Monthly Archives: October 2017

Witch hunt.

Content note: this post discusses sexual violence, rape apologism and historical femicides

Picture a witch. The worst, wickedest witch you can. The kind of witch who causes crops to fail, floats in water due to Satan’s power, and all-round causes trouble for men.

Your witch doesn’t look like a powerful white man accused of sexual violence, does she?

So why is it, then, that whenever a powerful white man is accused of sexual violence, his defenders rally around and decry the whole thing as a witch hunt?

In the early modern period, many Europeans were killed in witch hunts. Up to 90% of these people were women (ETA I HAVE BEEN CALLED OUT ON THIS AND I AM WRONG. Read this thread. I have erased trans women in this article. READ THIS THREAD. I just want to clarify my stance that of COURSE when I use the term “women” I am including trans women. Every time. But I can do a lot more to be clear about this. I also always welcome call-outs. I’m trying, but I’m still capable of being wrong. I unconditionally apologise for any harm I caused by blarting my cluelessly cis opinions.)These so-called witches were denounced, blamed and ultimately tortured and killed.

The sort of person who cries “witch hunt!” are devoid of any analysis of what actually occurred in the witch hunts and witch trials. Yes, members of the community would accuse the perceived witch. That’s where the similarities end. See, witchcraft and consorting with the devil is bullshit. Sexual violence is not. Sexual violence is frighteningly common, and a lot of men are very willing to admit to having raped someone if the r-word is never used. When a man is accused of sexual violence by one woman, statistically it’s far more likely than not that he did it. When he is accused by multiple women, it becomes a near-certainty. Contrast that with the likelihood that a gobby woman caused a prize calf to come out looking a bit weird by casting a spell.

The profile of the witch was a working-class woman known for a “quarrelsome and aggressive nature“. When men were accused, they, too, were typically working class. Witch hunts were undeniably gendered, with perhaps a class component involved too. It is a very different kettle of fish to accusations of sexual violence levelled at men powerful enough to believe themselves able to do what they want.

It is not hysteria, nor a moral panic, to level true allegations. And, indeed, it’s well-documented that survivors speaking out encourage more survivors to come forward.

For a powerful white man who is also a creep, perhaps survivors coming forward can feel a little like a witch hunt. I’ve written before, on the topic of trigger warnings, that white boys are wrapped in cotton wool their whole life. The same applies here. These men have not experienced true adversity in their lives. They are pampered and protected from ever feeling even vaguely uncomfortable; thinking about how their behaviour might affect other people, and how other people might be experiencing considerably harder lives, is an alien concept. They project their discomfort onto everyone else, blissfully unaware that for the rest of us, it’s not about feelings, but about material circumstances–because, for them, it’s all about his own feelings.

For a powerful white man who has escaped accountability for his actions all of his life, accountability must feel like persecution. And the threat of being held accountable may feel like a witch hunt for men who are aware that they, too, could be held accountable for the exact same thing.

But it is not the same thing, and it never was. These are people who cannot grasp the facts about what a witch hunt actually constituted. They centre themselves in a massive-scale historical femicide, because they are incapable of imagining the world not revolving around them.

So. Powerful white men are not the victims of a witch hunt when sexual violence allegations surface. But nonetheless, there usually is a witch hunt around this time: of survivors.

A moral panic tends to surface, and a round of denunciations comes. The victims of this witch hunt fit the historical profile: they are women speaking out of turn. If you want to see a witch hunt around allegations of sexual violence, look no further than the survivors speaking out.

Every time, it is the same. The survivors’ behaviour is scrutinised, they are smeared, they are accused of all sorts of horrific acts, they are vilified as “grotesque”. All of it, just like shagging Satan helps you kill fields of wheat, is fictitious. It happens in the media, and I have witnessed it too many times to count in networks I occupy when survivors have attempted to speak out against abusers. The function of this is likely much the same as the function of the historical witch hunts: to keep women in their place and to protect power.

That is what a witch hunt looks like; not survivors finally coming forward about mass abusers.

