Software Development as Direct Action

Recently, I was invited to speak at the local Code for America brigade in Albuquerque, Code4ABQ. The presentation I put together with the help of R. Foxtale was the first public articulation of the development methodology we have been using for some time in projects like the Predator Alert Tool, the WordPress SeedBank plugin, and other, newer projects still under development. It’s also a term we’ve coined to distinguish between common misconceptions of “hacktivism,” which seem to primarily invoke ideas of digital breaking and entering (cracking), or leaking.

Although “software development as direct action” can legitimately be called a form of hacktivism, its focus is explicitly productive: building new stuff. My presentation told the story of the Predator Alert Tool as a way to showcase what we mean when we say “direct action software development.”

A video of the presentation, along with a transcript, is below. As per usual, all of my presentation materials for “Software Development as Direct Action” are Creative Commons licensed; you are encouraged to download and remix this work for non-commercial purposes. :)

Okay, so we’re here to talk about Software Development as Direct Action, and we don’t have much time. There are big problems out there and they need solving today. In the next ten minutes, I’m going to show you how you can solve them.

But first, I want to introduce you to Professor_Oni. And to Mabus. And John Black. And GamerGeekGuy. And all of these people….

These people have been accused by numerous different women of repeated sadomasochistic rapes. We know who they are because of this tool, a tiny browser extension called the Predator Alert Tool. These two-hundred and sixty or so lines of JavaScript—the entire source fits on this one slide—sparked years of debate and has catalyzed hundreds of thousands of lines of criticism, praise, ridicule, panic, relief, and hope across the blogosphere and in corporate board rooms alike.

The Predator Alert Tool is one example of what we’ve come to call “direct action software development.” The purpose is simple: maximum social impact. The method, simpler: Minimum lines of code.

What is direct action software development?

First, I’m going to assume that you already know a bit about what “software development” is. This is a pretty familiar idea: writing code to build apps, websites, or other technology products for use by people with laptops or smartphones. Writing code is the basic act required to produce software. No code? No software.

But what is “Direct Action”? We’ve found that what people think “Direct Action” really is varies based on, bluntly, how much brainwashing they’ve been subjected to. So let me take a moment to quickly describe what we mean when we say direct action.

When we talk about “Direct Action” we mean:

Any action that immediately addresses the root cause of a problem.

That sounds rather obvious. You may even be asking yourself, “Why would people waste time taking actions that don’t immediately address the root cause of a problem?” Well, there are several reasons:

  • Maybe certain actions aren’t permitted by an authority. Some people will limit themselves only to actions that they have permission to take.
  • Maybe they don’t understand, or they misunderstand, the root cause of a problem. In this case, people will often take actions they think will help, even if those actions don’t make much of a difference.
  • Maybe they don’t have some resource they need; they lack the skills, knowledge, or other materials to take immediate action.

Here are some examples of direct action in the physical world:

In most cases, tackling a problem with the direct action approach provides the most immediate solution. It’s also often dangerous, maybe illegal, and definitely disruptive. If successful, it will piss someone off. But at the end of the day, direct action is the single most effective and efficient thing you can do to make meaningful positive change. Historically, no lasting social change has ever been accomplished without a direct action component. Not once. Not ever.

Back to software. “Direct action software development” is a translation of direct action to the digital realm. It is:

Any code that immediately addresses the root cause of a problem.

Code is action. Remember Professor_Oni? He is a member of a fetish dating website called FetLife. In January 2012, a controversy that had been brewing amongst the FetLife community for years finally rose to national prominence when women came forward to accuse numerous prominent FetLife members of sexual assault. In response, the FetLife management deleted the survivor’s postings and threatened to ban them for violating the site’s Terms of Use. This went about as well as you’d expect: word of the heavy-handed censorship spread like wildfire and within a few weeks, many more women had come forward with similar stories, including some who accused the site’s founder, John Baku, of sexual assault. Once again, FetLife’s response was to delete or edit the new postings.

But by June of that year, the topic of sexual assault within the supposedly “safe, sane, and consensual” BDSM subculture was flashing across headlines of, the New York Observer, and other high-profile media outlets. Activists from within the BDSM community had been organizing “Consent Culture” working groups for some time, and their membership numbers swelled.

Rape is exceedingly common in the BDSM scene. In fact, even the community’s own lobbying groups such as the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom—one of their board members doubled as FetLife’s community manager, by the way—admit to a 50% higher occurrence of consent violations among BDSM practitioners than the general populace. That’s nearly as bad as police officers, who statistically speaking are also twice as likely to be perpetrators of domestic violence. The BDSM scene has a self-delusional belief that they are “all about consent,” but in reality, they are at least as bad with sexual consent as everybody else, and likely a lot worse given their penchant for eroticizing abuse. Many women and Submissive-identified people within that community, including myself, had been saying this for a long time, but had been routinely ignored.

