Thursday, 1 September 2016

ConBravo: Online Social Conscience

This is a sub-post of the whole ConBravo convention, covering “Social Conscience for New Media” (11am Sat). Quotes are not exact, any errors are my own, enjoy and educate yourself.

The panelists were: Rantasmo (R) of the online show “Needs More Gay”. Ryan Consell (RC) of “Mad Art Lab”, a token straight white guy. Steve Saylor (SS) of YouTube’s “Blind Gamer” who is legally blind and another token white guy. Angelina “ALB” in Wonderland (ALB) who covers socio-political issues and likes pink, and a lolita blogger who does craft tutorials, her name sounded like ‘Kayden Succato’? (KS) but I can’t find a record.


Photo Order: KS, ALB, SS, RC, R

Q1: How would you describe your experience in the last year, talking about social issues online? How has it changed, if at all?
SS: That’s a loaded question.
KS: It’s been a tough year to be black. I’m mixed race, but people assume I’m black and anti-blackness is an issue. Lots of prejudice in some communities and some people are very overt in their racism. Some people get defensive and dig a bigger hole. Which is so fun.
KS: In a lolita context? People were saying brown doesn’t look good with pastels. And I was heavily discouraged from getting into alternative fashions. But if you tell me not to do something, I will do it, here I am two years later.

ALB: I’m coming from such a different place. Things haven’t really changed, but haven’t gotten better. Got free tickets to Ghostbusters, posted a video of my thoughts, and this group of guys went after me, saying I was paid by Sony to make it. I would love to be paid by Sony.
SS: If only we were paid for the things we’re accused of being paid for!
ALB: Everyone has to be transparent about sponsorship. Things would be nicer around me if I were being paid for this.
SS: Being in new media for 10 years, I thought I’d heard everything from fake nerd to albino fat guys. What has changed? Two things stick out. I was called “Hitler’s Wet Dream”, and because I call myself the BlindGamer but am not completely (only legally) blind, I was called a “publicity stunt”. Accused of taking advantage of people who are more blind than me; they’re social justice warriors, according to their profiles. The Canadian Institute for the Blind says 9 out of 10 people they help do have some vision.

RC: “Everything’s been fine, everybody loves me! Is this an intervention? Finally!” I get to be an outside observer to everyone else’s problems. I’ve been seeing my friends, family and people online going through an explosion of trans issues at the forefront. Many both benefit and suffer from that. Taken time to get educated about things I didn’t know existed, for instance as “Black Lives Matter” has become a bigger thing. I don’t have to think about other people’s problems, I’ve seen people dealing with it... poorly. Some people deal well, but they’re not as loud.

Q2: Any issues which affect you as marginalized people?
KS: Outright denial. People who can’t understand how anything on the planet can be seen differently from them. “There’s no way people would say that to you.” I’m telling you, it happens! Parents don’t believe that things are different when they’re out of the room [versus in the room]. It is very difficult for people who don’t experience it to know how much people’s prejudices affect reactions.
ALB: My partner is a trans woman. There’s many things I don’t think about, like when we go on a date, and she says I have to go to the washroom. I think “okay”, she says “You need to come with me” (for safety). I felt foolish for not having made that connection.
SS: For me, being blind and an albino since birth (slivery white hair until I was a teenager), this was my normal. Growing up, it took a long time to get used to stares, I just adapted to it. I talk to people, they feel I should be offended, but “my normal may be different than your normal” so I kind of dealt with it.
RC: This is where new media becomes both amazing and terrible. Twenty years ago, I never would have heard about this. People in marginalized communities were marginalized. Now I hear from them, but these portals are open for malicious behaviour too.

Q3: What of people who claim “it’s okay because I have a black friend” or similar?
KS: It’s the most difficult thing for me to deal with personally. “My partner is black therefore I can appropriate whatever.” NO. “I am asking you, when you speak to me, don’t speak that way.” They need to realize it may be okay for [that partner or friend], but don’t assume one situation extends to everyone else.
ALB: You’re doing something that makes me uncomfortable. “Yeah but...” But that person is not here.
R: We don’t have meetings about whether “we agree/don’t agree” on this stuff.
SS: My roommate in college (who was black), one of the first things he said was “I don’t give you permission to use the N word.” I didn’t even ask, but okay. I’ve even heard that the word “albino” is a dirty word. Why not say that? It’s a genetic condition, a technical term.
ALB: Ages ago, some people thought I was “Albino Wonderland”, not “ALB in Wonderland”.

