Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Moderators, Rangers and Elders: Oh My!

The internet is on fire after a woman was threatened on the internet with rape and violence after successfully persisting in petitioning the bank of England to get a woman on one of their banknotes that didn't earn fame due to the luck of whose uterus she came out of. I'm not going to link to the current discussion or the petition that arose out of this latest all too familiar incident. But I will say I signed it but I left a comment.  This post is meant to elaborate on my comment.

I am 46 and sent my first message across the internet in 1986. I was a young university student studying math and taking a mandatory computer science course at the now quite well known for technology University of Waterloo. I didn't know that I was on the internet at the time and that term wasn't even coined yet. I was on an inter-university-governmental communication system that was spread all across North America. After 1986, when I was taking further courses in computer science (I ended up minoring in it, it fascinated me), I was exposed to vast repositories of knowledge and discussion on these systems. After graduating with my first degree and working for a year, I knew I had to come back and learn more. I chose to go into an engineering program at the same university that specializes in understanding systems. From 1991 - 1999 I pursued graduate work in the Management of Technology. I completed a Master's degree and am ABD on a PhD in the topic.

So I basically have over a quarter century of lived and studied experience in this space we now call the internet, or just the net. That's a fair amount and really makes me an elder.

I cringe using this word, elder. Inner voice: Who gives me the right to call me that? Newfound Voice, Calmly: "Your education and experience are legitimate, own it. Just because no-one is paying you to say or write this stuff doesn't mean it doesn't need to be said."

My personal growth in the last few years has taken me on a fascinating journey of self realizations and awakenings. The personal has become political in all sorts of ways. My longevity on the net has made me afraid of ego. I've been victimized online. I've only been not anonymous online for the past 8 years due to cyberstalking that occurred in around 1997. That terrified me and shut me up.

Even after I removed my anonymous shield I've been leary. However, my recent journey has led me to the point of I just don't care anymore. I will say what I want and if you think my motivations are ego driven I can assure you, with the core of my being, that they are not. What I see is driven by my raison d'etre, driven into me in my youth and surfacing regularly throughout my life:  I want to see the world left in a better condition than when I arrived. I don't want to be part of the problem anymore, I want to be part of the solution.

Pussyfooting around egos is not working. Ego is not part of the solution. Ego = ME. Community = WE. I have come to the point in my life, with Daughter grown, that I am willing to actually die for this belief in the necessity of community.

I see a lot of ego in Social Media. I might even argue that it is literally out of control. This latest fiasco over rape threats has highlighted this fact because some of the detractors to the abuse button petition are people who have benefitted from calling out abusers. If their 'skill' is replaced by a button, how will they garner attention? They don't say this, of course. There is a new Newspeak and many internet users are expert at it.

Back in the discussion board days there were moderators appointed that had experience and longevity and were respected by board group members. This doesn't exists in the mainstream social media sites of today and if it does on the lesser known platforms (like on reddit or 4chan) the sites themselves are still largely patrolled by men who think 'post your local weather girl pix' are fine. If I were to call that out I would be called a prude and told to get over myself. I have backed away from these environments long ago because as a woman I have been targeted for too long. 27 years is a long time and it is most of my adulthood. I am tired. But now I'm seeing that a critical mass of women is developing online and perhaps now is the time we can try and put measures in place that ensure online spaces are safe.

I believe all communication systems, throughout millenia, need appointed moderators. Moderators that might be paid but are appointed by users not shareholders in the capitalistic marketplace. Moderators that have a full understanding of the limitations and strengths of healthy terms of service agreements and can work with employees to improve them. In the early 90s there were tons of people kicked out of discussion groups for behaviours that today get called trolling and laughed off. A rape threat would have incurred banning them for life immediately.

I fear that our ego celebrity driven world is making the online space too toxic for women. I also fear that the online space is the only way women can gather enough in numbers to truly liberate future women from human trafficking and violence. Men run everything, still. Everywhere, still. Twenty years ago on the fledgling internet there was a much greater understanding of inappropriate behaviour online. The community was so small that 'policing' it was manageable. It is now out of control (like I said before).

I hope some social media company somewhere takes this suggestion to heart. We need moderators. If they are looking for a current very successful model in order to develop a strategy they could look at the Ranger community at Burning Man. It has long fascinated me and as with many things Burning Man, it is quite innovative.

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