FRIEND: Hey, are you a William Gibson fan?
ME: Sure. I’m generally a fan of anyone who is curious about/exploring how technology changes humanity without making it sound like either “Google Utopia is Coming” or “You kids with your damn iWhatsits, GET OFF MY LAWN!”
. . .
In lieu of my own words tonight, here’s a post by my new favorite group of delightfully mysterious culture hackers, Stop the Cyborgs, and a link to a relatively thoughtful article about the tension between privacy concerns and cyborg rights. (It even randomly mentions Heidegger. What?)
“Spence jokes about the Stop the Cyborgs movement. ‘I think it’s funny,’ he laughed. ‘I’d like to ask these bastards, though, who they think will stand against the robots when they come for the humans if not us cyborgs.'” 😉 #CTCC
Interesting balanced article in PC mag which considers both the privacy angle and the cyborg rights issue with comments by us and self described cyborg Rob Spence.
Technology is moving so rapidly many theorists are saying we’re on the verge of fundamentally changing as human beings,” Spence says in his documentary Deus Ex: The Eyeborg Documentary. “In the meantime, for those of us missing parts of our bodies, we’ll keep exploring and upgrading. It’s possible we are the pioneers of a new cybernetic age.”
“There is a whole complex area here, that of cyborg rights versus privacy rights, but we are confident it can be resolved,” the [stop the cyborgs] spokesperson said. Each side’s main concern is how it identifies itself and is perceived by others. “In the end it comes down to trust and respect. We need people to have control over data and we need ways in…
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I’ve been trying for a couple of days to write this post about the Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid, a browser add-on that flags OkCupid users who answer match questions about consent and/or violence in ways that are consistent with how perpetrators of sexual assault answer similar questions.
I’m torn, because what I really want is to dive into a bunch of speculative social theorizing about why the tool is interesting. (It’s really interesting!) But that won’t be nearly as fun for you to read as it will for me to write unless you’re familiar with the tool I’m talking about. So, quickly, here’s how to get PAT-OKC up and running on your OkCupid account:
1. Installing PAT-OKC on Your Computer
The first thing you’ll need is a userscript manager. A userscript is “programming that modifies the appearance or behavior of an application. A userscript for a Web site, for example, can customize the way that content will display in the host browser.” And a “userscript manager” is an application that allows you to run userscripts.
This is less complicated than it sounds. Basically, userscripts are like apps for your browser. I avoided them for a long time because I’m not very techy, so trying to customize my browsing experience usually just makes me feel sort of klutzy and awkward. In fact, wanting to run PAT-OKC was finally what pushed me to download Tampermonkey. But it turns out that it was super easy — like one click in the Chrome Web Store easy — and there are a lot of cool userscripts out there that are totally painless to install.
Once you’ve got your userscripts manager, you can download PAT-OKC here: Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid. You’ll be taken to a page that shows you the contents of the script, with a dialog box that says “Do you want to install this userscript: in Tampermonkey (Ok) or natively in Chrome (Cancel)”. Click OK in this dialog box, and in the next one that pops up.
That’s it. Now you’re running PAT-OKC. You can check that it installed correctly by clicking the Tampermonkey icon in your browser bar and selecting ‘Options’. The Tampermonkey icon looks like this:
You should see “Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid” listed under Name and a little OkCupid icon under Sites.
2. Setting Up PAT-OKC on Your OkCupid Account
Now that you’ve got the userscript installed, the next step is to synch it with your OkCupid account. The next time you visit OkCupid, you’ll encounter a box with some information about setting up the tool. It looks like this:
This box will pop up even if you’re not currently logged into your OkCupid account. If that’s the case, clicking “Go!” will drop you back at the login page. Once you log in, the program will pick up where it left off, asking you to answer some Match Questions. These look just like regular OkCupid Match Questions because they are:
However, what you’re answering is a series of questions specifically relate to issues of consent and/or violence. Some are newly-added questions taken from a survey called “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists” by David Lisak and Paul M. Miller, which you can read more about on the PAT-OKC developer’s blog. Others are standard Match Questions that have been in the OkCupid database for a long time. You can also submit your own suggestions for questions, or even create new Match Questions of your own to submit, but more on that later. (Incidentally, the developer writes these tools and makes their living on an entirely donation basis. If you’d like to contribute something, check out their Cyberbusking Page.)
