Well, you could see this coming. Twitter announced last Thursday that it was teaming up with a left-feminist activist group to investigate gender-based harassment on the social networking site:
A group called Women, Action, and the Media, which advocates for better representation of women, is testing a new reporting process for gender-based harassment. The group developed a tool for reporting harassment and will forward confirmed reports to Twitter. “If it checks out, we’ll escalate it to Twitter right away (24 hours max, hopefully much less than that) and work to get you a speedy resolution,” says the group, which abbreviates itself as WAM. “But please note: we’re not Twitter, and we can’t make decisions for them.”
I wondered what exactly this small non-profit believes in. You can check them out here or check their agenda from the statements in the video above. Their core objective is what they call “gender justice in media.” That means that they are interested in far more than curbing online harassment. They want gender quotas for all media businesses, equal representation for women in, say, video-games, gender parity in employment in journalism and in the stories themselves. They are outraged by the following:
Less than 1 in 100 of classical pieces performed in concert in 2009-2010 were written by a female composer (and 1 in 15 was written by Beethoven!). Women make up 2% of the standard repertoire of pieces (Repertoire Report 2009-2010).
Less Beethoven – more, er, women! The crudeness of their identity politics is of a piece with their analysis. Instead of seeing the web as opening up vast vistas for all sorts of voices to be heard, they seem to believe it is rigged against female voices, or that women are not strong or capable enough of forging their own brands, voices, websites and fighting back against ideas they abhor with wit and energy and passion and freedom. Instead, WAM’s goal is to police and punish others for their alleged sexism – along the well-worn lines of contemporary and controlling left-feminism. Here’s the mindset behind the project:
“I see this as a free speech issue,” Friedman said. She said she knew some would see the work WAM does as “censorship,” but that a completely open and unmoderated platform imposes its own form of censorship. It effectively prevents women, especially queer women and women of color, from getting to speak on the service.
How exactly? Does Twitter prevent women of color from using the service? Or is it simply that WAM believes that women cannot possibly handle the rough-and-tumble of uninhibited online speech? And WAM’s intent with Twitter is not merely to highlight physical threats, abuse or stalking. They are quite upfront about casting a much wider net against those insufficiently committed to “gender justice in media”:
“We’ll be escalating [harassment reports] even if they don’t fit Twitter’s exact abuse guidelines,” Friedman said. WAM intends to “cast a wider net” and see what Twitter’s moderators address.
I can find no reason to oppose a stronger effort by Twitter to prevent individual users from stalking or harassing others – but if merely saying nasty things about someone can be seen as harassment, then where on earth does this well-intentioned censorship end? Is it designed to censor only misogyny and not racism? What about blasphemy? Are the only suspects in this brave new Twitterverse the “straight, white males” disparaged as a group in the video above? And yet, among those liberals who might worry about policing free speech in this way – let alone handing over the censorship tools to a radical activist group bent on social transformation – it’s hard to find anyone anywhere who has any qualms. Jesse Singal wonders if it’s enough to keep the trolls at bay:
There are two ways to look at this.
One is that it’s good that Twitter, in the wake of what the Verge calls “high-profile threats against game critic Anita Sarkeesian and other women” working in the gaming world, is working with an outside organization to potentially beef up its very ineffective harassment-reporting tools. The other, more cynical response is that this could be a useful way for Twitter to make it look like it’s doing something about online harassment without actually doing very much at all. After all, given Twitter’s massive resources, why should it need to outsource this job to someone else?
Marcotte is hopeful that this will help stem the tide of troll bile:
There’s reason to think that WAM!’s involvement will do some good. As anyone who has reported abuse on Twitter can tell you, pretty much anything is better than the current system. And a woman’s group might also be much better at sussing out what is and isn’t sexist harassment than the mostly-male staff at Twitter. But WAM! also has experience in this sort of thing. Last summer, the group decided to run a campaign shaming Facebook over the proliferation of pro-rape and other anti-woman hate groups that escaped censure by declaring themselves “humor” pages. Facebook responded by cracking down on this kind of content. Twitter has wisely chosen to work with WAM! directly rather than go through that sort of public shaming, and hopefully this collaboration will be mutually beneficial.
Mutually beneficial? Does she mean that WAM can get to advance their broader ideas about policing the speech of white straight males by this legitimizing alliance with Twitter?
Somehow, I suspect the culture wars online just got a little more frayed. Because Twitter has empowered leftist feminists to have a censorship field day.