For those of you unfamiliar with Fetlife, it is a social media site for kinky folks (kinky defined very broadly).
Currently, there is a group of folks of undetermined size who are planning to temporarily deactivate their accounts at the end of April as a protest to some of the current policies and procedures on Fetlife. In the last couple of years as kink has become incredibly popular in the mass media the site has grown exponentially with folks looking to explore some part of kink. As will any group that grows rapidly there are growing pains including trying to teach newbies the norms of the group.
For kinky folks who have been in the scene for more than the past five years, we had communities which prioritized boundaries and consent. We taught the trickle of newbies about the importance of boundaries and consent and corrected them when they violated these norms.
With the massive influx of new folks, they have brought the norms of wider American (and to some extent British and Canadian norms). For those of us who have watched this, we have seen more consent and boundary violations and struggled with how to deal with these issues.
Let me make this clear right now- not all boundary and consent violations are equal. They are all important. I see a clear difference between an online account consistently sending creepy unwanted messages to someone and being raped during a pick up play scene. Both need to be addressed and prevented (if possible) but they are not on the same scale.
So much of the what is being protested (but not said explicitly) is the lack of capacity to redress boundary violations. All of us have some boundaries. All of our boundary lines are a bit different. Context can affect where we draw our lines.
Most women and a large number of men of color experience online harassment and boundary violations. Most of us have received creepy, unwanted messages from members of Fetlife. This happened early on in the sites history and happens more today. They make the recipient feel “icky” and sometimes unsafe. Sometimes we just want to non-consensually beat the person who sent it.
There is a big thread on Fet that “creepy messages never hurt anyone.” Eh… ok, most creepy messages don’t end up with someone being physically injured, I’ll give you that much. However, constant harassment and nasty messages can leave a person feeling unsafe. True, you can block the sender. However, when it is a daily chore to block folks sending creepy harassing messages, people bounce from the community. Nobody wants to have to feel like they are constantly being preyed upon by random strangers will ill intent. And yes, there are those of us who log on and our first chore is to block the new creepers. It sucks.
Sending an unwanted message tells us a lot about the sender. One, you are either unfamiliar or simply ignoring normal social boundaries. Two, if you persist in sending creepy messages when told to stop or the person fails to respond to your first one, you willingly continue to violate someone’s boundaries. These mean you are unfit to play with someone in the kink community.
Kink and BDSM relies heavily on people discussing their boundaries and respecting the boundaries of others. It is back to the old example, the difference between an impact scene and assault is consent. Many people use online contact as a primary or singular source of contact with other kinksters. If you constantly violate boundaries you signal you are not willing to respect community norms and should be bounced.
Racism, Sexims, and Ablism
Many of us who receive unwanted messages get messages which are filled with racist, sexist and ablist vitriol. As a fat chick, many cis het men on Fet feel comfortable either fetishizing part of my body or sending unwanted comments about how gross they think fat women are. If I don’t know you, I don’t want to hear your stupid opinion about my looks (positive, negative or otherwise). I also don’t want to be reduced to a single physical characteristic (e.g., don’t wax rhapsodic about my giant tits and fail to notice literally anything else about me).
My friends who are people of color get harassed way worse than I do. Black men (especially those identifying as Dom or Master) get messages inquiring about the size of the cocks riddled with racist slurs. Black men who identify as submissive have shared with me harassing messages about not “being a real man” and other racist stuff Fetlife members choose to message them. I could go over the specific forms of racism each different group gets, but I think I made the point— Fet has racist members.
We block these asshats, true. Some of us report them but that puts the burden on the person being harassed to correct the behavior. Most of these creeps move on to other targets but remain active members of the Fet community.
Beyond general creepy messages, some Fet members violate a person’s consent. Many of us have a clause at the top of our bio which states, in one form or another, we don’t accept unsolicited friend requests from someone we don’t know. Many slaves or submissives have additional instructions as to who to contact if they want to make an introduction. Most of these are ignored regularly by creepy folks on Fet.
If you ignore these instructions in a bio you are violating consent. When corrected, if you persist in the unwanted behavior you continue to violate consent. Its simple: read and respect the terms the person wants to be contacted by.
People have learning curves when they enter a new subculture. It takes a second to learn the lingo and the norms. I understand newer folks will take time to acclimatize to the norms of the kink community.
Right now, we are at a point where our various kink communities need to decide what norms we want to enforce and which ones we should consider changing. Just because its “tradition” or has been done one way for years doesn’t mean we got it right. I am willing to consider new ways of bringing folks into the community, how we can encourage people to explore kink in a safe way, and how we accommodate the myriad of needs of kinky folks.
I think the core values of consent and respecting boundaries need to remain. Figuring out new policies which create and encourage people to understand consent and boundaries is important.
I know the folks running Fet are currently trying to figure out how to address these issues. Here would be my suggestions to kick around:
1. Implement a type of “three strikes, your banned” rule.
Fet has some serial harassers. They target one person, get blocked or bored, and move to the next. When the harassment reaches a certain threshold, I think people should be able to report it and it count as a “strike.”
I would NOT include things like sending an uninvited friend request or single creepy message. These are sent all the time and we are all adults and can deal with it. Either block (or don’t accept) the friend request or send a generic “Please do not message me again” text. This is not too onerous for anyone to do.
I WOULD include things like messages indicating someone wants to harm you, messages which contain explicitly racist, ablist or sexist language. Messages which clearly are sent to intimidate or scare someone would be included. Messages about stalking and other illegal behaviors would also be included.
I think Fet needs to develop an oversite group who can read the reported messages and determine, based on an explicit and published rubric, if the messages count as a strike. A bot cannot be used to determine the intent behind the message- we need real, live people. When a reported message is a strike, the sender of the message would get an message from the Fet admins identifying the specific terms they violated. If the person sends three or more of these messages, they are banned from the site.
The “you have violated community standards” generic message will not work. The specifi violation(s) need to be clearly identified so that the violator may learn what they did wrong.
2. “Cooling Off” periods
Consent violations of a wide variety occur in real life and impact Fetlife accounts. There is a lot of concern (mainly by cis men) that they can be randomly accused of a consent violation as a retaliation method from some upset play partner.
Recognizing not all consent violations are equal and that no one person should be able to make an unsubstantiated claim ant then attempt to destroy someone’s online reputation, there needs to be a reasonable solution.
If the consent violation can be corroborated by others in the community and shown to have impacted someone’s account on Fetlife, there needs to be a variety of repercussions. In the worst case scenarios where someone is raped there needs to be a clearly defined process for blocking the rapist from Fetlife. For lesser violations, I would suggest there be a “cooling off” period where one or both parties is limited from using their account. In the case where someone is claiming consent violations but there is no cooboration or it is a clear attempt to get a hated ex off Fet, the account of the accuser should be limited.
I know there are many women out there claiming this is putting the onus on the victim or refusing to believe the victim. It would require that it is more than and “they said/they said” situation. You may tell me your story. I may believe you. But if we are asking a company to remove someone’s access to part of the community, it needs to be more than hearsay.
3. Recognition that people need time to learn.
Some folks violate norms and boundaries accidentally. Maybe they didn’t know it was a boundary. Maybe they didn’t realize what they were supposed to say when the violated it. Maybe no one has ever told them they are a flaming racist pig. We all make mistakes.
Fet needs to create a chance for people to learn. There are lots of options– instituting “trainings” where someone accused of being a creeper on Fet either has to read about boundaries, consents and norms and take a little quiz before getting access back to their account, or instituting a “class” online people had to take if they were accused of being a creeper or some such thing. It seems punitive, but for folks who are just online or who rarely get out into the kink world in real life, we need a way to educate them about the norms and boundaries of the community.
I believe people can learn from their mistakes and should be allowed the chance to learn. We can’t just randomly block every dickhole who posts a few creepy messages. They may not understand how they are being a dickhole. Let’s give them a limited time to learn and correct their behavior.
Finally, Its About Power
A lot of the posts on Fet right now about how “dumb” this protest is or how “If you don’t feel safe, leave” shows a great tone deafness to the role of power. Men have more structural power than women do. White folks have more structural power than non-white folks. Cis folks have more power than trans folks. Able bodied people have more power than bodies with various disabilities.
Most of the posts about “if you don’t feel safe, leave” are being written by cis white guys or cis white women. They have the power and they feel safe because they know they have the power. You don’t get to set all the terms of the community. White cis folks live in a safety bubble and are lashing out being asked to share it.
If you don’t understand structural power, how can you possibly understand power exchange and giving/accepting power in a relationship or play scene? Posts decrying the “snowflakes” and all just reveal who the poster is: someone who doesn’t understand power. It should be a red flag for anyone seeking a relationship or play partner in these folks.