Tag Archives: Twitter

Stalin, Industrialization, WWII

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I’m trying out a new thing—responding to a tweet here and posting a link back on Twitter, rather than doing a whole bunch of tweets to say all the things I have to say…

It sounds plausible on the face of it, but I have all sorts of issues with this claim.

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Return of the Bumbling Op

Following the icky Twitter argument posted about previously, a friend alerted me to a lot of subtweeting about me by some of the participants and their friends. I went and had a look, and—perhaps unwisely—stuck my finger back in the socket…

Seriously, I was actually thinking that it might be possible to engage in a discussion about my intentions, what went wrong, their criticisms—the whole thing. Not just the starting point—men talking about feminism—but also the tenor of their response and our discussion, how to address conflict and disagreement among potential allies. Given the tone of their subtweeted exchange, it didn’t seem likely, but I thought there was some potential for something positive. It didn’t happen.

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Twitter, Feminists, (M)Anarchists… and the problem of open discussion [updated]

I’ve seen a lot of posts on Twitter in recent months with a very particular view of identity politics, and on who can speak on particular topics, how and to whom. I haven’t felt comfortable with a lot of what I’ve seen—it seems to me narrow and limiting. Still, it’s a complicated topic, with a difficult history, and I think I understand at least some of the impulses that drive that particular take on identity politics.

But understanding the way an issue is discussed in women’s studies seminars is different from understanding how people see the issue more generally. And so when a particular tweet appeared in my feed, I tried to engage with the topic.

I start by saying that raising the issue may be like putting my finger in a light socket. That was a mistake. (A mistake to put it that way; if anything I underestimated what a shock the experience would be.) I should have been less defensive and more tentative. But in fact the person I tweeted to responded openly, and we were having what seemed to me a cordial and—at least for me—interesting and valuable exchange.

Then other people jumped in, and things turned very sour very quickly…
[I’m NewWorldInOurHearts in this discussion]

Queen Mikayla ‏@mikaylaesthetic 2h
Men: you cannot debate feminism with women, we’re fighting for humanity not discussing if we like crunchy or smooth peanut butter more

NewWorldInOurHearts ‏@annares 2h
@mikaylaesthetic@allshiny I’m going to foolishly stick my finger in this socket. So… No woman cld be wrong about feminism, and no man rt?

NewWorldInOurHearts ‏@annares 2h
@mikaylaesthetic@allshiny We could line up scores of instances of well-known women rejecting feminism. Could a man challenge them?

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This is why we can’t have nice stuff—Ashley Judd edition

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I recently participated in a Twitter exchange around Ashley Judd’s response to the abuse she has been receiving on Twitter. It was one of those Twitter convos that becomes increasingly difficult to follow and, as positions get more complex and nuanced, increasingly incompatible with Twitter as a communications medium. Since I had a lot of things I still wanted to say, I thought I’d say them here.

Basically, the position espoused by the others in the Twitter exchange on @AshleyJudd and online abuse I was in seems to be, in a nutshell:

—she started it (by saying the other team could ‘kiss her ass’)
—they’re not really threats (“bitch,” “whore,” “suck my dick,” etc. are not actual threats)
—it’s just Twitter, this sort of stuff happens all the time
—she’s too thin-skinned, if she can’t stand the heat she should get off Twitter

I would say in response:

—She talked generic trash to the world at large in the context of a college basketball game that had gotten rough, while the response attacked her personally and directly.
—The notion of “threat” used is too narrow; perhaps it would help to consider the word “intimidation.”
—Twitter and other online fora and social media have become significant sites in which a public sphere of political and social participation is enacted.—It’s not clear why one would trivialize Twitter, or draw what I assume is such a strong distinction between speech on Twitter and in public (IRL) (or perhaps on radio or in newspapers).

The final point is particularly troubling for slightly more subtle reasons: ‘she’s too thin-skinned, too sensitive.’

Or to put it another way: she needs to man up, grow a pair. Which is the point, really. I guess it wasn’t that subtle at all.

The vicious responses to women like Judd and Anita Sarkeesian (@anitasarkeesian) who dare to speak out in public, particularly on issues and in spheres that are deemed the proper province of men, represent attempts to silence them, drive them back into silence. Speaking more broadly, they are part of a sustained effort to keep women, people of color, LGBTQ, and so-called minorities in their place, and to perpetuate the existing structures of power and privilege.

To say, “I’m not a feminist” is in effect to oppose women’s equality and social and economic justice for women, and to support those existing structures of power and privilege. To call oneself a Social Justice Warrior (SJW) and then say you’re not a feminist is fundamentally incoherent, and in effect backs up the people who coined the SJW label as an easy Twitter pejorative, for feminists in particular.

