Crash Override: Book Review

By David Michael Newstead.

Crash Override recounts author Zoe Quinn’s experience at the center of GamerGate in 2014. Yet you don’t have to care anything about video games to recognize her ordeal as a case study on gender and technology’s dark side. So if the underbelly of the internet ever decides to make your life hell, Quinn outlines the weapons at their disposal. These include:

  • False and abusive comments online
  • Threatening phone calls
  • Posting your address, social security number, and other personal information online
  • Detailed threats of rape and murder
  • Revenge Porn
  • Stalking and cyberstalking
  • Hacking your accounts
  • Setting up fake accounts in your name
  • Tricking police SWAT teams into raiding your house in the middle of the night
  • And targeting your friends, loved ones, and contacts with all the abuse listed above

This opens the door to discussions about a whole range of important things from lack of responsiveness on the part of government authorities to tech giants not enforcing their own terms of service that would help to address these problems. Another aspect to this abuse is how it can mirror and exacerbate issues surrounding violence against women and discrimination faced by people of color and the LGBTQ community who are the most frequent targets of online abuse.

For me, two facts standout when thinking about this and they’re interrelated. First, that there is a well-documented lack of diversity in the tech industry. And second, that the internet has become central to our lives in ways that public policy hasn’t caught up to yet. Because of that, just telling someone to quit social media in response to attacks like this isn’t a real solution (and wouldn’t stop the abuse anyway). Access to and participation in all the positive things that the internet has to offer is no longer optional in our society. So then, the ability for everyone to enjoy what is essentially a public good takes on real significance. In the book, Quinn writes:

GamerGate wasn’t really about video games at all so much as it was a flash point for radicalized online hatred that had a long list of targets before, and after, my name was added to it. The movement helped solidify the growing connections between online white supremacist movements, misogynist nerds, conspiracy theorists, and dispassionate hoaxers who derive a sense of power from disseminating disinformation. This patchwork of Thanksgiving-ruining racist uncles might look and sound like a bad joke, but they became a real force behind giving Donald Trump the keys to the White House. Online abuse is by no means uncommon and can affect just about anyone for any reason, including totally normal people minding their own business. However, just because it can happen to anyone doesn’t mean that it strikes totally at random. The less you look and sound like a 1950s sitcom dad, the more likely it is that you’ll find yourself where I did – having your life torn apart by neo-Nazis.

In vivid and horrifying detail, Quinn describes everything that happened during GamerGate. The most admirable thing about the book though is that the author explains the tangible steps she’s taken since then to help other victims of online abuse (including former perpetrators of it) through her organization Crash Override. And even when discussing possible policy solutions, her measured and thoughtful perspective illustrates that she really does value the integrity of these online platforms. Whether these platforms value their own integrity seems to be an open question.

How Social Media Became Forbidden Planet

By David Michael Newstead.

What if a machine could manifest people’s thoughts? In the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet (and the Crichton novel Sphere), scientists stumble onto a device like this. It’s of alien origins and it materializes thoughts into reality. Powerful and with limitless potential, the machine could make the world a better place. But instead of this device leading to a new and enlightened chapter in history, it just amplifies the worst parts of people’s psyche: fear, anger, paranoia. In the story, violence and chaos quickly ensue as the characters’ unconscious runs amok.

Unfortunately, the social media landscape is starting to look a lot like Forbidden Planet, more dangerous than it is enlightening. But when platforms like Twitter and Facebook first launched, the idea that they would one day be overrun with rabid misogynists, white supremacists, stalkers, personalized threats, and propaganda would have seemed far-fetched. We have this notion, after all, that technology always makes things better. In this case though, it’s like social media removed the polite veneer that masks everything under the surface of our culture: swallow materialism, intense insecurity, sexism, and racism. The problem didn’t start overnight, of course. No one joined Twitter thinking they were going to get doxxed. But like a tidal wave, problems began moving from the comment section into the real world. And vice versa. Now, the carefree early days of social networking seem wildly naïve. And our optimistic vision of an interconnected world may be the biggest piece of science fiction of them all.


Social Media Propaganda

By David Michael Newstead.

Aldous Huxley once said that technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards. With that in mind, it occurred to me that these satirical propaganda posters about social media from a few years ago are surprisingly (and disturbingly) realistic depictions of life in 2017. Take a look and judge for yourself.