The reason you are answering these questions is so that the tool can “see” other users’ public answers to the same questions. It then uses that information to determine which users to flag. Try not to get stuck on the content of the questions. Just answer them as honestly as you would if they popped up in your Match Question queue normally. Some (such as the ones about alcohol, roughhousing with your friends, and potentially-consensual choking) might feel out of place next to questions about e.g. forced oral sex with children — but, once you’ve installed the tool, you will be able to see which questions a red-flagged user answered and how, so you can still make a critical determination based on your personal comfort levels.
The current series includes 15 questions and they took me about 6 minutes to get through. (I had already answered some of these questions during my previous OkCupid’ing, so your time may vary.) The tool gives you occasional opportunities to pause:
However, if you try to navigate away from the Match Questions in the middle of the series, the program will dump you back to the original install screen and you’ll have to start all over. So…don’t. [Ed. This issue has been resolved in the latest version of PAT-OKC. Woot.]
Once you’ve answered all the questions, you’ll see a box that looks like this:
Voila! You’re done.
And so am I, for now, because I need some sleep. Take some time to explore and see what PAT-OKC can do. In my next post, I’ll talk about ways I’ve discovered to both use and improve the tool, and why I’m so excited about what it suggests for the future of online anti-violence work.
This book is simple. It arrived at my house today. The package that contained it was sent to me several months ago and I thought it might’ve gotten lost in the mail, but apparently it just took the post office 4.5 months to figure out I’d moved.
It’s a little wooden book that my parents gave me when I was young. I don’t remember being given it. I just remember thinking of it throughout my childhood as a gift from “my parents”, as a unit. So, I must have been very young.
Looking at it now, I wonder why they picked it out. Was it a cute whim grabbed at some giftshop or garage sale? Could they tell, even as a child, that I would need extra reassurance? Did they simply realize that most children (and humans of all ages) sometimes need a pocket-sized reminder that they are loved even when they feel the most unlovable?
A few years back, I gave the book to a person I was in love with and who was angry a lot of the time. The place for that story isn’t here. He was the kind of person who doesn’t believe in magic but does a whole lot of it anyway, without realizing. One day, after we hadn’t talked for a long time, he offered to send it back and I said yes.
I don’t know what it means that it showed up at my house today. (Other than that the US Postal Service is…slower than e-mail.) I do know that the world we know when we’re children shapes the sense we make our whole lives. I got a lot of sad things imprinted on me when I was small — especially after my parents stopped being a unit. But I also got this definition of love: That loving someone means loving their feelings. All the feelings. My life might be easier if I didn’t believe that, but I don’t think it would be better.
This simple, square, wooden artifact tied together with red string has so much personal provenance. When I first got it back, I thought about passing the book on to someone else, another child or adult in my life who might benefit from it. I decided to hold onto it myself. I have a lot of feelings, too, and I haven’t outgrown the need to be reminded that they’re part of what makes me lovable. But I wanted for people I love to have the same reminder. And for people I don’t know to be able to remind each other. So, I put it on the Internet.
“So you’re tired of hearing about ‘rape culture’?” asks Lauren Nelson in this post chock full of examples of the ubiquity of sexual violence in our society. “I hear ya. I’m tired of talking about it.” She goes on to make the powerful point that conversations about rape culture are everywhere because rape culture is everywhere. If sexual assault were an easy problem to solve, we would just solve it and stop talking about it. But it’s not. So we keep talking and thinking and trying new tactics in hopes of finding something that works.
