Last October, I introduced the FetLife Alleged Abusers Database Engine (FAADE) at the 2012 Transcending Boundaries Conference. After the keynote, the conference organizers invited anyone attending to briefly address the entire conference audience in an open mic style. Standing in front of the several hundred person crowd, in a deliberately steady voice, I paraphrased a small flyer I’d made:
FetLife.com is the largest social network for kinky people, with over 1.6 million accounts. However, FetLife censors survivors of sexual assault and rape when they try to warn others of abuse they’ve experienced at the hands of other FetLife users. Silencing rape survivors must end. Such censorship enables a culture of abuse rather than providing support for survivors.
Today, I’ve released a tool called the FetLife Alleged Abusers Database Engine, or FAADE, a free browser add-on that empowers anyone to anonymously report a consent violation at the hands of a FetLife user, and automatically disseminate that information to other users of the tool. Download and installation instructions are available at http://tiny.cc/faade.
The BDSM Scene is an abusive social institution. Its leadership is corrupt. I am here to ensure that the BDSM Scene’s powers that be days are numbered. Thank you.
With that, I walked off stage. The next day, in the final session of the conference, I facilitated a community forum about the tool I’d just announced and the issues it addresses more generally. What follows is a rush transcript and video recording of that session:
MAYMAY: I do want to let you all know that we’re recording this and if you have concerns about that and still want to participate then there are a stack of index cards here. And if you want to talk and not be recorded, come up, write something down, and someone else [bring them to me] so we’ll do it that way, so you don’t have to speak and be recorded.
There are a very few number of things I want to talk about first and then we can start brainstorming or talking more about this, or hearing concerns, and so on. The Internet might have, especially, concerns so if you’re watching that please let me know when that comes up.
Very briefly: how many of you use FetLife? Know of FetLife? Know other folks who use FetLife frequently? Hear about it often in your conversations? Okay, so basically everybody who’s here. Interent probably as well.
FetLife is an example of a website that currently has about 1.6 million user accounts on it of, y’know, supposedly kinky people all over the world. They have an ongoing “war” on, right now, although it’s invisible to the mainstream about whether or not to face up to abuse from within their own “community.” There are many situations in which people have tried to name alleged abusers from their personal interactions and have found that their posts are either edited or taken down from FetLife.com by the FetLife “care bears.” Kitty Stryker has been doing a lot of work about this at the ConsentCulture.com project. Along with Maggie Mayhem, she has collected something like 300 stories and it wasn’t even that difficult, which is frightening in and of itself. Personally, I’ve never had a relationship with a partner where that partner was not abused in some capacity in the past.
This is a pervasive issue in the world. If I have to convince any of you that rape culture exists, we have a very different conversation and I’m not interested in having that one right now.
I’m maymay, and you all know me. If you don’t know me, go to maybemaimed.com. I’ve been in the BDSM “Scene” for about ten years and I really hate it.
Next: why is this an issue?
Rape culture sucks and needs to change. We need to change the paradigm of how we talk about these abuses. Currently, as I mentioned, there are an enormous amount of silencing tactics and victim-blaming responses that come out of the woodwork whenever someone mentions a rape or assault. I don’t like that. I want it to change.
One very, very eloquent blogger about this is Thomas Millar over at “Yes Means Yes.” He writes about what’s called the Social License to Operate, or the SL-OP. What that means is essentially that there’s a social culture that enables these kinds of abuses, not just to happen, but then to go unsupported when they do happen. He has this very, very awesome diagram called “The Cycles of Silencing and Transparency.” It starts up here:
Each one of these columns is a consent violation, a rape or abuse, and he started out like this. Using Predator Theory, which is a term you can Google if you don’t already know much about it, [referencing] academic studies showing that the majority of rapes and consent violations are perpetrated by serial abusers, and a small number of them. We can call these people “predators.” Predators have an interaction with a survivor. (Ideally, that is, they will be a survivor.) When that abusive or coercive scenario plays out, the survivor has a choice to make, which is essentially to either speak out and talk about that issue or to remain silent and “deal with it.” See also: “Don’t get raped.”
The main decision point about whether or not to speak out comes from whether the community is able to support the survivor in actually discussing the issue and offering personal support, material support, emotional support, and actually provide a sense of safety for that person.
When that [support] happens, what we see is a situation where the predator is held accountable for their actions and is far, far less likely to be able to abuse someone in that same sphere again. If you don’t get community support around these issues, what happens is that the victim-blaming and silencing tactics start to come out—I’m assuming that you’re all very familiar with this, and again, ConsentCulture.com has a ton more information about this—that results in silence, which leads to absolutely nothing good happening.