Even during the height of these national debates about “the BDSM community’s consent crisis,” the Consent Culture working groups were pitifully meek. They had collectively decided that “something must be done,” but what they chose to “do” was make a petition calling for the removal of the clause in FetLife’s Terms of Use that the site’s management was using as justification for censoring rape survivors. But as is often the case, when you must beg for something from a master, you find that they will not grant your request. Three years later, FetLife has still refused to change their policy and is still censoring rape survivors—unless those survivors use the Predator Alert Tool.

In October 2012, I realized that the root cause of the FetLife problem was simply that site management got to control what users saw when they browsed the site. But the Internet, which was made famous by mashups, allowed a unique opportunity to route around FetLife’s censorship in a way FetLife could not control. I wrote a simple mashup between a public Google Spreadsheet and FetLife that enabled anyone to report a negative experience with a FetLife member. With a mere 260 lines of JavaScript, that information could then be overlaid directly on

With Predator Alert Tool for FetLife, the problem of FetLife’s censorship all but vanished: FetLife users could now warn other FetLife users about predatory behavior, and FetLife’s site management was powerless to stop it. Just a few weeks ago, we met a woman right here in Albuquerque who had used the tool to alert others about a local “Master” violating her consent.

Users of the tool then began asking for a similar capability on other sites, like OkCupid and Facebook. There are now seven variations of the Predator Alert Tool browser add-on, each designed to work with a particular social network or dating site. Importantly, none of these tools has been developed in collaboration with the social network in question. Most sites have refused to acknowledge the tool, despite inquiries from journalists and community members. Some sites are actively hostile, sending DMCA takedown notices and even threatening to ban Predator Alert Tool users. Meanwhile, the already overwhelming positive response from the user community continues to grow.

Predator Alert Tool arose directly from the needs of the community that it serves. It enabled the user community to do exactly what the authorities at FetLife didn’t want done, or what OkCupid and Facebook don’t want users thinking too critically about. And it accomplished this by just implementing that capability rather than waiting for permission to do so. Its impact was immediate and disruptive—on purpose. These characteristics are indicative of all direct action software development projects.

Today in 2015 the petition proposed by the “Consent Culture” working groups has still not achieved its goal of stopping FetLife from silencing rape survivors. Predator Alert Tool was able to accomplish that goal in one night of coding, with these 260 lines of code, three years ago.

In 2014, Creative Commons creator Larry Lessig appealed to technologists, to you, to take up this cause of immediate, direct action software development:

[T]here is a movement out there that has ENORMOUS needs which you, uniquely, can provide. The obvious ones, the technical needs. This is a movement that will only succeed if we find a way to knit together people in a different model from the television advertising model of politics today. […] This movement is STARVED for people with your skill who can figure out how to make this work. It desperately needs this type of skill offered by people who genuinely believe in the cause as opposed to people who are just trying to get rich.

If you want to change the world, but you don’t want to make a lot of money doing it, let’s talk. We’ve been doing direct action software development since before we knew what to call it, and we’re going to keep doing it. It would be wonderful to find other people who are excited about working with us. There are big problems out there. And they need solving.


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On Rolequeer Methodology: Effective ideological anarchism

R. Foxtale has a new blog post up discussing some interesting meta points related to rolequeer theory and, specifically, the methodology behind its own theorizing:

We’re not professional academics, not professional activists, not professional writers, nothing – nor do we aspire to any of those positions of authority. We are kids on the Internet trying to make the world better ASA fucking P. And this means getting our ideas out of our heads, and into the hands of more people who might be able to use and improve them, as fast as we can. Even if we don’t look good doing it. Our priority is to be memetic, not to be impressive. This is an explicitly rolequeer ethic.

We’ve taken to using the shorthand phrase “Iteration Not Concentration” to refer to this way of being in constant flux in relationship to our own theorizing. Mimesis, not attribution, has always been more important to us—and has historically always been more impactful.

Index cards with one word each: Iteration Not Concentration

Between the two of us, however, R. foxtale is the “educated” one, a trained academician and researcher, whose been unlearning academia:

I came up in an academic milieu where my intellect (and self-esteem) were defined by my ability to make a logically-sound philosophical argument, extra bonus points if it was painstakingly articulated and rhetorically elegant, even if that meant moving the conversation forward so fractionally as to be effectively meaningless, or even just reiterating stuff other people already said 300 years ago. It’s been HARD work for me to unlearn the deeply-internalized programming that tells me publishing ideas before they’re perfected makes me “intellectually lazy.” I’m still working on it.

I’m the hothead, the middle-school drop out, the impatient one. We make a good pair. :)

All ideas, or at least all good ones, go through a kind of neonatal, bisociative, “see what sticks” stage in which the thinker is just lumping random shit together because it sounds good, or they’re curious what will happen if they try this chord instead of that one, or if they add cumin and bananas to this stir-fry. This is often thought of as a sort of drafting/note-taking/raw processing/experimental stage and it’s fine to do, and to do messily and poorly, as long as you mostly do it in private and don’t go serving your paying customers banana and cumin stir-fry.

