Why I’ll Be Deactivating My FetLife Account Next Monday

So if you haven’t heard of the impending FetLife strike, now you have. A lot of FetLife users will go temporarily dark next week to protest the crappy way FetLife aids and abets creepy dudes and predators.

I imagine you all have a lot of questions, so I’ll make the rest of this a Q&A.

What’s Making People So Upset That They’re Temporarily Quitting?
If you’re a woman on FetLife, and you post pictures or anything sexual, you can expect to get creepy dudes hitting you up for sex sooner or later. Many women get stalkers, or extensive rape fantasies, or even out-and-out rape threats in their inbox.

Now, there is a “block” button on Fet, but that requires you to actively a) seek out that user, and b) block them.  Considering that some high-profile women get 90+ emails a day from dudes, many of them anonymous dick profiles, the old advice of “Just block them if they bother you” isn’t quite enough to stop many women from saying “fuck it” and walking away from a social media site that has become a chore.

There’s plenty of tools FetLife could create to help ameliorate that: allowing people to screen emails from new users / users with under X friends / users of a specific age and gender ranges / a better block functionality. But despite the fact that women have been complaining vociferously about this shit for the seven years I’ve been on FetLife, the Powers That Be at Fet have chosen to devote their programming resources to other tools.

Which is a shame, because a lot of women have already left FetLife because, well, creepy rapey assholes. Hence: Going temporarily dark to encourage John Baku – the owner and lead programmer – to prioritize these tools, stat.

(EDIT: John has said that he’s got two projects in the pipeline that he’s got to do for legal reasons, and then by May 18th he hopes to do a comprehensive review. That’s a good sign; I hope this newfound focus will continue.  But to be fair, changes have been promised before and not been forthcoming, so people are skeptical.)

Is That All?
Sadly, no. FetLife’s official policy of “You can’t name names of people who have abused you” in your posts leads to FetLife protecting people who are active abusers, making them more likely to ban someone for mentioning an abuser than they are the abusers themselves.

That’s a more complex issue for me personally, because while I do believe victims by default there are always shit-stirrers; I’ve seen bad actors, mostly anti-SJW factions, trying to weaponize innocent statements on non-kink social media into accusations, so I’m a little less trusting in the goodness of the unrestrained Internet.

Still, fact is that FetLife largely seems to view its users of all genders, no matter how unsavory, as useful for as long as they can generate hits and content for them – remember The Wolf? – which is a problem that needs better solutions.

I’m honestly not sure what that solution is, so I tend to focus on the first issue of “developing better tools to screen out creeps,” but the problem that Fet tends to grant large audiences to random predators is still an issue worth noting.

So That’s The Official Stance Of The Walkout, Then?
Nope. Just mine. This is a wildly disorganized movement, and I don’t claim to speak for everyone.

So You Think YOU Walking Away Will Cause FetLife To Tremble? What An Ego! What Balls!
Let’s be honest here: You take away the people, and FetLife’s got nothing. We are both the market and the product.

And many people I used to like seeing here have been driven away by creepy dudes on FetLife, making it less likely that I’ll return. For every person going, “Well, it hasn’t bothered me and I’m still here!” there’s probably at least one (and maybe two or three) user who is no longer here to have the debate.

So if I leave? Nah. Not such a much. Hell, I did go dark for about two months during a recent mental collapse, and – surprise! – Fet kept chuggin’ along.

But if lots of people leave, as they have already? Well, FetLife loses everything and becomes MySpace or Ello.

I’m kinda hoping they realize this and start prioritizing better tools. I mean, why is it controversial at all to to want to retain productive users who generate nice pictures and kink for us, and screen offputting choads who do nothing but spam random people with badly-written fantasies?

 

But Hasn’t FetLife Been Working On Solutions?
Look. My day job is being lead programmer on a site about as complex as FetLife, with hundreds of thousands of active users.

As such, I am immensely sympathetic to Fet’s situation here. Code is complex, and not easy to change at the scale they’re working at. It took us years of planning to implement a new checkout process because we had to clear out old code and handle a thousand crazy edge cases – and all the while, everyone was like, “Just make it happen, it’s simple.”

It. Is. Never. Simple.

In addition, FetLife has to deal with laws in international countries, and with their payment processors shutting them down, and all the issues coming with porn, and maximizing ease of use for users. All the while dealing with a rabid user base that fights like weasels trapped in a paint can over what they want – and probably for a lot less money than most e-commerce sites take in. (Given that my wife is on the board of a couple of conventions, I find that users assume that people are getting rich off anything that’s perceived as a large-scale operation, even when it’s actually a hand-to-mouth experience.)

Slim resources, legal battles, and vociferous users? Even if you have the best of intentions, working there has to be a nightmare, done mostly for the love. I do genuinely believe that Fet as a whole wants to do the right thing, even if I disagree with those right things are, because they’re in the web of a lot of tangled issues that are not easy to sort out.

And I keep seeing people in threads telling them about the simple solutions, enraged that they can’t just pull a rabbit out of their ass and have it done in two months. Folks… they can’t.

But that said…

If they’d listened to the multitudes of complaints I’ve seen erupting over the past six years, they’d have some of it done by now. These aren’t new complaints; they’ve just been mostly ignored over a loooooong period of time. And one of the new big features they rolled out – an “improved” user search – actually made it easier for stalkers and creeps to find people in all sorts of photos and videos, leading me to believe that nobody at the top of the chain is seriously considering the average female experience. (They had to roll it back after its debut, which is never a good look.)

So personally speaking, I don’t think they have been working on a solution, not seriously, until it exploded in their face. Which, to me, signifies that they’re not driven by anything but things exploding in their face. Which means the more exploding, the better.