When this happens in Case A, in either [situation], whether there’s support or silence, what happens is that the predator is still free to do the same thing over again to the next person that they target and the cycle repeats again, and again, and again. That is how predator theory works. That’s what supports these serial abuses.
Why in either case, when we have both support or silencing, do we have a situation repeating over, and over, and over again? The answer is because information from this encounter does not reach the next one. So, you have one situation where this experience has happened but knowledge about that experience does not, the knowledge about what transpired, is not shared. There’s a big hush-hush culture around these things. Y’know, “Don’t talk about the rape that you experienced.” “Don’t talk about the harassment or stalking that you feel subjected to because…” all sorts of things: “That’ll empower the abuser.” Y’know, “We don’t want to hear it.” “Are you sure it was real?” All that sort of stuff.
So [information] doesn’t make it out to the next column.
Thomas Millar is probably more succinct about this than I could ever be, so I’m just going to quote:
See how each incident exists in a vertical column, what’s sometimes called a silo? Siloed information keeps us from making informed choices about whether someone just made a mistake or is a bad actor. The thing that is necessary to have all the information on the table is to de-silo the information, to tear down those walls and allow the information to flow freely. What does that is support. If survivors get a supportive reception, they’ll say what happened. We need that. If they don’t, they won’t, and that allows predators to hide their history.
In the best case, the absolute best case, what you have is a situation where you have support AND the next survivor knows about that support. Basically, the line here. This is the best possible case: supportive community response, [so] next situation, same community (also in that social sphere), next survivors who know about this makes a choice to speak out about it.
This is limited to people who know each other or know how to get information from each other. And so it’s an extremely socially constrained good outcome. So we’re looking at a very bad situation overall.
Does this make sense so far? Are there any questions from the audience or the chat room? No? Cool.
How do you de-silo this information about break down those walls? I will propose, right now, that we talk about something that I’m calling the FetLife Alleged Abusers Database Engine. It is a client-side, browser-installable tool that allows you to easily report consent violations perpetrated by people with FetLife accounts and then have those reports displayed on that person’s FetLife profile in a way that is difficult for FetLife to censor or take down or to edit. Let me show you what that looks like in real time.
Here is an account that someone made pretending to be me. There are a lot of these, actually. It’s kind of fun cruise around FetLife and take a look at them. So, here’s one reports that pretends to be me.
Once you install the tool—I’m just gonna turn it on here—
AUDIENCE: What does it work in?
MAYMAY: It works in Firefox under Greasemonkey. That’s the prototype environment, but we can talk about how to make that more accessible later.
So this is what FetLife looks like. You’re all very familiar with FetLife. If you have the tool installed and you’re looking at a person’s profile that has a consent violation reported against them, that consent violation will appear on their profile. It’ll say, right at the top here, “There are reports this user has violated others’ consent in these ways,” and there’s a list of reports that are there.
In addition, the FetLife Alleged Abusers Database Engine, or FAADE, will add—let’s go to Groups—will add links to any user on FetLife. That says, “Report a consent violation by username.” Every single avatar picture on FetLife, when this tool runs, has a “report a consent violation by username” link right next to them. When you click on that link, you’re given a form that looks like this: “Report abusive behavior by FetLife user.” You’re asked to fill out some very basic information. If you use the tool and you click on one of those links, some of that information is all already pre-filled, such as user ID and username, and all you need to do is fill out an abuse report in three fields: what happened; where did the abuse happen; when did it happen?
So you fill this out, and you hit submit. I am going to use dev data to show you what this looks like, ’cause I don’t actually want to file an abuse report. So I’m going to switch over to my development versions where I have some data I can just play with. And when you go to a group like this, and you’re browsing around FetLife, what you’ll see is that if you file a report against a particular user, as you’re browsing FetLife with no additional action on your part you’ll see that their avatar picture and their username, anywhere it exists on the site, will be highlighted in a very blocky, ugly, totally impossible to ignore yellow. When you click on that, again, you’ll be taken to a profile page and the profile page will have a consent violation report or many of them.
What this does is breaks down these lines [silos]. It is no longer necessary for person A in column A to know about person B. Now, regardless of whether or not there’s any personal connection or friendship or even local community knowledge between these two people—person in column A could be someone in New York and column B could be someone in Australia and they’ll know about it ’cause everyone’s using FetLife, more or less, or at least that’s what they like to talk about. If that’s the case, then great! Does that make sense?
Any questions from the audience or the Internet?
AUDIENCE: It sounds like right now it’s kind of in a developer state. How hard is it—let’s say I download Firefox right from here—how hard is it to get it running?