Q4: Anyone experienced “Tone Policing”? Starting an argument by pointing out tone rather than content.
KS: I’m the angry black woman! Okay, I am a pretty angry person but I’m the sort of person to say “here’s my sources” “here’s an article” “now you cite something” and they’ll point out a Daily Mail article. No. I try to keep as level a head as possible, but it’s hard when people are saying you don’t deserve the same rights as everybody else.
ALB: You almost HAVE to stay detached, to not get emotional. Somehow, once you have feelings, it’s like you’re ejected from the conversation.
RC: Something else that gets tied up into this, and I was guilty, is the notion conversations should always be high browed. There’s something incredibly patronizing about that. The idea that someone’s feelings don’t matter is ridiculous. Yes, making me feel bad does matter. 
KS: The people who say “don’t get offended” seem to be the easiest ones to offend. [For instance] I find food words to describe someone creepy, it’s using my skin as a dessert (like “caramel”). I countered with “mayonnaise” and they got really offended.

Q5: How about the reverse of tone policing, “GoodOne-ism”? Like, I’m glad you’re great about this, not like those OTHER people.
ALB: I feel like I want to do something wrong. Someone says “You make it approachable” and I’m all “AGGH!”, I should be more intense or something if you’re having a detachless interaction. It’s when you’re uncomfortable that I feel like I’m getting through.
SS: I also teach part time at Humber College. What I tell my students every year is: You have to think before you post. That’s why I have 13 drafts of something I want to say, it lets me think. I made a video explaining [my blindness], including what I can see and what I can’t see - not as a response to trolls, more as an educational tool. But then I can post that link to anyone who comments about it, saying “This will explain a bit better”. Often they don’t respond, but some will with “oh, I didn’t know that”. I also link there based on my intro, “I’m Steve, I’m blind and I’m going to play ‘x’.”

Q6: Almost everyone experiences some form of privilege. What responsibility do they have? Can men speak out against sexism without “mansplaining”?
RC: “Well, actually..." (some laughs) It’s hard. Anyone who wants to consider themselves on the side of anyone else, but who isn’t a part, listen a lot and read a lot. Before you open your mouth, talk to people who are in the group. This is difficult if you don’t know anyone in those sorts of movements - you want to have opinions and help and be good - but sometimes the best thing you can do is shut up and listen. And encourage others to shut up and listen.
ALB: I share videos of people who are talking about [such things]. It’s not my place to make a video and have an opinion about it. If I can point, maybe that’s what I should be doing, or saying “hi, now listen to this other person”. It’s choosing when not to speak, knowing when it’s not about me, or when I can direct people to someone else who is talking. Using my platform to amplify the voices of other people. Everyone expects you to speak on every issue, but I’m not an expert of every issue, I don’t want my thing to be that I talk about everything.
KS: I’m Black-White Chinese-First Nations, who is married to a Japanese person who isn’t bi in sexuality. And I’m queer. If you don’t have that life experience yourself, and someone else is talking? That’s the time to listen. If someone else is in a conversation, either support them, or don’t say anything.

Q7: A phrase used to shut down conversations, known as “virtue signalling” - for instance, “You’re just saying ‘x’ to look like a good person” - is that a real thing? If so, it that a problem?
RC: Yes, that is complicated; trying to summarize a collection of opinions on this. A problem in ally culture is saying “I’m an ally, I’m on your side” but then not being willing to step up and do anything. Being there for people is important, but perhaps there’s no risk or danger in saying “so and so should be a better person on twitter”. [Whereas] there’s a danger of the crowd saying “I’m on your side!” and they’re not. Some queer friends of mine who saw all the rainbow flags [on Facebook/Social Media] came out, only to not have support. YOU? Oh no. The “I want to play the game too” can be damaging. People like me shouldn’t do it so much.
SS: I’m a Christian. The current landscape is such that we should be offended by everything, but I’m on the other side of that. It goes back to love your neighbour. It doesn’t matter who you are, who you love, to me you’re a person that I should love and like and care for; I will step up if a person is being abused or attacked. There is that fine line for me, basically I really don’t know what to say. I’ll feel super guilty if I say anything to offend anybody, and I have broken down and cried because I felt guilty about something I said that someone took as offensive - which I didn’t mean in any way or form. Is “I really am a good guy” a compliment or not, it’s hard to come up with a proper answer, there’s conflict there.
RC: That’s weird. “Yes, I am trying to be good, what?”
KS: I’d prefer people try to be good than to be assholes. You’re raised in a particular way, it will colour things, but I’m good to help you learn things. I never get upset when people ask me questions, I get upset when people assume things. When people say “you can’t be mixed, you have to look this way”. I was told by a Neo-Nazi in high school (shaved head, combat boots) that I couldn’t be real. Although the school was mostly black.

