This is what happens when you try to ‘ban misogyny’ on a major Web site


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Fark, the older, weirder precursor to Reddit, surprised both its own members and outside commentators on Monday when the site announced that — countering 15 years of rape jokes, porn and large-testacled squitrels — it would no longer allow “misogyny” in its (very boisterous) forums.

“As of today,” wrote Drew Curtis, the site’s founder and head honcho, “the [frequently asked questions] will be updated with new rules reminding you all that we don’t want to be the He Man Woman Hater’s Club. This represents enough of a departure from pretty much how every other large internet community operates that I figure an announcement is necessary.”

He figured right. Not only is Fark banning references to women as “whores” and “sluts,” but it’s also nixing rape jokes and “jokes suggesting that a woman who suffered a crime was somehow asking for it.” In case it’s unclear how utterly and truly radical that is, Reddit allows entire forums devoted to lady-bashing, and Twitter and Facebook have been accused of letting rape threats slide. (Rape jokes, needless to say, are par for the course.)

Much of that has to do with scale, of course: Fark is small enough, and well-staffed enough, that moderators can realistically police these things.

But much of it also relates to a core ethos of Internet communities: the idea that moderation, particularly on divisive issues, is akin to censorship — and that censorship is the bane of the transparent, social Web.

Taken in that light, Fark’s new policy is less a change to the small print than a sweeping, and controversial, statement on Internet culture: It is possible, Curtis is saying, to have an open, transparent and thoroughly social network that is also comfortable for all of its users.

Not surprisingly, that statement has been met with criticism. And memes. In the two days since the announcement was published, nearly 5,000 people have commented on the post, many of them with image macros and other graphics like these:

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In prose form, there are essentially four arguments here: 1.) Moderation is censorship. 2.) Anti-misogyny is pro-misandry. 3.) Fark is so overwhelmingly sexist that a little rule-change won’t help. 4.) And this one’s a bit more unusual — attempts to protect women online are, in and of themselves, misogynistic.

Are those valid points? Is it all meaningless fark? Frankly, until moderators begin implementing the policies sitewide, it’s impossible to tell exactly what the long-term impact on discussion will be.

But in the meantime, the ever-growing community threads make a fascinating point-counterpoint on the ethics of moderating — and a rare, perfect distillation of the great Internet-misogyny debate as it continues to unfold.

“Kinda sad that we actually need to have rules against this,” one user wrote, which is a one point on which nearly everyone can probably agree.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Caitlin Dewey · August 20