#MasculinitySoFragile: Post-Election Edition

By David Michael Newstead.

In January, I spoke with the Twitter users that popularized #MasculinitySoFragile regarding their perspectives on gender in America. Skip ahead eleven months to the present and there’s still plenty to talk about after one of the most negative presidential campaigns in recent memory. For more insight, I checked back in with @anthoknees to discuss misogyny, gender, and where to go from here. Our conversation is below.

@DavidMNewstead: In your opinion, was 2016 a watershed year for misogyny?

@anthoknees: Within my 27 years of living? Definitely. Misogyny is not new, but just like Donald Trump’s election woke a lot of people up to the white supremacy that founded this country, Hillary Clinton’s loss woke up those paying attention to the sexism and misogyny that men benefit from. There has also been an increased call to U.S. college campus administrators to take responsibility for their Title IX failures, particularly around sexual assault. And locally, the Oakland and Richmond police departments are facing massive public scrutiny for sexual misconduct and rape with minors. Yet despite all of this, cisheteropatriarchy rules supreme and men still have the final say.

@DavidMNewstead: What’s behind that patriarchal dominance? And has your view of it changed over the course of the last year?

@anthoknees: While I think about masculinities, gender relations, and kyriarchy daily, I do not necessarily think pinpointing what’s behind the patriarchal dominance is something I can easily do. Based on what I’ve lived, read, observed, it seems to me that it is a learned behavior and a societal norm that has existed throughout time and go through various, often violent, cycles. Men are not born thinking that we are naturally better, stronger, or “destined” to dominate. In fact, men aren’t born, men are created. The same applies to every gender. While our genitals are a fact, our gender identity, gender expression, and even biological sexual identity are social constructions that really do hold us and everyone around us hostage. From gender reveal parties that begin before we’re even born to the sexual scripts we are taught throughout our lives what a man is expected to be, and how a man is supposed to dominate. It then becomes a legacy that we are more than willing to uphold.

So, to answer the second question, the last year has been the year I have really gotten serious about deconstructing my colonial notions of what gender is and what it can be. What I’m seeing now is that this patriarchal dominance, as you call it, is taught to us and we gladly uphold it because it benefits men more than it harms men–in almost all scenarios. Where it falls short is clearly the violence inflicted on our entire world in the name of patriarchy. It is not just women, trans folks, femmes, or even men. This notion that men must conquer people, land, and animals is at the root of capitalism and white supremacy. The overwhelming majority of white women who voted for Trump weren’t just voting for whiteness or supposed economic security. When a candidate can talk about grabbing women “by the pussy,” imitate a disabled reporter, insinuate that he’d like to sleep with his daughter, and still win so many popular votes and electoral votes? It’s a problem that is much bigger than individual acts of sexism or misogyny, and instead indicative of a much larger societal and structural problem. So again, this year was really about realizing that all of these systems are connected and while I cannot tell you why it started, it makes sense that it has continued.

@DavidMNewstead: Where does the struggle for gender equality go from here?

@anthoknees: It’s easy for me to be cynical, but where I do see hope is the next generation. For example, I see kids who know that they’re trans at a very young age and are finding protection and love from trans folks and queers my age and older. I see a lot more freedom sexually for young women. I see a lot more talk about folks who are intersex and feel like they don’t have to hide it anymore. And I see a whole generation that is realizing that a straight identity and a binary understanding of gender may not be the best way to go. I see us listening to the youth, particularly young women, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming folks of color. I see the current generation of folks who fit or don’t fit into these boxes listening to our elders. And then I see that our elders had folks to look up to, but a lot less and many who were a lot less visible than they are today. My fear is that with increased visibility comes violence and hate crimes. Anyone who is not cis, straight, male, and able-bodied is susceptible to be harmed in some way as we continue to fight. But in looking for some sort of gender equality, I see more attempts to work toward gender equity as the next step. That is at all levels, but particularly the decision-making positions in every aspect of our lives. Additionally, that equity must be guided and led with a truly intersectional framework. If we work toward gender equality or equity without a proper understanding of race, ethnicity, class, gender, nationalism, ability, and more? We’re doomed to repeat the past history of a white-woman only feminist politic, a western-only feminist politic, and overall exclusionary politics that have truly damaging consequences.