Lately, that conversation has come to the Internet in a big way. Of course, there have been conversations about rape online for as long as there have been online conversations. But, for all that it’s integrated into our lives and carried around in most of our pockets, the Internet is still a brand-new, nigh-indistinguishable-from-magic technology and we have no idea yet what we can actually do with it. Previous online attempts to address rape culture have done so by drawing on demonstrably-effective offline tactics. We see conversations about awareness-raising, education, giving the silenced a voice, protecting survivors from re-victimization and triggering situations, etc. that echo the efforts of hardworking feminist and sexual violence-prevention advocacy groups in the analog world. These tools for fighting sexualized violence have been developed over decades of trial and error. They still make a powerful impact when translated to a new medium. However, they’re not enough.
Media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who famously “predict[ed] the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was invented” said, “Official culture is striving to force the new media to do the work of the old.” In other words, we’ve tended to treat television like radio with pictures, and the Internet like a television we can click on. At first. But what’s exciting about the Internet isn’t that it provides a platform for us to fight rape culture in the same ways we’re used to only bigger and faster and with more animated gifs. What’s important is that the Internet gives us opportunities to address sexual violence in ways we haven’t even imagined yet.
What I’ve noticed over the past year or so looks to me like a new generation of activists — increasingly savvy with the technology and social psychology of the Internet — beginning to experiment with what a suite of updated, integrated, anti-rape culture tools and tactics might look like.
Probably the most well-known recent pushback against rape culture is the Predditors story, in which some Reddit users discovered and published the identities of others who had been posting sexualized pictures of young women. The Predditors tumblr has since been shut down, but its contents are still available in a GoogleDoc here. Sexual abusers have also been outed via YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Blogs provide a public square for arguments about rape culture to rage. Twitter users directly critique the media. I’ve heard rumors of a Tumblr hashtag used by survivors to post the names and addresses of their rapists. The FetLife Alleged Abusers Database Engine (recently rolled into the Predator Alert Tools suite as the “Predator Alert Tool for FetLife”) collects anonymous reports of consent violations in the BDSM community and then flags the FetLife profiles of alleged abusers. And I recently helped beta-test a new tool, The Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid, which highlights self-reported sexually violent opinions and behaviors by OkCupid users.
I don’t think any of these tools, or even all of them together, will put the nail in the coffin of rape culture. Like other kinds of abuse, rape culture adapts to new environments quickly. Activists need to stay on our games in order to keep exposing new forms of it as they appear. We need to keep experimenting, trying new things, and being creative with whatever resources we have available. What I find most powerful about these tools is the ways each seems tailored to the specific culture from which it emerged. Predditors addresses rape culture on Reddit by retaliating against its perpetrators using technological savvy, counter-rhetoric about free speech and privacy, and a “troll the trolls” sort of strategy all suited to Reddit’s particular cultural sensibility. FAADE, on the other hand, capitalizes on a mentality strongly espoused by FetLife users that the BDSM community is like a “small town” in which everyone is connected to everyone else by kinship ties. BDSMers often rely on personal references and a player’s public reputation to assess their safety, thus a database allowing FetLife profiles (the site of a player’s public reputation online) to be tagged with negative references from community members has a powerful impact on the sub-cultural consciousness. What would a similar tool look like for Twitter or Facebook?
The Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid (PAT-OKC) is particularly interesting because it interacts with a micro-culture that, unlike FetLife or Tumblr or even Reddit, doesn’t experience itself as a community. Certainly, there are some very involved OkCupid users who have personal relationships with each other, are invested in the success of the site, and have more of a group mentality about the user base. But I think, for most people, OkCupid is a place to meet and interact with strangers. Issues like community reputation are less salient. Instead, OkCupid culture revolves around sharing lots of personal information about oneself with strangers and filtering efficiently through personal information about free-floating others. This creates a very different set of rape culture issues than those addressed by “name and shame” strategies. PAT-OKC, rather than de-siloing information about potentially predatory users shared by others, begins by simply reporting what those users have told us about themselves. I’m curious to see where this will go…
In my next post on this, I’ll install PAT-OKC from scratch and walk through how it works, what questions it brings up for me, and any ideas it sparks.