MAYMAY: You got three clicks to do it. If you have Firefox, you go to your “Tools → Extensions,” you install Greasemonkey—I can show you how to do that, and there’s also instructions on the http://tiny.cc/faade page—and then you go back to that page (tiny.cc/faade) and click on “Download and install.” That’s it.
But, yeah. I would love to see something like this ported to Google Chrome, to Android browsers. Just, everywhere.
AUDIENCE: So, right now it’s only in Firefox?
MAYMAY: Yeah, right now it’s only in Firefox. So, I did this in 6 hours. And here’s the thing: I did this in six hours, because I had an idea, and I figured it was probably a good idea, I thought. So, I built it. It’s a prototype. It’s not exactly the most optimized solution. It doesn’t do—it has a couple of design features we can talk about—but what I wanted to do was come to this conference, because I know that people came here from a very long distance in some cases, had been planning to be here for months and put a lot of effort into being here because this is the place where some of the most innovative and passionate people around this topic, I think, exist. So I want your help.
I want to work with you to showcase two things. Number one: Hey, we can do things. Number two: Fuck asking permission. Fuck asking for cooperation from the powers that be that have shown us that they’re not interested in doing anything other than continuing to silence and abuse their own institutional positions and powers to maintain a status quo that is actively dangerous, actively abusive, and only serves themselves. I’m over it. It’s done, and it needs to go away. And it can if we all cooperate on building tools like this, and promoting these tools to others. Because I’m already seeing—in fact, I posted this on Reddit just this morning and it’s already been taken down.
AUDIENCE: On Reddit?
MAYMAY: Yeah. The BDSM community on Reddit. Like, there is—I am really sick and tired of the way that the BDSM community at large and the powers that be in that community are behaving to cover their own filthy asses, basically. It’s disgusting. I think this is the page here. Yup, there ya go. I posted this, “FetLife Alleged Abusers Database Engine empowers Internet users to alert others of reported consent violations perpetrated by FetLife users: content removed.”
MAYMAY: Less than a day. I’m not going to be able to rely on anything other than PEOPLE to spread this. So I need a lot of help. I would love coding help, if you have knowledge of that. I’d love documentation help if you use it. I’d love beta testing help if you’re interested in trying out new things.
AUDIENCE: [Raises hand.]
MAYMAY: Thank you. And more than anything else, I’d love promotion help. I need help putting this into places where I can’t already reach. And I need help from other people who believe this is important who are not me because many people don’t want to listen to me already. And that’s fine. They won’t listen regardless of whether the idea is good or not. They won’t listen regardless of whether they support, personally, the project or not, BECAUSE it came from me. That shows you two things. Number one, where their real interests lie. And number two, how big of an issue this really is for them.
So, I need other voices. And that’s where you come in, if you’re willing. We have an ability to empower individual people as opposed to any social group or structure. This is a tool for people rather than organizations, institutions, systems, cliques, etcetera.
I know that there are probably a lot of concerns around this. And that’s what I wanted to open up the floor for here. You, particularly, may have less concerns, but I’m sure you can probably come up with some concerns that other people may have, you can anticipate some responses that other people will throw at you. I’ve got a couple in store. Lots of hands. Good, good.
So let’s talk about those first. And then, if we still have time and if you’re still willing, let’s talk about improvements. Let’s talk about where we can take this, and about what we can do wit this and how this can be better, or more compassionate, or more useful, or more specifically relevant to the case of the BDSM community at large, rape survivors, survivors of other assault or harassment, and how we can make their experience both using the tool and talking to others about it as easy as possible. Sound good? Okay.
So I saw a couple hands go up when I was talking about concerns and I saw a couple of people writing things down for that, so let’s start with those. I want to start with the hand that I saw go up.
AUDIENCE MEMBER [Elizabeth]: So, November 2nd through 4th I’m going to the Geeky Kinky Event in New York—or, uh….
MAYMAY: Wherever it is.
ELIZABETH: Somewhere, at which I expect I might need a lot more pieces of paper like the one that you gave me that have information on them about this tool. As you know I’m very interested in how to explain things to laypeople. How to genuinely empathize with their concerns, with their fears. I expect that if I talk about this tool the first thing that somebody’s gonna say is, “Oh no! What about my privacy! I want to keep hiding! How do I do that?” And the second thing they’re going to say is, “But, doesn’t this open the floor for people to make false accusations?” How would you respond, please?
MAYMAY: Let’s get all these listed out. And then let’s go through some of them.
AUDIENCE: Mine is also false accusations but, the example used, though I don’t think that this is going to necessarily be that relevant, someone clicks “abuse violation” ’cause they’re angry over a messy breakup and they post something to the effect of, “Bitch be crazy.” So, I guess mine’s not exactly false accusations, it’s more like data quality.