ALB: Just to touch back on what you were saying, in the community I’m in, creators make content that’s not necessarily similar but we’re relatively of the same mind. What I said earlier, the idea that you have to speak on every single thing? Once something happened in the news, and I was dealing with a family crisis, and people were wondering why I hadn’t said anything. I want to support those who are knowledgeable about it, so share from them on my platform - though better to be talking about it than no talking at all? Maybe it’s okay if you’re not speaking over it.
KS: The best way to do that is to ask questions. Keep it open ended.
ALB: Do you wish people would do their own research?
KS: I don’t mind, personally. I know that doesn’t apply to every single person. I sat down with a friend once, for two hours, to explain the history of geishas, due to a bad Halloween costume. They say “Now I see racism everywhere”.
ALB: “I can see the matrix.”
KS: When you’re not looking for the problem, you don’t know what the problem is, it’s invisible for you. If you don’t get those viewpoints growing up, you have to sit down with someone.
RC: I’ll throw in on my experience of being dumb. Sometimes we still won’t get it, it will probably take a lot of patience on both sides. And as “dumb white person”, you are not owed that patience. Nobody owes it to you to explain the history of colonialism in the world. Someone might be kind enough to do that for you, but if someone’s saying “solve your own damn problems”, go do it yourself.

Q8: Given increasing reaction to things, horrifying Venn diagrams of GamerGaters and [Rabid/Sad] Puppies - is there any value in engaging that crowd directly?
?: Ignorance is bliss.
KS: No, they don’t care about me. If you see someone slipping over the brink, grab the collar and yank them back, but if they’re already down? Why would they care about what I have to say, they don’t even see me as a person. Maybe give a script to a white person and have THEM go and say things [to that crowd].
R: Which brings up another issue. If you’re defending someone else, that can result in collateral damage against them.
ALB: There needs to be a Twitter revamp. Now you make a post and people start arguing, and you’re there but not part of this conversation any more. I’m not sure what the solution is in terms of the person being aimed at.
RC: I try to speak in non-specifics. I will get a personal anecdote, and then give enough distance so that person won’t be pulled into it. Like rape - which is a real problem, and talking about it is really hard, and if you know specific examples, it’s a lot of trust to not share that information with anybody. Make sure you don’t accidentally break a trust and expose people to harm. It’s a light touch needed. Get an editor. Get somebody who knows the issues to check it over, and you might learn something.

Q9: I have a webcomic that’s been going on for years. Some things might not have been great with the trans community as it sits now. At what point do you need to retroactively go back, and is there some way to future-proof?
RC: The latter is difficult because language is always changing.
ALB: StarWars it. [Galaxy far far away?]
SS: Once had an arc “These Warriors Are Terrible”... if you realize the acronym, initially we laughed about it. Then changed to “Terrible Warriors”, since it felt uncomfortable to bring that up. We didn’t change any of the content, just the arc and the website. We didn’t address it. May be a good solution, may not be, but we decided we really, really had to change it.
ALB: Do I delete this? I don’t want to pretend like it didn’t happen. Delete, so it doesn’t cause further peril perhaps? Or a Disclaimer to see that this was a learning example. That’s the question right?
KS: I feel a disclaimer is better because it shows the personal growth. Even old Loony Tunes cartoons now have a disclaimer. This is where we were in history, showing some of them without racist things. There WAS a time when people were struggling, if you act like people haven’t been, then maybe it becomes easier to justify their lack of something as “laziness” rather than “systemic oppression”.
ALB: All you can do is what you can now, in this moment. Lead by example and be the best as you can in future work.
RC: Regarding future proofing, you see it a lot in comedy. Whenever you’re making a joke at anyone’s expense (even if it’s something you think is fine or society doesn’t care about it), then that is a joke that is potentially dangerous. There are other funny jokes in the world that don’t potentially degrade somebody. Also, always punch up. If you are sticking it to the oppressors at the top, you’re unlikely to run into trouble except from them [the oppressors]. Granted, at the top, there’s no up to punch; maybe self deprecating comedy.

Q10: Did you ever change someone’s mind, who was really upset about something you posted? If not, what about strict bans? Moderating?
ALB: Most of the time, if I change someone’s mind, I’m unlikely to hear about it. A couple times someone has responded. There was a time in my life, when I was younger, that I had energy to emotionally comment back. I think I’m not there anymore; back then I also didn’t have that big of a platform and could have a 20 comment conversation. Now I don’t have the time or the emotional wherewithal. Though I wish I could.
KS: My followers are really small, 200-300 people in the lolita community. I have actually changed someone’s mind, the “mayonnaise” person, who months later said they did a bunch of research and said “thank you for calling me out”. And I thought, “who the hell is this” having forgotten about the entire conversation; I’m glad someone was bold enough to say “No, please don’t.” Most of the time when you change someone’s mind you don’t hear about it.

