About That Memo From Jezebel To Gawker

By not addressing the horribly offensive commenter on Jezebel, despite the staff’s multiple requests, we’re left wondering what parent company Gawker Media’s values really are.

A few weeks ago in a presentation at Chicago meetup Geekfest, intersectional technologist—as she labels herself on Twitter—and founder of LGBTech.org Coraline Ada Ehmke threw up a PowerPoint screen that feels like it’s been floating in my peripheral vision ever since I saw it.

“If you call it a value but you don’t act on it, it’s not a value, it’s a conceit.”

Yesterday, the writers at feminist site Jezebel wrote a memo to their management on this exact distinction. A trolling commenter has been posting violent pornographic gifs in the comments of Jezebel posts for months. Due to the commenting policy at their parent company Gawker Media, and the foot-dragging of the leadership team, the staff has to manually remove each one, but not before readers are caught unaware by the images. After months of inaction, the staff posted a letter on their own site:

Higher ups at Gawker are well aware of the problem with this feature of Kinja (our publishing platform, in case you’re new here). We receive multiple distressed emails from readers every time this happens, and have been forwarding them to the architects of Kinja and to higher ups on Gawker‘s editorial side for months. Nothing has changed. During the last staff meeting, when the subject was broached, we were told that there were no plans to enable the blocking of IP addresses, no plans to record IP addresses of burner accounts. Moderation tools are supposedly in development, but change is not coming fast enough. This has been going on for months, and it’s impacting our ability to do our jobs.

Kinja, that commenting service used by all Gawker sites, has a terms of use page: “Your access to and use of the Service [Kinja] is conditioned on your acceptance of and compliance with this agreement.” It is immediately followed by this: “You shouldn’t post any content or use our service to do anything illegal or malicious.”

Do we think that most people would agree that subjecting people to rape-themed pornography (who didn’t go looking for rape-themed pornography), particularly on a site that regularly discusses rape culture and trauma, is malicious?

Gawker, it’s time to put your values down on paper. You value the free and open exchange of ideas and you believe the comment section facilitates this. OK, great, that’s a value and you’ve acted on it. The next question is, do you value creating a safe and respectful work place for your staff? Before you answer, remember that unless you back it up with action, you don’t get to say yes. If you don’t act on it, it’s not a value, it’s a conceit.

It is already agreed upon that this commenter should be banned, but right now the process requires subjecting the staff to violent and misogynist imagery: “The only way to get rid of them from the website is if a staffer individually dismisses the comments and manually bans the commenter. But because IP addresses aren’t recorded on burner accounts, literally nothing is stopping this individual or individuals from immediately signing up for another, and posting another wave of violent images.”

The Jezebel staff has asked Gawker to enforce their stated value with resources. This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s not enough to agree that someone should be banned if you’re not willing to do the work to make it so. You get no points for agreeing that yes, that person is a trolling monster who needs to be stopped.

If it’s truly a value, you act on it when it’s easy and also when it’s not. You find the time. You find the money. You do the work. Now that the spotlight has been pointed at the problem, even Gawker Editorial Director Joel Johnson seems to agree.

Role Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for JezebelThe FriskyThe Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Related Links: