Silencing techniques and the many uses of legal shrinkwrap

Not everyone feels comfortable speaking in activist spaces. People might be shy, or think that their perspective isn’t valuable. They might also be dissuaded by language or behaviour that reinforces the idea that certain ideas – or people – aren’t welcome. Activist events and communities aren’t perfect, and often reproduce the same problems as are seen in wider society. I like that many of the activist spaces I’ve been in actively attempt to work against sexism, racism, homophobia, and ableism – there’s some great discussion about how to create safe space happening around Occupy Perth, for example. But there are some fairly big failures as well, failures that make some groups feel like their voices aren’t valued in activist spaces.

Image courtesy of Flickr user dreamsjung.

Recently, some guy called Steven Greenstreet set up a site called ‘The Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall St’. A heap of people around the Web pointed out that this was not a great step forward in helping the movement – if you need an explanation, try Jill‘s. In brief, positioning women as ‘hot chicks’ plays a role in devaluing their analysis and ideas and implies that their role in the movement is to provide some nice eye candy. Jill’s follow up post is interesting, not least because of the comments.

Yes, that’s right. I read the comments, despite Jill’s warning that “I’m publishing a lot of stuff that we usually wouldn’t let fly in order to illustrate my point that no, this isn’t just good fun “boys will be boys” stuff, and very real hostility to women is lurking behind “The Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street” and its supporters“.

Many of these comments are very nasty (and I won’t repeat them). Comments like those are part of the reason I hesitate before I write anything to do with feminism online. I’ve written about social justice online, I’ve written about racism, I’ve written about the carbon tax, but nothing has garnered me more hatred and nastiness than the times I’ve touched on feminist issues. I’m not alone, and I haven’t borne the worst brunt.

What was most surprising to me, though, were the many references to Facebook’s Terms of Service:

Emily: “because the post above violates Facebook’s own Terms of Service and Privacy Terms, a formal complaint could be sent to your internet service provider.”

Allie: “Very true, Facebook themselves could file a complaint since they’re using a screencapture of their layouts and logos. ”

Anonymous: “Those who are saying this is an invasion of privacy are correct. All posts on facebook are the property of Facebook Inc. as per the TOS on the facebook website. Should facebook issue a cease and desist or a lawsuit they would be in the right.”

…and so on.

The use of copyright and legal shrinkwrap to try to silence dissent is nothing new. Diebold attempted it when internal documents were leaked that showed flaws in their voting machines, and the Scientologists have used copyright and trademark law to try to shut down criticism of their organisation.

It looks like these tactics are filtering down: it’s not just large organisations trying to use copyright law as a silencing tactic. As one commentator points out, Jill and other contributors to Feministe are lawyers, and unlikely to be scared off by vague threats about Facebook’s Terms of Service. However, there are other bloggers out there who might not know their rights, or might be scared off at the threat of a costly court case. For them, this becomes one more way of shutting out their voices.

One thought on “Silencing techniques and the many uses of legal shrinkwrap

  1. Oh boy. For a second I worried that you were the guy who was talking about how the people criticizing this guy taking ‘hot chick’ pictures were just like the Middle East when I read about ‘silencing’.

    Thank you for proving me wrong on that one. Excellent post.

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