The FetLife Alleged Abusers Database Engine (FAADE), a simple tool enabling any Internet user to report a profile on the fetish dating website as belonging to a person who allegedly violated boundaries in some way such as by perpetrating sexual assault or rape, is a completely open system without any vetting process or other safeguards. Most people’s criticisms of FAADE have focused on two main objections. First, that the system provides no way to verify that what was alleged to have occurred actually did, i.e., “but what about false accusations!” Second, that it will be spammed, overloading a user’s ability to meaningfully consume the reports filed in FAADE.

Then, FAADE got spammed. This is the story of why the spam is actually the most interesting data collected by the tool to date.

Accusations of abuse are not novel; responses to them can be

After FAADE’s launch in October 2012, responses to the tool were varied. When I pointed out the spam reports to a collaborator, they got excited about it. “I know, sounds strange to be excited about this,” they said, “but it’s actually really cool. While individual reports are unverified and therefore have limited utility, group interactions around this thing are fucking amazing.”

On November 7th, 2012 at 7:15 PM Pacific time, a report was filed in FAADE against a FetLife user going by the handle TheRigger, a 52 year old male dominant person living in Milton Keynes, United Kingdom, according to their FetLife profile. The report read:

Failed to discuss boundaries and limits before engaging in BDSM with a vulnerable individual who he knew was new to BDSM. Mislead the individual as to his intentions and encouraged them into a restrained position, then took the situation to a level that had not been agreed upon. Agreeing to one activity =/= blanket consent.

Later exploited the newness of another individual to get away with non-consensually acting upon the fantasies this individual had admitted to having. Expressing a fantasy =/= consent.

The next day, a second report was filed:

made a total newbie throw up at his munch ( that he openly states is for him to pick up new subs) when he tied her up and then non consentually put a hitachi on her pubic bone

Assessing the “truth” about what happened is explicitly outside the scope and design purpose of FAADE. In fact, arguably no tool that will ever exist and certainly no tool that currently exists, including the euphemistically named “criminal justice system,” can determine if these accusations are objectively true or not. Moreover, scaremongering discourse that hypes dangers of “false accusations” is a (possibly intentional) distraction from discussing things we actually can assess, such as group social dynamics intended to cover up information about possible abuses from spreading through social networks.

In other words, rape culture’s “social license to operate” can be mapped.

Approximately a month after the initial FAADE reports against TheRigger’s profile, a slew of what are obviously griefer reports were filed. The first of the set was filed on December 11, 2012 against a FetLife user named d_k_, a 42 year old male-identified person (who also seems to have an OkCupid profile with the same name). According to d_k_’s FetLife profile, he lives in Barnet, United Kingdom, a mere 44.7 miles from Milton Keynes, where TheRigger seems to live. The first FAADE report associated with d_k_ read as follows:

Thinking FAADE is a great example of the worst of the bdsm community

Over the course of the next several hours, many more reports obviously designed to “spam” the FAADE database were filed, including a third report against TheRigger:

For being too hairy……have a shave you scruffy bugger! lol

So, what’s going on? I went to FetLife to dive a bit deeper.

Listening where they think you cannot hear them

I started by browsing to the profile of the first person who seemed to have a griefer (spam) report against them, d_k_. Right at the top of their activity feed, the following threads were easy to find.

High in the first thread (the picture one), d_k_ posted a comment that reads:

IN fact, I encourage everyone to download and install this script, and then to report everyone they know.

Report them for having cute tits

or a hairy ass

or being teetotal

or having farted in the car.

Trivialise it, make it useless.

Comment by d_k_ expressing intent to spam FAADE.

Comment by d_k_ expressing intent to spam FAADE.

When you’ve been involved in a community as proud of being rape-y as the BDSM Scene as long as I have, you start to see some patterns. I had a hunch we’d seen this before. Pervocracy describes one relevant pattern, called “The Missing Stair,” like this:

When I posted about a rapist in a community I belonged to, although I gave almost no details about the guy except “he’s a rapist,” I immediately got several emails from other members of that community saying “oh, you must mean X.” Everyone knew who he was! Tons of people, including several in the leadership, instantly knew who I meant. The reaction wasn’t “there’s a rapist among us!?!” but “oh hey, I bet you’re talking about our local rapist.”

But even without “hunches,” we can glean some sense of culture by reading what d_k_ has to say about himself on his FetLife profile:

I am a predator. I like the smell of the vulnerable. To stalk them down, perhaps even toy with them. I am not the kind that will chase for sport or for any other reason. I am a trapper. I will happily bide my time, keep my distance, let the prey feel safe.