I write this article, partially because once again a rich and powerful white man has been accused by multiple women, and the old media narratives have emerged. But I also write this, fully in the knowledge that the next time a rich and powerful white man is accused, the exact same thing will happen once again. I don’t believe I’ll break the cycle in writing this down, but it saves me having to comment to the exact same effect on every damn time it pops up.

The real witch hunt is never, and has never been, about the men accused. It’s always been the survivors who have been hunted.

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Two alternatives to #WomenBoycottTwitter that don’t rely on women’s silencing

After Twitter extending their risible “abuse” policy to a suspension of a celebrity white woman speaking out against sexual violence, the problems in their model have been laid bare, and to my pleasant surprise, people are talking about taking action (I’d been pessimistic about this).

Unfortunately, it’s entirely the wrong kind of action: a women’s boycott. This is a problem, because once again, it forces us to do the heavy lifting. And once again, it forces us to silence ourselves: the very opposite of what we should be doing.

So, here’s two things that can be done. One is an activity for men who consider themselves allies. The other is for all of us. Especially women.

#AmplifyWomen

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This is a very simple thing for men to do: shut up and use their reach to amplify women’s voices. Not just on the day of the boycott (though I will be side-eyeing you if you aren’t), but every day. Twitter’s problem is not that women aren’t refusing to use their broken website; it’s that they aren’t being heard. Men, this is your chance to do something positive and useful. Don’t talk. Don’t reply telling us we’re special. Don’t slip into our DMs. Don’t white-knight for us. Simply amplify women’s voices. We’re saying all the things you wanted us to say, if only you’d listen.

In particular, amplify the voices of marginalised women: black women, trans women, queer women, disabled women, women of colour. These are the voices that need to be heard.

As well as being highly beneficial for women, you men might learn something. It’s a habit worth trying to form, and the results may surprise you.

Delete your data

A lot of Twitter’s money comes from your data: selling information about you to advertisers, placing ads at you, and so forth. Instead of boycotting Twitter, hit them where it hurts, in the moneymaker. Here’s some tips for doing this.

  1. Use an adblocker. They know you’re doing it. It hurts the advertisers’ feelings. Also, you should be using an adblocker anyway.
  2. Turn off personalised ads. Hit “disable all” here. While they’re still collecting your information, they can’t use it, which pisses them off.
  3. Edit your data. Twitter makes guesses at your age and gender for advertisers. You can change them here. My gender is “communist”, and I’m age 13-54.
  4. Turn off location. Again, it’s data about you, don’t let them have it.
  5. Delete your interests. Twitter likes guessing at your interests for all the marketing. There’s a list here, and you can delete all of them.
  6. Block your “tailored audiences”. This dovetails with the personalised ad settings. You’ll find, here, that you’re a member of some personalised audiences. You can request the data. Do it. They’ll send you an email. Block every single account on it. Note: this may take a while and is a bit of a faff. They send the data as a pdf, which you’ll need to convert into a csv–it requires a bit of annoying copy pasting. Next, upload your new block list by going here and selecting “Import a list” from the advanced options menu. Follow the steps and bingo! You’ve blocked your tailored audiences, which is bad for Twitter’s business model. (ETA 14/10/17- the bulk block feature seems to no longer work. Oh well. Do the rest, and if you’re really committed, do please manually block as many of those accounts as possible. And remember to block every advertiser you see!)
  7. Make your content unprofitable. Twitter owns a pretty broad copyright licence on what you’re posting there. Drop a few f-bombs into your tweets. Append silly gifs to everything. Hate white men, hate Nazis, loudly and proudly. Tweet a lot about how shit Twitter’s policies are. If you have 280 characters, tweet in 140, and use the other 140 to append stuff about how appalling their policy is to every goddamn tweet. 

ETA: Here’s another one. Love your block button x

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We shouldn’t be silencing ourselves. We mustn’t silence ourselves. Instead, it’s time to retake Twitter.

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Rose McGowan’s Twitter suspension is entirely in keeping with their existing (awful) policy

Content note: This post discusses sexual violence and rape threats

Actor Rose McGowan has been suspended from Twitter, for speaking out against sexual violence in Hollywood. It’s likely that what got her kicked was telling Ben Affleck to fuck off for his role in covering for a sexual abuser.