MAYMAY: Yeah, data integrity. One thing I’ve written down is, “What about false reports filed out of malicious intent?” So we now have three of those.
ELIZABETH: Whether people will stay on topic. Like, this is—you’re calling it the Alleged Abusers Database Engine but people can use it to report anything.
MAYMAY: Yes. True. So is that—how is that?
ELIZABETH: It’s sort of like data integrity, but how would you respond if people took this tool and there were very few allegations of abuse but people started using it to say, “I got an STD from this person” or something?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: That’s abuse.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Uninformed.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Well, if that person is uninformed, it’s not really abuse.
MAYMAY: I’m gonna put that down as “misuse.” Use of the tool that’s not this intention. Does that make sense? Hold on a sec, can we move to—?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I have three very specific questions about topics that have already been raised. For my own privacy, I’d like to know whether or not your database gathers or lists any information about me when I make a report. For false accusations, I’d like to know what the legal context is for people who feel that there has been an instance of libel. And for data integrity, I’d like to know if there’s a way for us to sort or organize the reported data.
MAYMAY: Great. Good. Still concerns?
AUDIENCE: Concerns from the user’s side, not from the being reported side.
MAYMAY: Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: How is it shaped in a way to minimize re-trauma for abuse survivors? And also consent violations in general can be murky—that’s why we have terms like “date rape” instead of full-on saying “rape,” and it gets even murkier in BDSM—is there a prompting or any sort of clarification [needed]?
MAYMAY: Great. Good. Really good.
AUDIENCE MEMBER (REBECCA): I think the first thing that came to for me when I looked at, similar to [the previous speaker’s] first point, which was that there’s this section where it says, “Report your abuse and please give as much data as possible, times, dates.” Something about the way that’s worded triggered in me this feeling of “I’m not doing what needs to be done here if I don’t give all the information that I have.” And that might be really problematic for me as a survivor, because I don’t want to out myself as being at this party, at this time.
MAYMAY: Right. So how do we balance the need to collect data with the—
REBECCA: The need for privacy.
MAYMAY: —not only the need for privacy but also the empathetic experience of what we’re asking people to do is write about a really traumatic experience that they’ve had. How do we make that experience as least painful and most supportive as possible, while still getting data we need to make better informed choices in the future. Does that make sense?
ELIZABETH: Rebecca did make a really good point about privacy. I’ve had it happen that I agreed to interview, anonymously, about a private topic, and then they’re like, “This is what this person looks like. This is the size of the backpack she carries.”
MAYMAY: I am going to start another thing because these are all really, really good ideas that I want to capture. Or actually, hey, can we borrow some sticky notes?
AUDIENCE: Um, they’re not here.
MAYMAY: Oh, okay. In that case, let’s just use index cards. Can you, as you have ideas like that, can I ask you to write those down so that I can start to collect them in one place? Thank you. Good. Are there any more concerns like this that we can come up with now? If not, that’s okay. How about from the ‘net? Dear Internet, any concerns or ideas? […] Cool.
Okay. I wanna open something up here, and then we can start addressing these. ‘Cause, you’re right. I think, so, okay. We had, like, three around “privacy, anonymity, is my data being collected?” At least four on “What about false accusations?” And some concerns about, “This will be misused, this will be vandalized.” How to filter for that or deal with the fact that that’s likely to happen.
Okay. Let’s take it from the top. “My own privacy.” There are a couple things around the design of the tool itself, like the design thinking of the tool, that takes into account this concern. Number one is, as mentioned a little bit earlier, there’s not information ever being asked about who you are. This will never collect information about you or ask you to provide information that is specific like, what’s your user ID? What’s your username? There’s also a very open-ended, sort of, way that these questions are being asked—although I would like to hear about improvements to these—such as “Enter a geographic location. Please be as specific as you can but as vague as you are comfortable. For example, ‘New York’, ‘New York City’, or ‘Paddles, 250 West 26th Street, New York, NY 10011, United States’ area all acceptable entries.”
The point here is to provide a way, and an interface, to make it as easy as possible to use, but vague enough so that you still have the opportunity to complete a report with as little or as much information about the thing that you want to report as you feel comfortable doing. All of this information is granular to the degree you feel comfortable providing. Now, the more information you provide, the more likely an inference is going to be able to be made about who you are, where you were, what you’re doing, who you were with, etcetera.
I don’t have a good way to deal with that because the one is intrinsically tied to the other, and that is a really good question that I’d like some feedback on. But I want to do that during a feedback-y part of this. First I want to show how I’ve looked at these issues, first. Does that make sense? Is that okay?
