How Social Media is Failing Creative Women

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. 

carolyn jewelToday 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.

16 Comments on How Social Media is Failing Creative Women

  1. When i first got Carolyn’s email, I planned to respond with a post which suggested that authors should switch to Tumblr. I was going to base that post on this overview of social media platforms which was published in January.

    But then I had the good sense to realize that I didn’t know that Tumblr was any better in the safety/security dept than any other social network, so rather than repeat the mistake of the white males who run the social networks I asked around and learned that it is not better.

    That leaves me with a quandary. While I am not part of the problem nor can I see it myself, I do accept that it exists and that no one in power is trying to fix it.

    Just about the only way I can think of to get Facebook to actually fix this issue would be to give Zuckerberg and the other senior management at FB a taste of what women go through on Facebook every day. Given that Mark’s own sister is involved in Facebook that might not be a solution, but it is the only way I can think of to drive the point home.

  2. “because I could not find an excerpt which didn’t eviscerate part of the argument she makes”

    I’m a little confused here, Nate. To eviscerate means to tear the guys from, so I stated reading under the impression that you disagreed with everything she said and that pretty much every sentence contradicted the author’s argument.

    As I read, though, many of the points brought up seem valid.

  3. “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 ”

    You try to avoid it but then you fall in that trap anyway.

    The FB issue with a single profile , even if i have never used FB i know that you can organize people in Lists and restrict access based on that so not so sure how much of a problem it is really. That is if you chose to obey their 1 account policy, not sure why anyone would.
    Making this problem about women is rather forced , if it’s a problem,it’s a problem for everybody and not so significantly unbalanced anymore.
    The difference between a pic of a penis and breasts is a matter of interpretation , one can see them as equally inappropriate .
    You do seem to think that men have it easier overall but i do wonder if you ever tried to understand in what ways it could be harder too.
    Another problem is that you are thinking about the American woman but FB is global so women from other locations can have fewer or more problems.
    One more point that has to be made is that likely most of the spam is a downside of being a celebrity (or public figure, w/e you want to call it) not because you are a woman.

  4. 1 more point i have to make. Treating celebrities differently ( FB, Google, Twitter do do that) is in itself a problem that’s fully ignored. It’s class discrimination and in some countries that’s a human rights violation.

  5. I don’t really understand the problem portraid here. Normaly others cannot see from wich profile a fb site is made. If you don’t have a pen name of course this can be a problem. But what really makes me angry, in Germany you have to put your full adress on every website and fb site and everything. Great protection for women! Of course man can be victims of crazy stalkers too, but I think it is true that woman with strong opinions have more such expreriences.

  6. I don’t really see the problem as white males or males in general not understanding the problem. There is a business case for why they do the things they do. They aren’t out to cause women problems nor are they ignoring it just because it’s women and not men. Perhaps they are ignoring it because no one in a powerful position has complained loudly enough or more likely because they make money by revealing “more” rather than less. White males are perfectly capable of understanding what goes on, they are aware of stalkers and related issues. Other males are also aware of it as are females, etc. This is not a “them” against “us” issue.

    Demographic data is valuable to advertisers. Pure and simple the more facebook or any social media can get a person to reveal, the more they can sell to advertisers or data related companies.

    I wouldn’t recommend a male or female, a young OR old person reveal more than absolutely necessary on facebook or any other site. Stalking is only one of many issues when it comes to identity. There’s identify theft. There’s the posts that say, “I’m going to Hawaii this week and my house will be empty.” There’s the posts that talk about children and where they will be at a given time and so on.

    It has always been up to the individual to protect herself or himself. These companies are not out to get women, but their data is useful to them. They are not out to protect women or men from identity thieves, stalkers, crimes and so on.

    Far larger than social media failing women is that for the most part people VOLUNTARILY post information that can be used against them. The policies of facebook and other sites do make it difficult to remain anonymous or “less likely to be found” but their purpose, by it’s very nature, is to reveal.

  7. Carolyn presents a very well-reasoned argument. I have experienced many of the same things she discusses. Even Windtree Press, which includes primarily female authors, gets these inappropriate invitations from men through the Windtree Press contacts.

    I too am concerned about the close relationship between personal pages and Fan pages on FB. It is the ONLY platform which does that. On Twitter I am only on there as my author self. On Pinterest the same. I see no reason that FB needs to make this requirement.

    The reality is that many female authors make the choice to ignore the TOS and create a personal profile under their author name and a second personal profile that is only for family and friends. You have to be smart about that because the FB autobots do not make it easy to do so. It does require a different unique ID (email) and other identifying features.

    I have not done that yet, though I suspect I will in the near future. The limitations for interaction on FAN pages and for reaching fans is hard to overcome. As Carolyn pointed out, boosting posts for books is a big pain that is not worth the time. I used to boost posts regularly. Have not been succesfull at all this year and not willing to jump through hoops just to get FB to take my money long after the need for the ad has passed.

    It is also not acceptable to say, go somewhere else when all the stats continuing to show that FB is the #1 platform worldwide.

    I agree that it is likely FB is not purposefully making decisions to be difficult or to be anti-women. No business in their right mind would choose to do that. However, the fact that FB is run by men and decisions are made by men based on their personal world views, makes it very difficult for other views to be included.

  8. Yes, yes, yes to all of this. Real names do very little to deter trolling, and they do a lot to put marginalized people in danger.

    On a tangentially-related note, when social media sites first started introducing location-tagging, I was flummoxed. Did they not have even one focus group with women about this? I’ve never even *had* a stalker, but the idea of telling the internet exactly where I am, checking into locations in real time, seemed like an obvious way to get one.

  9. [Men] 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.
    So fake friend requests where buxom women would just love to meet me before the people behind those profiles fleece me of my money do not represent potential financial harm? Good to know. /s

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  1. Social Networks and Creative Women | Moultrie Creek Gazette
  2. I am their fury, I am their patience, I am their Linkspam (22 May 2015) | Geek Feminism Blog

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