It’s impossible to talk about attacks on women on Twitter without considering the #GamerGate issue. To not take sides in #GamerGate, as one person on Twitter said as part of this convo, because it’s “a Pandora’s box” seems disingenuous at best. Either one cares about #GamerGate or not. If you don’t care about it, then you are saying you don’t really care about the abuse, harassment, and threats hurtled at Sarkeesian and others. But at least you’ve made your position clear. I don’t respect it, but it’s clear. If you can’t be bothered taking any cognizance of the issue, then it is hard for me to understand why you would bother calling Judd to task. How does that set of priorities work?

However, if you do care about the issue, then unpacking what’s involved and taking a stance is the obvious, necessary thing to do. It can be scary, though. The level of intimidation and harassment to which #GamerGate figures such as Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu (@Spacekatgal) have been subjected is genuinely scary. It is intimidating. I’ve thought twice about posting on the issue in the past out of fear of having that malicious eye turned on me. But that’s the point. It silences not just Sarkeesian and Wu, but also others, who see what happened to them and are justifiably afraid of speaking up.

And that’s a key part of the situation with Judd that is overlooked in the position my co-conversationalists seem to be espousing. Yes, Judd can block people. One  problem with that is that, as with Sarkeesian and Wu, it’s not just one person, or a couple of people. And even the people you block can just create new Twitter identities and keep coming after you. And, yes, Judd has a measure of safety that is afforded her by her wealth and status—and a greater ability to respond for the same reasons.

But more importantly, other women who want to speak out—women, people of color, LGBTQ—can see what happens to people like Sarkeesian, Wu, Judd, and others. And think… that’s too much, I couldn’t handle that. And be silenced, and marginalized. Driven back into the kitchen or the closet, out of the public sphere.

I think one useful way to think about the invective, insults, intimidation, harassment, and threats that these women have received is to liken it to SLAPP,  “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.” Here’s how Wikipedia describes SLAPP:

A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.

The typical SLAPP plaintiff does not normally expect to win the lawsuit. The plaintiff’s goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism.

The response to Judd et. al. represents an instance of STAPP : Strategic Tweeting against Public Participation. Women who speak out as feminists or on issues perceived as feminist are not the only people to be subjected to STAPP silencing tactics, but the overall low level of outrage in our society toward misogyny and the overall success of the campaign to vilify outspoken women as “feminazis,” PC crybabies and even SJWs (a label that progressives have been claiming, I think unwisely, for themselves) make them relatively easy targets.

It’s a shame to see people who might in other situations identify with progressive causes participate in this process, even passively.

I haven’t even touched on why the highly sexualized and aggressively sexual nature of the responses to Judd is so problematic. It’s part of a spectrum that runs the gamut from minor things like calling a coworker “hon” and “babe” and “sweetheart” all the way up to rape. The gist of it is: women who don’t know their place, who threaten male dominance and control, risk being subject to sexual violence. Given Judd’s very public discussion of being the victim of rape and sexual violence, sexual intimidation has an even more potent charge in her case. Though clearly she is not intimidated and is more than capable of taking care of business. But since 14-20% of undergraduate women are raped in college, and many more outside, the reality of sexual violence is something all women have reason to fear, and all men have reason to fight. And we should not require all women to be as tough as Judd in order to participate in social discourse or public life.

Background, Context, More Reading

Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Is What Can Kiss My Ass – Mic (Ashley Judd’s principal response)
Mansplaining and Sealioning: Online Harassment Lexicon – Flavorwire.
Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet—Laurie PennyEnlisting in Ashley Judd’s war on Twitter trolls
Ashley Judd in DC: I’m a Three-Time Rape Survivor | Mother Jones.
Ashley Judd – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Harassed on Twitter? Here’s How Ashley Judd and Others Are Fighting Back | Inc.com
Ashley Judd responds to continued Twitter trolling | The Dagger – Yahoo Sports.
Ashley Judd Suffers Renewed Backlash for Stance on Social Media Abuse: Read the Messages – Hollywood Reporter.
Nearly 1 in 5 Women in U.S. Survey Report Sexual Assault – NYTimes.com (2011)
The Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study – NCJRS (2007)
Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women

New Forms of Hacktivism: Pinterest, Twitter and IFTTT

With the various successes – and antics – of hackers identifying as “Anonymous,” hacktivism is very much on people’s minds these days. I’ve written before about Hacktivism (here, here, and here). Hacking is widely associated with breaking into computer systems (illegal), and more recently also with various forms of modifying or altering physical objects, particularly electronics, to get them to do non-standard things.  But as Wikipedia makes clear, “hacktivism” is a more general concept than just activist-oriented hacking of these kinds:

