August 27, 2012

FetLife Is Not Safe for Users

Culture, Feature, web 34 Comments

the problems with FetLife

FetLife is an online community for people interested in BDSM and other fetishes — think of a Facebook filled with kinky people who can post content and images of a sexual nature without worrying about censorship. For those who believe in having the freedom to express ourselves sexually and find like-minded people, FetLife has been an incredible tool.

Before FetLife and sites like it, we were on our own as far as finding people whose sexual desires were anything beyond conventional coupling. Some of us got lucky, managing to sniff out the kinky in the crowd with whom to share our pleasures; but for every great connection, there were many more instances of shocked silence and judgment. FetLife, for a great many of us, not only brought us a treasure trove of potential play partners, but enabled access to existing local communities, and helped solidify the ties within. We are grateful to FetLife, which is why we feel it’s impossible to remain silent about the site’s inability to protect its own or enable them to help themselves.

CONVICTION OR IT DIDN’T HAPPEN

Currently, per FetLife’s Terms of Use, users of the site may not make “criminal accusations against another member” in a public forum. This means that anyone who experiences abuse or assault is actively silenced by FetLife moderators the moment they drop the username of their alleged abuser into a thread. The e-mail notifying users that a post has been edited looks something like this:

I’m a caretaker with the FetLife team. Recently we had a report about your writing, and after review, your writing has been edited and we are writing to let you know. Basically, it’s really not cool to post something that accuses another member of FetLife of a crime. So, we’re giving you a heads up that this behavior is discouraged on our site.

Please know that continued posts like this will result in a warning, and continued warnings can get you removed from FetLife. We really hate to do that, so we hope you’ll avoid any inappropriate comments in the future.

If you’re having a problem or conflict with another user — we want to help! Please let us know what’s going on, so that we can get involved and help to resolve the issue. We’d much rather do that, than play the bad guy :) We hope you understand, and if you have any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to get back to us.

FetLife’s idea of helping currently involves telling victims of abuse and rape to go to the police. To quote site founder John Baku: “the only way to protect others from a sexual offender is by putting them behind bars. Not talking about them on FetLife, Facebook, writing a blog post on the interwebs… etc. It does not prevent this person from doing what they did again to someone else. Agreed… the legal system has failed many a person… but all this energy should be spent improving the system and not allowing other to name their abusers on a site that is not setup, nor has the resources, to give a fair trial to both parties. So let’s put our energy towards locking up the rapists and throwing away the keys! This way those who have raped can’t do it again and those who would ever consider rape would be so scared shitless of the consequences they would never even consider it.”

If you’re unfamiliar with how difficult it is to bring about a sexual assault or rape conviction — even before you inject the BDSM element into a case — this will seem logical to you. But as the veteran consent commentator Thomas MacAulay Millar writes:

The difference between the cases of rape that get brought and those that don’t are “bad facts,” which means facts that will make the jury judge the victim instead of the perpetrator. And in almost all BDSM abuse cases, there are going to be “bad facts.” The first bad fact is that none of them are going to fit the profile of the stranger rape, the only scenario where juries can apparently be counted on to convict. In BDSM cases, the victim will almost always have gone to a club or a party, or met up with the perpetrator, with the express intention of playing. The victim probably will have said something to that effect by email or PM or text, or said it around witnesses. The defense lawyer can always point to that and say, “see? The so-called victim consented!” You and I know that consent isn’t a lightswitch, consent to being tied up isn’t consent to be fucked and all that. We know that, but do juries know that? Your boss is on the jury pool. Your mail carrier, your mom, your high school principal, and the yenta in the bookkeeping department are on the jury pool: do juries know that? [ ... ]

All the things that make acquaintance rape cases unprosecutable in front of shitty mainstream juries — they knew each other, they had a prior relationship, there were messy personal dynamics, they intended to get together for sex, alcohol was involved — will make an appearance in a disproportionate number of BDSM rape and abuse cases. They’re all the kind of cases that don’t get prosecuted.

There are all kinds of theoretical questions about creating an obligation to report, and I’ll leave those all aside. Let’s just look at it practically. Is reporting a sexual assault in a BDSM context likely to work? No, absent serious injuries or hospitalization, or video evidence, it’s hard to conclude that it’s likely to work. It’s hard to conclude that it will work even for relatively privileged people within BDSM communities, let alone the sorts of folks who can’t count on the cops for other reasons. So if it’s not all that likely to actually produce a conviction, the notion that we should pressure victims into the criminal justice system is busted. It’s a derail, a way of throwing up a hurdle and washing hands of the allegation. Until it’s fixed (if it can be), it cannot be a mandatory part of any solution and we can’t count on it to save us from having to figure out how to deal with rape and abuse in BDSM communities ourselves.

