Why We Don't Publish Callout Posts

January 20th, 2019

Content Warning(s): Mentions of abusive behavior and harassment.

With a recent Kotaku article circulating, we thought it would be appropriate to further explain our stance.

We do NOT publish or share call out posts or lists of alleged predators. Here's why:

It shifts the blame back to the targets to protect themselves.

We are always told to behave a certain way to avoid becoming a victim. "Don't wear that costume," "don't drink that much," and now, "don't be around that person." There's the implication that, "if you do these things anyway, you didn't do enough to protect yourself." It allows people to engage in the survivor fallacy that bad things only happen to people who have made mistakes; therefore, "I will be safe because I know better than to make those mistakes." It also plants the seed of, "it could never happen to me," which further shames a victim and discourages them from admitting it happened to them regardless of the circumstances.

A list of predators also isn't foolproof. Some perpetrators have never had an allegation against them and some may be committing their first offense. Not all victims may have access, ability, or desire to add to a list. Some may not be ready to tell their story and guilting them into it under the guise of "protecting others" is irresponsible, likely to paint an inaccurate picture, and potentially retraumatizing.

We need to stop putting the onus on survivors to protect themselves; instead, we should address the people who are responsible for hurting them and provide support for the survivors simultaneously.

Callouts can be dangerous for the poster.

A callout, when done with a survivor's intentions and not for petty reasons, can often be a survivor's last resort to protect others from becoming victims. Sometimes they have already gone to the authorities and were told there was nothing that could legally be done; sometimes a survivor doesn't feel safe going to the authorities but believes others are in danger, and they can't stay silent. A callout may be the only hope they have left for the perpetrator to face consequences or to be removed from a position or positions of power that they might use to hurt others.

Making this kind of post can not only be mentally draining, but outright dangerous for the poster. In order to be taken seriously, even if the poster wishes to be anonymous, the perpetrator and details of the abuse need to be shared. This can be retraumatizing as the callout gains traction and the poster is reminded again and again about the details of their abuse. Further, the circumstances in which the abuse occurred may be so easily recognized by the community that any attempt to remain anonymous is moot. Responses are often full of victim blaming and demands for further details, or explanations for why they didn't do this or that differently. The OP may feel they have to respond to defend themselves and is unable to disengage.

Sharing details of the abuse can also identify the OP to their abuser and lead to consequences ranging from doxxing, image-based abuse ("revenge porn"), to harassment campaigns and other online abuse not just by the perpetrator, but by their enablers or even people who don't want to believe that the accused could be guilty.

Repercussions can even be physical and escalate to threatened or actual bodily harm to the survivor by their abuser; not all requests for protection against such actions are taken seriously by the law. In addition, "white knights" for either party involved in the abuse can get involved on their side's behalf and may engage in revenge that becomes physically violent. We expand upon this here because while physical violence can be documented and law enforcement can come into the picture, the damage is often done before anyone can stop it.

Reposting or linking a callout post on a site like ours also draws more attention to it, which can drastically increase the amount of harassment the OP receives.

This leads to the next point:

Callouts can be (and have been, recently!) manipulated by abusers to further harm and isolate their victims.

Because online callouts can have direct consequences for the accused, some abusers have begun to weaponize them. While we're culturally still very much programmed to assume victims are lying until they provide "enough" proof that they aren't, and to be defensive of those accused rather than to be supportive of the accuser, there has been a shift online by some to not just believe the caller-out, but to ACT on that belief immediately and without question.

Abusers are often skilled manipulators and will sometimes reverse the story and list things they've done as actions of their target. This can lead to immediate blocking of the accused, sharing of the manipulator's callout, and other consequences that would be perfectly justified had they been based on a true account. At a societal level, we tend to believe the first account of events we hear, which means it's even harder for the true victim to clear their name if the abuser begins to publicize first. Abusers know this; beware the immediate "my sides."

Survivors often feel deep shame and guilt, especially if they were not a "perfect victim," that is, a victim who might have heard "you were asking for it because you did/wore/behaved like XYZ," or a victim who chose not to report for whatever reason. Abusers will count on that guilt to keep their victims silent long enough to begin their campaign.

