Terri Senft answers q’s about internet life

Theresa Senft (author of Camgirls that we read) answered questions for Leandra Preston's class ""Virtual Girls: Girls and Digital Media" at the University of Central Florida in 2011 via video. These are cogent articulations of some of the issues we have been thinking about throughout the semester and inherently argue against digital dualism and the hierarchy and binary of virtual/real, online/offline.

1. Are people more honest offline or online?

2. Can you have sustainable friendships online?

3. What should be the role of the net in “real” activism offline?

4. How well do you think your viewers know you?

5. Why are all the camgirl sites devoted to porn now?

6. What about pre-teens and young teens who want to become camgirls?

7. Can you speak about creating “safe spaces” for women and others?


Week 9 — Online Bodies

This week we focused on a variety of online bodies and spaces. We were going to have Ana Voog Skype/chat with us which didn’t work out and in the end we didn’t focus on her at all, and she is the most prolific camgirl that ever existed. Here is the video she made for us!

The space of the blog filled up today with a lot of interesting stories about sexuality, censorship, shaming online, which shows how invested we are in the internet and our lives online. This stuff really affects us. Digital dualism go away!

For this week, we read two historical pieces about the internet—Terri Senft’s chapter from CamGirls, and a series of conversations—focused on the internet as an embodied space, and the ways in which particular bodies embody the internet (before the internet was mobile). We unpacked reductive and oppressive ideas about narcissism, shaming others and their bodies through modes of surveillance, and viewing the expression of sexuality as frivolous and lacking in political valence. The two historical pieces are meant to help you reflect on the way we function on the internet today — particularly around social media, identity and image sharing. I assigned the series of emails to you, to demonstrate that forms of knowledge do not just come in published books, articles, and or distributed films. It is important that we take narratives, and epistolary exchanges just as seriously, and these are important for our thinking. They are also primary research material. Particularly to read first-hand accounts of how people were experiencing the internet and themselves online in that space in the early days. We also briefly looked at contemporary artist Jillian Mayer and a community of women attempting to circumvent censorship online.

We looked at the ways in which surveillance, self-surveillance, and sousveillance is enacted on the internet, and the way we police other people’s behaviours on social media, and in the ways that internalize ideologies and self-monitor our own behaviour.

Until the late 1990s, being on the Internet typically meant communicating with peers, on Usenet discussion forums, IRC, multiple player massive text based online environments/games.  What’s important for us is that in 1995, the Mosaic web browser was the first to allow the ability for inline images, rather than them opening up separately in a new window. This started the internet as we know now —a visually based media. 

We presented the history of the practice of webcamming recognizing the importance that these women (cam girls) built the very web platforms they used to distribute their work: it is not simply that there were no templates that made the upload and distribution of images readily accessible (like Squarespace, Tumblr, WordPress); the development of a culture of online content sharing of any form was contemporaneous with the construction of the platforms used for such practices. There was no Kickstarter or Patreon to ask people for funding and/or money.

These users built their own spaces, their own communities, they built space where there was no space for them. We must ask ourselves why we judge these experiences, as narcissistic as opposed to other forms of expression? Why is that when a woman wants to control her own image it is seen as narcissistic?


Twitter bans nonconsensual intimate photos, a.k.a. ‘revenge porn’

A mere moments ago this appeared on my Twitter feed. Fitting for today's lively discussion. We must take seriously the space many of us spend a lot of time within — cyberspace! As important as it is that platforms help create safer spaces for everyone, we must also question the near-ubiquity of posting other people's nude photos as a shaming method. How did this start? Why is it so effective and affective? Why do we use each other's bodies and the expressions of our bodies as shaming devices? Why is the nude body such a threat that it can be used to ruin people's lives? Why do we find sexuality threatening and 'inappropriate'? Why is there so much discourse that states, "well if she didn't want her photos leaked, she shouldn't have taken them." That is the same logic that we have seen when focused on the Pamela George case that plagues so many rape/murder cases — "She shouldn't have been walking there." Or the historical discourse to teach women how not to get raped rather than teach men not to rape. How do we reproduce the rhetoric that sticks in making people's lives so unbearable that some of them commit suicide? 

