation” as a faceless monster.     

But what’s really going on here?  What we have, overwhelmingly, is a lot of technology being built which ignores the consent of the user.  A app which no one wants is forced on everyone, things which clearly everyone will hate are put in vague terms of service which essentially say that the service provider can do anything they want any time they want and there is nothing you can do about it.  How did this happen?  

Meanwhile, if you follow technology media and especially feminist technology media you see constant stories about what a festering shithole of sexism the technology industry is.  These articles are generally along the lines of a narrative about female engineers trying to be at conferences or trade shows and facing constant harassing of just about every kind from their overwhelmingly male peers.  They are constantly being touched, catcalled, and generally treated like shit, obviously against their will. Articles will talk about how this needs to be addressed in order to improve the quality of life for women in tech as well as to bring more women into tech.  As tech insider media, they meanwhile generally ignore the role of the user in all this.

What I find disappointing here, and is the point of this article, is that these are all the same shit heads, and that this is no accident.  Is it an accident that the same men who think it’s ok to grab ass at a technical conference are writing software that deliberately and blatantly ignores the consent of the user all the time?  No.  Because software is simply one of the worst industries in the history of technology.  I think it would be hard to find any industry in the history of technological capitalism that has held itself to such low standards and shown such consistent contempt for the user or for quality of their product.  

It is time for people in the public at large to stop seeing companies like Facebook as either a monolithic inhuman monster, or the personal fiefdom of some monstrous oligarch like Zuckerberg, but rather like just a big group of horrible people doing horrible work.  It’s time for the tech backlash within the industry to wake up to just how fucked the rest of us are by this, and for the rest of us to wake up to just how fucked this industry is from the inside.  

It’s time to smash Silicon Valley.

Yes, to all of this. My personal experiences of working in the software industry validates every word of this. It is why I left.

Written by Meitar

September 15th, 2014 at 2:36 pm

“Bitcoin can’t lead on its own to a disintermediated society,” and other uncomfortable truths about BitCoin

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We live in an epoch of techno-utopianism with a strong drive for techno-cracy. The former means that many believe that technology alone determines certain outcomes, while the latter believes it is a good thing that flawed human processes are replaced by ‘clean’ technological processes. Both attitudes are very dangerous.

First, distributed technologies do not necessarily lead to distributed outcomes. We have seen this historically with the effect of the invention of printing, which led to a democratisation of knowledge and literacy, but also in time replaced the local autonomy of free medieval cities with much stronger and controlling nation-states, i.e. more political centralization, not less. Networks which have no counter-measures to maintain equality inevitably lead in time to a new concentration of resources. Hence, in Amazon and iTunes, the so-called long tail of culture consumption predicted by Chris Anderson is no longer operative, and in p2p social lending, 80% of loans are provided by big bangs and institutions, the very forces the technology was supposed to disintermediate.

Again and again, we see that the potential disintermediation of power, which may affect established powers, creates new intermediaries, such as the platform monopolies. Technologies are indeed, used by social forces, who inflect technologies for their own needs. The inequality of bitcoin ownership will inevitably further affect the structures that make bitcoin operational, leading to new kinds of monopolies. Technologies are always infused with human values, no programming or infrastructure is truly neutral in that respect.

Michel Bauwens’s “A political evaluation of BitCoin” sums up some of the most overlooked problems with cryptocurrency. A short read (~5 minutes) and very worth the time.

See also:

Written by Meitar

September 9th, 2014 at 7:23 pm