There are many reasons for needing a safe space. This is not a new topic when it comes to having an online life. It’s gained momentum in the last few years as more and more hate groups find ways to harass, abuse, and dox their targets.
On November 9, 2016, as the world watched in horror when Donald Trump become the President of the United States, the hate groups got their time to celebrate. Mind you, the day before the redditors were weeping, because some of them didn’t realize you have to be registered to vote before going to the polls in most states. Many of us had hope that their ignorance would bring us away from the eighteen-month stream of people defending their bigotry with buzzwords like “southern pride,” “values,” and “tradition.” I realize hate has existed forever, but let’s just admit, the GOP campaigns have made it even worse as the news cycle gave barely any air time to Democrats.
In this time, we’ve seen more of Bill Cosby’s victims come forward. We’ve learned about Roger Ailes’ career of sexual harassment. We’ve seen Julian Assange protected until the statute of limitations ran out on the sexual assault allegations against him. We’ve seen Johnny Depp admit to domestic violence and then get cast in another Disney movie. Women and minorities have bore witness to tragedies, like Sandra Bland and the overwhelming amount of police violence. And when things like being hacked or doxxed to release personal information or private photos happens, you have to be a huge celebrity to have the media platforms or the authorities do anything about it. Because of the technology, hate groups have found new homes and new methods.
Social Media Loves Hate
If you’ve used Twitter or Facebook, you probably have seen the complaints about how useless they are when it comes to taking action against abuse. Each platform defends hate with First Amendment protections. I’ve had people “@” me and others, and Twitter still says that’s not “target harassment.” It’s baffling. To directly use a person’s handle or to refer to them without the “@,” but use their name, link, or snippet of their page, identifies a person. That sounds like a target to me. Using any way to highlight who you’re talking about online is “targeted.” So what’s harassment then? Is stating a different opinion harassment? Probably not, but dog-piling with a group is, and doing so for hours, days, weeks, months sure seems to be. But, not according to Twitter.
Twitter recently implemented the “quality filter,” which I think has done as much harm as good. Now I’m not seeing people I do want to see, but I guess that’s a better option than being attacked as I was in the #LetMeFemsplain chat.
Facebook still allows hate groups, but will put users on suspension if they show a photo with a nipple. Beheadings, animals being tortured, rampant racism, fan groups for murderers … yep, Facebook loves it. Fortunately, GoFundMe learned a lesson and stopped allowing crowdfunding campaigns for murderers’ legal fees.
Then there’s reddit. It’s basically the Pentagon of Hate whereas the Chan sites are State Houses of Hate. Whatever your metaphor, those sites are ruled by the MRAs and the alt-right conservatives. I’m appalled that celebrities and authors still use reddit to talk to fans instead standing up to reddit and boycotting them.
The day after the US election, film director Lexi Alexander said, “FB dude paid to get Trump elected.” I didn’t know what she was referring to. I didn’t think Mark Zuckerberg leaned that way. She was referring to Peter Thiel, the Facebook board member and a co-founder of PayPal who donated $1.2 million to Trump’s campaign. Thiel also served as a delegate for Trump and delivered a keynote address at the Republican national convention.
Zuckerberg isn’t entirely without bigoted apologies, either:
“We can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate,” Zuckerberg continued. “There are many reasons a person might support Trump that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia or accepting sexual assault.”*
However, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, used his powers for good and supposedly donated $20 million to the Democrats:
Moskovitz and his wife, Cari Tuna, wrote in a post on Medium. “We hope these efforts make it a little more likely that Secretary Clinton is able to pursue the agenda she’s outlined, and serve as a signal to the Republican Party that by running this kind of campaign — one built on fear and hostility — and supporting this kind of candidate, they compel people to act in response.”**
What Is Imzy, and Is There Such Thing as a Safe Social Platform?
After Lexi Alexander’s tweet, I noticed one of the replies looked almost like a bot that zeroes in on a keyword and offers you a deal to buy their product. In this case, there was a real person at the keyboard replying to her. It was Dan McComas recommending a brand new social media platform called Imzy. I quickly checked his bio to learn more.
“Former SVP product for reddit. Founder of @redditgifts.” Red flag warnings went off in my head. I do not openly without hesitation accept that someone involved in a cesspool like reddit has anyone’s best interests at heart. I am however, more interested after reading some of what he had to say on Twitter directly to me and publicly.
Perhaps, he’s genuinely regretful for what that creation became. (Our conversation is storified at the end of this article.) He did the things we ask for when it comes to atonement. He criticized the failures; he pointed directly to problem areas of the networks; he acknowledged my immediate distrust of anything shiny and new proclaiming to be a “safe space;” he tried to explain why Imzy is different and sent me links to their policies.
While McComas told me that they don’t allow porn, I read through their policies and they do allow nudity, provided it’s appropriately labeled NSFW and can’t be “for sexual arousal.” Their policy against the promotion or glorification of self harm means messages like “you need a diet” or “kill yourself” would be grounds for consequences.
I was concerned when McCormas said there’s user verification and that accounts can’t use “throw away” email accounts. There are great reasons and terrible reasons why online users would decide to mask their identities/real names. Obviously, it’s easier to send threats and be abusive if you’re anonymous. However, people have been writing about why they need the ability to use aliases on social media for quite some time. Some of the reasons include:
- Internal family issues; you don’t want your family to see what you post.
- employers or potential employers don’t agree with your stances, your hobbies, your part-time/volunteer work, or your parenting style; you need to conform.
- Abusive domestic partners can stalk, track down, and continue to abuse victims even after they’ve left.
- Transgender/anyone LGBTQIA might on their non-working hours be out, but still need to be closeted for fear of losing jobs, family, or to avoid online harassment; trans women of color are one of the highest statistics of violence and abuse.
- Public figures/entertainers like authors, actors, sex workers, burlesque dancers, and plenty of other jobs have commonly had the practice of pen names, stage names, or aliases in order to denote their professional brand versus their personal life; some authors have more than one pen name to compartmentalize their mature work from YA/children’s work.
I don’t know if Imzy’s group of beta testers was made up of a diverse population to weigh in on the many ways people want to post online in safe spaces. That question wasn’t directly answered, but at least their policies, so far, have explicit statements against harassment, revenge porn, spam, and endangerment of minors.
I’ve barely ventured into Imzy, but the first thing I noticed is that each post a user makes has the typical buttons for adding a comment and sharing. The next button is a huge difference: the Tip button! It looks like readers will have the opportunity tip a dollar or more to the writer per post. You can tip anonymously if you want. It uses credit card processing through Stripe. Imzy’s policy states that they don’t take a cut of the tip, but Stripe does. I have no idea how Imzy will be sustainable if there’s no advertising or fees; however, you can also choose to tip Imzy for operational costs.
I tend to proceed with caution in these cases. Facebook is under fire for their stance on allowing fake news and also for their puritanical policy on female bodies. Twitter is improving, we hope, but that doesn’t excuse them for how they bowed down to hate groups and trolls. Snapchat isn’t even on my phone. I tried Slack and don’t see how to use it unless you’re already welcomed into a closed group.