What about if you had posted images online and now you want them removed? What happens then? Can people not change their mind about what content they want available? How?

These questions also point to the fallacy of the online/offline virtual/real binary.

by Kashmir Hill

It has historically been a nightmare if nude or intimate photos of you made their way out onto the Internet. Beyond the sheer embarrassment of exposure, it was very, very hard to get those photos removed. If pleas to websites to take down revealing pics posted by vengeful exes or hackers didn’t work, women — and occasionally men — resorted to creative legal threats, claiming copyright over scandalous selfies or filing lawsuits saying that the posting was an invasion of privacy. Websites, protected from liability for what their users posted, were often unsympathetic and legally in the clear. But the tide is starting to change around nonconsensual porn — also called “revenge porn” — with social media platforms making it easier for people to get pics they never wanted publicly exposed taken down. Last month, Reddit banned revenge porn. On Wednesday, Twitter followed suit.

Technically, Twitter added this clause to its rules: “You may not post intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject’s consent.” So if your vengeful ex decides to tweet a graphic present you bestowed upon him when you were dating, you’ll now be able to report it and Twitter says it will take it down “in a timely manner.” In a recent blog post, Twitter said it’s tripled the size of its abuse response team, and responds to reports far more quickly now, though the company doesn’t give out specific numbers.


So, how exactly will this thing work? I asked the employee just how intimate a photo needs to be for a person to take it down. Does it need to be X-rated or could it be a “nonconsensual” underwear bulge or side boob shot? He said that while there’s no hard-and-fast rule on what counts as intimate, the company is trying to get at the ‘range of horrendous behaviors that people engage in’ including not just full frontals and lingerie shots, but up-skirt photos and perhaps even what Reddit likes to call “creep shots,” revealing photos taken of unsuspecting women in public.

One catch is that you have to recognize yourself in the photo and report it; Twitter doesn’t want “body police” going through tweets and reporting every pornographic image they find. If an offending tweet is removed, all native retweets will disappear too, but you’ll have to report all manual RTs and any further postings of the photo or video. Twitter does not yet have a technical way to block a given photo once it’s been flagged as banned, though the company is working on it. Franks, for one, thinks it’s problematic that bystanders can’t report the posting of explicit images of others. “Every minute private sexual material is available increases the number of people who can view it, download it, and forward it, so even ifTwitter responds quickly to complaints, it may be too late to stop the material from going viral,” she said by email.

Read more

Special Prostitution Courts and the Myth of ‘Rescuing’ Sex Workers

There is much to be said about Vice Magazine, however Molly Crabapple is an astute observationalist of many issues, and a great illustrator. This story ties in some of the issues we have been talking about: justice system, sex work, naturalized violence, sex workers as 'always working' in the face of the law, gender, whiteness, and so on. 

January 5, 2015, by Molly Crabapple

“Once they get you, they are always going to get you,” Love* told me this November at a greasy spoon in the Bronx. “The sad thing is that nobody ever stands up there and fights them.”

Love is a 48-year-old black woman. She has high cheekbones, and her full lips smirk easily, especially when she hears something dumb. For several years, Love did sex work in Hunts Point, the Bronx red-light district made famous by the HBO documentary Hookers at the Point. Needing rent money, and sick of welfare’s bureaucracy, Love went out one night with a friend hoping to make some cash. They took precautions: Love’s friend kept an eye on her from the next block and wrote down the license-plate numbers of cars that picked her up. That night Love made $400.

Police arrested her repeatedly, but she kept working. She liked the money, and she had a daughter to support.

In 2009, however, Love was raped while working. The attack left her with post-traumatic stress disorder. With the help of social services organizations, Love quit sex work and started taking classes to become a surgical technician.