I know a fair amount about Twitter suspensions. While I’ve only ever been on the wrong end of one, once–if I remember rightly, I told a man to fuck off, too–many of my friends have been suspended. There’s two ways in which it goes down: swearing at a verified account, or being mass-reported by people in an orchestrated silencing attempt. These mass-reports happen, usually, when a man is offended–or a transmisogynistic bigot, who, as we know, borrow all their tactics from the Nazi playbook.

The problem is becoming so prevalent, I’ve set up a back-up account for when the fash come for me–follow @thestavvening, just in case.

Twitter’s policies on banning and suspending are notoriously opaque, so it’s not possible to say with any certainty what is going on, just what I have witnessed as an active Twitter user for over eight years. These are the reasons people get banned or suspended, while all the while I can report tweets threatening to rape me until my clicking finger wears away to a nub, and nothing is done.

I’m not sure whether Rose McGowan fell foul of the algorithm protecting verified accounts from naughty words, or a mass-report, but either is a preposterous reason to suspend someone: whether a celebrity, or those more commonly banned–trans women, black women, women of colour, queer women…

The former is a manifestation of the two-tier Twitter which has emerged. If you have a verified account, you are protected from people saying rude words like “fuck”, “shit” and “pissflaps”. Someone says swear in your mentions, and they are smacked with the banhammer. Anyone can get the blue tick of swear-protection. To earn this right, all you need to do is send Twitter your personal data, so they can sell it on. This, in and of itself, is absurd. You also may have picked up from my tone that I think it is utterly risible that a few naughty words are the thing they’re picking up on. At best, it’s crude: people swear for a variety of reasons, and as much of it is non-aggressive (“You look so fucking gorgeous!”) as is aggressive. It’s also notable that a vast quantity of actual abuse doesn’t feature a single swear word. When a Nazi is threatening to rape me with a chainsaw, he isn’t using a word you can’t say on telly before 9 o’ clock.

Which brings me onto the broader issue: the actual abusers–the Nazis, the doxxers, the TERFs, the racists, the misogynists–they’re very good at gaming the system. It’s apparent in their care to avoid using curse words in their rape threats, but it’s equally apparent in their tactics.

Back in the more innocent days of the internet, many of those who would later become neo-Nazis occupied themselves in more wholesome pursuits. These included forum wars, often including “ToSing” enemy forums. This involved using the terms of service of the forum hosting platform to get the enemy forum banned. Almost every bit of user-generated content on the internet is breaking the terms of service somewhere or other: you might say something a bit rude, link to something a bit sexy, use political slogans which offend some. One report usually doesn’t flag much up in the system. But many reports do. I was on forums that got ToSed, wandering through digital space like a caravan, trying to find a hosting platform that’d have us.

And I see the exact same tactics in play with the mass-reports on Twitter. One report–often from the victim of a rape threat or a doxxing–doesn’t do jack diddly shit. But when many report, in an attempt usually orchestrated in other online platforms, action is triggered. And this is how people who speak truth to power are silenced. The Nazis have their spaces where they organise, as do their faithful tribute act, the TERFs. Even the centrists have their whatsapp groups where they can decide to get a black woman banned for thinking differently to them. This is what is going on behind the scenes: how the abusers have turned Twitter’s abuse policy into a tool for abuse.

We’ve been on at Twitter for years to jolly well sort its life out, but it hasn’t. It still refuses to understand the nature of the problem in order to even begin to attack it. They do not understand the dynamics of power in play in abuse, and they have no intention of doing so.

I hope that Rose McGowan’s suspension may achieve what has been sorely necessary: an open discussion of how unfit for purpose Twitter’s mechanisms for dealing with abuse are. Lower profile, more marginalised women have been victims of the abuse of abuse policies for years. Perhaps now a celebrity has been targeted, we can talk.

Or perhaps–and this is sadly more likely–Rose McGowan will be demonised for saying “fuck”.

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