The Literal First Lady

Apparently we have now sunk so far as a nation that our own government’s employees feel comfortable casting petty (and incorrect) insults at the President’s wife. A little over a week ago Bob Grisham, a high school psychology teacher in Alabama, went on a rant—in which he also made offensive remarks about gay people—attacking Michelle Obama’s physique:

Grisham made the derogatory remarks during a class debate on Jan. 27. He complained about the school’s low-calorie lunch menu, saying it was due to “fat butt Michelle Obama,” and added, “look at her. She looks like she weighs 185 or 190. She’s overweight.”

First of all: is he looking at the same Michelle Obama I’m looking at? Not only does she looks like she’s in great shape, but I’m pretty sure she’s in better shape than he is. More importantly, though, she is the First Lady of our country. I don’t understand how insulting her in any way could be acceptable, particularly for an adult in a position of authority over children.

Grisham’s school district agrees; they’ve suspended him without pay for 10 days, removed him from teaching duties for the remainder of the school year, and ordered him to attend sensitivity training.

Gingrey's Bad Science and Bad Logic

When I responded to Rep. Phil Gingrey’s “legitimate rape” remarks on Saturday, I focused on the subtle misogyny underlying the statement. William Saletan at Slate wants to make sure we don’t miss the bad science behind Gingrey’s claims that stress can cause infertility and that doctors frequently tell women to “Just relax. Drink a glass of wine.”

If Gingrey is telling this to his patients—and prescribing alcohol for it—he’s a quack. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “While chronic stress, for example from extreme exposure to famine or war, may decrease a woman’s ability to conceive, there is no scientific evidence that adrenaline, experienced in an acute stress situation, has an impact on ovulation.” The American Society for Reproductive Medicine agrees: “There isn’t any proof that stress causes infertility.” Another infertility organization, Resolve, says “stress does not cause infertility.” Dr. Gingrey might also benefit from reading this 2010 paper in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology: “Acute stress may induce ovulation in women.”

Saletan also isn’t letting Gingrey slide on his reinterpretation of Akin’s original statement as a warning against false rape accusations by teenage girls afraid to admit they had consensual sex:

Really? That isn’t how Akin explained his remark. On Aug. 20, a day after the gaffe, Akin went on Mike Huckabee’s radio show. Huckabee asked Akin: “What did you mean by ‘legitimate rape’? Were you attempting to say forcible rape?” Akin replied: “Yeah, I was talking about forcible rape.” If that’s truly what Akin meant, then he was using the term legitimate to suggest that any woman impregnated by rape must have suffered statutory rape, not forcible rape.

As I’ve mentioned frequently, I grew up Republican and retain strong nostalgia and sympathy for the party. So I believe I’m decently-positioned to be fair in thinking this incident illustrates that many of the GOP establishment have gotten lost in uncritical rhetoric and thereby become incapable of not sounding like racist, misogynist, homophobic fear-mongers scrabbling to retain their dwindling vestiges of power.

Because of my also—by this time—well-known belief that most people are pretty decent and have good intentions, I think the Republican party needs to take a good hard look at itself and get educated about the true needs and perspectives of women, gays, and minorities, very quickly.

♀ Translation from Weasel-Speak to English of Reddit CEO's Recent "Modtalk"


Gawker’s Adrian Chen recently leaked a memo from Reddit CEO Yishan Wong, in which Wong clarifies Reddit’s values with regard to free speech and “doxing”, or publicly posting personal, identifying information about others. With deference to John Gruber, I will now interpret this memo in full.

There sure has been a lot of trouble lately for reddit[sic], and I’d like to talk a bit about that before I nip off for a spot of tea.

I’m going to explain why it’s only “asking for it” when we’re talking about a woman being raped.

We’d like to chart the right course for reddit’s future, and we are taking this seriously.

I’m so serious about it I put off having tea to write this, guys.

We stand for free speech.

We stand for free speech for Redditors.

This means we are not going to ban distateful subreddits. We will not ban legal content even if we find it odious or if we personally condemn it.

We know /r/creepshots and its ilk drive a ton of our traffic, so we’re going to keep them around.

Not because it’s the law in the United States - because as many people have pointed out, privately-owned forums are under no obligation to uphold it -

Shut up, haters.

but because we believe that ideal independently, and that’s what we want to promote on our platform.

If we started censoring misogyny and bigotry, eventually people would be clamoring for us to censor more legitimate content, and we don’t want to open that door.

We are clarifying that now because in the past it wasn’t clear, and (to be honest) in the past we were not completely independent and there were other pressures acting on reddit. Now it’s just reddit, and we serve the community, we serve the ideals of free speech, and we hope to ultimately be a universal platform for human discourse

Those squares over at Condé Nast just wanted to stifle us, the real journalists.

