A disturbing new cultural phenomenon is hitting social media. You only become aware of it when you are its victim or its perpetrator. The main victims are feminists. But an ever-increasing pool of twitter users are targeted, including those falling into the bracket of: feminists, radical feminists, followers of radical feminists or feminists on twitter and anyone expressing any kind of sympathy for the radical feminist position that gender is harmful.
That amounts to a large pool of women (and others) who are finding voices to describe, and oppose, patriarchy and who, consequently, are being culturally sidelined.
Here is how it is happening:
If you’re on twitter, you may have noticed there’s an account called @TheBlockBot. If you’re like me, you probably moved swiftly on, with a vague tut, and thought no more about it.
Just recently, however, I’ve been piecing together an ominous pattern of male domination and control via social media – a pattern which goes beyond the usual attacks and misogynist accusations levelled at individual women. This is a concerted and collective effort to distort and automatically block out (hence the name “TheBlockBot”) the feminist position on social media.
George Orwell’s “1984″ imagined a state-led “Big Brother”. However, the one we actually have in 2014 is a technological domination which culturally and socially induces male supremacy. The state uses legislation and policy edicts to follow, and re-enforce, those patriarchal social norms. That is why we must take TheBlockBot and the varying other forms of coercion, intimidation, and distortions of feminism, in the social media seriously. There is no doubt these are initiated by regressive libertarians presenting themselves as the new vanguard. TheBlockBot is an example of this phenomenon in action and why I am highlighting it here. Towards the end of this post, I will give a further, recent, disturbing example.
@TheBlockBot is a user-invented twitter programme where anyone can add anyone else on twitter to a list of blockees if they commit dubious twitter “crimes” or even for being plain “annoying”. Feminists aren’t doing our job if we’re not “annoying” patriarchy so that immediately puts us in the frame. “Annoying” is also highly subjective. Anyone at all not toeing the regressive political line is vulnerable for attack. In TheBlockBot’s own words: (TheBlockBot is) “a Twitter gadget that can be used by Twitter users to silently block trolls, abusers, bigots, and other unsavoury people.”
If a twitter user subscribes, they will then automatically block everyone on the hit list. Anyone can report anyone else. This creates a platform for resistance to feminist politics but also anyone with a grudge or dislike against anyone else can lump them in with “whorephobes” or “transphobes” (see my recent post sisterhoodispowerful.wordpress.com/2014/07/15/the-truth-about-radical-feminism/ ) and instigate mass blockings. There are different levels of severity – level 1-4. From what I can make out, however, the different levels make no difference at all to the impact on the individual targeted by this application. Everyone on the list is equally blocked by the same number of people. The levels merely reflect the severity of the judgement laid at the door of individual twitter users.
This feature is not completely open and random despite its pretence that it seeks to protect those who use it. (It will) “remove some of the harassment that is usually directed your way” (TheBlockBot, FAQ). As we shall see, I am on this list and I have never “harassed” any individuals (by which I mean personally attacked or personalised political conflict on twitter). On twitter, the word “harassed”, a bit like the word “gender”, has come to mean anything anyone wants it to mean. The political bias embedded in the programme is described in the discussion after the FAQ guidance. We’re told that “radfems” are worse than “MRAs” (these are groups of specific male supremacists who are concerned that male privilege is under attack) “Radfems” are worse because they “are well organised and have the ability to deny trans peoples rights, currently they are working with xtian ex-gay groups to influence the law” (TheBlackBot, December 2013) (Don’t let the facts get in your way before you make assertions and block)
Looking at the lists of “administrators” /”blockers”, unsurprisingly, we see there is an over-representation of transactivists/men. A quick glance at some of their twitter accounts shows quite a mixed politics but most lean towards the political left and/or “alternative” politics. All seem to unquestioningly subscribe to queer theory which is on the opposite spectrum of feminism, particularly radical feminism.
Concerns are raised about how the programme curtails “free speech” by people posting in the comment section. TheBlockBot argues that being blocked on twitter is not limiting “free speech”, it’s simply about ignoring those whose opinions you wish to ignore (so which is it? Is it a block for when people harass you individually? Is it a feature to block out “annoyances” or is it available to blank out those who say anything which upsets your political sensibilities?) . They entirely miss the point when they say the application does not limit “free speech”. And the point is that, by blocking en masse, they create a social construction. They create an intention to marginalise and control feminist politics by de-humanising, targeting and demonizing individuals who express those politics on twitter. And it works. I have heard from many women that they are afraid to express their gender critical views for fear of being labelled and ostracised within their communities.
