It’s Time for a Democratic Social Network

The social blogging site Tumblr announced that on December 17th, 2018 that they would be removing all pornographic content from their site. Anything that has been “flagged” as controversial will be deleted. The content was flagged using a computer program rather than human moderators, which has led to what you might call a scorched earth content policy. Anyone who has used Tumblr knows that this is the end of Tumblr. The site was known as an internet home for creators considered outside the mainstream, including LGBTQ artists and sex workers. It did not build a user base out of religious tracts and home recipes. The site is about to implode in conflagration of capitalist fear and greed.

The strategy centers around Tumblr’s placement in the iOS app store, which has its own arbitrary content rules. Most recently, Tumblr had to deal with a series of programs, or “bots” that were posting child pornography on their site. Even after removing those accounts, they could not get Apple to reinstate their position in the app store, and this latest announcement is a last ditch effort to get back on the iPhone.

Tumblr’s executives are going to whitewash this move for their investors, who are mostly banks and venture capital firms. They are going to make some noises about “leadership” and “tough decisions”, but we the users can see this behaviour and know its true meaning: Capital makes all the decisions on the internet, and it’s time we put a stop to it.

Social Networks have put us all in this weird situation with corporations. We are consumer and product all at the same time. We make a choice of the content we consume with our likes and follows, and that data is a product sold to advertisers who sell us ever more products. Some of those products even help users produce more content, which attracts more consumers, which generates more data to sell, and on it goes.

We know this cycle is profitable, and we are just beginning to see where it leads. I pray that we do something before we actually see where it leads, because holocaust denial and flat earth theories make big money for these companies. Facebook and Twitter are on the cusp of being regulated. They are mini-nations, with the attentions of hundreds of millions of people. But we can’t simply let them be regulated like television and radio, because that would be abandoning the best feature of the internet – the interactivity. Once again, the internet can do better than traditional media. It can be run democratically.

Consider this, have you ever been consulted about the design decisions of any social network? You probably haven’t, and if you knew how social networks were built, you would think that’s insane. Making twitter clones is a rookie trick for most coding “boot camps”. It seems like magic, but all of these social networks have been cobbled together from codebases that are available freely on the internet. Breaking off and starting your own social network is easy enough. Sites like Mastodon and Pillowfort already fill that niche, but what if their design decisions were made democratically? Every network has settings that tailor the user experience for individual users, but what about the decisions that affect multiple users, like budgets, codes of conduct, or the design of the algorithm that shows content?

In the race to become profitable, the large social networks are ignoring the users that made them attractive to capital. This is one of those unique times in technology history where plucky upstarts can take down industry titans. Instead of just transmitting and receiving content, we can change our media into new experiments in governance. Social networks have always provided the illusion of democracy with their voting systems, but we can go much further now. We could have social networks run by representation, user contribution, random lottery, or even cult of personality. Not all of these configurations work, but we already know that letting corporations and advertising run our lives on the internet is not working. We can reshape the future, we just have to try.

Voting, in the City and Elsewhere

I wonder why we are okay with this.

In the town where I live, we have skyrocketing housing prices, rapidly expanding homeless camps, gang violence, and a stadium that lost its NHL farm team. Despite this, the voter turnout for our municipal election was only 35%. So for 65% of the 141,000 people who live here, this is all a perfectly fine outcome. Most of the people voted in were incumbents. It could have been worse, many of the new anti-SOGI trustee candidates did not get in, but other conservative candidates held on to their positions. It just boggles my mind that most people in my hometown could not be moved to take 10 minutes and vote.

I wonder if this is what true privilege looks like. To be so far removed from the decisions governing your life that anything short of a military coup d’etat couldn’t get you out to the polls. Then again, are we so beaten down by the crime and poverty that we just accept it as a part of life?

I’m probably thinking too hard about this. The truth is, city politics is just not exciting enough for most people. The CBC ran episode of “Murdoch Mysteries” instead of the Toronto election results, and the stakes were far higher for that contest.

It just feels lonely more than anything. I like the idea that I have a say in the way government is run. All that boring stuff creates decisions that fundamentally change our lives and that’s exciting. I don’t feel like I can shame people for not voting if they don’t feel represented. God knows I don’t feel represented every time I head to the polls. But if this isn’t working, we need to have better options than just being ruled over by decree.