Hacktivism (a portmanteau of hack and activism) is the use of computers and computer networks as a means of protest to promote political ends. The term was first coined in 1996 by a member of the Cult of the Dead Cow hacker collective named Omega. If hacking as “illegally breaking into computers” is assumed, then hacktivism could be defined as “the use of legal and/or illegal digital tools in pursuit of political ends”. These tools include web site defacements, redirects, denial-of-service attacks, information theft, web site parodies, virtual sit-ins, typosquatting and virtual sabotage. If hacking as “clever computer usage/programming” is assumed, then hacktivism could be understood as the writing of code to promote political ideology: promoting expressive politics, free speech, human rights, and information ethics through software development. Acts of hacktivism are carried out in the belief that proper use of code will be able to produce similar results to those produced by regular activism or civil disobedience. (via Hacktivism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

I’ve been thinking about – and acting on – that wider definition of hacktivism as “the use of computers and computer networks as a means of protest to promote political ends” and I wanted to share with you some of my ideas and actions.

Pinterest seems to me to be, mostly, little more than a huge catalog with ads. Lots of images of things to buy; it’s no mistake that one of the default categories is “Products I Love”.  The whole category list is built primarily around selling and advertising. Where is the category for news? for politics or current events?

And of course a huge percentage of the pins are just pictures of products with links to where they can be bought.  When they aren’t essentially catalog entries (this beautiful dress, that pair of shoes), they are ads (“lose weight now”) or perhaps links to recipes; I haven’t followed that many pins as it gets depressing.  It’s like one big supermarket checkout magazine – though thankfully with fewer pictures of Jennifer Aniston and Kim Kardashian.

Admittedly, there is a growing trend of pining images of nature, art, inspirational quotes, humor and photography on Pinterest that is most welcome (unlike the persistent internet meme of “cute cats” which also has a growing pin presence), but I think we can do more with the site.  I think we can hack Pinterest – or at least engage in some hacktivism there.

Post pictures of Occupy protests. Make and post text images with facts on injustice and inequality, on the threat of climate change, on corruption, or with your favorite quotes from Malcolm X or Emma Goldman or Marx or Noami Wolf or Noam Chomsky.  Take pictures of your squat or community garden and start a Pinterest board called “Squats” or “Collectivism” or “A Better Way of Life” or “Another World is Possible.”

Make and “pin” composite photos showing slums on one side and Rodeo Drive on the other, or garbage dumps and Walmart, or a homeless person and a banker.  You get the idea.

Apart from its conspicuous consumption, Pinterest is also overwhelming white, middle-class, able bodied and heterosexual. Diversify!  The first time I posted an image of two women kissing, I got a complaining comment from a woman who said her granddaughter used the site and she didn’t want her exposed to things like that. Expose! Be there, be queer, help them get used to it.  Even Mitt Romney’s political advisers are backing down on the gay issue.

Twitter is also fertile ground for hacktivism of this sort. Recently, a progressive group posted a petition on one of those Change/Move/etc. petition sites concerning some minor reform at Domino’s Pizza. But even leaving aside how awful their pizza is, Domino’s is a nightmare.  The founder is notoriously anti-choice and anti-gay, and the company is now almost wholely owned by your friendly neighborhood vulture capitalists, Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, which bought 93% of the company in 1998. And it is rabidly Republican:

The Domino’s Pizza political action committee gave $26,500 to federal candidates in the 05/06 election period – 0% to Democrats and 100% to Republicans. David A. Brandon, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Domino’s personally gave $37,265 to Republicans ($0 to Democrats) in this same period. (via Domino’s Pizza – SourceWatch.)

So rather than sign some no doubt well-intentioned petition to reform some aspect of this company, I went onto TweetDeck and created a quick list for any tweet mentioning Domino’s, and then replied to those tweets with my own, saying things like “Dominos is anti-choice, anti-gay and 100% Republican” and linking to the SourceWatch article.

In fact, one could automate this kind of hacktivist tweet – and other online / social media hactivist actions – through the new IFTTT service (“If This Then That”). Using something like this “recipe”, you could set up an automated response to tweets mentioning Domino’s, or whatever.  Set up a new target every day, or week.

If you can get a whole group on board, you might add some sort of hashtag hacktivism as well, and try to get something positive and/or provocative trending. Be creative. Would #JustinBeiberHatesDominos trend?  You’ll never know until you try.