This leads to the survivor being isolated, shamed, and further unable to get the help and support they need to recover.

While this kind of abusive tactic is NOT common, it's a chance that we will not take. Our goal is to minimize harm in the community first and foremost.

It opens not just the original poster, but also the additional contributors to the callout post, to legal ramifications.

Truth is an absolute defense against libel in the United States. In addition, libel and defamation laws in other countries can be much, much stricter with harsh consequences. That said, simply being right or speaking your truth doesn't negate the need to pay legal fees or travel to court in order to defend yourself from a lawsuit.

There is a current suit against a small podcast by an alleged abuser. They published a publicly available police report. The plaintiff has already lost the suit once. However, he's appealing. He'll likely lose again. But it doesn't matter—his targets are nearly bankrupt.

When #TimesUp began to trend, a woman named Moira Donegan opened a Google spreadsheet to crowdsource allegations against men in journalism, entitled "Shitty Media Men." The document was only open for about twelve hours. When attempts to dox the creator began, she came forward to avoid any unrelated parties from being hurt. This led to her being sued by a man who had been posted on the list not just for monetary damages, but in order to publicize the identity of every person who used this list. While Google has said they will not turn over the identity of the users, they may be court-ordered to do so.

It is important to note that, while a few of the men listed faced internal investigations at their workplace, none of them have been charged with a crime at the present date.

There's a lack of accountability for posters who curate lists of "problematic people."

Journalists have always had a responsibility to confirm allegations with trusted sources before publishing, and there are often severe consequences for thsoe who fail to do so. With the advent of social media, and the ability of anyone to share their thoughts with a worldwide audience, misinformation has run rampant to manipulate public discourse.

A curator can also pick and choose what accounts are "valid" and worthy of publishing, as well as fail to update or remove ones that are proven baseless. A person who committed a violent assault may be listed right beside someone who argued over fandom matters—and users might not read further than the names, even if details are published as well, to judge for themselves. Even if they are later removed, the damage has already been done, as that association is there.

We've seen this many multiple times in fandom in recent years, but the most salient example may be what occurred in the Voltron fandom. (We will not link to any part of the anecdote for reasons we literally just told you but some quick google searches will illustrate the gist of this example.) Anyone can decide what's "problematic," what's "discourse" (which used to mean "written or spoken communication or debate," but now means something akin to "an opinion I don't like within the fandom, often launching an attack on the other party"), and what is black-and-white morally "wrong," all without doing research or being held accountable for their opinion. The curator may also be a minor (masquerading as someone older) who isn't mature enough to understand the full responsibility and consequences of their actions.

While sites like Twitter and Facebook have policies that (supposedly) remove harmful content, personal websites and publicly accessible spreadsheets do not. And by the time anyone might be able to find a violation of the TOS agreement, copies have probably already been made and spread around.

But even worse than being unaccountable, the people who make callouts are missing the most vital factor of all.

A callout post does not create actual change.

Even if a callout post makes its OP feel more in control of what happened to them, it is at best a well-intentioned warning, and at worst an abuse in itself. Callout posts create echo chambers of people who want to join either side of what the OP establishes as the problem. The focus is taken away from OP's problem and put on "who's right."

If you're looking to create or repost a callout post, you must ask yourself three questions as objectively as possible:

  • Is it kind? (To yourself and the community, not necessarily the subject of the post.)
  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it true?

Then ask yourself: What am I doing for the people around me by perpetuating posts that only say "X is bad?" How does sharing "X is bad" influence someone younger than me? What could I do if I shifted that energy into, "if X is bad, how did that happen? What can I do to make sure that never happens again? What can I do to help the victim(s) of X?"

You need, and we need you, to be the change you want to see in this community. Act responsibly. Act thoughtfully. Act helpfully.

Tl;dr: We will not participate in being a vehicle for harassment, stalking, abuse, or assault. That extends from not supporting the phrase "cosplay is not consent" to not sharing these callouts.

-Feytaline & Trickssi

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