Editor's Note: The following guest post by Carolyn Jewel grew out of an email exchange Saturday night. I'm posting it in full, with her permission, because I could not take an excerpt without losing key parts of the argument she makes. You can find the original here, and if you scroll down to the comment section you can read my commentary.
Today someone on one of the author loops complained about a Facebook page that was serving up pirated books. The FB site links were all bit.ly links so I went to a tool that tells you where the link will land you, so I wouldn’t have to actually click and land somewhere bad, and the site, Hot ebook download DOT com, was registered to a gentleman in Kiev with nameservers that ended in .RU. (A nameserver is responsible for resolving your domain name to the correct IP address as assigned through your webhost.) Two things are generally true, not every site that ends in .ru (Russia) is automatically bad, and an awful lot of malware comes from servers in the .ru domain.
Now, I highly doubt there are any actual books being served at the end of those links. I happen to strongly believe that anyone who clicks on those links gets malware, their credit card information collected, or a file with malware in it. Or all three. So this probably isn’t really piracy. But I’m not going to check and besides, I have an entirely different issue to talk about.
It bugs the heck out of me that FB seems to have nothing in place to prevent a page that is almost certainly serving up malware, or, possibly less dire in fact, but completely dire to lots of authors, pirating books and other copyrighted content. And the author was having a hard time figuring out how to report this to FB. Many of you are probably familiar with my position on piracy, which is mostly I don’t care too much, or, perhaps more accurately, I feel it’s not worth my time, and might actually be against my interests, to go around DMCA-ing every suspected site that has pirated my work. But sites serving up malware I do have a problem with.
The fact that the source is FB? Oh, the bitter taste of irony. At the same time, FB makes it harder and harder for authors to pay them money. (Boosting a post with a book cover in? HAH! That’s three days of trying to make FB understand their own policy about book covers being exempt from the “text to picture” ratio. Want to advertise your book? Another circle of hell for the same reason.)
And now I get to the meat of this post.
Social Media has a hugely flawed view of the world. They’re so male-oriented that they have absolutely no ability to grok that women have a fundamentally different experience of social media, and the world, than men. And yes, the same is true for many many other classifications (Color, ethnicity, non-cis, not heterosexual and so on.)
It’s why we see policies that actively endanger women and a big old “Huh?” when women complain. Real Name policies endanger women. Until these companies understand WHY that is, it’s not possible for the policy to be crafted in a way that reduces the danger. There’s a flip side to everything. Not having Real Names can also endanger women. Understand what’s going on, and there’s a chance you might have a more effective policy instead of one that serves the few with real harm to many.
Instead of these companies thinking about what it means for them to offer a service to everyone when their model of the world is so deeply inaccurate, we keep hearing the equivalent of “It doesn't happen to men, so it’s not real.” There are a lot of white people who think there’s not a problem racism and policing, and they think that because they do not inhabit the world where dark skin gets you different treatment. At least recognize that blindness like this exists and that right now this minute, you, all of us, have these blind spots. All of us. No exceptions.
FB requires that a Fan Page be linked to a personal profile.
Per the FB TOS, people are supposed to have one and only one personal profile.
If you happen to be an artist or other creative, you live a life with (at least) two facets. A public one and one that is private. That private facet is associated with things like employers, potential employers, significant others, ex-significant others, and minor children. The public one is associated with people who like your work and are or want to be fans of your work. Social Media sites that insist on public links between a public life and a private one put women at risk. I’m quite sure there are people at risk in different ways. I have direct experience with how women are at risk, so that is what I focus on here. It doesn’t mean no one else has a similar problem. Exactly the opposite, in fact.
Note that I am saying PUBLIC links.
As an author, I need to have a firewall between me and Carolyn Jewel, Author. I need to protect private aspects, including minor children, from the public me. And I must do this for my safety and theirs. No social media sites accommodate this need. I really don’t want to rehash all the ways in which women are punished or endangered for things that have no similar effect on men. Here’s a few, though: Having strong opinions, liking and wanting to have sex, being smart, being right, being a parent, the ability to get pregnant, the potential need not to be pregnant, being attractive, being pregnant, not being attractive enough, talking….
On my personal FB page, I get bombarded by friend requests from male profiles who immediately text me things like “You have a beautiful smile” blah blah blah. In fact, you cannot see my smile since the picture is my cat. And he cannot smile. Besides, that’s a totally creepy thing to say right off the bat between real people, but I believe just about all of those requests are fake profiles trying to get actual profiles to like them so they can be used to engage in click-fraud. I sometimes have three or four a day.
So, an author must link her Fan Page to her IRL personal page, where there may be links to employers, minor family members, and others with no way to protect themselves from weirdos. And fans, I will represent to you, often friend a personal profile rather than the Fan Page. Because Fan Pages are limited in the way they can interact with profiles, and fans know that and seek out the personal profile instead. In a perfect world, that would totally awesome. But it’s not a perfect world, so it’s not awesome at all.
Think about that. These fake profiles are targeting female profiles but women live in what amounts to a trinary social world. The question isn’t just “Is this friend request real (YN)” but “Is this friend request real and if I accept it, will it be dangerous to me (YND).” Authors and other creatives, decline such requests at the risk of declining actual or potential fans. This is not a calculus male creatives (in the main) have to solve. They can just accept all such friend requests because they do not, in the main, live in a world where a fake friend request represents potential harm.
I’m willing to bet that men get fake friend requests from women whose pictures feature large boobs, who would just love to date them. These profiles might be after their money, and also similarly fake, but they’re almost certainly not potential stalkers.
As an author, my choice is a personal profile that has NO links to family or my real life friends, or I accept the risk of having strangers conflate Carolyn Jewel with Carolyn Jewel, Author. When, actually, they’re not the same thing. That risk is, in our current culture, one that comes with dangers that are not present, in the main, for male authors.
And here is where the reality of being a woman creative really, really matters and why social media companies are failing us so deeply.
Every women author I know knows of another woman who has had a stranger send them an unwanted picture of his penis. I was at a signing once when a man physically gave the author next to me a picture of his penis. Trust me, men, this is scary and creepy. Who wants to walk back to their car, alone, after an encounter like that?
I’ve gotten emails to my writing email address from unhinged men who tell me they want to know me (and/or love me) and will I date them, and by the way, they know the name of my son. One of them also tried several times to get my agent to give up my personal contact information. I get emails from men in prison and have had at least two from men on death row. They know about me because Romance novels end up in prisons. I don’t mind that. I really don’t. I want more people to read Romance! But I have to worry about men with issues who get out of prison and start contacting my agent. There is always, always, an unsettling and creepy undertone to these communications.
This is the world women live in. It’s real. It happens. And almost none of it happens to men.
What women have seen over the last year and more is companies like FB and Twitter—anywhere, really, where woman are supposed to have an equal chance to participate in conversations— aid and abet harassers by doing… nothing. They have built their vision of “Social” on a world that does not exist for more than half the people they want participating in their environment.
For them, the world is fair (Land of Opportunity) and a meritocracy (tech companies) when really it’s not fair, equal, or a meritocracy unless you’re a straight white male. Asking for recognition of that fact and for policies that do not harm people who cannot operate in the Opportunity Meritocracy should not be met with the equivalent of ‘I don’t see it, therefore it never happens.’
It means think about the world for people who do not look like you. Devise policies that protect and that allow all of us to separate public from private. If Twitter, Google, Facebook and more want Real Names, then they must accept that this comes with the duty not to endanger people. Their software and algorithms make them money. I would prefer that I not pay a disproportionate price for that.