Read Part One

Read Part Two

ReThinking Masculinity

By David Michael Newstead.

Last week, I took part in a Twitter Chat called ReThinking Masculinity #AllMenCan. And of all the issues that came up during the discussion, one question seemed to be the most relevant. I don’t necessarily have an answer, but I leave this as food for thought.

How do you think your ethnic, racial, and/or religious identity affects the way you understand or express masculinity?

#MasculinitySoFragile Goes Viral

By David Michael Newstead.

In September 2015, Twitter user @anthoknees popularized the hashtag #MasculinitySoFragile, causing it to go viral. Recently, I spoke with @anthoknees regarding that experience and his views on manhood. My conversation with the activist and community organizer is below.

@DavidMNewstead: So, you were the person who caused it to go viral. What were you tweeting about at the time and why did it #MasculinitySoFragile fit into that?

@anthoknees: The original thread shows the progression pretty well. Violent descriptions of murder due to misogyny.


@DavidMNewstead: What were some of the responses to that?

@anthoknees: The beauty of Twitter is that it’s an alternative start or continuation of a conversation. So, it helped to spread the topic of toxic masculinity out of just Black feminist Twitter and off-line conversations into the public eye through media coverage. Black women have been discussing and theorizing much of what I wrote, yet they’re often the most ignored and discredited. In the good articles, the woman (@feministajones) whose post inspired this and cited me as well.

@DavidMNewstead: So, what was the backlash like?

@anthoknees: Death wishes, as internet trolls are known for. Confusion around the message, too. Many people thought it was created by “bitter feminists” and took it as an assault on their manhood, rather than recognizing the violence that women and femme-identified people deal with on daily basis just because of their gender expression and presentation. The last thing wasn’t too bad but was notable. The message got lost. Some would ask me, “what about male rape victims,” not realizing that fragile masculinity is actually a primary reason people don’t believe male rape survivors and a primary reason that men are afraid to report sexual assault.

@DavidMNewstead: Do you think the back and forth over the hashtag has helped to dispel the confusion or is it just a big internet shouting match now?

@anthoknees: Well, the back and forth calmed down after the first week. But given the amount of articles written on it, the confusion seems to have died down. But it’s a hashtag, and so people will use it however they want. Ultimately, “man-sized” tissues are a part of the conversation, but as someone who popularized the hashtag, my focus was less on the absurdity of little examples and more focused on the very real threat of toxic masculinity.

@DavidMNewstead: Is this the normal focus of your activism or what issues to you work on?

@anthoknees: I work on dismantling interlocking systems of oppression, including heteropatriarchy, so it definitely falls in line with my activism. I’m on the streets and online, with both direct action and consciousness raising. White supremacy isn’t the only system of oppression that must be targeted, which is why I also discuss misogyny, misogynoir, transmisogyny, and sexism.

@DavidMNewstead: In your view, can you describe examples of positive masculinity and specifically forms of positive masculinity that can successfully counter the effects of toxic masculinity around the world?

@anthoknees: I see positive masculinity as healthy masculinity. Healthy masculinity is masculinity that is not tethered to certain actions, behaviors, or dispositions. Healthy masculinity is instead negotiated and requires an awareness that the gender is a social construct. A man who performs healthy masculinity understands that physical strength, sexual orientation, or other similar characteristics have no bearing on what is or is not “masculine.”

As I wrote, toxic masculinity is oppressive and sometimes violent, especially in response to a perceived challenge to a person’s masculinity. As such, a practical example of this healthy masculinity can be observed in the response. If a man approaches a woman to ask for her number and she declines, he respectfully accepts her “no” instead of having an expectation that she owes him anything.

We live in a highly gendered world, and so the very notion of masculinity or femininity is hard to shake or destroy. The current social order makes it even more important to combat global toxic masculinity. And as social creatures, our masculinity is not just for ourselves, but a performance for others. So healthy masculinity also means that we stop the policing gender. This looks like accepting people for who they are, respecting their pronouns, and not defining their gender for them. Gender nonconforming and transgender people are often physically and verbally attacked because we police the gender of others instead of focusing on ourselves.