If your fancy is lots of intricate ropework, then being bent over my knee for a spanking, this is not a safe place for you to be, toying with me is out of your depth. If you accept restraint can be merely a means to an end, that dancing on the edge of the precipice is where life really happens, you are not safe, but most welcome to try a tango.

The next day, another FAADE report was filed on TheRigger’s profile. This time, it appears TheRigger himself authored it:

To who ever made the above abuse accusations, would be interested in see what evidence you have to prove your accusations. Looking at the date of the said accusations it seems you have something festering about something I seem to have done to you. I am prepared to offer you an opportunity to be an adult come discuss this with me face to face, rather than play the school playground game. Lets have a chat to put some closure on what ever is bugging you. The alternative is to allow this to continue festering in you and destroy your soul, on my part I am not going to give this “rent free” space in my head.

To all that know me if you wish to believe above accusations – hey ho

As one friend put it when I shared all this with them, “So TheRigger gets a FAADE report and his friends respond by closing ranks around an alleged abuser. […W]hat we’re dealing with now is not a single unique user whose behavior may or may not have been abusive, what we’re dealing with is an at-your-fingertips example of an entire community’s toxic response to the possibility of abuse. It’s the thing we’ve read about before but haven’t been able to witness, play by play, on screen.”

This isn’t news. Those of you who don’t have to be convinced of the very existence of rape culture already know that communities ranging from sexuality subcultures, to orthodox religious communities of all kinds, to atheist communities, non-profit organizations, even myriad conferences, and more all have an endemic problem of covering up for abusers in their midst. No community is exempt, and no one is innocent.

Further, TheRigger is not just some nobody in his local fetish community, but rather the organizer of a social event called MKFN. He leads the Milton Keynes MKFN group on FetLife, which, on its about page, describes itself as “a group for those who can attend events in Milton Keynes and surrounding area […] and is there so people attending can dress up in kinky gear and mix with other like minded people.” Along with the description, there are rules listed that include a dress code and a reminder not to bring your own alcohol because alcohol is served at a fully-stocked bar at the event venue. As per usual, people in positions of power (those “in good standing,” with a high reputation) are among the most suspect.

But, how do we know TheRigger and d_k_ are associates? Let’s go play-by-play.

Data analysis process

A collaborator and I took a closer look at all the data in FAADE. A copy of our process and results from start to finish is available for you to view or download, too. (Simple HTML scraping using libFetLife helped accomplish much of this.)

We downloaded the FAADE database as a comma-separated values document for importing into a spreadsheet. We read all the filed reports, manually sorting what felt like obvious griefing into a list of “spam,” choosing to err on the side of caution. For instance, we assumed reports of animal crushing (5 reports) were earnest and not spam. We also assumed any complaints against ourselves, the creators of FAADE (another 5 reports), were not spam. This sorting process resulted in a new spreadsheet we called “SpamALL”.

Next, we got a list of all user IDs of profiles who participated in either of the aforementioned threads and matched those user IDs to those who had an associated FAADE report. These user IDs are in the cells on the next spreadsheet called “Rigger+” highlighted in yellow.

We then zeroed in on the remainder of user IDs with apparently-spam-y FAADE reports and looked for connections to any of the 9 posters from the original threads. This turned out to be a little tedious but very easy; most user IDs matched profiles who were listed as being in some kind of “relationship” with one (or more) of the 9 original posters. (The remaining profiles had two or more mutual friends with one of the 9 commenters in the initial threads.)1

It quickly became clear that the overwhelming majority of griefer reports were clustered on a single social group. Moreover, after noting that TheRigger’s profile owned the Milton Keynes MKFN group on FetLife, I created a new spreadsheet called “MKFN group” and looked for an intersection between the set of spam reports (from the “SpamALL” spreadsheet) and all members of TheRigger’s group. Unsurprisingly, some of the spam captured by December 16 were filed on profiles of people belonging to this group.

Some numbers:

  • Of 60 user-identified spam FAADE reports captured by December 16th, 2012, there were 55 (about 92%) made about people participating in the FetLife thread aimed at discrediting FAADE, or self-reported sexual partners of these people.
  • A total of 34 profiles were spammed; 29 of these belonged to the group associated with the above mentioned threads, and 9 participated in the threads directly.
  • Of the set of 34 spammed profiles, 5 (14.7%) were also members of TheRigger’s FetLife group.