They gotta prioritize features that improve the user experience, and I think that starts with better filtering tools and more comprehensive tools. Clearly, the block button alone isn’t doing it for a lot of people.

How DARE You Tell FetLife What To Do?
Well, people do that all the time to me at my job. All the time, in fact. They’re called “customers,” and they leave us feedback – some of which we agree with and change for, some of which we disagree with and don’t, some of which is nice, some of which is bitchy.

This temporary walkout, crude tool that it is, is a way of telling Fet that yeah, you need to prioritize this a lot more than you have.

And frankly, this shouldn’t be controversial. I notice a lot of the people reacting very negatively to the walkout are right-wingers who are big on the free market – well, this is a customer base telling its client that they want changes made. That’s literally what good capitalism runs on – customers weigh in, the companies make changes to satisfy them.

In a sane world, this complaint would be viewed as simply as that.

(And there are a lot of people using this walkout to shill for their kink-platform-of-choice, which is also capitalism, and I encourage that as well. But I like FetLife. Currently, most of my buddies are here and I know how it works. I’d prefer it change rather than me walk away like I did with LiveJournal and CompuServe.)

So You’re One Of The Good Guys, Huh?
Nope.

Lemme repeat that: Nope.

Up until about six months ago, I thought it was a compliment to find an attractive woman and hit the FetLife equivalent of “like” on all the photos I found appealing. Then it was pointed out to me – not directly, but in a flurry of FetLife essays from various people – that some women really fucking hate that shit. Enough women, in fact, that I realized that some of the people I’d done that to had probably been very much off-put by that.

I didn’t mean to creep them out – but if I did, they deserve better tools to keep tools like me away.

Look. I try to be honest about all my flaws, and I’ve fucked up with consent, and I’ve fucked up with communication, and I’ve left bad tastes in people’s mouths more than once. I don’t want to, and I’m disappointed in myself when I do, but I’d be lying if I said I was an angel of beauty here.

Not everyone finds me creepy. But those who do should have an effective, flexible, and FetLife-supported way of keeping me out of their lives. And though I acknowledge that Fet has to devote resources to deal with laws like SESTA and the way that America seems hell-bent on shutting down payments to anything to do with porn, they also need to make things easier for the women on here.

Because they deserve better. And I’m happy to go dark for a couple of days if it helps remind people that yeah, nobody should have to log on here to find their inbox filled with creeper.

Am I A Bad Person If I Support The Goals Of The Strike But Don’t Want To Participate For Whatever Reason?
Nope. But the event’s here if you wanna look at it.

Ponder, and wonder. And let’s all hope that Fet finds a good solution, and keeps going, because honestly? I want to see it thrive.

I just don’t think it can when its policies are driving away the people posting nice things, y’know?

8 Comments

  1. Hel
    Apr 25, 2018

    Plus, I mean, *not* banning people for naming their abusers doesn’t require anything except policy change. I haven’t logged into fet in ages cos of personal stuff. I think I’ll log in next week to deactivate my account.

  2. PDV
    Apr 25, 2018

    This is…really terrible timing. With FOSTA/SESTA making the hurt rain down, this seems fairly likely to just kill Fetlife entirely, with nothing to replace it. Fetlife isn’t great, but it’s still better than any of the alternatives. Most of which have already shut down, or are only getting more kink-hostile, since they justifiably have The Fear. (Dan Paskins-style)

    I think this is probably bad for everyone.

    • TheFerrett
      Apr 25, 2018

      Alas, as has been noted, the timing has been “not at all” for the last six years minimum, so part of this is their own making. I mean, I get it, but it’s sort of like “This is a bad time for Twitter, what with their stock prices crashing” and part of my answer to that is “Maybe y’all should have taken the user experience as a priority.”

  3. Dawn
    Apr 26, 2018

    Question for clarification? You wrote:

    “Up until about six months ago, I thought it was a compliment to find an attractive woman and hit the FetLife equivalent of “like” on all the photos I found appealing. Then it was pointed out to me – not directly, but in a flurry of FetLife essays from various people – that some women really fucking hate that shit. Enough women, in fact, that I realized that some of the people I’d done that to had probably been very much off-put by that.”

    As a non-Fet user (I signed up for an account to read your work there, but never really participated), I’m confused. If someone posts a picture where others can see it and those people “like” that picture, how is that creepy in this context? A little more clarity on this would be good, because while I trust you as a valid source, wondering about this took me away from your main argument.

    • Yingtai
      Apr 26, 2018

      I am not one of those women (because I’m so squeamish about male attention that I don’t post any sexual photos at all) but my guess is that the problem is not about liking one photo, but a long string of them. It’s exactly the same thing a crazy obsessive stalker would do if you were his new obsession. I’m not saying women who feel creeped out by this behaviour are always going through this conscious thought process, but creepiness is a subconscious “spidey sense” about impending danger, and that’s how I see this behaviour as matching impending danger signals.

      • Dawn
        Apr 27, 2018

        This makes sense. Thank you!

        • Yingtai
          Apr 30, 2018

          I’m glad it helped! But I’m actually back to admit that I apparently didn’t understand the problem fully. Here’s an essay that does a better job of explaining why people didn’t feel good about it:

          https://medium.com/@SadistHailey/fetlife-photos-and-active-consent-3fe5fffe9af0

          • Dawn
            Apr 30, 2018

            Ok, you’re right — this article explains things perfectly. Because, after reflecting longer on your original response, I was still back to “person A willingly put pictures of themselves online, and one person ‘liked” all their pictures. What’s the issue?” But if people are posting with the idea that their photos are to be kept “in the family” so to speak, and then the service is opening the door for anyone with a buck to perve to those pictures — and bother the people who posted them — THAT’s another issue altogether.

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