Healthy masculinity also means not policing men who appear more “effeminate.” Calling a femme CIS gender man a homophobic, transphobic or sexist epithet is a symptom of toxic masculinity. This symptom amplifies when someone who was designated male or female at birth identifies as transgender. So, for me, eliminating toxic masculinity and growing healthy masculinity looks like a process of examining our own learned biases and prejudices. Healthy masculinity allows us, as folks who identify as masculine regardless of gender, to display vulnerability and affection in ways that do not fit the typical hegemonic mold of masculinity. Healthy masculinity increases interpersonal trust and reduces the likelihood of violence. Healthy masculinity allows us the freedom to help society function better, as opposed to the inequality and violence that toxic masculinity creates.

Read Part One

Read Part Three

The Origins of #MasculinitySoFragile

By David Michael Newstead.

In December 2013, a young woman on Twitter started a hashtag. Two years later, it went viral, sparking a discussion about toxic forms of masculinity as well as parodies, observations, and the fury of internet backlash. To learn more, I spoke to the hashtag’s creator, @puppydogexpress.

@DavidMNewstead: So, you started the #MasculinitySoFragile hashtag in 2013?

@puppydogexpress: Yes, that’s when I tweeted it first.

@DavidMNewstead: So, what was going on at the time that motivated you to do that?

@puppydogexpress: I don’t think it was any particular event or situation that inspired the initial tweets, but a general sense of frustration at the fragility of masculinity – the idea that all it takes to revoke a guy’s “man” card is to use a pink razor to shave or something.

@DavidMNewstead: It seems like there was a long time lapse between when you started the hashtag and when it finally went viral. Especially in internet time. Did anything interesting happen during the interlude?

@puppydogexpress: It totally slipped my mind during that time. I don’t have many followers. I had just been thinking out loud when I wrote them. It wasn’t until this year (2015) when folks who weren’t mutual follows started liking the initial tweets and I noticed it had become a “thing”. User @anthoknees was the one who brought it back from the dead, but I’m not sure if he knew it at the time.

@DavidMNewstead: What did you think about all the attention it received once it took off?

@puppydogexpress: First, I was baffled, because I don’t have the follower power to make something go viral on my own, and it had been two years since I wrote it. Second, for a moment I worried it had been trending because maybe offended men had co-opted it and took to Twitter to air their grievances. It turned out to be a happy accident.

@DavidMNewstead: Two questions. Do you think anything positive came out of #MasculinitySoFragile? And what do you think of backlash against it?

@puppydogexpress: 1. Absolutely. Anytime a hashtag goes viral it gives masses of people the opportunity to share something, and in this case, it was the sharing of micro-aggressions, personal experiences, and satire relating to the fragility of masculinity. There’s potential there to shed light on ideas in a way that’s easy for people who aren’t necessarily familiar with masculinity studies to digest. It’s a big inside joke everyone collectively “gets”.

2. There’s this internet rule called Lewis’ Law, which basically states the response to feminist content justifies feminism. Comment sections, for example. I think of the backlash against feminist hashtags like #MasculinitySoFragile in the same way. The backlash proves the point. Some men saw it as an assault on their manhood, and responded accordingly. Folks of all genders participated in the hashtag. The message was, overwhelmingly, that toxic masculinity hurts people. This includes men.

@DavidMNewstead: Kind of like Gamergate from a few years ago?

@puppydogexpress: Exactly. The fact Anita Sarkeesian’s assessment that sexism is evident in video games was met with actual rape and death threats proved her point.

@DavidMNewstead: Has any of this impacted you personally? Like in terms of people messaging positively or negatively or anything like that?

@puppydogexpress: Well, @anthoknees and I did a little shout out to one another on Twitter, but that’s it. It didn’t gain traction until he picked it up, so I get the impression he bore the brunt of the backlash. I do wonder what the backlash looked like for him as a man, and how it might manifest if I or another woman was on the receiving end instead.

@DavidMNewstead: Ah, so on that note. My final question is – how would you describe yourself then?

@puppydogexpress: I’m 24 years old, cis woman, white and Latina. I live in Philly.

@DavidMNewstead: Well, 24-year-old cis woman in Philly, I’m glad we got a chance to talk.

Read Part Two