Number one: well, shit, isn’t that kind of part of the problem? And number two: yes, that’s why we can’t trust FetLife and can’t communicate with them at all. Does that makes sense? Okay, I see nodding. Any questions about those two pieces?
False accusations: bring it the fuck on. And here’s why. In both situations, where the accusation is “objectively” true, whatever the fuck that means, and also in situations where it is not true, this tool will—and the use of this tool, and the reporting of these allegations, and the sharing of these allegations—forces a consent conversation to the surface and empowers people to actually deal with the issues rather than continue to sweep them under the rug, in several different ways.
If you have an allegation levied against you and you feel it’s inappropriate or unfair, what can you do? You can ignore it, such as we’ve been doing already. Or you can, when you see that you have a report such as this one showing up on your profile above orientation, looking for, etcetera, at the very top of your profile, and you also have this very lovely, provided by FetLife—thank you, FetLife!—editable box right here. It’s called “About Me.” I propose that you respond to the allegation in the About Me section. And what that does, is several things. Number one: gets information about consent violations and alleged assaults out of this tool and onto FetLife. Wonderful. Number two: it will offer us the ability to see how people actually respond to these allegations.
Now, currently, the state of affairs is that if you do not have an alleged accusation against you, you are perceived more or less to be safe. A safe player: “Don’t worry, this person’s fine.” The problem with this is, number one, you very well may have an accusation against you. There may very well be an accusation against this person that you don’t know about because this information is siloed. And that is what the whole ConsentCulture project, that’s what people have been reporting, that’s what people have been saying. In fact, in the live—where is it? Oh, here it is—in the data here, people are already saying here, “This person had a reputation for known BDSM-related consent violations,” etc. It would have been great to know that. But this person probably didn’t have any information about this. So, [FAADE] will surface that.
Thirdly, it offers a feedback mechanism. Now, this is how the Internet works. If you go on eBay, if you go on Yelp, if you go on Foursquare, if you go to a restaurant, if you ask it to see a movie, if you do anything in your life on the Internet you are looking at feedback mechanisms built into the process under which you are making informed choices about what you want to do with your day. Now this is not necessarily as important as, y’know, “Should I sleep with this person?” but let’s look at the paradigm here. You buy a book on eBay from a seller that has a higher—you buy a book on eBay and you look before you purchase that book, or whatever it is you’re buying, you look at their stars, you look at their reputation, you look at other users’ feedback about this person. If that feedback is bad, consistently, and over time, you probably don’t wanna buy that book. You may not trust that person to take your money and provide you with an exchange.
On FetLife, we’re talking about a situation where people are actually hooking up with folks. And I know FetLife likes to talk about itself as “not a dating site,” but let’s actually see—are those meta tags still there, actually? How does FetLife talk about itself? Yup, here we go.
FetLife likes to make a big fucking deal about how they are not a dating site. And yet right there, in their own meta tags on their page, they advertise to—thank you for that, by the way, for that tip—FetLife advertises to search engines what they say they do not do to their users. Dating site. This is a site for people to hook up, to meet, to fuck. Now, when you have a website designed for people to hook up, to meet, and to fuck, and you provide not only no feedback mechanisms for other folks but actively silence your own community from talking about that with one another, what you have is a corrupt organization.
It’s as simple as that. And so, the alleged “false accusations” that people are so worried about? When one person has—basically what I’m saying is, yes, let’s have false accusations. If you’re really that concerned about it, I think it’s going to be a wonderful, if possibly uncomfortable experience for you to find out that almost everybody has an accusation against them.
Why is that comforting? It’s comforting because you get to now be, A) in control of how you respond to those allegations, which changes the paradigm from the survivor is the one who needs to either prove things or make a good case, to the alleged abusers are the ones who need to respond to a constructive way to these things. And secondly, it provides a way for people to look for patterns in their own communities and their own decision making process. If I have, say, three reports of accusations of consent violations against me and they kind of look like, I don’t know, maybe the ones that I do have against me, like this, about me.
He has repeatedly gone out of his way to make a social environment hosile to me and mine by taking things that are or should be private, and dragging them nonconsensually into the greater public eye. He violates my consent, on a global basis, like the rapisr [sic] equivalent of a mass murderer.
Where did this happen? “On FetLife.” How often does this happen? “Repeatedly, comma, daily.”
All right, fine. Next one. This one is not about me, this is about someone else.
Bullied his way into joining the BDSM student group at his university, causing many female and FAAB members to drop out from discomfort; had a reputation for non-BDSM-related consent violations and for being a sexual predator on campus, including groping female students while they were intoxicated or unconscious and giving underage prospective students alcohol to get them drunk and then propositioning them for sex.
Now, regardless of the defense of either of these, if you see three reports like the first one on one profile and twenty reports like the second on a second profile, what are you gonna think? You now have information to make an informed choice about what this looks like to you, what your risk assessment could be for this person, and we are beginning to see patterns emerge about individual people’s behavior and, hopefully, group behavior from the BDSM Scene as a whole. In both cases, false allegations and “objectively” real allegations, putting this conversation up and front in the center of the FetLife world and the BDSM world at large completely changes the paradigm and puts, always, individual users in control of how they assess their risks and talk to others about it. Does that make sense? I see a couple hands as I’m saying that. About this?
ELIZABETH: Yeah, so, I went to this workshop earlier in which a couple who had been doing BDSM for a while were talking about how people say, “Aren’t you afraid if you do Total Power Exchange, if you give up all your power to your partner that he’s going to cut your arms and legs off?” And they were saying, “Nobody asks when you have a baby, nobody says, ‘Are you going to cut their arms and legs off?'” This seems analogous. Like, there are stories for certain things, there aren’t stories for publicly making rape accusations. So, if this happens, people’s immediate response will be, “Aren’t you afraid you’re going to cut their arms and legs off?” Like, “aren’t all of the reports going to be false? Isn’t it going to be totally useless? Anarchy will break out!”
REBECCA: There’s a couple of things I want to bring up here. I think there are things that are valuable to be aware of that may not have a huge influence on how we’re going to put this together. Yeah, I mean, the false accusations is just an anti-feminist derail. Like, anytime rape comes up it’s just like, “We can’t talk about rape because of false accusations! And the worst thing in the world would be to be falsely accused of rape! Like, that’s worse than actually getting raped!”
But the other thing is, specifically because this is an abuse-oriented reporting site, abuse is very tricky. It evolves very quickly. The thing about abuse is that whatever you put in place to try to prevent it, abusers will then use, to abuse.
REBECCA: And one of the classic ways that abusers control their victims is by threatening to accuse their victims of being abusive. So the only kind of “false accusation” that comes up for me that I feel is a legitimate concern is this sort of like, it’s not uncommon, there are a lot of women who are in jail because their abusive partner called the cops on them and told the cops that they were being abusive. And I think that that’s only relevant if this tool is taken seriously by the community to work as an enforcement system. I don’t feel like that that’s the case right now. I think that it’d be great if that were something that was able to transition into, and that if the goal is to make it into something that can be a reliable source for people to say, “Oh, the FetLife Abuser Database has a report on this person, and I trust that database,” then, in that case, it’s important to have a failsafe for those situations where the accusation is coming from an abuser against the person they are abusing.
MAYMAY: I’m writing down, “Database: Who watches the watcher?” ‘Cause, yes, that makes a lot of sense. This is another situation, which is why I want to make this a community forum and an open discussion because in order for either of those things to work in our favor, we absolutely need other people to help out. And there’s a couple of concerns around the end of this that I want to share with you to show how I’m trying to enable that, but I need other people to actually—like, I cannot do that on my own. And I can’t do that on my own for two reasons. Number one, because I’m not a trustworthy individual, and no individual is. But secondly, because it is a task so large that I feasible cannot do that. Like, I alone can’t.
REBECCA: And there’s no way. I’m thinking about the way that people who’ve worked with survivors of domestic violence do it and it’s, even for people for whom that is their full-time job, it is very difficult in a situation where you’re dealing with, let’s say, a lesbian couple where one of them has been accused of abuse by the other one and one of them is in jail to figure out, like, okay, what’s quote-unquote “really going on here” and who’s “a real abuser,” and there’s a lot of intuition that plays into it. And sometimes it just boils down to, “this person called the hotline first.”
MAYMAY: Can someone tell me how I am on time, ’cause when you were talking, like, four hands went up.
AUDIENCE: It’s 2:40.
MAYMAY: And when do we end?
AUDIENCE: Uh, 2:45.
MAYMAY: Okay, so we have 5 minutes. So I wanna get through a lot of this. I saw four hands. Can we quickly go through one, and then I saw this one, and then this side?
AUDIENCE: I was going to point that there are people within our community who are good at analyzing data.
MAYMAY: Yes! Thank you.
AUDIENCE: And that if we start aggregating enough data, we can start possibly noticing patterns.
MAYMAY: Good. Thank you!
AUDIENCE: So, one worry I have is that often, for example, bloggers on the Internet will—especially on topics like feminism and sex—they face threats from people, including rape threats and things like that and often those are accompanied with posting their home address, posting their real name, and so a worry that I have—this might fall into the category of data integrity and misuse—but, what if someone uses someone as a way to attack someone. So, this way, I can make someone’s real name and their home address appear to anyone who visits their profile. And, is there going to be a way for dealing with that?
MAYMAY: There probably needs to be, and I would love input on how to perhaps filter for these things in a way that is technologically premised on having that process itself be not community-controlled, but transparent. We need to do several things, and this comes to the ideas that I was kind of hoping we’d get to, but I’ll just say it ’cause we’re really running out of time. In addition to providing this data, this data is also downloadable in multiple different formats: as a CSV file, as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, etcetera, and my hope is to basically provide a fire hose of alleged reported consent violations, so that we can analyze this data and so that we can do something to come up with a way to address that concern. That is a real concern. It’s one I had and it’s one I did not consider to put into a prototype, because two things. A) Prototype. B) I am far more concerned with the process of showing people that it is not enough to demand change from FetLife or the BDSM powers that be.
They have given us an answer and the answer is no, and what we need to do is not take that answer, and to actually do something. Not ask them to do something, not request, and scream amongst ourselves that we should do something, but that we CAN. That we have the resources in 1.6 million fucking user accounts to actually do something about it. I see absolutely no sustained, reliable, or consistent effort from anyone in the BDSM Scene from the powers that be that is addressing anything other than maintaining a status quo. And those are the kinds of questions that I would love to see addressed front and center on BDSM meetings across the globe. In part, because I have no good answer for that, and I would love to develop a system that would allow us to transparently allow that information to be filtered from at least the FetLife profile parts of them so the information we need to share is still out there but is as minimal a threat as possible to the people who are already in the most marginalized positions on FetLife, such as youth, such as people of color, such as trans people, such as sex workers, such as all the people who can’t go to the police in any reliable way.
Does that make sense?
MAYMAY: Great, great point. Can someone write that down so I can actually record that for later?
AUDIENCE: Two things. The first being the “who watches the watcher” and community enforcement. I don’t actually think we need community enforcement because I don’t think we’re going to get community enforcement. The BDSM community has had, in its modern incarnation, at least two decades to develop some system of self-policing to keep abusers out and what it’s done instead is promote abusers to positions of power. What I want to see instead is more and more and more and more data, and more access for everyone who wants to see it to see it. It’s a Yelp problem, right? The more reports I have, the more I can determine who—or, when I read hotel reviews, some people really want a fluffy bed and are gonna rate it as zero if it’s not a fluffy bed, and some people want a free breakfast, and I can align myself with what is most my concern and read the reviews based on what my personal concerns are for this specific user and what sounds realistic. By having everyone have access to those points, it just creates enough wealth of information that it’s important.
MAYMAY: Yeah. This is, in that sense, this is a free speech issue. More speech is better. More data is better. With that caveat, that we need to find a way to mitigate the availability of that information once it becomes used for that. I think it will become used to do what you’re saying. Go ahead, make your last point.
AUDIENCE: The second and scary point for me is, if I was to go and file an abuse report, FetLife doesn’t know I did it. Maymay doesn’t know I did it. You might not know that I did it. But my abuser sure as hell knows I did it, because they know what they did and they can match those details. And if they did it to multiple people, they can probably tell which one of those multiple people reported that. And, as we learned in [maymay’s] first privacy talk, an individual user is my biggest threat to my privacy.
MAYMAY: That’s right. So, part of the problem, and part of the reason this needs community backing to in any way be functional is to have the community be consistently one step ahead (at least) of the people who are likely to use this data to match that up with their targets. One of the key points I want to make about that, to the Internet especially, is that tools are neither moral, ethical, or in any way—technology is not in any way—able to make value judgements. A tool is a tool is a tool, and it will be used for good and evil. Every single one is. Every single one is. This is a tool. I am not gonna be—there’s no way to vet this technologically, it’s not a technical problem. It’s a social problem and this is a technology to assist social solutions. I want to make that clear.
Okay, you haven’t spoken, so can we go to you, and then….
AUDIENCE: Okay, so, in terms of one of the most important things is getting the word out to people, because of the way it exists in its current form and because of the kind of thing that it is and because the kind reporting is, using this tool requires a certain degree of being out about your experience. This is probably not, at least in the beginning, going to be something where the first time anybody ever tells anyone that they were abused by this person, they’re gonna tell the FAADE database. So, in terms of getting critical mass, the people we want to target are people who are already talking about their experiences.
AUDIENCE: It sounds like we need a forum on the Internet to continue this conversation and start aggregating solutions. Is there a place right now that exists or can we create one?