What rolequeers do, however, is that we tend to “publish” our work (aka be like, “You have to try this thing I made!”) at a MUCH earlier stage of development than is generally considered “professional.” This is because we are not professionals.

But, as I said above, this is an explicitly rolequeer ethic. Behaving in a maximally transparent and generative way, if doing so has even the tiniest potential to shift our collective theoretical consciousness towards disrupting oppression, has a clear ethical priority over appearing smart, cool, consistent, or even correct.

I’ve pointed this out many times before, too, but it’s worth emphasizing that there’s a gigantic difference between a professional activist and someone who actually makes meaningful change. We’re not the only ones making these anti-institutional arguments, of course. Another good primer is William Gillis’s “Organizations versus Getting Shit Done,” which may be easier to understand because it discusses institutions in the more traditional sense, whereas I defined and discuss “professional activist” as an institution in the sociological role sense (because the context is rolequeer theory, of course).

This is not to say that rolequeer thinkers never do any pre-processing. Maymay and I have hours of conversation that never make it to paper. We try out ideas, throw away bad ones, and even (gasp!) disagree. There are a handful of private threads and other little forums scattered about the Internet where various rolequeer folks are working through concepts that are still a bit too unarticulated (or incendiary) for public consumption…yet. But our threshold for releasing idea-seeds into the wild is FAR lower than almost any other strain of political theory I’m aware of. […] And we do this on purpose, because we believe that the Internet as a collective effort is infinitely more intelligent, creative, and visionary than even the brightest individual one of us could possibly be.

Furthermore, there is some strategy around packaging these probably-mostly-wrong proto-ideas in rhetoric that invites people to really argue with us about them i.e. by stating them as if they are simply factual rather than just wrapping them in, “Oh, I’m just thinking aloud here. I’m probably wrong. Don’t mind me.” Because we tend to engage quite politely with ideas sandwiched between caveats but, ultimately, people who tell me I’m fucking wrong and then tell me exactly why are going to move my intellectual process forward much faster than people who give me polite “constructive criticism” or none at all — even though receiving the former genuinely hurts WAY worse than receiving the latter.

And finally, the thing about being consistently, embarrassingly wrong in public is that it is fantastic insurance against becoming an authority figure. I never want people to consider me an authority on rolequeerness, because with authority comes the power to coercively impose your ideas on others’ minds. With that power comes the responsibility to slow way down and be much more careful about where, when, how, and with what degree of completeness you share your thoughts. And with that slowness comes the continued rape, violence, and oppression of vulnerable people who might’ve otherwise been protected from or avoided a dangerous situation if they’d only just seen the word “rolequeer” come across their dash a little earlier and had the opportunity to think for themselves about what it might mean.

This, too, is an explictly rolequeer ethos: understand that rejecting authority offers concrete, tangible benefits, not only to oneself, but also to others whose freedoms your non-cooperation with (active resistance against) said authorities inevitably supports.

I’ve been seeing R. Foxtale mull this post over for a while. Check it out in full on her blog. It’s nice to see the whole thing published, perfection be damned. ;)

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Search for FetLife profiles by all profile fields (age/sex/location/orientation/about me/looking for/number of pictures, and much more) without needing to login

Douchey Dom says: “I got her to join FetLife for its privacy features. … That”s the joke.”

So, this has been available for quite a while, but now that FetLife is actively removing links to it from venues they control (according to this tweet, which was part of this conversation, anyway), I figured it’s time to spread more links to it. :) Try it out:

  1. Log out of your FetLife account (if you have one and are logged in).
  2. Go to this page.
  3. Do a search! (This GIF screencast shows a demo.)

FetLife Age/Sex/Location Search (Extended Edition) demo

To reiterate, you do not need a FetLife account to use this search tool, though you do need one to “Send username a message on FetLife” (obviously?). It’s like your very own FetLife Meatlist. :)

Notice that you can search and filter profiles by pretty much any field, including their website lists (to easily limit your search to users with Twitter or Facebook profiles, for example), their “About Me” bio description, and how many photos or friends they have. Excluding profiles with no friends makes it easy to weed out sock puppets. :)

This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. By clicking the “Find username on other social networks” button, you can do a search on Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, and about a dozen other sites for the same user profile. The “Find username‘s profile pic on other sites” button makes it easy to do a reverse-image search for a person’s profile photo across the entire Internet. Finally, the “Report username for predatory behavior” button makes it easy to file a statement about that person in the Predator Alert Tool for FetLife. Again, since you don’t need to have a FetLife account to perform a search or to file a statement about a FetLife user in the Predator Alert Tool for FetLife, this is a very handy way of finding people to report even if you’re not on the fetish dating site yourself.