Going to the authorities, in many cases, is not a solution that brings justice to the abused. Further, it disables the community from protecting itself against predators, and while many have argued that local groups are competent at passing such information along privately, this approach leaves those who are not well-connected or who are simply new in the scene at risk — all the while inadvertently creating a culture that protects predatory behavior instead of doing anything to address it.

Despite the coherent arguments that have been made to this effect, Baku stands his ground. In an interview with Tracy Clark-Flory for Salon, he elaborated on his concerns:

“Let’s say you and I — you do have a beautiful voice — I come to San Francisco and we go on a date. Hypothetically, I’m submissive, you’re dominant, and I ask you to tie me up,” he says. “You think we have a wonderful night, I think we have a wonderful night, and all of a sudden tomorrow I go online and say, ‘You raped me,’ and email your editors at Salon and say you raped me and go onto Twitter and say you raped me.” Falling for his role-play scenario and flattery, I offered that I’d want to talk to him to figure out whether I had unknowingly violated his consent.

Sure, that’s all good and great, he said, but what about the potential consequences? “The community’s very small, right? So you might lose all your friends,” he says. “You might lose your job.” Baku adds, “We live in a society where you’re innocent until proven guilty. ‘Proven’ is very important.”

Conviction or it didn’t happen is the new pix or it didn’t happen.

FetLife’s Community Guidelines are fairly clear about how they feel about anyone who speaks out about abuse or any other criminal behavior at the hands of another user: “We don’t accept aggressive personal attacks, criminal accusations, making fun of, trolling, flaming, bullying, racial slurs… pretty much any type of disrespectful behaviour that degrades the quality of discussions and people’s experience here on FetLife.” As far as the FetLife culture of silence is concerned, coming forward about someone violating your consent is “disrespectful.” Victims, as a result, are effectively locked out of the one space they have come to feel safest, and — as the comments on any discussions about abuse in the community show — their failure to remain silent is rewarded only in victim-blame, shaming and ostracization.

DON’T WORRY, YOU’RE SAFE

FetLife’s stance against accusations places a lot of emphasis on reputation, which seems in keeping with FetLife’s commitment to protecting their users. As they like to point out, search engines don’t index the discussions in which FetLife users participate on the site, because FetLife only displays those pages after it accepts a valid login and password combination. Group discussions are also not listed chronologically (the way that blog posts are), but rather by the date that the discussion received its last comment; thus, unless people have a link to a post, finding it again can be a challenge. FetLife takes great pride in the little walled garden they have created for kinksters to be themselves.

Unfortunately, security measures on FetLife are as helpful as the suggestion that victims of abuse should stay silent until they get a conviction for their abusers. People come to FetLife because they know other networks are not safe for their sexual self-expression. FetLife promises not only openness but safety — the second point on the list of reasons to join the kinky network (which one sees upon accessing FetLife.com without logging in) is: “We have a fetish for security. That’s why we’re the first social network to be 100% SSL. The same security banks use.”

To anyone without the technical background to understand what that means, this statement is misleadingly reassuring. A bigger warning about security can be found in their Privacy Policy page:

Please be aware that no security measures are perfect or impenetrable. We cannot control the actions of other users with whom you share your information. We cannot ensure that information you share on FetLife will not become publicly available. We can’t be responsible for third party circumvention of any privacy settings or security measures on FetLife. You can reduce these risks by using common sense security practices such as choosing a strong password, using different passwords for different services, and using up to date antivirus software.

Aside from being completely inaccessible from a user’s home page on the site, the above statement is misleading because it seems to suggest that having a strong password, using different passwords for different services, and running a good antivirus program can help mitigate the risk of having one’s content exposed to the public. The truth is that it doesn’t matter how good your password is — anyone with an account can see your posts and comments on FetLife.

It’s important to point out here that it’s in FetLife’s interest to convince users that this space is safe. The site has for some time charged for access to user-generated content, including photos and videos, in their Kinky&Popular section, a Pinterest-like part of the site that pulls all the hot site-wide content into one place for users to browse. Anyone with an account can see Kinky&Popular, but to scroll back and access more content or view videos, users need to fork over five dollars per month for a minimum of six months. If users didn’t feel confident in FetLife’s walled garden model, they would not be so quick to put up any content. So to continue creating revenue, FetLife must do whatever it can to ensure user confidence.