If social media is merely a functional place where you are free to ignore what, and who, you want, big corporations would not spend millions on how to communicate effectively on it, the press wouldn’t be quoting twitter “moods” and reality TV shows wouldn’t call for live tweeting. Twitter is a phenomenon which has Social Capital under patriarchy.
The fact that users are manipulating twitter for any political reason at all is unsettling by itself. When we add their rationale for placing feminists on the block, it becomes disturbing.
They have designed a function where you can search to see who is on the blocklist and decide whether you want to add someone if they aren’t already there. I assumed, as a gender-critical radical feminist who has never launched personal attacks on individuals, I would be there. I was not prepared for the reasons given. I was “reported” twice and placed in level 2/3 (not sure which – both appear under the report against my twitter name). It also doesn’t matter which because, by appearing on the list at all, there is auto blocking by unknown numbers of twitter users.
My “crimes” were pointing out that men invade female-only spaces for all kinds of reasons, including to be sexually violent. I even gave a link as an example – this one: http://www.torontosun.com/2014/02/15/a-sex-predators-sick-deception (The person responding could only remark on the right-wing nature of the media outlet the report could be found in). I have googled and not found one report or post, of whatever political flavour, which argues that this was NOT a man pretending to be trans. According to stavvers and her friends, this never happens. Linking to this one example, was enough to get me auto-blocked by potentially thousands of users.
My second “crime” was a defiant response when observing that some transactivists were targeting feminists through using a hashtag called #TERFweek. I knew the impact of such patterns of behaviour would be to intimidate feminists from discussing gender-critical observations and analysis. I said, therefore, that by producing such a hashtag they were targeting me – meaning that I would not allow myself to be separated from other radical feminists, not that I self-identified as a “TERF” (a term which is a slur and used to label and de-humanise political opponents).
@invisiblechoice, the innovative feminist art project, is on the list for being “anti-sex workers”. The project reports the words of johns with no analysis. The fact that this project is on the list at all shows the true agenda of those behind it – to discredit and distort feminist activism – as opposed to identifying those with “transphobic tendencies” (sic)
I saw other women I am following challenge misogyny and be placed on the list. It’s not exactly unsurprising that feminists, challenging the status quo, would be circled in such a way by men and transactivists using the excuse of “bigotry”. They do so with buckets full of deception about what radical feminism actually is, who is involved and what our motivation is.
It became clear to me as I read the reasons why women are added to the block, that it IS a contemporary mechanism to silence feminist voices and control all women who may dare to begin to question how oppressive the gender hierarchy is. Any feminist can be labelled a “TERF” when she does so, and be blocked. Women are already marginalised and feel reluctant to express feminist politics online, or anywhere, because of our subordinate status. This phenomenon is a new layer of attack, designed to re-enforce patriarchal norms by subverting our feminist messages so profoundly that we are the ones labelled “bigots” for fighting injustices against women. We STARTED the debate about gender and we have much, much more to say now, in 2014. For that, some are prepared to go a long way to dishonestly re-frame our politics as being inhumane and without compassion.
Riding in tandem with this feature, are numerous lies and distortions found on twitter. A few days ago, I read that some transactivists (I use that term to mean anyone who prioritises transrights above the rights of women) were organising a social, private, informal get-together via the public medium of twitter.
Took me a while to work this out, but, from what I can see, everyone involved in the conversation, except GID Watch and Voltinavoce, are all transactivists/men. My interpretation is that the man who wrote the tweet, although seemingly gave their immediate location away publically, didn’t produce a series of tweets to “stalk” (stalking means persistent unwanted attention including following someone and monitoring their whereabouts) as the transactivists go on to state happened, over and over. It was one tweet revealing someone had informed him of their location some time earlier.
Whatever this incident was about, and regardless of whichever non-radical feminist tweeted what, this has absolutely nothing to do with radical feminism or radical feminists. We are concerned with the liberation of women. Yet the stigmatisation and demonizing of radical feminists surrounds the myth as it rages on, with many believing the stories unquestioningly. It is a good illustration of how demonization of women takes place under patriarchy – men do things, women are to blame for what they do. A pattern repeated over and over.
This incident has been blown up like a fire in a forest. Statements such as “TERFS are telling each other where we are and ‘stalking’ us” are resonating across parts of twitter. The distortion, like many others, becomes a truth. It looks to me like manipulative stage-management. I wish we could just dismiss it as twitter animosity but we can’t. This kind of manipulation is played out and has real life consequences. Our venues, our speakers are attacked and it’s these very kind of anecdotes (or quotes taken out of context) which is used to “prove” that radical feminists “hate” transactivists. It is an effective silencing tool. It is imperative that radical feminists are not silenced about something so harmful to women as gender.
(edit: post updated to include new information)