If you do have an account on FetLife, though, you can just install this tool directly into the site. That way, you can access the search form with the click of a button, directly next to FetLife’s own search bar. Simply follow these instructions. :)

For those who are wondering, “Hey, I thought FetLife was private and secure!” this is probably a rude awakening. Turns out you’ve been bamboozled. I know, I know, you (and the FetLife “Carebears”) are probably “shocked, SHOCKED!” that this was even possible in the first place.

Fact is, this was all made possible because FetLife has a financial incentive to erode user privacy, to ensure that it is very poor. Everyone who’s bothered to do a Google search on the matter knows this, because it’s been written about many times for many years now. In plainer words: FetLife doesn’t want to enhance user privacy because doing so directly conflicts with FetLife’s business model. That’s why, despite saying they’re improving security, what FetLife is actually doing is, well, nothing at all, and sometimes making it much, much worse.

Thanks for the insecurity, FetLife. I’m looking forward to your next frivolous copyright takedown notice now. ;) Let me know if you’ll ever paying the $2,000+ invoice you owe me from 2012, eh?

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Rolequeerness and Felt-Consent have escaped the filter bubble

R. Foxtale found the loveliest thing! :)

In a /r/Anarchism discussion of Liberating Ourselves in the Boudoir: An Anarcha-Feminist Perspective Against BDSM, user ErnieMaclan put together this fabulous overview of some key ideas in rolequeer theory, with excerpts and everything

I’ve already covered how the ideas in one of our earliest essays, consent as a felt sense, have already worked their way into avenues of progressive discourse that you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to, like music fan forums. This kind of fast, memetic spread of ideas speaks to the immediate value, importance, and resonance of what we’ve been saying. Also, spreading ideas in plain language outside of activist circles is what’s required for any actual social change to happen. Most Social Justice Warriors™ aren’t serious about actually enacting social change, though, so the focus of their efforts is to bounce ideas around in a filter bubble, an echo chamber, where they can accrue reputation points (popularity) without the hassle of actually, y’know, doing or saying anything significant, meaningful, or important. (*cough*ozy*cough*)

Meanwhile, what other rolequeers and I have been theorizing and documenting and sharing and writing about and doing in our personal lives and our work has continued to spread beyond the narrow confines of the Internet social justice circle-jerk in-crowd. In addition to the music forums mentioned earlier, the anarchist discussion spaces R. Foxtale mentions, and many kinds of sex advice forums, rolequeerness and consent as a felt sense are both now being discussed (and supported!) on parenting boards, particularly among mothers. The latest citing is on Mumsnet, a site “for parents by parents” where user almondcakes drops some knowledge in an advice thread:

I mean, we can all hum and ha about why people might be sexually interested in the subordination of women. Surely the most likely reason is that women are subordinated and we all grow up and see that every day. People are also often interested in the subordination of black people.

So it could be quite difficult to suddenly become the dominant person in bed when that is totally at odds with the group you are in in society, and why would you want to pretend to be part of the dominant group or play at equality if it isn’t real to you?

You are currently eroticising the power and oppression that exists in society. If you are now thinking about liberation in society, can you eroticise liberation from subordination instead?

And read up on rolequeer for a far better explanation.

And then later, in response to some of the more predictable derailments that come from the pro-rape brainwashing most people are still conditioned with, namely the “bedroom fallacy,” almondcakes responded:

The whole point of subdom is that it is political. That is entirely what it is.

Politics is about how power operates in society.

Sub dom is the eroticisation of power, and it is a specific form of the eroticisation of power in that it recreates oppressive situations without eroticising liberation from them.

Very many people are to some extent submissive and subordinate, and there is absolutely nothing whatsoever wrong with that.

The problem is that our society, and BDSM culture in particular, has put together a set of cultural conventions about what people with sub tendencies should and should not be doing to be emotionally and sexually satisfied, and what dominant people should be doing to them.

So there are all these sayings put out there about how in BDSM the power is all with the sub, that a sub needs a dom, that subs’ boundaries should be pushed and so on. Many subs disagree with all of this.

I would say that anyone who is a sub and is uncomfortable with the kind of sex they are having should go and get/read advice written by subs who have exited BDSM and found ways of exploring being a sub in other ways. And that involves thinking about the precise specifics of what you like and just making tiny shifts in the dynamic so that you are comfortable with yourself.

And you can’t get that from people who are invested in that BDSM mindset, particularly if they are doms, because they have a vested interest in making you believe there is only one way of being a sub – acting out BDSM scenarios that mimic abuse.

When I first started writing about rolequeerness publicly, the immediacy of BDSM’ers’s attempts to shut us up made it clear to me that we were on to something really important. Now, the relevance and importance of rolequeerness, and its felt-consent ethos is even clearer—especially now that the white cis L and G betrayal of queer B and T resistance to marriage and its shitty heteronormativity is complete. We are the next wave queer resistance.

