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The Safe Place

I’m collaborating on a system called redframer, which would be a site that allows people to draw on and comment on films.

On the edge of my attention, a hurricane has been raging: women who give their opinion online, usually about depictions of women, are being harassed at a criminal level. I’ve finally realized that the system I’m working on could be subject to the same sort of behaviors.

But what if it wasn’t? What if it was a sanctioned public place, like a mall or a school, where there were rules and consequences for abusive behavior (the people who make abusive comments are given a choice between being get kicked off or being de-anonymized, users have more control over what they do see).

Before I realized how grubby things could get, I’d have thought this structure might result in sterile online conversation. For example, how to draw a line between wanted and unwanted sexual innuendo, then scale this across a whole system? Could you make an automatic filtering system that blocked sexual harassment but not discussions about sex in film? I’d have assumed that many people (including myself) might stay away, because I like twitter because it’s the news I never see in newspapers.

But I’m starting to see that there’s a lot of implicit sifting going on, simply by who I follow and my relative anonymity. This article makes the point that a lot more will be missed out on if we don’t solve the problem:

“I’m furious about the essays, games, books, videos, films, TV shows and art we won’tget because some women are targeted for having ideas and sharing them with the world. I want those things. And I’m angry because I know we’re not getting them. Because women have been silenced — are being silenced — through fear.”

A few days ago, after hearing about how much worse things are getting, I decided not to attach a personal blog to my website because sometimes I write about narrative technologies and I didn’t want all my details to be easily accessible in the same place. It’s intimating. We won’t know how much good stuff we are missing out on until this problem is solved.

Redframer has an online forum, and I’ve temporarily hijacked it to ask these questions:

– If there was a destination where you knew interactions would always be polite, would you come? Or stay away?

– Or would it not matter? Is it actually possible to make one place civil if the others aren’t? I’m thinking of Kathy Sierra now. She had kids, so she simply left the internet.

I’d like to know what you think – come register and post on the redframer forum if you have any thoughts.


Update: I now think the ideal technological answer is to develop a context-aware reasoning system that can act as a personalized filter. It would learn exactly what combinations of information are beyond each person’s threshold, and which are okay. It could even be possible to switch ‘views’ – if like me, you sometimes want to see how people with opposing views think. It would learn as you search, click and reject.