Content note: discusses misogynistic abuse
Yesterday, I discussed misogyny and dead cat politics: a tendency for media and political narratives to use the very real problem of misogynists being dicks to distract away from their own wrongdoing. I concluded that the best defence against this tactic is probably to avoid being misogynists. Today, I offer a more constructive, practical example on this topic, and will provide campaign site 38 Degrees with some free advice to avoid another incident like the current Laura Kuenssberg clusterfuck. If they want any further advice, they can bloody well pay me, god knows they rake in enough.
A little background to the current hot mess: a lot of people are quite concerned about the questionable impartiality exhibited by the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, and do not think it is befitting for a political editor of a publicly-funded news outlet to display bias towards certain political parties and against others. A petition went up on their website, and garnered over 35,000 signatures, but thrown into this mix was a hive of seething misogyny. This handily provided those who might benefit from the direction of bias at the BBC with a distraction from actually having to respond to the issues raised. The petition was taken down, and the organisation’s CEO, David Babbs, donned a hair shirt.
None of this needed to happen, had 38 Degrees displayed even an iota of competence and understanding of issues of misogyny. A great degree of the abject failure of this campaign can be chalked up to failures from 38 Degrees themselves. It could have all been avoided if they’d have just taken some proactive measures.
1. Moderate your own online spaces properly
38 Degrees is primarily an online campaigning forum, and it is startling that they failed so much to moderate their own online spaces on which they rely: comment threads, and Facebook. If they had removed misogynistic comments in their own spaces over which they have direct control, a rally of terrible people probably wouldn’t have picked up the same level of steam as it did. An organisation the size of 38 Degrees ought to have ample resources to put towards moderating out misogyny, and that they did not is probably their biggest failure.
I suspect this lack of moderation was due to two problems inherent to the organisation: their brand, and a desire for engagement. First, the brand: 38 Degrees goes on like it’s open-for-all, and so on–so of course they’ll let dreadful misogynists have their special snowflake say. As for a desire for engagement, in today’s digital world, the more “engagement” you have, the more money you end up making at the end of the day. Engagement can be good, bad, or ugly: a comment is a comment, and the more the better, because that’ll likely result in more clicks, more signs, more email addresses collected, more donations… it doesn’t matter what they’re saying, because they’re engaging. Sadly for them, they’re probably losing potential supporters through not moderating out misogyny: it makes their spaces less welcoming to half the population, and therefore half the population is actually less likely to give them that engagement cash cow.
2. Have a moderation policy
A moderation policy is a powerful tool. It easily and accessibly helps those who moderate the spaces, spelling out what they should delete or not, rather than simply leaving them to make up their mind. It’s also great when your moderation policy is transparent, not just because transparency is good, but because it clearly states what is and is not acceptable in the community. It’s the sort of thing 38 Degrees should have clearly in places where you can leave comments: a link to it above places to leave comments, a pinned post on Facebook.
38 Degrees did not have any such policy that I could find, which in combination with the Kuenssberg mess makes me suspect they never had one in the first place. Maybe they didn’t do one because it was too hard. Building and publicising moderation policy inevitably pisses off a fair few awful people who will squawk their war cry of FREEZE PEACH. If 38 Degrees are worried about losing the vital whiney wankstain demographic, then they oughtn’t to–if they go, they were probably never particularly valuable supporters in the first place; if they stay, then hoo-fucking-ray. Whatever the reason they don’t have a comment policy, if they want to recover after this trash fire, they’re going to need to sort one out, stat.
So, that’s the online spaces 38 Degrees have control over sorted in two easy steps. But what about the spaces they don’t control? After all, wasn’t at least some of the problem down to people sharing it?
3. Control the message, and control the share text
I cannot fucking believe that an organisation as big as 38 Degrees never thought about how the message itself was presented, and how maybe, just maybe, that might attract misogynists like flies to shit. The petition screeched the name Laura Kuenssberg–a very feminine name–and had a big honking picture of her at the top. This was all there whenever anyone shared the petition on social media sites. Any godawful man who just hates women will see this as “petition to fucking destroy this harpy”. Ultimately, like those who have something to hide and play dead cat politics with misogyny, misogynists do not care about the message either: they just hate women.
The goal of this petition was to raise concerns about bias from a senior figure at the BBC. Why not lead with that, then? Why not title the petition “Sack the biased BBC Political Editor” or “End bias at the BBC”, or “The BBC Political Editor should be impartial”. I honestly did not even know the BBC Political Editor was called Laura Kuenssberg until this–for all I knew, she might have been some reporter who doorstepped a politician aggressively, or a someone who works in the BBC canteen and wrote “Jeremy Corbyn is a poo” in the foam on a latte. Referring to the job title is much clearer. It’s also not necessary to use a picture of the person as the image that will pop up whenever it gets shared. Why use that, when you could use some sort of simple visual graphic presenting facts about bias at the BBC, if it really is such a problem.
Some may argue that if the Beeb’s political editor was a man, a “Sack Bob McDickface” petition name with a picture of him looking like a prick would be fine. And yes, that’s true. What’s also true, though, is that we live in a patriarchal culture, and in a patriarchal culture, different reactions happen because of women than because of men. A picture of a man probably isn’t going to cause discussions of how hideously ugly he is where it is shared, for example. Focus on the role, not the woman, if the subject of your campaign is a woman.
38 Degrees have control over this when it comes to sharing. They write and edit the campaign copy, and they choose the images and accompanying share text. Had they given the climate they were releasing this campaign into five minutes of thought, they probably could have staved off the catastrophe that ensued.
4. Challenge any remaining misogynists
Even with all of this, there’s still likely to be the odd misogynist pop up with their misogyny. For a big organisation that doesn’t want their new brand to be Enablers Of Misogyny™, even at this juncture there is something that can be done. Challenge that shit. Say “You are sharing this petition calling the subject a bitch. That’s misogynistic and unacceptable.”
It’s not like 38 Degrees don’t have the resources to see who is sharing their campaigns, and what they’re saying about it. It is also not like they don’t have the resources to challenge this with their own social media channels. If there’s a large amount of misogynists sharing your campaign, put out a statement clarifying that you do not condone their behaviour, that it is putrid, and send it to them. Hell, 38 Degrees will likely have access their email addresses: send them an email telling them they’re being a prick, because nothing puts off a horrible flamer like tearing off their comfortable veil of anonymity. Send an email round to everyone who signed, addressing the issue with misogyny and making how the campaign should be shared clear.
These four simple steps are well within the realms of 38 Degrees’s capacity, and if they want to recover from this, they’ll need to think about implementing this in the future, or giving themselves over to just being a hive of misogynists.
The best way to avoid dead cat politics is to keep all nearby cats alive and well. When you are a large campaigning organisation, this becomes all the more important.
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