Meanwhile, I’m confident that the rape apologetic delusions festering at the core of pro-BDSM and sex-positive/liberal feminists (*cough*ozy*cough*)—delusions like “BDSM is not abuse!!!1!eleventy!!!“—will spur those SJW morons to continue constructing rolequeer strawpeople in an effort designed to make themselves appear and feel relevant, even though they’re obviously not. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the conversation expand even further. It is so awesome to see our ideas about rolequeerness and its application to personal liberation really resonate, and resonate so strongly that its escaped the strangling filter bubble of the social justice world lunatic fringe into so many other forums of discussion. :)

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On release of 12th installment of the FetLife Meat List, publication of third feature “How FetLife Failed” article in 3 months

Last week, Mikandi, the third-party app store entirely devoted to porn apps, published a feature article titled “The FetLife Meatlist: How A Social Network Failed Its Users” detailing the continued regular releases of installments of Mircea Popescu’s infamous catalog of FetLife profiles of young women. This marks the third feature article in a mainstream online media outlet discussing how “FetLife failed its users” in as many months. The first two were the Atlantic’s piece titled “How Kink’s Largest Social-Networking Site Fails Its Users,” on March 3rd, and the DailyDot’s article on April 28th, with its Lifestyle section editor EJ Dickson tweeting:

The latest feature was written by AV Flox, a far more rigorous writer than many others with a similar beat. As a result, her article is thorough, well-researched, and far less fluffy than the first two. She’s also the only one who addresses FetLife’s continued abuse of copyright law, the only one to put this issue into a meaningful historical context with regards to FetLife’s many prior failings, and the only author of the three to point out why and how the feminist blogosphere’s own shortsighted reaction contributes to the sexual commodification of young women—exactly the same thing as what the Meat List intentionally does and what these so-called “Social Justice” bloggers say they are trying to avoid.

Here’s a slightly edited excerpt from Flox’s feature:

Clearly there’s a difference between a person who shares a piece of media of their own free will with a site and a person who is exposed without their consent. But the difference begins to shrink as one enumerates the ways that FetLife has failed users: by creating a false sense of security, by using their media as a commercial incentive by default, and by failing to fully delete their media when users try to take it down.

We — the female-identified users, and especially those of us who are submission-oriented — are FetLife’s meat. We’ve always been FetLife’s meat.

The History

Hacking is like breaking and entering. What Popescu did wasn’t even trespassing. The truth is that users are so easy to enumerate on FetLife, it’s almost as though FetLife was designed for data mining.

And this isn’t the first time it’s happened, either.

In 2012, I covered a number of security and safety issues on FetLife, explicitly mentioning the ease with which the network could be mined. John Baku, the social network’s founder, responded to the piece, saying, “With respect to your technical concerns… I am not sure where you got your facts from but this is not the case. Though, if you can prove us wrong then we would for sure fix the problem.”

Baku had to deflect. Three weeks before my piece, a FetLife user and hacktivist by the name of maymay had, in fact, illustrated just how easily profile information could be mined and exposed outside the walls of FetLife with a simple bit of code that remains available.

FetLife refused to admit it had failed its users. Baku labeled that incident an “ill-intentioned attack” and spun it as a one-time situation — the work of a malicious hacker that FetLife bravely thwarted.

“Within an hour of being notified of this tool we blocked it,” Baku wrote in a post that announced the network’s response to the crisis.

It was a lie that it was an attack. It was a lie that the tool had been blocked — the single server that had been running the code was blocked, not the ability for this or any other bit of code to easily mine everything on FetLife. This has been illustrated twice since: last year, when a site called FetLifeSearcher made it possible for anyone to search through FetLife profiles, and again, with the release of the Meatlist.

It’s not lost on me that maymay’s illustration of this issue didn’t get the media attention that the Meatlist has generated: maymay’s code exposed the profile information of FetLife users in positions of power and overwhelmingly male, rather than focusing exclusively on potentially vulnerable women under the age of 30. If we, the female-identified users on Fetlife, are the meat, then we, the media, are actively contributing to the consumption of female-identified bodies, even as we set out to raise awareness about what this “blatant case of misogyny and predation,” as the Meatlist has been described, says about BDSM culture.

The Other List

By mid-April Popescu’s Meatlist had transcended discussions among users and begun to draw media attention. That’s around the time that an e-mail from maymay landed in my inbox: “[The data mined from FetLife] can be cross-referenced with the database [detailing reports of abuse among FetLife users] collected by Predator Alert Tool for FetLife, and can thus be used to answer questions like, ‘What is the most known dangerous city for submissive-identified women?’, ‘what is the average age of an accused male dom?’ and so on.”

The first thing maymay did with the mined data was release a collection of all dominant, male-identified users with paid accounts on FetLife under the name “The FetLife Creeplist.” The second thing maymay did was put the information to work.

Analyzing 15,495 premium FetLife accounts — that is, the network’s paying customers — maymay discovered that 73 percent are men. As has been pointed out, this stands in contrast to trends on social networks, where women tend to dominate, but is more in line with porn sites, where one third of users or less are women.