“I don’t want to be ‘metamours’ anymore. Let’s just be friends.”
I’ve heard this numerous times in my life from people with whom I shared a romantic or sexual partner. Typically, it happens when the fact that we’re dating the same person has created some kind of emotional strain on our interactions with each other. “Let’s not be metamours” usually means something like, “Processing about the person we’re both intimate with, and how our relationships with that person affect each other, has gotten too stressful. Let’s not talk about that stuff anymore. Let’s just focus on other things we have in common. Normal things. Friend things.”
I get it. Navigating metamour dynamics can be tough; it’s a kind of relationship we’re not raised with any models for. But I’m not sure if they realize they’re breaking up with me when they say it. That the “let’s just be friends” at the end of a metamourship sounds as hopeful and hollow as the “just be friends” of lovers who part ways. It’s sort of a nice idea. I always want to give it a chance. Sometimes a friendship ends up working out. Often, it doesn’t. And I grieve the end of a meaningful relationship, regardless. A metamourship, a relationship built on the explicit acknowledgement of a shared love, is a unique kind of intimacy and I’m sad whenever one ends.
Each time, I ask myself, “What’s wrong with me?” Why are they giving up? Is it because a relationship that triangulates through a third person is almost impossible to maintain in our dyad-obsessed culture? Or is there something that makes me, personally, a particularly challenging metamour to have? It’s probably a combination of both those things. It’s also a simple issue of resource priorities: Triangulated relationships are extremely important and fulfilling for me. More than almost anything else in life, I want to collaborate on love. So, I’m willing to pour a lot of time, energy, and emotional processing power into relationships that afford me the opportunity to do that. But for many others, I think the idea of collaborative intimacy feels a bit alien; even if it sounds nice in theory (which it doesn’t to everybody), it’s hard to be invested in for its own sake, especially given the lack of wider social support for doing so.
In normative polyamorous culture, especially, people are often pressured to be close to their metamours for utilitarian reasons — “getting to know your metamours will help you feel less jealous!” — but not supported in valuing that relationship simply for its own sake. People who are interested in emotional intimacy with their metamours are told to “Just Do It.” They are rarely given any guidance, much less encouraged toward the kind of active self-awareness and self-care any challenging relationship requires. This trivializing of the difficulties makes metamourships even more difficult and makes the polynormative pressures around them feel even more aggravating. Ultimately, many metamourships end up feeling like a “necessary evil,” — second-order and perfunctory — rather than living, breathing, independent intimacies with joys and challenges of their own.
This is, I suspect, why people often don’t understand that I feel legitimately heartbroken when a close metamourship breaks down, even if the impact of the shift is net-positive on other relationships in the intimate network.
I’m sure you’ve known a couple or two who’ve broken up but, for logistical reasons, kept living together for a while — maybe even continued to share a bed. That’s a bit like how metamour breakups feel to me. I once continued to share a partner (and a house) with an ex-metamour for a year after our “just friends” talk. It was rough. As long as I continue to have a partner or partners in common with someone, a structural metamoric relationship between us still exists. We may agree not to make that commonality a focal point of how we interact with one another, but our other relationships still aren’t happening in hermetically sealed boxes. And so, depending on the degrees of intimacy involved, sometimes it feels like we’re living in a house together but trying not to make eye-contact in the kitchen.
It’s cope-able. But it can be awkward as hell.
I like to write things (both big and small) about how humans interact with each other, especially in groups of three.
I like to write about relationships between humans and machines. What they mean. How they feel.
Sometimes, I also write about being sad. But, for the most part, I’m fond of life.