The problem is that FetLife is not, in fact, safe. Since anyone who makes a free account can access the walled garden, any of the site’s 1,554,288 users can create mirrors of the site elsewhere on the Internet, making other users’ content accessible to people without FetLife accounts.

The most recent example of how login access doesn’t ensure safety happened on August 10, when a FetLife user decided to sit down and write a 50-line PHP proxy to illustrate the issues with this method of security. The user, known online as maymay, has been a long-time critic of FetLife’s security and its inconsistent approach to user safety. He was an ardent proponent of SSL on the site last year — which FetLife finally adopted.

The proxy accessed FetLife and made the profiles of public individuals in the BDSM community as well as the profiles of people who want to maintain the site’s code of silence, available to people outside the network.

Hoping to use the proxy to raise awareness about privacy issues with FetLife, maymay publicized what he was doing, leading to swift action by FetLife which was disingenuous at best. In a post titled “Today’s Attack on FetLife” on the FetLife Announcements board, John Baku wrote:

It was brought to our attention that a member of our community created a tool that allows someone to be able to access a page on FetLife without having to be logged in themselves.

Within an hour of being notified of this tool we blocked it. We’ve also sent DMCA takedown requests to this persons hosting provider, Google, and Twitter.

Creating and publishing such a tool is against everything the kinky community stands for and anyone who would do such a thing is a cancer to our community.

We will not stand for ill-intentioned attacks like this on the community.

FetLife did not block the proxy — they blocked connections originating from maymay’s site where the proxy was installed, meaning that connecting to FetLife from any other source would have enabled the proxy to resume its business. The statement suggests this cannot happen again, though the reality is that it can and it likely will. It’s questionable whether FetLife would be aware of such a thing if it was undertaken by someone who wasn’t actively live-tweeting the event.

“Nobody ‘hacked’ FetLife,” says Yonatan Zunger, chief architect of Google’s social network Google Plus, when we explain the situation. “No locks were picked; someone simply noticed that FetLife never locked the door in the first place.”

People who approach this conversation from the perspective that privacy on the internet is a myth and anyone who is too stupid to realize that putting a photo on a website may result in its dissemination is missing the point. FetLife actively works to create the illusion that the network is safe. Anyone who looks at the comments on Baku’s post about the “attack” will find more people who believe that they are safe to be their kinky selves now that FetLife has “blocked” the “tool” than people who seem to have an understanding of what maymay actually did. Neither Baku nor anyone else on the FetLife team has made any effort to correct them. It’s in FetLife’s commercial interest to make users feel safe and they do not appear to be in a hurry to educate them about the potential risks associated with posting photos and videos of themselves engaging in acts of sexual self-expression.

YOU CONTROL YOUR PROFILE

Curious about other possible privacy issues in the network, we jumped in to do some of our own digging and discovered something altogether more disturbing. In order to provide visual content, FetLife — like many social networks — uses the service of Amazon S3, which you can visualize as a big storage unit, where all videos and photos go. To enable images to load quickly, FetLife also uses the content delivery network Fastly, which holds an easy-access copy of photos.

Now, to have full control of your content (“Anything posted on your profile can be removed at any time… it is your profile after all,” promises FetLife), means that when you tell FetLife to delete an image, the image should first be removed from Amazon S3, then from Fastly, then finally from FetLife. Failing to do things in this order — like, say, the image is deleted from Fastly first, then Amazon S3 — would result in Fastly fetching the image again, effectively cancelling the deletion process. Deleting the FetLife copy first and then other two would disable a user from trying again if either of the subsequent deletions on Amazon S3 and Fastly failed.

(In the case of videos, which seem to live only on FetLife and Amazon S3, the order is the same, only without Fastly: delete the video from Amazon S3, then let FetLife know the video is gone.)

How FetLife should delete media

Unfortunately, it seems that the only place deletion is occurring is on FetLife itself. The consequence of this oversight, as far as we can tell, is that the image or video will remain on Amazon S3 for all time, and on Fastly until the cache expires, which is set by FetLife to be a little over eight years (see the HTTP headers serving the image for the cache persistence — Cache-Control:max-age=252460800, public. This refers to your browser cache as well as Fastly’s, as you can see on their API docs).

This means that any non-FetLife URLs people retain of images (which you can get by inspecting the element in-browser and grabbing the URL, or by right clicking on any thumbnail in FetLife and modifying the last chunk of the URL from _60.jpg to _720.jpg) will remain live for effectively eternity. This also means that if Fastly or Amazon S3 were compromised or subpoenaed, your supposedly deleted images would be right there for the taking.