Of these male users, the majority (42 percent) identify with a dominant type of sexual role (daddy, dom, master, sadist, and top), compared to 11 percent who identify with submissive roles (babygirl, bottom, brat, kajira, pet, slave, sub). Only 18 percent of all paid users identify with a submissive type of sexual role.

Suddenly, it makes sense that Kinky & Popular would be dominated by imagery of sexualized, submissive women.

Next, maymay looked over data collected by the Predator Alert Tool for FetLife, an add-on independent of the social network that users can install to read and report consent violations while browsing FetLife. This add-on came into being following a 2012 campaign by FetLife to silence victims of sexual assault; it’s been available for almost three years and holds reports on 652 individual FetLife users.

Paid users make roughly over one percent of total users on FetLife, but they make up 13 percent of alleged abusers. Of these, over 60 percent were male-identified, with the most likely roles for abusers being “dom,” “sadist” and “switch” (someone who alternates roles between dominance and submission).

“If you ever wanted a clear idea of why [ … ] continues to insist on the protection of rapists time and time and time again ad nauseum, here’s a big clue,” maymay wrote, referring to FetLife’s policy of removing posts that accuse people — by username — of sexual assault or other types of consent violation.


The Nonsense[, The Abuse, and The Aftermath]

When it learned of the Meatlist, FetLife did the same thing it did when it became aware of FetLifeSearcher and maymay’s 2012 so-called “attack”: it issued a copyright takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to Popescu’s host and other online service providers. […] FetLife uses the DMCA process in lieu of real security mechanisms because it’s very easy to abuse it. To avoid liability, the host of the content that receives a DMCA takedown notice may disrupt access to the content, pending a response from the person alleged to be infringing copyright. For users who are unfamiliar with the DMCA process, the disruption of service often intimidates them into backing down — even in cases where takedowns are fraudulent or the work said to be infringing is protected by fair use.


After BitLove issued its DMCA notice, Popescu took down the Meatlist and sent a counternotice. BitLove’s next move would have been to file a lawsuit against Popescu to keep the content offline, but the legally-mandated 14-day window in which BitLove could have brought legal action came and went and Popescu made the Meatlist available once again.

The lack of legal action on BitLove’s part is telling, as are the FetLife content guidelines that illustrate that BitLove’s officers have at least a basic understanding of how the DMCA process works. Nevertheless, almost two months after failing to file a suit against Popescu, BitLove issued a takedown notice to maymay’s host, which took the post down pending maymay’s counter-notice and the expiration of the 14-day window for BitLove to file a lawsuit.

Two days after Popescu published the eleventh installment of the Meatlist last week, FetLife’s founder John Baku [claimed] in a podcast interview […] to have no knowledge of the Creeplist or the Predator Alert Tool for Fetlife.

Today, Mircea Popescu published the twelfth installment of his list of FetLife women under 30. The Creeplist will be legally clear to return to maymay’s blog this week as well — but then, the Creeplist never left the internet. In a clear illustration of how inadequate the DMCA takedown process is as a security mechanism, someone captured the contents of the Creeplist with a internet archiving tool before the post was taken down. This capture was almost immediately indexed by Google, meaning everything on the list has remained only a search away despite BitLove’s legal maneuvers, and very well could remain available, even if maymay decided not to republish the post.

As Flox predicted, the FetLife Creep List is indeed back up on my blog following my own successful DMCA counter-notice against FetLife’s frivolous takedowns (something I’ve gotten quite practiced at over the years). Of course, the Creep List is also still up at the half dozen or so other archiving sites where it was copied. Moreover, I’ve written a summary of the preliminary data analysis I’ve done on the more than 1.5 million FetLife user account records that were mined, for those who want more hard numbers, whose key conclusions are that FetLife is a porn site, not a social network, and that FetLife customers are 13 times more sexually predatory than the porn site’s non-paying users.

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According to their customer records, FetLife is a porn site, not a social network, whose paying customers are 13 times more likely to be rapists than non-paying users

There was a predictable outcry from pro-BDSM bloggers like Rebecca Hiles when the “FetLife Meat List,” a simple spreadsheet cataloging the FetLife usernames and basic profile info of 30,000 users who identified themselves as female and under 30 years old, was released. But as usual, all Social Justice Warrior rhetoric condemning the list was shortsighted at best, though most of it was downright moronic. They all seemed to condemn the construction of such lists rather than the fact that the list targets the most vulnerable demographic.

In response, I released the FetLife Creep List, Volume 1 a few weeks later, a similar list but including one of FetLife’s most privileged demographics (male dominants with money) rather than one of its most vulnerable demographics (young women). The point is to illustrate that it’s possible to highlight privacy problems with websites like FetLife which continues to be a privacy and security nightmare many years after I first publicized them in a way that is equally compelling and attention-getting (e.g., by calling them “Creeps”), but doesn’t also target the most vulnerable possible demographic. Unfortunately, since the Internet’s “Social Justice Warriors” are all talk and no walk, they missed making that obvious point, not to mention failing to actually take advantage of that point to further their own stated goals. That’s typical SJW for you, though.