The Cishet Male Selfie

Why do men hate taking selfies? Messing around on the internet one night, I decided to type this question into google. All I came up with was a bunch of articles talking about how men hate it when women take selfies. It was like I was looking at the patriarchy in clickbait form. Not only were people not asking why men didn’t take selfies, but they were more concerned about men’s opinions of other people who took did selfies. Talk about making it all about you.

The cishet male selfie is rare beast out in the wild internet. They don’t post photos of themselves in an outfit saying, “I feel handsome today”. Guys night out remains undocumented. It’s like we’ve selectively airbrushed ourselves off the internet. Why?

Since we live in a patriarchy, we men tend to denigrate anything that women are into. See the backlash against the Twilight novels and the Netflix She-ra reboot. We also have traditional values against vanity and being focused on personal appearance, going all the way back to the Narcissus myth in Ancient Greece. Being too obsessed with anything is bad to be sure, but what’s wrong with simply regarding your own self-image? What is wrong with trying to control it, if only for a brief moment?

In 2014, the #365FeministSelfie campaign was launched by Veronica Arreolla. It challenged the media stereotypes surrounding selfies. It encouraged women to take control of their own self image, use these photographs as expressions of their authentic selves and their bodily autonomy. Now you’d think men, with all our exhortations about individualism and self-sufficiency would be all about that, but not so much!

I think what really puts men off of taking selfies is the vulnerability of it all. Not only are you putting up an image of yourself for all to see, critique, and photoshop into compromising positions, but you are admitting to an aspect of your humanity. You dared to regard yourself. We men are all about policing each other’s humanity. Ever since we are children, if you admit to loving people, having fears, even having things that make you angry, that one emotion patriarchy allows you to have, that information can be weaponized against you. You are a target for ridicule, isolation, and worse.

Why do we accept this? If we value our freedom, our autonomy, why do we put up with our own erasure? When you get right down to it, a lot of Patriarchy is made up of social scripts that we follow simply without thinking. When we break those scripts, the illusion breaks down and we have to consider our place in society. When we do that, we look back on the old script and realize what it cost us emotionally to maintain it. We feel the freedom. And if you want to feel that freedom too, post that outfit if you’re enjoying how you look today, capture that post-workout flush on your cheeks at the gym, or just find your good side.

ArenaNet, Cultivated Consumer Identity, and The Loud Vocal Minority

It surprises me how much I continue to lie to myself about the games industry. Take ArenaNet for example. I’m not a Guild Wars player, but they had a writer named Jessica Price on their team. She is known on Twitter for talking about sexism in the tech industry, which is a tough gig if you’re not a white male. I could look at that arrangement and think, you know, the video games industry has its problems, but there are islands of free thought where workplace diversity is appreciated and strong employee opinions were at least tolerated.

This lovely vision was dashed out of existence when ArenaNet fired her over a disagreement with a twitch streamer on twitter. A developer who had worked there for 12 years was also fired for defending her. If it wasn’t obvious before, the games industry, and by extension the entire tech industry at large displays a shocking disregard for the dignity of their employees. This all could have been solved by a simple apology, but ArenaNet caved to a harassment campaign and set the worst possible precedent.

The Guild Wars players that were hurt by Jessica’s posts are gloating right now. It’s like they expect every game developer to do double duty as a customer service punching bag. One post on a community forum said, “they’ll know we got their hands around their throat and we can squeeze any time we like”

What’s even more chilling is how viciously they defend the company’s “right” to fire people. This is the voice of beaten people. They’ve gotten so used to so-called “right to work” laws and contract jobs that they resent anybody who has it slightly better than they do.

It all just makes my heart sink. The worst part is that this overbearing hyperconsumer behavior is actively cultivated by the game companies. They want people to invest their entire identities into these games. They want the kind of fans that will harass, steal, and kill for their products. That’s why they’re willing to throw employees under the bus for these customers.

After all, that’s where they get the most revenue, right? Those are the whales, the hardcore fans, the 5% of the audience that pays for other 95%. It makes sense that they cater to their most profitable customer base. Or does it? ArenaNet now has to deal with a fanbase that thinks it can strongarm anything they want from the company. The Guildwars IP is going to stagnate, since any changes are going to be met with the same kind of force they saw here. And every game developer out there is going to know what kind of loyalty they can expect from ArenaNet.