Videos do not fare much better, though retaining access to them is slightly more complicated than inspecting an element or right-clicking and modifying a URL. What we did is accessed a video’s page, hit “Save Page” in our browser (be sure to save the complete page not just the HTML as you need the bits of Javascript for this to work). Now, all you need to do is open the file you just created in another tab in your browser. There, you will find the video — which will remain accessible through the local file even after you delete that video from FetLife and reload your browser. This demonstrates that videos are not being deleted from Amazon S3.

In this regard, FetLife has grossly violated user privacy. The good news is that fixing this problem should be fairly straightforward (all it takes is a single API call to Amazon S3 and Fastly to delete an item). The more challenging part will be for FetLife to identify images and videos which are still sitting around in Amazon S3 and Fastly despite having been deleted FetLife, and remove those.

That the site doesn’t take measures to protect user content and has shown incompetence (or negligence) in regard to user privacy, all the while prohibiting victims from warning others about predatory behavior, creates an environment where it is nearly impossible for members of the BDSM community to take care of themselves and one another. By enabling FetLife to continue espousing a code of silence, allowing the spinning of self-created security issues as “attacks,” and not pointing out how disingenuous FetLife statements about safety are, we are allowing our community to become a breeding ground for exploitation.

FetLife, please address these issues and think of your users. You have done great things for this community, we don’t deny that. We want to stay and play! But we can’t do it safely until you address these issues.

AV Flox

Your humble editrix-in-command.

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  • Lilly Rose

    Interesting article. On other dating sites..(and yes I realize that Fetlife does not consider itself a dating site per se) there are bulletin boards where you can accuse members of dishonorable actions or post accounts of “bad experiences” that you have had from meeting people on the site. These boards are free for all members and you can post what you want and people can reply as open forums. Maybe Fetlife should put up these type of boards where people can actually voice their opinion about anything–even something that happened at their meets and munches. It seems only fair. Free speech should always be encouraged…not prohibited. It’s sad that “vanilla” dating sites are more open to discussion than Fetlife.

  • http://twitter.com/JohnBaku JohnBaku

    With respect to your technical concerns… I am not sure where you got your facts from but this is not the case. Though, if you can prove us wrong then we would for sure fix the problem.

    With respect to naming abusers… this is something we are having an ongoing discussion with the NCSF and the rest of the community.

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  • avflox

    I got my facts from running tests on FetLife and reading the Fastly and Amazon S3 API. To be certain, I ran the tests on separate computers before running this article and performed them again tonight. The problem exists.

    If you are interested in safeguarding your users, the article includes instructions for reproducing the problem. I suggest you throw it to your technical team. If you would me to assist you, let me know and I will. I appreciate your attention to this issue.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/Gillypants Gillian Leigh Crocca

    this is unrelated… but free speech is not the issue here. Free speech only applies between a person and their government… not between people and certainly not between a consumer and a private business/website/entity.

    My opinions regarding John’s naming policy’s aside, he is within his legal rights to restrict any speech he sees fit on his website.

  • dolly

    an ongoing discussion… where at? it looks to me like any discussion that isn’t in agreement with your views is addressed through silence and deletion. i’m not trying to be a jerk, i’m genuinely interested and would like to add my thoughts to this ongoing discussion.

  • Fetlife User

    Let’s not be disingenuous here, Meitar Moscovitz, AKA maymay, is a well known thug and cyber bully who uses his social media presence to abuse anyone who disagrees with him, including using illegal hacking techniques, cyber stalking, copyright violations, direct lies/misrepresentations about his targets, and more to enforce his own ideas of “social justice” and political correctness. Most of his credits and resume are lies (people in the businesses he claims to be in either don’t know him or dismiss him as a fraud), and he hypes himself with false portrayals of his own technical acumen and reputation by playing himself up on various sites. His major ongoing complaint against Fetlife has been that it’s not indexed by Google, and so isn’t useful in his campaign to make himself famous.

    People like him are the reason for some of Fetlife’s policies, as he’s been known to do things like take portions of conversations or attacks he’s made on Fetlife and place them on other sites and then link them to peoples’ real identities as part of false accusations against them. Under the guise of “keeping the community safe” he works to push everyone to accept his agenda by threat of destroying them if they disagree.

