To my right are two people being interviewed by a woman with a soundboard connected to a computer as I sit down at my table in the café. A minute later and it’s clear they’re wrapping up an interview of some kind. They’re using words like “oppression” and “microaggression.”
Then I hear the interviewer say, “I’m going to a conference on domestic violence this weekend.” My interest is piqued.
“Excuse me,” I say to one of the interviewees at the edge of the table. “I’m sorry if I’m interrupting, what were you interviewed about? I’m very interested.”
The interviewee hands me a flyer. “This,” he says.
The flyer reads: “Ha Mapah. I am the sum total of all my ancestors: a multimedia dance journey tracing the intersections of African, Jewish, and Native American Heritages.”
The man who handed it to me says, “I hope you’ll join us. It’s a dance piece I created about being Black and Jewish and Native American.”
“You’re Adam McKinney?” I ask, reading the flyer. He nods. “Wow, cool, thank you. I just couldn’t help but overhear what you were talking about, and this conference on domestic violence…?” I turn to the interviewer.
Her name, it turns out, is Mary-Charlotte Domandi, host of KSFR’s Santa Fe Radio Cafe.
“It’s the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence conference,” she tells me. “What’s interesting about the conference is that they’re going to talk about messaging. ‘Cause y’know, so many people who work in that field are academics and they use words like ‘social construction of masculinity,’ and when you talk like that, people in mainstream America, their eyes just glaze over.”
Adam and I are nodding along.
“It’s like that in a lot of ways,” I say. “Like when rape crisis centers put up posters on college campuses, for instance, that’s not inherently bad, but it requires a self-assessment on the part of the person reading the flyer to identity themselves as someone who’s been raped, and then it requires them to go the rape crisis center. This is interesting to me, this thing about messaging, because I work on Internet sexual assault prevention tools, and one thing we’re trying to do is get people in ‘mainstream America’ to talk about it.”
They seem like they’re listening, so I go on.
“For instance,” I continue, “we have an app on Facebook that mimics parts of the systems that domestic violence shelters have, internally. They keep track of the reports they get from people and won’t, for example, shelter Person B if they’re already sheltering Person A who is Person B’s abuser. But the app won’t talk about it like that. It’ll be more like a social background check: ‘Hey, how’s Jake in chem lab?’”
Mary gave me a puzzled look. “Jake in chem lab? What are you talking about?”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “What I mean is, many people who I’ve talked to, before they go on a date with someone, they ask their friends about that person. Y’know, they ask their friends, ‘Hey, do you know Jake in chem lab? Is he safe? Should I go out with him?’ So this app does something that, but on the scale of Facebook. If there are reports of abuse by Jake, the app will let you know that.”
The interviewer, the same person who seemed to me to be complaining about oppression dynamics, suddenly looks aghast. “Oh my god! The potential for lies!”
I scoff. “Is no greater than anywhere else on Facebook.”
The conversation moves on. Neither the interviewer nor the person she’s interviewing give me a second look. I go back to my table.
I start writing this.
Eventually, Adam gets up to leave. “Bye, Mary,” he says, “and bye, maymay.”
“Bye, Adam,” I say. Then I quickly add, “Does this flyer have some way to get in touch with you or…?”
“Let me give you my info,” he says, and turns to Mary. “Do you have a pen?”
I take the opportunity I’ve been given: “Do you have an email address or some way to get in touch with you, too?” I ask the interviewer.
“Yeah, let me give you my card,” she says, and does. “I get a lot of email, so put your name in the subject line. Send me something about what you’re doing.”
“Okay, thanks,” I smile. “I will.”
I come back to my table with their contact info. And I write this email:
Thank for the invitation to send you what I’m working on. I’ll keep this short, because I know you’re busy and I know you already have doubts about what I described in person. Here’s the important take-away:
There is no good reason not to build sexual assault prevention tools into every social network on the Internet.
Over the past two years, myself and a small group of collaborators have created a suite of tool that we dub “Predator Alert Tools.” We’re starting with the most popular dating and social networking sites, like Facebook and OkCupid.com. They’ve been written up in several news outlets already. Here’s one example:
The tools themselves have a very detailed FAQ page, which address a lot of the knee-jerk reactions many people have, such as “But the potential of lies!” In particular, see this FAQ section:
Our personal blogs are stuffed to the brim with a back-and-forth dialogue about the kinds of reactions you had upon learning about what the tool does. See, for instance:
So, I apologize if I seemed annoyed at your reaction. It’s been grating for me. To learn more about what I was trying to explain regarding the “Jake in chem lab” example, see this post:
Thank you again for inviting me to message you with this information. I sincerely hope you will take a moment to at least skim over these resources and maybe to present some of these ideas to the folks at the conference you’re attending this weekend.
I send it. And now, I’m gonna publish this blog post.