But she kept in touch with some of her Hunts Point friends, especially Sandra,* whom she considered a second mother. Then, this summer, Sandra stopped answering her phone. Fearing the worst, Love decided to track her down.

In Hunts Point, the two friends caught up, hanging out on the corner of Edgewater Road and Lafayette Avenue. When a car circled the block several times, Love assumed it was an acquaintance. She waved.

“Hop in,” the man in the car demanded. “I’ve got thirty dollars for a blowjob.”

“OK, officer, have a nice day,” Love shot back. As she walked away, the man shouted, “You must be a cop. You’re calling me a cop.”

Love forgot the man, until, as she walked back to the train station, three police officers swarmed her. They arrested Love for prostitution.

Love sat handcuffed in a sweltering, pitch-dark police van. For two hours, police drove around Hunts Point, looking for enough “bodies” to justify a trip back to Central Booking. Confused and furious, Love spent the night in a cell—missing a day of classes. The whole process took 24 hours.

The court system Love found herself in this year was supposed to be different from the one she’d dealt with during her previous prostitution arrests.

New York State’s Human Trafficking Intervention Courts (HTICs) are the first of their kind in the nation. Launched with great fanfare in September 2013, these courts redefined prostitutes as trafficking victims rather than criminals.

Read more here…

Class 7 — Notes

Today we focused on the ways in which whiteness is reproduced to not be seen, to be invisible. We focused on the implications that has on bodies in Canada, in particular on women’s bodies as subjected to intersectional femicide in the case of Pamela George. We then watched Alanis Obomsawin’s The People of Kattiwapiskat River and had a brief discussion on the ways in which this community is marginalized from all directions.

Using Sara Ahmed’s phenomenological analysis and method we read and commented on Razack’s piece which focuses on the trial of the murdered Pamela George. Whiteness is deeply ingrained in the colonial history Canada. Following the passage of the Indian Act in 1876, much changed – the act told specific bodies which way they can orient and which spaces they can be in and how they can extend. The act was created as a way of getting rid of indigenous peoples even though it was marketed as a pact to ease indigenous-settler relations. As such, it did little to assuage indigenous populations, and stripped them of their livelihood. The remains of colonialism are still very much prevalent today in discourse, laws, policies, etc.


Class 6 — Notes

This week we read three works and looked at a selection of slam poetry performances by queer artists that provided us with more concepts and embodied ideas to get at the question of the course — which bodies? which spaces?

Two of the readings assigned from the 1990s may seem outdated, but I assigned them because it’s important to have a history of when these issues and problems finally entered academia on a larger scale. Both Valentine and Knopp challenge the city/public space/the street as heterosexual. We used those two pieces as frameworks to think with Melissa Gira Grant’s evocative and high-speed Playing the Whore, which was released last year.


Gender Performed: a conversation about sex, gender, theatre & politics

*Might be of interest to any of you thinking about gender performativity, sexuality, and fashion / Definitely an example of some of the issues we have been discussing*

Is what you wear political? How does being “girly” get defined? What’s liberating and limiting about sex and gender?

Join us at the second Thinking Out Loud conversation presented by Concordia University and The Globe and Mail.

Monday, February 16, 2015

  • 6:30 p.m. – doors open | 7 p.m. – 8:15 p.m. – conversation | A book signing will follow
  • D.B. Clarke Theatre, 1455 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W., Montreal

Irish drag queen and gay rights activist Panti Bliss first made headlines in January 2014, when she called out several media stars for being homophobic. Shortly after, Emer O’Toole, assistant professor in the School of Canadian Irish Studies, invited Bliss to Concordia to speak about her experiences and activism.

In this conversation, Bliss will join O’Toole on stage to discuss how what we wear can reflect much more than personal style and fashion.

The conversation will be moderated by journalist Erin Anderssen of The Globe and Mail.