MAYMAY: There are several. There is this blog post that accepts comments and I’m happy to have that discussion happen there on my blog: http://tiny.cc/faade There is a Tumblr thread that is currently ongoing about this if you go to http://days.maybemaimed.com or just go to my Twitter [https://twitter.com/maymaym] and look at any of the links that go to FAADE. You’ll see that this was reblogged in less than a day something like 35 or 40 times, so people are already beginning to talk about it there. You can simply follow the reblogs of that and see that conversation there.
I would love to create more forums of this kind. One of the problems with that is that they are likely to be targeted and taken down. I’ve gotten at least seven different Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices from FetLife about tools that I’ve written—not this one, though I’m expecting this one to be taken down as well—because FetLife does that.
I know, I’m out of time.
So, we need one, but the answer, actually, is we need it to be dispersed. This cannot happen in one place. It should not happen in one place. And we need simply to be talking to the other places where this is happening.
AUDIENCE: I feel like the best way for this to work is breaking FetLife in a way that FetLife realizes that it is not okay what they’re doing.
MAYMAY: Yes. Two things about that. Number one is that this database gets downloaded and disseminated by every FAADE user. So, if you install this tool, you have on your computer a copy of the entire database and it will always be on your computer.
Secondly, if you are willing to help out with this sort of stuff, make copies of the database. Save the page. It’s just an HTML page for right now. I know it’s a prototype, but it’s still information we can utilize later.
Number three, this is connectable to anything else. The idea here is—imagine what’s impossible and then believe that it’s not impossible because these techniques and tools—so, case in point, this thing here. One of the ideas that I had was, okay, how do we make this even more useful, without asking the survivor for more information about themselves? What about every time you submitted—and here’s just an idea, I haven’t finished it yet—what if every time you submitted a report, the form itself then went out to FetLife and took a screenshot or a snapshot of all the information about the alleged abuser? The number of friends they had, their avatar pictures, their fetish lists, this sort of stuff. Why? So that we can have a collection of this data and see how things begin to change and see how [alleged] abusers begin to respond. Maybe it’s interesting to know.
Maybe what we’ll find—we don’t know this—but maybe we’ll find that sixty-seventy percent of alleged abusers have a specific fetish listed in their fetish list. Well, gee. That’s useful information to know about. And we can start to collect more information about what the community looks like, and make better informed choices about how to respond and how to deal with this issue that is plaguing us.
AUDIENCE: Just to make it clear, you’re talking about taking a snapshot of the accused person’s website and not the person who’s making the accusation?
MAYMAY: We don’t know who’s making the accusation.
MAYMAY: The tool does not know who’s making the accusation, and so we can’t do that. But we can snapshot the alleged abuser’s profile, yes.
AUDIENCE: Last thing and very quick, or, very quick thing regardless. Consider enabling survivor advocates and youth advocates to make reports on behalf of other people because I, as a survivor, don’t want to make a report, but I, as an advocate, want to make that report.
MAYMAY: Yes. Wonderful. Um, there’s a lot to get through. We are way over time. I saw many of you writing down little ideas that you had throughout this. Can I collect those so that we can look at them later on? I’d like to encourage everyone who has—all of these are going to go into an issue tracker. If you go to https://github.com/meitar (my name), you’ll see a list of tools that I’ve written. FetLife FAADE is one of them. There’s an issue tracker there where you can submit new ideas as feature requests. You can report bugs. You can ask for different kinds of improvements and talk about issues, and that’s another forum that’s useful for that, and I’ll be very active there. These are all basically feature requests. I’d love to work on them.
If you know of anyone who has skill in programming or other kinds of advocacy, or even just is interested in talking about this issue, I encourage everyone—did I give all of you these already?—there are pages like this on my website. Once you complete a report—let’s do this really quickly—you are presented, currently—and again, let’s talk about the wording of all these and let’s talk about how to change or improve some of these—when you make a report like so, I’m just gonna say user number 1, John Baku, severe, “random generic rape story,” cuz they’re just that many of them. Where? The Tardis. When? We’ll say 1776. Whatever. And the point is, once you submit this, you’re presented with a thank you that give you, currently, a link to the tool itself. There’s a link there also to the PDF [flyer], some background information, and a lot of these links also provide—some of these links, not all of them—provide links to places like RAINN, to places like A Long Walk Home. These are all organizations that support survivors of abuse and some in particular are cyber harassment and cyber stalking resources. The suggestion to make those a little more prominent is a good one, I think I should do that.
Any last words?
Great. Good. Thank you so much and thank you for thinking about this.