(cat pictures are form of discourse).

You should now never listen to another thing I say about “discourse”.

We also know that this will be a difficult course to take. We know that some will not agree with us. And we even know that we may not succeed, or that we may even be forced to compromise.

We’re pre-blaming any censorship we eventually decide to do on unidentified outside forces who just don’t love freedom as much as we do.

But we also think that if someday, in the far future, we do become a universal platform for human discourse, it would not do if in our youth, we decided to censor things simply because they were distasteful.

Our grandiosity knows no bounds.

Our rules today include the following two exceptions:

1. We will ban illegal content, and in addition sexualized pictures of minors, immediately upon any reports to us.

We will ban illegal content. Sort of. Mostly. Depends on your definition of illegal, and which state you live in. Sexualized pictures of minors are fine if no one can prove they’re underage.

We gave our rationale for that back when that issue was resolved, and we will maintain that policy for the same reasons.

We don’t want to get sued or jailed, which is why we’re sticking with plausible deniability, so you can quit your whining, perverts.

2. We will ban the posting of personal information (doxxing), because it incites violence and harassment against specific individuals.

We will ban the posting of personal information because if people could be held accountable for what they post we wouldn’t get all this lovely linkbait.

The current events have made it clear that the implementation of #2 requires some development.

All this bad publicity is hurting us, so we’re going to make a token change to the rule.

Those of us who’ve been around are familiar with the reasons behind that rule, the destructive witchhunts in reddit’s past against both users and mods - even people who had no idea what ‘reddit’ was - prompted suspicion and ire, and often ending with undeserved harassment, death threats, job loss, or worse for the affected individual.

Getting a taste of our own medicine is just the worst.

Even reddit’s favorite journalist Adrian Chen once wrote an article decrying the practice and mob mentality behind it (see: http://gawker.com/5751581/misguided-internet-vigilantes-attack-college-students-cancer-fundraiser).

Adrian Chen’s story of the totally baseless persecution by Redditors of what turned to be a lovely young woman attempting to raise money for a children’s hospital shows how terrible it is when people persecute Redditors. In other news, we have always been at war with Eastasia.

But our ability to enforce policy ends at the edges of our platform.


And one of the key functions of our platform is the sharing of content on the internet. I’m sure you see the problem.

With the entire internet turning against us, how else can we post links to things on the internet?

So we must draw a line, and we’ve chosen to do the following:

1. We will ban doxxing posted to reddit.
2. We will ban links to pages elsewhere which are trivially or primarily intended for the purposes of doxxing (e.g. wikis or blogs including dox)

In response to public outcry against our banning of links to Gawker articles, we’ve decided to ban links to even more sites.

But, we will not ban things which are legitimate investigative journalism.

This is how we’ve made our peace with tacitly encouraging trolls and relying on them to do our dirty work but trying to stay buddy-buddy with the members of the press who out them.

Free speech is expressed most powerful[sic] through the press, and many times throughout history a bad actor has been exposed by an enterprising (even muckraking) journalist,

Screw you, Adrian Chen.

and it has been to the benefit of society. We include in this definition blog posts that a reasonable person would consider a piece of journalism that happens to include a link to #2 above.

I hereby designate all Redditors “reasonable people” and empower them to decide when we should engage in censorship.

We recognize that there will be a continuum between trivially obvious doxxing sites (e.g. a wiki page entitled “Collect the dox here!”) and “true” journalism, but the world requires judgment calls so the area in between will be where we focus our efforts in adjudication.

I put the word “true” in scare quotes so you would know I don’t really mean it.

I do believe that reddit is in some ways like a city-state, and we need to move towards transparent and codified systems of enforcement. We hope to make these calls together in a helpful, precedent-setting manner.

If I use lots of official-sounding words like “adjudication”, “codified”, and “precedent”, no one will see through us when we decide to keep censoring anyone who makes it harder for us to be hateful and creepy. Plus, in the future when anyone criticizes us for censorship, we can blame it on our “systems of enforcement”.

We know that some of you may not agree with where we’ve drawn the line. But this is our best judgment given the competing principles at stake. We want to do it openly and honestly, even if it is imperfect, and we do it because reddit needs a decision in order to move forward. We ask that you support us.

We encourage all you decent, humane people outraged by the misogyny, racism, homophobia, and pedophilia we’ve been permitting to quit being babies.

There is another thing.

I will now say the same thing a different way.

Let’s be honest, this ban on links from the gawker[sic] network is not making reddit look so good.