    You, Ms. Flox, are a friend of his (not a random accusation, you’re in his Facebook network and linked elsewhere in his materials) and part of his small network of friends that work to mutually play up one another’s reputations and this attack on Fetlife, without revealing his (well known by his own doing) name or your connection to him is the worst sort of excuse for “journalism.” This entire piece is part of a transparent agenda by an egotist tyrant and his cronies.

  • Asher

    As a web developer (for a big high-security websites for several banking companies, not Fetlife) I can clearly see you have not only misrepresented certain facts, but are also ignorant about the technology that you assert is so flawed.

    While I accept your point about file deletion from the Amazon CDN servers, you are wrong about accessing the site without logging in. MayMay’s PHP proxy simply is a script that that will programmatically log in to Fetlife for you. You still need to go in and register accounts for access. You cannot see Fetlife content without loggin in. Once these accounts become know, Fetlife will likely block them immediately and should also block their originating IPs.It is far faster for FL to block than it is for MayMay to create fake accounts (Against Fetlifes terms of use BTW)

    This is not a security flaw. If it was, no account would be needed whatsoever. MayMay (and you?) are making a false claim. If you can make false claims about something so germane, I have no doubt that people with such mindsets will throw around false accusations of assualt and rape. when you get upset or just want to get back at someone. You cannot deny this happens more than you care to admit.

    I have sympathy for victims of such heinous crimes but they must go through the criminal justice sytem. If you cannot even make a police report, then you have no business posting such accusations online, especially on a site that doesn’t allow it. To me that is just common sense as it could potentially open up the user and Fetlife to be liaible for damages.

    I have also been shut down on Fetlife when trying to inform the community about a thief but was told to shut up. At first I was upset and didn’t understand why FL would not protect future potential victims, but in the last few weeks I have changed my mind and support FL’s policy given the damage even an allegation of sexual assault can do before any evidence is brought to the table. Baku is right – the justice system needs to be gone through, improved. Fetlife is not a community, it is not a court. By all means talk about predators with your local community – but recognize that Fetlife does not equal the kink community.

    If you want to set up your own site (WHich MayMay surely has the ability to) to name and shame – go do it until you get sued, but you have no right to go paint on the side of the Fetlife house “So and so is a predatory rapist”. When they don’t want you to. Maybe we should come to your home and paint all kinds of allegations on the side of it. If you don’t let us, then you are protecting those we speak against.

  • avflox

    I consider maymay an ally in the fight against a sex-negative world in the same way I consider John Baku an ally. That does not mean that I will ignore things that I consider problematic for the community. In this post, that thing is Fetlife’s assurance to users that their content is safe when it isn’t, and it’s silencing of victims. The latter is something Fetlife has repeatedly told us they’re considering. The former is something they could easily rectify with a few lines of code.

    This is not an “attack” on Fetlife. I don’t want Fetlife to wither and die. I want them to fix these issues and grow stronger. As I have said above, I feel Fetlife has done a lot of good for the community and I know that addressing these issues fairly and transparently would benefit us even more.

    As for not using maymay’s name (and editing it out of your comment), I believe in allowing people to self-identify as they will, especially when they operate within the sex-positive movement (see my overwhelmingly unpopular reaction to the Alexa DiCarlo outing here: http://sexandthe405.com/faux-ho-a-dangerous-crusade/).

    This is true even in the case of people who are in the process of working their way through the legal system. If they ask me to remove their last names from pieces (provided parameters exist to hold them accountable for their actions), I will likely oblige. This has been a standing policy on this blog since 2011 (see:
    http://sexandthe405.com/usc-kappa-sigma-email/ for the first instance).

    Lastly, if my “journalism” doesn’t suit you — don’t read it!

  • avflox

    Thanks for your response! I love the self-correcting nature of the web. You’re absolutely right that “security flaw” is a misnomer in the case of the proxy, as logging in isn’t much of a flaw at all. What I was hoping to put across is that the login screen isn’t much of a barrier and the promise that Fetlife is safe isn’t much of a promise.

    That said, you CAN see Fetlife content without logging in if you have the URLs to images and complete saved HTML pages with videos because Fastly and Amazon S3 do not operate under Fetlife’s authentication model. It’s basically an unlisted number situation, where you bank on not receiving calls from strangers and telemarketers by having an unlisted number. It’s not unusual online, but to call the system safe is a bit misleading — and even more so when you take into account the deletion issues.

    As someone who has faced accusations in the past, I prefer to be able to face them in a transparent fashion. But that’s personal opinion — mine. I am entitled to it and you are entitled to yours. I hope John Baku will hear us both and make the choice that he feels will best protect the community.