Fact is, there’s a lot of actionable information about rape culture and the BDSM subculture’s reliance on rape culture’s perpetuation for its own survival that can be illustrated with a list of the most privileged demographics in this case. Once again, that’s something that sex-positive “feminists” consistently miss, the poor dears.

After compiling the Creep List, I did a bit of basic statistical analysis on FetLife customer demographics and found numerous discrepancies between what the BDSM Scene and FetLife in particular say about themselves and what they actually do. The two biggest take-aways from the preliminary analysis are as follows:

  1. FetLife isn’t a social network. It’s a porn site, both in terms of its business model and its general usage. It simply cannot be classified as a social network with the likes of Facebook under any reasonable definition of the term. This directly contradicts FetLife’s own statements about how the site works and why the site exists.
  2. Users who support FetLife financially (i.e., FetLife’s paying customers) are at least 13 times more likely to be perpetrators of sexual violence, rape, and consent violations than the average (non-paying) FetLife user. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of FetLife customers as well as the overwhelming majority of FetLife users reported to the Predator Alert Tool for FetLife consent-violation tracking system are male doms, further corroborating the claim that FetLife actively silences rape survivors for expressly self-interested financial motivations.

Let’s look at each of these points and the data behind them in turn.

FetLife is a porn site that pretends to be a social network.

The first thing that the data clearly shows is that FetLife’s is effectively the same kind of site as amateur porn sites like YouPorn or XTube. Here’s how unquietpirate described it in her post summarizing the statistics:

FetLife’s business model is, effectively, to be a porn site in “social network” clothing. Instead of hiring models and performers and charging for membership, the adult content is provided for free by some “community members” and consumed by others. (Ironically, because of FetLife’s shoddy security, the “premium” video content offered exclusively to paid members is actually available to anyone with the URL.)

It’s an oft-repeated truism in discussions of “free” social media: If you’re not the customer, you’re the product. We know who the “product” on FetLife is. Much has been written about how the “Kinky & Popular” feature primarily displays photos of young, conventionally attractive, scantily-clad, submissive women. Who is the customer? Clearly, those who support FetLife financially.


A few days ago, in response to the release of the FetLife “Meat List” (a database of female-identified FetLife users under 30), Maymay published the FetLife “Creep List” of 3,700+ male- and dominant-identified paid subscribers to FetLife, drawn from a dataset of 1.5 million FetLife user accounts. Further data analysis showed that “a total of 15,495 accounts were identified as having premium FetLife memberships” and that “Male doms make up far and away the largest proportion of FetLife’s [paying] customer base, accounting for 3,452 (22.28%) of the total customer accounts identified.” (Not to mention that 72.89% of FetLife’s total paying customer base identify themselves as male, further confirmation that FetLife is a porn site, not a social network — which research shows are almost universally dominated by women.)

Put another way, the data shows that nearly a full three-fourths of FetLife’s customers are male. That’s an even more pronounced gender split than typical online porn stats. Even more revealing, though, is that nearly a full quarter (22.28%) of FetLife’s customers are both male and dominant-identified. Here’s a simple heatmap showing these stats visually:

Simple heatmap showing demographic breakdown of FetLife customers. Male doms make up almost a full quarter of the porn site's customers.

FetLife’s customers are 13 times more sexually predatory than non-paying members

Regular readers will remember that, in addition to the FetLife Creep List, I’ve also been working on a long-running project to build sexual violence prevention software into the architecture of the Internet. The most visible parts of this social impact project is a set of free software applications collectively called the Predator Alert Tools (PATs). One of the earliest PATs was designed for FetLife, and it’s been collecting data for well over two years. With the release of the FetLife Creep List, it’s now possible to cross-reference over 1.5 million FetLife user account’s basic profile data with the data collected by the Predator Alert Tool for FetLife to build a profile of FetLife users involved in situations with questionable consent practices.

And that’s what I’ve done. The results are sobering and unsurprising, confirming yet again that male doms (the same demographic as FetLife’s best customers), and certain male doms in particular, are far and away the most sexually predatory demographic on the porn site. In her post, “FetLife’s Best Customers,” unquietpirate summarizes the findings like this:

Analysis of this huge dataset, which comprises demographic information for nearly half the total member accounts on the site, is ongoing. There is great potential for cross-reference with demographic information drawn from the PAT-FetLife database. It’s unknown yet what kind of questions we might now be well-placed to answer about the FetLife userbase and BDSM Scene membership in general. (FetLife offers a functional microcosm for suggesting broader research, since makes a point of monopolizing online “social networking” space for the national and international “kink community.”)

One of the most striking early findings to come out of the data, however, is the correlation between FetLife users who pay for premium accounts and FetLife users who have been reported for violating a partner’s consent[.]