From December 16th, 2012 through December 20th, 2012 (the time of this writing), additional griefer reports filed in FAADE continue to match the above pattern. For example:

  • another 5 of 10 total new reports match the criteria for user-identified spam,
  • are members of the Milton Keynes MKFN group on FetLife,
  • and are FetLife friends with at least two profiles who participated in the aforementioned initial threads.

Interestingly, one new FAADE report made against a user by the handle T5Tart captured during this time matches all the above criteria but does not appear to be spam, i.e., it seems a realistic-sounding report of consent violations reading, in part, “leaving an unconscious girl in the middle of a club.” I will be curious to observe whether the above pattern spreads to users closely associated with T5Tart as they have for TheRigger.

Implications and further exploration

At this point, we’re looking at a small test case with some really interesting implications. Specifically, as mentioned above, we are seeing something typically presented with anecdotal evidence (as in Pervocracy’s “Mising Stair” post linked above) play out in a traceable and extremely transparent fashion. Since FAADE has no facility for deletion, spam-like griefer reports functionally serve the same purpose as obfuscation. Bluntly, we can now observe, digitized in real time, what “a community closing ranks around an alleged abuser,” looks like. And more importantly, we can see how and through whom that behavior spreads.

In other words, to minimize the potential that a realistic-seeming FAADE report of abusive conduct will have a negative impact on the alleged abuser’s reputation, griefers file spam-y FAADE reports against people closely associated with the alleged abuser. They also try burying the report under additional “spam” reports that are also made against the alleged abuser. To the best of my knowledge, these are two signals offering data points that were previously untraceable (i.e., not digitally recorded) and unaccounted for (i.e., not considered in weighing the “truthiness” of an allegation of abuse).

Using tools like FAADE combined with the data analysis process described above, we no longer have to rely only on hunches, gut instincts, and stories to identify communities that band together around alleged abusers, nor do we have to trust or even know anything about the sources of the reports. We can watch it happen, cross check the data, wait for more instances, and find patterns ourselves.

That is news.

This doesn’t mean we can sort individual reports as being true or false and, again, I’d urge anyone who thinks that this can ever be done to rethink their approach to the problem. What it means is we may have the beginnings of a data-driven methodology to identify social groups that have toxic responses to the possibility of abuse occurring in their midst.

My hypothesis is that if we continue to track spam reports this way, assuming that the publication of this post doesn’t change griefers’ future behaviors, we will eventually see the pattern described above repeat. That is, we’ll see the friends of an alleged abuser start to spam FAADE by reporting themselves with griefer reports. If this hypothesis can be proven, it may provide a far more reliable red flag for identifying social groups where consent violations are likely to be covered up rather than addressed constructively.

Those social groups are, to put it politely, not places where I would want to spend much time.

As social networks and dating websites become a more common means for facilitating physical-world sexual interaction between people, predators are increasingly using the information available in such networks to target victims. Some high-profile social networking and dating websites like attempt to protect their users from consent violations using deeply flawed processes, screening against national sex offender registries. The exploratory analysis outlined in this post suggests that there are better signals than blacklists like the sex offender registry, which has an enormous number of its own problems, for identifying problematic behavior across large clusters of users.

FAADE currently has approximately 1,700 installations (although this is a conservative estimate). If we had let stop energy like “but it will be spammed!” and derails like “but what about false accusations!” keep us from trying stuff, we wouldn’t have been able to develop toolsets and processes that could lead to healthier communities that support survivors of sexual assault. FAADE will continue to spread, and we will always face stop energy, but there will also be novel ways to analyze this data that my collaborators and I haven’t thought of yet.

Imagine how much we can do to make our communities healthier if we keep on trying stuff, learning stuff, and working together. Will you help us?

  1. For the sake of completeness, here’s an example of a PHP script I used to get a list of the user IDs from a FetLife user’s friends list, in this case d_k_’s friends:

    require '../FetLife.php';
    $FL = new FetLifeUser(my_username, my_password);
    $x = $FL->getFriendsOf('11258'); // d_k_
    //$x = $FL->getMembersOfGroup('31851'); // Milton Keynes MKFN
    foreach ($x as $v) {
        // Find and print the IDs.
        $doc = new DOMDocument();
        $cloned = $v->cloneNode(TRUE);
        $doc->appendChild( $doc->importNode($cloned, TRUE) );
        $m = array();
        preg_match('/href="\/users\/(\d+)/', $doc->saveHTML(), $m);
        print "{$m[1]}\n";