  • Fetlife User

    You realize if you Google maymay his website http://maymay.net/ comes up as top result and his name is immediately at the top of the page? He does self-identify under his real name.

    As noted, he routinely “outs” people as part of his cyberbullying, so “hiding” his very public identity rises to the level of comical.

    He is no ally of sexual freedom. He’s an ideologue who uses abuse and threats to try and force his view of how others’ sexuality should be on them.

  • MsMaggieMayhem

    Maymay is a cyberbully and I’ve experienced this first hand. So have others who have gotten in contact with me since I shared my story about our romantic relationship and how he had me followed at a sex party I hosted so he could blog the details of sex play demo I gave with my primary. (links:
    http://missmaggiemayhem.com/2012/08/19/on-confrontation/ and
    http://missmaggiemayhem.com/2012/08/17/beware-of-self-appointed-saviors/ )

    I question his motivations because it comes down to hurting people for his enjoyment with the pretense of social justice. Someone who employs stalking tactics on a former lover is not someone who speaks for victims. He enjoys scaring his victims into silence and he employs a number of methods to do so.

    I was terrified to speak out the way I did but having done so I’ve had a *lot* of women and trans* identified people let me know that they are 10x more afraid and share their stories with me. I worry that his behaviors are escalating and that they are not political in nature so much as symptoms of a greater personal issue with addressing pain by punishing others with less power than he has.

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  • Anon

    I consider myself well informed when it comes to the law, websites, free speech, web security practices, and social network behaviors and problems. I have also helped moderate a social network of thousands of people built very similar to fetlife.

    First, on a note about security, you wrote ”
    Aside from being completely inaccessible from a user’s home page on the site, the above statement is misleading because it seems to suggest that having a strong password, using different passwords for different services, and running a good antivirus program can help mitigate the risk of having one’s content exposed to the public. ”

    I think that paragraph about security was entirely about security from being hacked, not about information being posted getting out into the public through login security. Re-read it again with that in mind and you can see the paragraph then makes sense and correct.

    Second, you have every right to complain about fetlife censoring posts due to accusations, because censoring is censoring, but I also believe you may not know what it takes to run a successful social network. For example, flaming, accusations, etc are extremely difficult to deal with and usually end up occupying large space in online groups and cause a lot of drama, just like in in-person groups. If you let the accusations fly, bullying by influence can ensue as well, where the accused becomes the victim and everyone gangs up on them whether they did anything wrong or not. Someone can be pushed out of the group or community based upon false accusations (or worse, they just seem “creepy”). It’s not just online, but in person, they can be pushed out of a physical community as well. I’ve seen this happen and talked to people who had no idea they were even causing a problem in the first place. I have also been marginalized myself based upon false judgements of what I’ve said or done. In a community, everyone starts taking sides and influence and power can end up making the final decision instead of getting to the bottom of what really happened.

    Now the other side of the coin is like what is mentioned in the article, abuse can be silenced by not allowing people to talk. That is a reality and one that may or may not have an east answer. I have seen attemps at creating solutions to this in a community, but the only thing I have ever seen work is a third-party support team which is trained in listening to both parties carefully and trying their best to come to a solution for both parties. Now I think that could be created on fetlife and maybe it should, but I don’t see any other solutions being able to fix all circumstances all the time.

    What fetlife does, is try to allow people to connect instead of separate. Most of the time, once bickering or name-calling or accusation ensue, people start taking sides and emotions run high, eventually over time something results in a splitting of the group and cliques form. Everyone knows that’s the case and have seen it happen to nearly every group of people.

    Fetlife hopes people will use outside resources (or contact other using private messaging within fetlife) to solve the problems, like the legal courts. They’re trying to connect people for support and sharing of information and ideas, not separate them with arguments and accusations. And believe it or not, there is an entire physical community in a city I know of that is semi-successfully (they’re working on it) using fetlife to share knowledge and resources for protecting their members from abusers. Most of their efforts reside off of fetlife, but have discussions about the topic on fetlife about how to recognize signs, what to do, and where to go for help. There is also a plethora of people on fetlife more than willing to offer guidance and support to those who need help, it’s just not obvious how to find them sometimes. There are also countless discussions about his in various groups around fetlife.