SS: For me, it was the “Really Blind FAQ” video that I first started getting comments. Even some friends, that I thought kind of knew, said they didn’t realize that’s what I could or couldn’t see. That’s the only time I’ve ever felt I may have changed someone’s mind. As far as moderation goes, I don’t do that too much, it could take up my entire day. But there have been a few comments which I see as harassment which I will report or ban.
ALB: Me too, but it has to be really bad.
SS: Yeah, like the “Hitler Wet Dream” comment before. Once the FAQ video was there, my community started to self-police too. Saying “If you knew Steve” and posting to the video before I even got a chance. I don’t swing the ban hammer too much, but when I do, I do it well.
RC: We’re all content creators ourselves, and what moderating does is protects OTHER people from the comments you’re getting. You’re still getting them, and having to face them yourself; sometimes it helps you to have a comment go through, to see people tear the person apart, so you can feel like you’ve got support. But if you’re part of a public community, you really should encourage those sites to have better moderation [their end], protecting people.
ALB: Sometimes people will say “you don’t get harassed”. It’s like invisible.
R: You’re responsible for cultivating your audience in that way.
KS: I do get accused of banning too readily, but if they don’t see me as a person, why should I give them the time?
ALB: Also it’s your site, your space. There’s other places on the internet.

Q11: The film “Birth of a Nation” is racist, but has great technical work. Where do we draw the line at censorship in art? The artist themselves perhaps doesn’t feel the same way but they’re trying to bring awareness - but in a bad way?
RC: Isn’t that a whole other panel?
R: There is a difference between criticism, and saying something should not exist. With the idea that it should not be viewed.
SS: I used to love listening to Bill Cosby, and I am extremely conflicted now to even keep the albums. I probably have 90% of them, I don’t know what to do. I think the art should stand for itself.
ALB: You’re talking about enjoying potentially problematic media. Almost a different thing.
RS: There’s someone who posed naked in a place which used to be the slave market, there’s a difference between that art and dressing up a plantation pretty for a wedding art. One is acknowledging the pain of a marginalized group, even if the art medium can be traumatic to people. That’s the trauma to look at and acknowledge, versus glorifying or celebrating the marginalized group.
ALB: It can come off as you recreating it in a weird way.

RC: People get touchy around the word censorship.
ALB: And satire.
RC: Censorship is when the government comes in and says “can’t do this”. When other people come in and say the same thing, that’s an opinion. The internet is not good at recognizing that difference. There are very few things to be outright banned, those are the things that do harm to people, and that’s changed over history. We have, for the most part, come forward in our beliefs.
RS: Most US places still ban “Huckleberry Finn” for it’s use of the n-word. But that’s an important piece about slavery, and it’s important to keep and not disregard and throw away. In removing that sort of content, you’re basically saying that their pain doesn’t exist, and so they have no reason to be in the current situation.
RC: Adding into that, putting things into context becomes important. Don’t give “Huckleberry Finn” to a grade 4, but you can look at world war era film, and put discussions into it and context. Danger is not only erasing, it makes it easier to make those mistakes again.

Q12: I work in traditional media. Considering talk shows or cbc.ca; what can traditional media do to change, and handle comment sections?
RC: Ooh, I have thoughts. First, do not take all opinions uncritically. There is a tradition to give everyone a voice and an equal voice. You take one flaming racist and one reasonable person, then they give their voices as if they’re equally valid. Airing that uncritically, without pointing out how factually inaccurate or problematic that is? NOT doing that can go a long way.
ALB: People who comment in those types of sessions do that all the time. They’re frequent commenters, and once there’s a tone to what IS and IS NOT allowed in? There’s a tendency for them to self-moderate and set the tone of what’s allowed and what isn’t. Some do it really well.
SS: On the radio side, how we handle the moderation of comments is based on the specific type of content that we post. A lot of our stuff is music and pop culture based, so we don’t need an unbiased news opinion, but we’ll avoid posting a ton of Kardashian stories and focus in on other different types of content. Allow your audience to expect a certain type of content, which helps to a certain degree in moderation of comments. We’ll only hide or delete a post if its outright harassment or abuse. About 80% of the time that does work. Can also lead the discussion in a different way; what are the edges of that line.
RC: About being unbiased - you’re not. Copping to your bias adds a lot of credibility, particularly if you’re really big media. Then people know where you’re coming from. Not saying gospel truth.
RS: Acknowledging bias is extremely important.

***

And that’s a wrap for the panel... but I still can’t get over this response to a question from Reviewer Q&A 2, about how often a female on YouTube gets creepy comments: Every day.

There’s never easy answers, but a suggestion from teaching (in another context) is “the only way to make everyone feel comfortable is if everyone’s uncomfortable”. More people need to feel uncomfortable.

Anyway, that was my last ConBravo 2016 recap, feel free to go back to the Main ConBravo post to check out more.

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