I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.

[…]

My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.

[…T]he machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while are children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will be no less afraid.
Audre Lorde

In light of the extraordinary derangement surrounding my stupidly simple FetLife Proxy, I privately received a supportive note. It read, in part:

[T]here’s a writer I follow who reminds me a lot of you, though with a different target for disruption—generally he writes about how media companies are doing it wrong, and how things could be better for the internet/world/etc if they thought about things outside of their old world box. You might enjoy his work.

The note offered a link to one of Thomas Baekdal‘s blog posts from January of this year called “Lies, Damned Lies, and eBooks.” Baekdal’s post includes the following image and reads, in part:

This is the reality of the ebook industry today, and it is the same with the Kindle, Nook and all the other ebook readers.

When Apple presented iBooks, with its fancy page-curl effect, what they actually presented was a watered down web browser, designed to render XHTML files. The only difference is that instead of showing a scrollbar, they added this fancy page curl effect. But the result is the same, when you move from one page to the next, all you really do is scroll down the HTML page within the ePub file.

Apple created a simple web browser but presented it to you as something completely new and spectacular. And every publisher, like the Emperor before them, was so impressed by this “new clothes” that they accepted to give Apple full control and 30% of their profit.

And you, as a reader, are now forced into buying Apple’s devices—and if you one day decide to buy something else, you will lose all your books. Books, that are just HTML pages saved into a single file. Take those extra elements away and you can use the exact same output in any browser, on any device, anywhere! It just the web.

Apple’s sleight-of-hand adding proprietary panache that actually erodes an original item’s usefulness exactly mimics what FetLife.com effectively did to BDSM/fetish communities worldwide:

  • Apple watered down the functionality of a Web browser, added a fancy page-curl effect, and called it “an eBook.” With these “new clothes,” they took control over our digital bookshelves.
  • FetLife.com watered down the functionality of social networking tools, added a fancy login screen, and called it “private.” With these “new clothes,” they took control over our online sexuality communities, and expression.

I share this now as an analogy to FetLife’s dishonest communication about security and privacy to showcase how, in Thomas Millar’s words, there’s a war on. But it’s not merely a war against transparency, or a war within the BDSM community against sexual assault survivors, or even a war against the very notion of consent-positivity, for those assailants are well-known and their actions overt.

This is a war against you. Yes, you. Personally. The technical issues with FetLife.com were always and forever will be inextricably entangled with the social.

Journalist and scholar Erik Davis begins his book, TechGnosis: Myth, magic, and mysticism in the age of information, by writing that:

Human beings have been cyborgs from year zero. It is our lot to live in societies that invent tools that shape society and the individuals in it. For millennia, people not so dissimilar to ourselves have constructed and manipulated powerful and impressive technologies, including information technologies, and these tools and techniques have woven themselves into the social fabric of the world. […This] basic equation remains true for the whole nomadic trek of homo faber: Culture is technoculture.

If what Millar writes is true, and this is a war, control over our own online sexual expression—the trend to privatize the spaces where we communicate—is yet again the vanguard. If we continue to willfully ignore this reality, things will get worse. In a recent interview, co-founder of Apple, Inc. Steve Wozniak said:

The Internet, when it first came, it was a breath of fresh air. It was so free! Nobody owned the Internet space. Countries didn’t own it, they didn’t control it. It was worldwide. It was people. The people! It was like we “little people” of the world all of a sudden had this incredible resource and it didn’t have to go through other people selling it to us, and delivering it to us. That has changed a lot, but still, those are items that we’re against.

It is nothing short of foolishly ardent denial to diminish or disregard the massive sea-change crackling through sexuality subcultures. It is equally foolish to diminish FetLife.com’s and, more precisely, John Baku’s incredible influence here. Influence does not make someone “The Bad Guy.” But it does make them responsible:

What John Baku is, is a leader. Whether you want him to be or not, whether he wants to be or not, he simply is. By virtue of having created this resource, Fetlife, Baku finds himself in the position of being able to, at his sole discretion, decide how a million and a half kinky people are able to talk to, with, and about each other. He is without doubt the single most powerful kink leader on the planet right now.

And as that powerful leader, what he says and what he decides has real impact on a lot of people.

As many are fond of quoting, “With great power comes great responsibility.” In a rare interview, and in his own words, John Baku is quoted by Tracy Clark-Flory as saying:

We don’t really allow people to attack other people on the site.

The well-documented debate over Proposition 429, the suggestion “to remove a clause from [FetLife.com's] Terms of Use requiring users to pledge to not ‘make criminal accusations against another member in a public forum,'” shows only one side of the issue—Baku’s side. To wit, there are numerous well-known instances of users’ posts being edited or deleted to strike the FetLife screen names (not legal names) of alleged abusers.

Yandy, via SunshineLove:

[A] Caretaker edited my journal entry to remove the names of MATTHEW, who is not a user of the site anymore and another dominant member of the New York City scene who sexually penetrated me without my consent. He also removed a comment on the journal entry by @Cashmere, who stated that that same site user had similarly sexually penetrated her after she had explicitly told him not to interact with her genitals or penetrate her in any way.

I’m going to say that again: CHRISTOPHER EDITED MY JOURNAL ENTRY TO DELETE A REFERENCE TO TWO PEOPLE WHO SEXUALLY ASSAULTED ME AND ANOTHER PERSON.

Numerous things about FetLife’s handling of all this don’t add up. Perhaps most importantly is that supposed neutrality—in his interview, John Baku says, “We’re not set up to have judges and jury hear both sides”—is not neutrality at all.

Moreover, at least two additional things consistently show the selective enforcement of FetLife’s own Terms—and selective enforcement (“Company procedures or guidelines not being followed“) is a canary in the coal mine revealing serious corruption.

First, FetLife’s TOU clause itself names FetLife.com a “public forum.” Nevertheless, and in direct contradiction to this wording, FetLife continues to promulgate a perception of its walled garden as a non-public (i.e., “private”) venue. As @Kirr wrote in a FetLife post, “Some notes about FetLife’s (In)Security”:

FetLife gives the impression of being “private,” while it really isn’t. Anyone on the Internet can make an account and see anything on the site[…]. This is the point Maymay was trying to make with his proxy, but FetLife’s reaction to it is the opposite of what it should be. By effectively saying “we fixed the problem; all of your information is safe,” they’re giving people the impression that what they post here is private. What they should have done is reminded people that anyone at all could (and still can) do what Maymay did, and reminded users to treat FetLife as public, not private. Their reaction is one that will lead to users of the site being less safe, but thinking that they’re safer.

[…]

It’s pretty clear to me that FetLife wasn’t designed with security in mind at all, and that the developers of the site don’t care much at all about the actual security of the site, just about the perception of security. This kind of attitude is harmful: it means that the users of the site often aren’t educated about actual problems and complexities, and have false expectations about how much personal information they are potentially exposing. FetLife really needs to take security more seriously, but also needs to take honest communication about it more seriously, and to stop pretending to be really secure when they know they aren’t.

Second, a separate clause in FetLife’s TOU unambiguously prohibits users from:

Post[ing], directly or indirectly, any personally identifying information about another member without their consent. Personally identifying information can include, but is not limited to, a persons full name, first name, last name, email address, profession, phone number, address and place of work.

This clause presumably not only protects FetLife members from being “outed,” but also protects people from what John Baku calls “attacks.” Remember, in his own words: “We don’t really allow people to attack other people on the site.”

O rly?

Simply skimming the comments in FetLife’s announcement (not to mention going to people’s own posts…) shows numerous extremely violent comments, threats, and much more (both on FetLife and elsewhere). These include direct accusations of criminality. FetLife.com touts their long-standing policy of prohibiting exactly such postings, taking obvious pride in their removal of these posts.

@Fori was the first in that thread to point out the obvious, now more than 4 days ago:

I hope the caretakers start removing all the posts that name [maymay] since it is against the TOU to make criminal accusations.

FetLife’s selective enforcement is undeniable. Their actions show it’s unacceptable to accuse someone of criminal sexual misconduct, but it is apparently acceptable to allege other crimes, such as libel (e.g., false rape accusations) or computer crime (e.g., “hacking”).

And then there’s this comment, in which @nerdyb0y published my legal name, a phone number, physical-world address, and my email address:

Again, 4 18 days later, the comment remains undisturbed in a thread that FetLife caretakers are posting in, themselves. This has been happening to me for over a year, and easily to others for even longer.

Taking a page out of Baekdal’s (e)Book, it’s time for us to find that little kid, who in all innocence can point out the obvious, and force FetLife and the worldwide network that makes up locally-organized BDSM/fetish communities to refocus on what really matters.

You need not consider this a call to action. You need not take up arms. You need not even raise your voice.

You need only remember the words of Audre Lorde: “Your silence will not protect you.”

No one is holding you to anything. But at least remember your silence will not protect you. And, in your resolute soundlessness, understand what Emperor such muteness serves.

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