    There really is no answer to this problem, I’ve read so many discussions and possible solutions and never heard any that fixed the problem. Things are grey, they are not black and white so there is no solution which covers all circumstances. So who decides what to do? Fetlife says there is a legal system setup just for that purpose. It takes an anonymous jury to decide on such things in a court of law, and even then it’s difficult to come to a conclusion. Is fetlife the place to make these decisions? No, a court is because courts judge laws that protect people. Fetlife has no obligation to protect people or make rules to do so, they are below the law and always should be. Unfortunately the legal system is flawed and costly, but that’s no reason for fetlife to be responsible. If we can’t even get the legal system right, what makes you believe fetlife can? They’re running a social network to allow people to connect to each other, they’re not running a society. I will always side for the legal system over any company making decisions, which is why I do not agree with fetlife censoring in any way (a decision which is above the first amendment right to free speech). But I will also say that fetlife’s job is extremely difficult because they are sort-if running a virtual society with physical consequences, and their decision to censor these types of discussions is not entirely unfounded like this article suggests. They have their reasons and we can’t really know whether it’s overall benefiting more people or not by their decision. Did you ever stop to think that maybe their decision is actually benefiting far more people than those who have problems like this article mentions? It’s quite possible!

    We often look at the problems as though if we did the opposite, there would be no problems, but things are grey and problems will exist no matter what decisions or systems we make to control them. We should instead focus on ways to support anyone who needs help and not reply on anyone but ourselves to make them happen.

    Also, no matter what you do to protect people from the bad apples, those bad apples will figure out how to use the system to their advantage or get around it, to continue their mayhem. You’re never safe from them, they will always exist no matter what you or fetlife ever does.

    Lastly, fetlife’s rules are built to protect themselves from being sued, just as any major social network or online business has to do as well. Getting sued could result in the end of fetlife completely.

    And lastly lastly, on another note, I do feel like fetlife is a lot like facebook, which creates a community that is inherently made to almost lock you into that network. Right now I trust fetlife because I have browsed through many of their comments about decisions they make, as well as read a lot of their terms of service, frequently asked questions, posts in groups, and even outside critiques/responses. I think they’re doing a better job than most would and I agree with a lot of what they say and how they handle things. Unfortunately, over time, things become corrupted, and what happens after the core staff leave for whatever reasons? Centralized networks which make decisions for a large amount of people, are never a good thing in the long run. One vulnerability (such as being sued for example) could cripple the entire built community.

    No one will ever be “safe” on a social network or in a centralized system of any kind, you are always responsible for yourself in any system of governance, and systems should be built within them to support people when problems arise, not rely on the system to protect them.

    If anyone wants to learn more about the fine line between Internet free speech and how social networks and other websites/companies determine their terms of use, go to eff.org and read one or more of their many articles on this topic. Those guys understand this stiff better than anyone, and they fight for our rights online every day.

  • Pingback: The privacy information FetLife doesn’t want you to read « Maybe Maimed but Never Harmed

  • YetAnotherBlogReader

    “I consider myself well informed when it comes to the law, websites, free
    speech, web security practices, and social network behaviors and
    problems.”

    That’s just like a huge red flag saying WARNING: CONDESCENDING COMMENT AHEAD! And you totally didn’t disappoint.

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  • Joseph

    There are some interesting points here, and I’m honestly uncertain as to how to solve this problem: it seems like either we accept smear campaigns, or we accept the missing stair problem, and neither of those appeals to me.

    That said, I think this distinction between “connection” and “separation” is pat and both intellectually and practically unsatisfying. What about connecting victims of abuse to networks of support? FetLife doesn’t seem especially fond of that form of connection.

    Also, you say, “systems should be built within [communities] to support people when problems arise, not rely on the system to protect them.” This seems to me to be missing the point: the problem AVFlox highlights here is that FetLife is explicitly prohibiting people from organizing these sorts of networks, at least inasmuch as these sorts of networks involve calling people out for harmful behavior.

  • alethiometer

    sure, legally John can restrict any speech he wants with a website he owns. But the operative word here is “should” – that is, in order to make a website that is in the best interests of the community, he should encourage free speech.

  • Pingback: FetLife Alleged Abusers Database Engine (FAADE) mentioned in NY Observer « Maybe Maimed but Never Harmed

  • Pingback: My (satirical) application to be hired as a FetLife Media Caretaker « Maybe Maimed but Never Harmed

  • a

    What about a “safety” local user group where you can IM or off-site email specifically about this and anyone is free to say “avoid”, etc.

    Saying “user name x” did this only lets them change their name.

    I don’t really feel comfortable of the idea of “letting the tribe decide” someone’s fate. It seems that’s the kind of thinking that makes these things hard to get a fair trial for in the first place.