The firings at ArenaNet do not make any sense from a moral or business standpoint, as if those 2 things are separate. Game developers should not wait for ArenaNet or any other company to learn this lesson. The industry is long overdue for a union, and organizations like Game Workers Unite are stepping up to the plate. Consumers don’t have to wait either. We have to speak out against this kind of toxic behavior, and if we don’t, the loud vocal minority is here to stay.

The Patriarchy Has You

Have you ever looked at the news lately and just been confused? Like you’re watching a bad soap opera where motivation doesn’t make sense? We’ve all been taught theories about this in school, like culture, religion, and rational self-interest, but all these explanations fall apart under the weight of the contradictions. Why are conservatives supposedly “voting against their interests”? Why are we spending billions to fight terrorism, when heart attacks and domestic violence claim so many more lives? If men are a privileged group, why the hell are we all so angry all the time? I may not have found the one true answer, but I have found one that works better than the rest: Patriarchy.

I used to think that term was only by man-hating radical feminists, which should tell you how far the up propaganda river I was. Patriarchy needs to be front and center in the mainstream because the modern world doesn’t make sense without it.

Patriarchy is a social system that values fear, dominance, competition, and control. The subjugation of women and the privilege of men is a large part of that system, but it is based on those core values. It is the society we live in. We want to believe that we are somehow beyond sexism, but as I read more about Patriarchy in Alan G. Johnson’s “The Gender Knot”, Patriarchy is so pervasive that we refer to it in unconscious euphemisms like “the way things are”. You see it in the number of corporations, nations, institutions exclusively controlled by men. You see it in our politics, you see it in our language, you see it at every school shooting.

You especially see it in the way women are portrayed in our earliest myths. From Pandora’s Box, to the Garden of Eden, man is held as the standard and woman is the other, the aberration to be controlled.

Our best historical estimates place Patriarchy’s origins near the beginning of agriculture. Agriculture required dominance of one’s environment to ensure a plentiful harvest season. Reproduction provided labour and thus more control over the environment. Women were able to create more laborers, so this made up one of the reasons why women’s actions were so tightly controlled.

Patriarchal values inform other systems of oppression as well. Racism was introduced to justify the buying and selling of human beings to work on the cotton and sugar plantations of the Atlantic slave trade. Homophobia punished deviation from a masculine-centered ideal. Any system in practice today that uses violence to control people can trace its roots back to Patriarchy.

Both men and women benefit and suffer from this system. Women suffer by their marginalization as second class citizens. When a woman tries to walk to her car in a dark parking lot alone, it his her actions that are policed, not the men who would brutalize her. Men suffer by their status as oppressor. They are forced to abandon their humanity to participate in society. Having emotions other than anger is seen as inappropriate and unmanly. They are forced to compete for what they want, and when they don’t get it, they’re very identities as men are questioned. We lionize male aggression so much that for many men it seems like the only way. This line of thinking is the same for the domestic abuser as much as it is for politicians who order drone strikes. Kill or be killed. Via the body or the soul.

There isn’t much time left to ponder it. Patriarchy has created a vast system of global inequality that is wasting the Earth’s material and human potential. So much good is left undone because we can’t ask men to give up control. This is the reason that we can’t build clean energy sources, balance budgets, pass sensible laws, or even have reasonable screenings at airports. The solutions that involve men giving up control, even if they give more personal freedom, are what we now call, “political suicide”. Those are the solutions that we need the most right now.

If you’re convinced of Patriarchy’s existence, and you know the danger, then this is what you need to do. You must read, watch, and expose yourself to as much feminist thinking as possible. The first battleground will be your own mind. If you feel yourself getting angry at the state of the world, question that anger. Men must question their impulse to dominate and control every situation they find themselves in. I have a lot of work to do in this area too. Feminist women already get it. They have for years, and the lies about feminist thinking that have been spread as part of the recent backlash have be fought at all times. When you come to your own understanding of Patriarchal system that you live under, tell others about it. Connect with other people who think as you now do. The promise of feminist thinking is more than just equality. It is the promise to experience true love, true happiness, and true freedom.