I’ve long argued that there’s a sickness at the heart of online media companies. In the pursuit of pageviews and profit, companies have a adopted a policy towards anonymity and bullying that’s laissez-faire to the point of criminally negligent.
We see this in apps like Secret and Whisper which will apparently do anything to avoid having to slow user growth — even if the consequence is teen suicide. We also see it in the comments sections of content sites where every article quickly becomes a cesspool of racism, homophobia, misogyny and every other horror you can imagine.
Today the writers of Gawker’s Jezebel vertical are taking a very public, very brave stand. Not just against anonymous bullying, but also against their own bosses who, they say, refuse to do a damn thing about it, in the pursuit of profit.
For months, an individual or individuals has been using anonymous, untraceable burner accounts to post gifs of violent pornography in the discussion section of stories on Jezebel. The images arrive in a barrage, and 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 (and then bragging about it on 4chan in conversations staffers here have followed, which we’re not linking to here because fuck that garbage).
According to the post, which is bylined “Jezebel Staff,” Gawker founder Nick Denton and other senior editors are well aware of the problem, but refuse to slow the growth of their Kinja comment platform by enabling IP blocking or other anti-bullying measures:
None of us are paid enough to deal with this on a daily basis.
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.
In refusing to address the problem, Gawker’s leadership is prioritizing theoretical anonymous tipsters over a very real and immediate threat to the mental health of Jezebel’s staff and readers.
In the comments under the post, Jezebel editor-in-chief, Jessica Coen adds that the manner in which the bullying has been handled by Gawker HQ is “pathetic”:
The post underlines the rank hypocrisy that exists at the heart of Gawker (something I’ve covered ad nauseum before)…
If this were happening at another website, if another workplace was essentially requiring its female employees to manage a malevolent human pornbot, we’d report the hell out of it here and cite it as another example of employers failing to take the safety of its female employees seriously. But it’s happening to us. It’s been happening to us for months. And it feels hypocritical to continue to remain silent about it.
Although, actually, the hypocrisy here is much more complex. This isn’t just about Gawker calling out other media organizations for allowing bullying, while ignoring it at their own company. The truth is Gawker has played as a much of a role as anyone in encouraging the Internet’s cruel, bullying culture, and now the company’s own staff is feeling the effects of that. That doesn’t make it right, but hopefully it gives everyone at Gawker some pause about what they do each day.
You at least have to hope that being publicly called out for threatening the mental health of its female staffers will force Gawker’s management to put some curbs on Kinja, even if it means the loss of a few precious pageviews.
But even if that does happen, it’s terrifying to know how extreme things have to get before Gawker will do the right thing, even by its own employees.
Update: Sure enough, Gawker editorial director Joel Johnson has promised to “figure out some sort of fix.”