    I mean, fet-life is a response to sexual groupthink and I’m not sure it helps to perpetrate the same systems that created the groupthink in the first place.

  • Jody Lee Bruchon

    I would like to point out that all content delivery networks (CDNs) work this way (no authentication requirec); the same thing was discovered about Facebook’s CDN, and people were enraged that the pictures did not get deleted if someone had the CDN URL for them. CDNs don’t require authentication because the entire purpose of a CDN is to allow retrieval of static content from a geographically close server quickly, to minimize latency and maximize throughput. My understanding is that Facebook now “cleans up” deleted CDN content periodically so that it will not remain there forever, but I could be wrong.

    If a CDN required authentication, it would significantly increase the latency of the system, as well as reduce reliability for the intended purpose of rapid delivery of static content. Yes, it’s a security tradeoff, but it’s generally an acceptable one in terms of practicality.

  • Pingback: Got Consent? Part III: FetLife Doesn’t Get It | Disrupting Dinner Parties

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  • Cupcake

    FetLife doesn’t care about convictions if you’re in the UK – they claim that they don’t allow users who have convictions for sex offences on their site, but if there is a UK user with a history of committing such offences, whose name is on the sex offenders register, they will not be banned by the site because there is not enough proof. Unless the police phone and ask them specifically to block the profile, they do nothing.
    FetLife won’t even phone the police in the UK to check whether someone actually is a sex offender, even if they’ve been shown that they’re on the register via the online database.
    Allowing sex offenders on their site makes it unsafe. It allows the abuse to continue.
    Just my two cents.

  • thanzzz

    R.I.P Fetlife…

  • ClearlySeen

    Uh…. people lie you know. If somebody says you raped them your reputation could be destroyed and you could lose your job whether you are guilty or not. You might have missed Baku’s point.

  • COBRACHOPPERGIRL

    I spent a year on Fetlife… and came to realize… it is a Watering Hole of Idiots. A Ship of Fools. A bunch of mental retards.

    No, nobody did anything to piss me off, nor did I get disappointed because I didn’t find true love. I simply watched and observed and explored and read…. and after a while of following the friend feed, you realize, these people have some serious mental issues going on or are rather… daft, or just stone cold stupid.

    They went too far embraciing their fantasies, and crossed some imaginary fence, and like in the movie Avalon… became “unreturned”. Now they can’t seperate reality from the illusion they created in their head.

  • Mr Wiseguy

    You have to log in to get the URLs in the first place. They are not easily guessable because they contain strings of random characters.

    Maymay is well known as a cyber bully and liar. The community largely rejects him and his agitation efforts. I have no doubt, like Asher, that he has the quintessential type of personality to hurl false accusations at all kinds of people who are not lock-step with his views.

  • Peter Smith

    Fetlife is a website, not a law system. I have to agree with Baku on this one. If you have a problem with someone doing something legal, involve the lagal system. Not a website; run by website administrators. Seriously. They have their hands full running forum software. Techie geeks are not setup at all in any way to deal with such matters. It falls on the users of the website to use common sense and when they think a foul has been commited, take it to the proper venues.

    All fetlife does is host text and picture files via a machine interface. They have absolutely zero to do with whatever you do on your own inititiave based on what you read and see of those text and picture files posted by other people or yourself. Fetlife is just a big computer with a harddrive for message storage and an interface. If you go on a date and get slighted, injured, or stabbed, is that the computer or harddrives fault? Are you going to come back to the computer and harddrive, and yell at it, and tell it to make things right?

    We already have a legal system in place to handle these kind of things, so if you think you have a legitimate greivance about anything, use that system. You paid an ocean of taxes to fund it, and sacrificed a lot of personal freedoms to prop up the state and turn your freedom over to it in the name of security. You paided the price via your economic slavery, because you felt you needed some kind of authority figure to run to when another does wrong by you.

    If you really want to settle the score yourself, by slamming names around a website… then I say stop wasting your time, and for real, go out and settle the score with vigilante justice. If that is indeed what you want. Don’t waste time shuffling bits around on some harddrive any more…

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Sex and the 405 is what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.

Here you’ll find news about the latest research being conducted to figure out what drives desire, passion, and other sex habits; reviews of sex toys, porn and other sexy things; coverage of the latest sex-related news that have our mainstream media's panties up in a bunch; human interest pieces about sex and desire; interviews with people who love sex, or hate sex, or work in sex, or work to enable you to have better sex; opinion pieces that relate to sex and society; and the sex-related side of celebrity gossip. More...