Why I Cancelled my Reddit Q&A
SERIOUS TRIGGER WARNING FOR RAPE
ETA: It’s almost midnight, and there are now close to 400 comments on this post. I’ve read them all, and I want to thank those of you who contributed to the conversation, on both sides. A decade ago, I would have been good for at least three more hours, but as one commenter pointed out, I’m old. I’m therefore going to declare this party over, thank you for coming, and kick you out of my house so I can go to bed. (I.e., I’m turning off the comments now.)
I know some people will take this as further proof that I’m a grandstanding, hypocritical, pro-censorship, freedom-hating, puppy-kicking, fascist poopyhead. That’s fine. But with this many comments, I think most of the arguments have been made, and most of the insults hurled.
Have a good night, all.
One of the events I had lined up for the launch of my new book was a Q&A with Reddit’s fantasy community. I did an “Ask Me Anything” session with them earlier this year and had a great time, so I was looking forward to another round. And then Twitter pointed me to an active Reddit discussion which starts with, “Reddit’s had a few threads about sexual assault victims, but are there any redditors from the other side of the story? What were your motivations? Do you regret it?”
Numerous rapists jumped in to tell their stories. I’m not going to link to them.
The comments and reactions were mixed. Some people were horrified. Others tried to reassure the rapists, to minimize what they had done, or to praise people’s courage in anonymously talking about how they committed rape. There’s plenty of victim blaming, and comments from the “Women lie about rape to attack men!!!” contingent.
Earlier today I emailed the person who was coordinating my Reddit event to tell him I will not be doing it unless that thread is removed. Given the nature of Reddit as an open, relatively unmoderated community, I don’t expect this to happen.
An announcement was already posted that I would be giving away a copy of Libriomancer on Reddit. I don’t think it’s fair to back out of that, so I’m planning to post an additional giveaway on my site and ask my contact to update that announcement with a link to the giveaway. (He has been incredibly cool and supportive of my decision, and agrees that the rape posts are offensive and should be dealt with by the moderators.)
There are aspects of this decision I need to talk about. A Jezebel post called Rapists Explain Themselves on Reddit and We Should Listen talks about the way this thread provides insight into the minds of rapists, and how it’s important to have this conversation in unprotected spaces like Reddit:
“Nothing will change if we discuss rape culture in a vacuum. Taking the discussion beyond that vacuum, however, means opening it up to a wider audience that isn’t necessarily sympathetic. Reddit may not be the best place for that, but it’s certainly a start — and that’s important. It’s in these less-protected, less-sacred spaces where the conversation is needed the most.”
Others have argued that it’s important to understand evil, to see where it comes from and recognize that these are seemingly-normal people who’ve committed horrible acts. One person said that reading the posts helped her to realize that there are men deliberately targeting women, and that her rape wasn’t an accident or a “misunderstanding,” but a deliberate choice by the rapist. In other words, it helped her see that it wasn’t her fault.
That really stuck with me. But for me personally, the harm far outweighs the good.
It is important that we understand why people rape. But there are other ways to find that insight. Books, essays, research, and more. I’ve spoken with rapists and batterers, and it did give me a better understanding as to how this crime happens. But the circumstances of those conversations were very different. They were controlled, with people who had been convicted and held accountable for their actions. People who, as far as I could tell, appeared to genuinely regret what they had done. In situations where excuses were not tolerated.
Some of my problems with the Reddit discussion are as follows.
-Who are these people? My guess is that most of these stories are true, but I have no way of knowing who is telling the truth and who is trolling for attention. In the overall scheme of things though, this is a minor complaint.
-No accountability or responsibility. In none of the stories I read were the rapists held accountable for their actions. Nor did they take responsibility. The pattern tended to be, “Here’s the story of how I raped this girl, and here are all of my excuses. I got away with it, but I feel really bad now of course, so give me cookies!”
-Some of the posts are essentially How-To guides for rapists. Rape is not an accident. It’s not a misunderstanding. Predators practice their technique. They learn how best to target and overpower their victims. And now we have a thread from experienced rapists sharing their successful techniques.
-Rape is a crime of sex and power. I read some of these stories, and I see rapists getting off on the chance to relive their crime. The sexual aspect comes from the graphic descriptions of what they did, and the power comes from the reactions of the commenters. The dynamic I’m seeing here is one that allows a number of rapists to recapture the rush of their crimes.
-The Hurt Outweighs the Good. I won’t deny that some people have taken positive things from all this, but I believe the harm far outweighs that good.
I know Reddit is not a single unified group, any more than Twitter or LiveJournal or Facebook. My guess is that very few members of the Reddit Fantasy group have any idea what’s happening in the rapist thread, and that many or most of them would be horrified. I feel like I’m punishing innocent people for actions they had nothing to do with, and I don’t like that.
I’m also a big believer in freedom of speech. These people have the right to tell their stories. But that right to speech doesn’t obligate one of the largest sites on the Internet to provide a platform for their speech. Reddit, as I understand it, prides itself on a relative lack of moderation and an “anything goes” approach. To quote one member, “It allows any voice to be heard no matter how uneducated, insensitive or outright wrong.”
I don’t think people should be silenced for lack of education, for tone, or for having a different opinion than me. And I’m not going to tell Reddit how to run their sites or communities. Nor am I going to try to say everyone who chooses to stay with Reddit is a bad person.
But I’ve made the choice to walk away, both for myself, and for the hope that it sends a message to those with the ability to make a change at Reddit.
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