Keywords: Moderated vs. Unmoderated, curation, public/private, heterotopia, ideology, Reddit, #thefappening.
For this post, I’d like to focus on the way various levels of admin presence (moderation/patrolling) impact the representation and reproduction of female bodies online. To do this, I will (briefly) introduce the format of the online platforms I will be discussing, as well as the way I envision them with regard to recurring course/COMS themes.
A while back in my Communication and Visual Culture class, we discussed social media platforms as grounds for independent/public curation. This concept may seem confusing at first, but to put it simply, we imagined online spaces as ‘galleries’ of content, organized by single or multiple bodies, to present various ideas or, themes to broader online communities (we used Pinterest or Tumblr as primary examples of this, but we also acknowledged sources like the Onion and Gawker). In considering online user-based platforms as curated spaces, I would like to explore the ways in which female bodies are/have been represented and reproduced on the popular website reddit.com.
For those of you unfamiliar, Reddit is a large online community-focused website that allows users to upload original and secondary content to organized “subreddits” which usually have a more specific theme (For example /r/aww, /r/interiordesign, /r/cooking). These realms of curated content are usually regulated by “administrators” or “moderators” who are appointment by the site (or sometimes the community i believe) to help police the subreddit for irrelevant or inappropriate content. However, the extent to which these subreddits is highly subjective to each subreddit.
I find that, because these different sects of reddit seem to have regulatory bodies, when they really may not be enforcing any particular set of conduct, creates a heterotopia for members of these communities. Furthermore, I think that this realization of the heterotopia engages users an arena to freely express their opinions on virtually anything under an anonymous guise. Clearly, this can be an amazing tool for online social activism and the larger reddit.com community has been credited for a lot of good-doing online (fundraising and online petitions, etc). But, it goes both ways.
This article recounts the story of one reddit moderator, Violentacrez, who is (in 2012) referred to as “The Biggest Troll on the Web.” In the height of his activity on reddit, this user created and moderated a number of highly misogynistic, racist, and other unsavoury/hateful subreddits. The most popular of which, /r/Jailbait (the rest, I don’t care to mention but you can find a list on the link), encouraged users to post sexualized images of underaged females. Through this type of anonymous curation, we can see the darker side to anonymity on the web. As various cultures emerge online, either for the sake of “trolling” or not, various backwards ideologies (such as /r/jailbait) that aim to objectify or discriminate against various groups can continue to thrive. It is also important to remember that the moderators and regulatory bodies of these sections of the web to not reflect or represent the opinions or voices of the bodies they make spectacle of. In fact, it seems to me that almost* always these sites are made up of communities highly influenced and conditioned by the Western male gaze (*I don’t mean to blame all men of course because that simply wouldn’t be true). Another dangerous sub-sect of this culture which we have discussed in class is revenge porn. It is also worth mentioning that the majority of this ilk of content is circulated and glorified by a relatively small community, but the exposure of the content has the potential to reach the ends of the internet due to the nature of online sharing.
Another example you might be familiar with from last year is #TheFappening which was an online phenomenon that occurred last year across a number of unmoderated/questionably moderated sections of the net (originally on 4chan, but quickly moved to include reddit, tumblr, and p2p softwares like pirate bay). #TheFappening, in essence, was a hack that uploaded and circulated a catalogue of nude images of celebrity (primarily female) bodies. Not to say that this type of nude image leak hasn’t happened before, but the large scale and circulation of this specific hack was unprecedented. This exposure of highly private images of bodies across the public spaces of the internet really shook up a number of communities (both on and offline) and raised debates about the private/public sphere online but also raised broader concerns about the online objectification of these women.
On a more positive note, it is not to say that the internet is doomed. A number of positive voices have been heard and shared discussing these issues, too (a number of which have been posted to this very blog). I think the major takeaway from this post is to be aware of how online curation works to interrogate and/or reproduce an vast range of ideologies. Furthermore, an education in the past of this type of discrimination/disrespect can make us a more sympathetic and informed audience- one that may potentially be more inclined to support, share, and even become positive role models and voices online.
1) Curious for your opinions: How do you propose we come to ameliorate this issue? Would it be best to work on prevention, better moderation, or more victim-focused services?
2) How does your understanding of platforms as arenas for curated content impact or relate to your own web-browsing? What other ways do you conceptualize the world wide web?
*update* I also just came across this article. I really, really think this needs to be brought to attention. Any thoughts on this are also welcome.