The way the correlation breaks down is like this:

In the Predator Alert Tool for FetLife database as of April 29th, 2015, there are 652 unique users reported as having violated someone’s consent. Out of those 652 users, 86 (13.19%) are paying FetLife customers. […]

Among paying FetLife customers, consent violations are overhwelmingly perpetrated by D-type roles, with Doms across all reported genders accounting for 19 accused users (22.1%), followed by sadists and switches, who each account for 10 accused users (11.63%). Notably, there are no male S-type FetLife customers who have been accused of consent violations so far.

From a dataset of over 1.5 million FetLife accounts (1,517,103, to be precise), a total of 15,495 customers were identified, showing that FetLife’s customer base is approximately 1.02% of its total user base. In contrast, out of 652 unique users reported to the Predator Alert Tool for FetLife, 86 of those users are paying customers, which is a whopping 13.19%.

This indicates that paying FetLife customers are 13 times more likely to be sexual predators than the average FetLife user. In other words, you may want to be especially cautious whenever you see the “I support FetLife” badge on someone’s profile. :\

So. That’s a thing.

Once again, a visual heatmap of the above stats:

Simple heatmap showing the demographics of FetLife customers cross-referenced in the Predator Alert Tool for FetLife database.

Although FetLife insists that protecting their revenue stream isn’t why they censor rape survivors on their site, the fact of the matter is that the data shows a significant chunk of their revenue comes from people who materially and substantially benefit from FetLife’s continued censoring of rape survivors. There just isn’t any wiggle room anymore. Numerous bloggers, including myself, have questioned FetLife on this in the past. For example, M. Lunas was quite explicit on this point 2 years ago this month:

FetLife is a private For-Profit Canadian company. Among other sources, it receives funding from members who opt to pay a fee for added features–what is known in the tech world as a “freemium” model. What sort of features do these “supporters” get? Along with a number of pretty useless things, they get community status in the form of a badge on their profile, the ability to view over 5,000 of each day’s most popular pictures, videos, and writings, and the ability to upload and watch videos. There are over 80,000 such videos–mostly amateur porn–currently on the site. In other words, the benefit of paying is the ability to perv endlessly on other users’ amateur porn. And FetLife’s ability to provide the maximum amount of porn to paying members depends on other users not giving much thought to the security or privacy of what they’re uploading and sharing. And a rich database of amateur porn attracts more paying members. In other words, it is in FetLife’s direct financial interest not to provide security and privacy features.

He also voiced concern about the influence the vocal minority of FetLife customers—who, again, are primarily male doms and in many cases literally the same people accused of rape by other FetLife users who are not the site’s customers—might have on FetLife’s notorious policy of siding with “community members” who are accused of rape and against survivors of sexual violence:

[C]ould there be a profit motive here too? While disturbing, it makes sense. We know that predators (especially repeat abusers) are often community leaders, often older, and often male. Such people, I would hypothesize may be more likely than the average FetLife user to be a paying supporter of FetLife, either as a signifier of community status, or because they are better off financially (having had more time to rise in their careers and accumulate resources). […] In short, paying supporters are likely over-represented in the set of users who have allegations against them in [Predator Alert Tool for FetLife database]. Therefore, were FetLife to adopt a policy of removing members who were accused of consent violations, they would be targeting a group that disproportionately supports the site financially.

At the time of M. Lunas’s post, we could only make the educated guess that FetLife’s motivations for censoring rape survivors was indeed a policy designed to protect male doms, the demographic who is statistically most likely to pay them money to perv on your nude selfies as well as the most likely to actually physically assault you if they met you in person. Now, we no longer need to guess. Now, we know.

In an otherwise inane post about the FetLife Meat List issue, Rebecca Hiles writes:

the exposure of The List has raised the very important question of why Fetlife is the only popular option for kinksters looking to network and create a sense of community.

Given that FetLife’s customer records show it to be a porn site, not a social network, it’s definitely worth asking why the BDSM Scene continues to insist that it’s “not a meat market” when their primary social gathering spaces—both in-person and online—are commercial porn venues. But even more important than that, I think, is that given male doms are disproportionately more likely to be perpetrators of rape, why is it that the BDSM culture at large, not just FetLife in specific, continues to support rapists by glorifying dominance and sexual violation? And why do we continue to buy into a financial, economic, and legal system premised on the same sociopathic principles as justifying or excusing sadomasochistic rapes?

These and others are important questions. We’ve got a lot of tools at our disposal to attack rape culture. But don’t expect Hiles and the pro-BDSM contingent to focus on these latter questions or to do the work required to actually mitigate rape culture’s horrific impact. They’re far too busy enjoying their Social Justice Warrior circle jerk to think about it much, and besides, as BDSM’s cultural advocates, they rely on rape culture to get their jollies in the first place. When push comes to shove, they don’t want rape culture to actually diminish.

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