Periscope! End the Misogyny!

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Periscope Misogyny #

When I wrote Open Bobs and “Block in Every Language” I was trying to make light of what I have increasingly come to realize is a serious misogyny problem on streaming video darling Periscope.

Yes The Internet can have misogynistic tendencies at times. So can RL. But Periscope Misogyny is out of control. On Periscope nearly every woman who broadcasts gets harassed to some degree.

Periscope Misogyny: Screen cap of a Periscope Broadcast by Bree Olson
Bree Olson

Harassing Women #

A Periscoper like Bree Olson might occasionally fly off the handle and scream at her oppressors. Nicole Arbour goes another route and tries to make fun of them. Meredith Anderson takes the adult route and simply informs viewers of the civil behavior she insists on. Rage, humor, responsibility. Olson, Arbour & Anderson each take different approaches to the harassment that essentially every female on Periscope receives. Different as their strategies are, in a way they’re all saying the same thing that the Joseph Merrick character said in the climactic scene in David Lynch’s 1980 film The Elephant Man:

I am a human being.

That should mean something. Too often in the life of Joseph Merrick it didn’t. And if you’re a female broadcaster on Periscope, it doesn’t.

Unlike Merrick, Olson, Arbour & Anderson are not deformed, but instead are ideals of Western beauty standards. In spite of their beauty, or perhaps because of it, Olson, Arbour & Anderson, like so many women on Periscope, must grapple with daily harassment.

Periscope is a toxic platform for women.

Does Periscope promote harassment? #

I’ve only used Blab a little, and I haven’t tried Meerkat yet, but from what I’ve seen and heard, neither Blab nor Meerkat has anything like the misogyny on Periscope. They both seem to be friendly, civil platforms. To be fair, I think Periscope has a lot more users than Meerkat and Blab combined. But does scale alone cause the degeneration of civility? Or is there something about the social space or the UI/UX of Periscope that subtly enables harassment?

Most of what I’ve seen on Periscope is not Doxxing, Death Threats, or Revenge Porn. It’s more “mild” Open Boobs, Open Boobs, Open Boobs! and other insults. But do we have to wait for it to escalate to even worse? And even if it doesn’t escalate, it’s already unacceptable. The other day I saw one user type “FUCK YOU!” over and over and over on @PikeyTime‘s broadcast. She ignored it for a while and eventually blocked him. A few minutes later over on @BreeOlson‘s broadcast I saw the same guy show up and start typing “FUCK YOU!” over and over.

In many ways I think Periscope’s UI is brilliant. The Periscope platform isn’t all that different from a platform like Ustream. Yet by focusing on mobile, by superimposing comments and hearts over the video stream, Periscope has created a simple, elegant, highly engaging user experience. Is there something about this excellent UI that somehow also promotes harassment? Or is it something about viewer identity that’s too fluid for responsibility and accountability? Bree Olson’s been campaigning for the ability to block certain words from comments. Will that end toxic behavior?

League of Legends

The video game industry is notorious for bad, raging, toxic behavior. Many have said that solutions are just impossible. Yet with League of Legends, Riot Games has found ways to make dramatic reductions in bad behavior. Dr. Jeffrey Lin, Lead Social Systems Designer, League of Legends / Riot Games, and his team have instituted a number of community supported and community enforced tools. In League of Legends players can Report bad behavior and also Praise good behavior. And they’ve instituted consequences for bad behavior, like time outs, or loss of access to chat.

On Periscope today only the first 100 viewers and people the broadcaster follows can comment. What if Periscope users accumulated negative Report points, and positive Praise points? Then instead of any 1st 100 viewers gaining access to chat, users with too many Report points wouldn’t be allowed in chat. Users with lots of Praise points might get a fast pass in.

I’m not in any way an expert on these techniques. I defer to Jeffrey Lin, his team, and their wonderful results. But the point is clear: player/user behavior can be shaped. And platforms where bad behavior has no consequences can easily become toxic. Periscope as it exists today is a toxic platform for women.

Please Periscope! End the misogyny!

Vanessa Blaylock's signature
 

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About Vanessa Blaylock

I was the Choreographer at Vanessa Blaylock Dancers and the Artistic Director at Vanessa Blaylock Company. Today my work focuses on Public Art projects. I'm interested in the mediation of perception and mixed reality performance works. I'm passionate about community and civil rights in cyberspace.