I hate it when we lose money, you guys! Also, capitalizing stuff is really hard. Don’t you hate using the Shift key? You have to move your entire hand over, like, half an inch! Then your little finger is totally useless while you’re doing it; don’t even get me started on capital “z”s.

While the ban was originally being discussed by mods, we were discussing it internally too. We even briefly considered the consequences of a site-level ban on the entire gawker network,

We really wanted to do a site-level ban, but then we pansied out, because money beats principles every time.

and realized three things about it:

1. It would ultimately be ineffective at stopping off-site doxxing. People who want to go after someone off-site would still do it. They have plenty of other megaphones besides reddit.

If only there were some way to keep people from operating websites that aren’t Reddit.

2. It would definitely raise the profile of the issue with the general public, and result in headlines like “gawker exposes creepster; reddit engages in personal vendetta to defend pedophile.”

We know because we’ve already seen hundreds of headlines exactly like this.

This would hardly help us explain the problem of irresponsible release of personal information to the general public.

All this reasonable criticism is really cramping our ability to convince people that it’s consistent on our part to permit violating the privacy of underage girls but forbid simply printing the real names of some of our more disgusting, subhuman users.

3. Practically speaking, it wouldn’t really deter or hurt gawker anyways. This is in contrast to domain banning spammers, where it is not just punitive, it literally stops the spam.

I can’t even tell you how much I wish we could stop Gawker.

We do believe that doxxing is a form of violence, rather unique to the internet.

(Unlike upskirt photos, which are a form of violence unique only to slimy perverts.)

Even innocent individuals can be accidentally targeted due to mistaken identities - a key difference between online mobs versus with journalists who have a system of professional accountability.

The only real problem with our appalling behavior of late is that we occasionally get our facts wrong.

And we believe that while we can prohibit it on our platform, we can only affect the opinion of others outside of reddit via moral suasion and setting an example.

The real bad guys here are the people who call us out for our hateful habits.

From the time when reddit first banned doxxing on its platform, I feel that there has been a change in the general attitude towards doxxing on the internet. It’s still widespread, but we made a clear statement that it was a bad thing, worth exercising restraint over.

We’ve encouraged other people to believe that internet anonymity results in a net benefit to everyone, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

TL;DR: We stand for freedom of speech.

We don’t stand for freedom of speech.

We will uphold existing rules against posting dox on reddit.

What we actually stand for is saying whatever we want without consequences.

But the reality is those rules end at our platform, and we will respect journalism as a form of speech that we don’t ban. We believe further change can come only from example-setting.

We know we lost this one.

All of us at reddit work here because we think that reddit is a community like none other.

(i.e., the kind that makes us rich)

We think it can be a powerful force to change the world for the better.

Where “better” really means “worse”.

There are numerous examples of how we - all together - have already begun to do this in small and large ways.

I’m sure someone can list at least a few of them. Anyone? Just call one out, any time. Yes, back there in the corner? Oh. Thought you said something. You know what? Let’s move on.

And I think that part of our ability to do so lies in our ability to set an example with our actions and decisions. In our case as admins, we chose to recognize that opponents have the right to criticize us, to expose us, to tell a story about us - even if we don’t like that story or we feel it’s wrong.

Whoops, I forgot to put scare quotes around “chose”. I’ll get to that after tea, I guess.

So we reversed the site-level ban on Chen’s gawker piece.

You know, the one I earlier implied that we only considered but never actually implemented.

The mod-implemented ban on the gawker network is still in place,

See? Nothing’s really changing. B-t-dubs, if any of you mods want to take it upon yourselves to—oh, I don’t know—institute bans on other sites that criticize us or expose the identities of our creepier users, then that’s obviously up to you. We like to stay pretty hands-off in our ivory tower so we can plead ignorance or high-mindedness when things start to heat up.

and we know that some of you disagree. We seem to have a difference in opinion, and we hope you’d like to share with us why.

We love criticism from within, because that increases traffic. Now, which of you lovely ladies has my tea?[1] Bend over and grab it for me, will you, Sweetheart?

Via The Atlantic Wire

  1. Note from Ryan: to be clear, I actually love tea.  ↩

The Sex Funnel

Dan Griffin addresses the conflation of sex and intimacy communicated to men in our culture:

If you are a heterosexual man, how many times have you felt close to another man and held back from expressing those feelings? Said differently, how many men feel attraction to or affection for a man and recoil or instinctively distance themselves, if only momentarily, from the man because they are not able to separate the feeling of affection or closeness from sex.

I could do without the stereotyping of male and female attitudes toward sex and love in the first paragraph, but it’s hard to deny that American males typically inherit a stunted concept of intimacy.

Via The Good Men Project.