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

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. :)