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I feel obliged to write something about the recent shake-up to FetLife, which has resulted in (among other things) my decision to stop using the site as a venue for my stories. Let’s start with the informational part first, for those of you unaware of the situation (or, for that matter, unaware of FetLife):
FetLife is a social media site devoted to kink, originally started in 2008 by a man named John Baku who wanted to make it easier for practitioners to find each other. The site allows you to set up a profile which lists your fetishes, so that you can then find others with the same fetish and message each other; it also gives you the ability to start interest groups and plan events. It’s become a staple site for the BDSM community for the same reasons Facebook became such a popular vanilla site–there’s a large audience, and most people find it easier to use the tools that FetLife has to organize their local community than to create their own.
All this came to a head this week when FetLife panicked and pulled a ton of user content. They were facing pressure from their credit card processor and staring down some extremely bad publicity from an Australian rape trial coming up in which the accused apparently a) used FetLife to search for victims, and b) shared details of his crimes on FetLife, which the admins were made aware of repeatedly. As such, they did a keyword search of the site in the wee hours of the morning and deleted a whole bunch of fetishes and groups, without any notice or explanations. These deletions involved not just rape and rape play, but also blood, needles, alcohol, incest, scarification, branding, vampire play, consensual non-consent, and oh yes hypnosis. Basically, they took down anything the credit card companies asked them to take down, along with anything they thought might expose them to further risk of lawsuits and/or criminal charges for aiding and abetting.
They then went into radio silence, bunker mode for a couple of days while everyone got increasingly outraged, before making an insultingly condescending post where they said things like “we can’t give them a reason to vilify us” and “As a community, we need to stop turning a blind eye” (particularly ironic, given that FetLife’s stated policy was to delete posts by victims and ban victims who continued to call out their accusers) and “Maybe I’m just a naive optimist, but I believe this is an opportunity for us to set the bar higher”. The posted ended with a sycophantic ‘FAQ’ with questions in it like, “Is there any way that we, the community, can help you?” and “How are you doing, John?”
Informational part over, editorial part begins here. This last week has really exposed, as far as I’m concerned, what a bunch of incompetent dipshits the site admins really are. After eight years of lurching from one minor crisis to another without ever thinking that maybe they should take steps to limit their financial dependence on kink-hostile financial servicers and hosts (there’s an inadvertently hilarious bit in the FAQ where they say that moving their servers to a kink-friendly country wouldn’t solve the problem because some people in countries with repressive Internet policies wouldn’t be able to access them anyway, which totally misunderstands why you might do such a thing), or that maybe they shouldn’t place their priority on censoring rape victims and protecting rapists (FetLife literally would not expel a member for anything less than a criminal conviction for sexual assault)…they’ve now decided on a carpet-bombing approach to the problem that nukes several communities that practice consensual kink, and insinuated that they were probably bad people anyway and FetLife had to get rid of them for the Greater Good.
I don’t feel like I can trust FetLife anymore. I honestly don’t feel like anyone can trust FetLife anymore; now that they’ve shown that they’re willing to cave under pressure, I imagine that they’ll only see more pressure, not less. They’ve decided that they can make a deal with people opposed to their very existence; the next step will be to alter that deal, reminding them at every step of the way that their increasingly meek and meager existence is the alternative to oblivion. Basically, FetLife is being boiled like a frog, and the water just got warmer.
I’m obviously not a supporter of rape, but a lot of consensual play was tossed under the bus here. Needle play is perfectly safe when performed within basic protocols that the community makes sure to educate people about…or did, until their ability to educate people about safety vanished. Hypnosis is basically just people sitting around and talking. The idea that these are somehow more dangerous and threatening than bondage (which, if performed by an unskilled practitioner can result in loss of circulation to limbs, as long as we’re being needlessly alarmist here) is just a patent lie made to disguise the fact that the site is in financial problems of its own making and needs to suck up to people that it should have made an effort to avoid needing years ago.
At this point, I would like to remind everyone that this is not unconnected to the new Trumpian political climate. There is a strong sense that they will be coming after us–maybe not Trump himself, who probably doesn’t give a fuck what people do in the bedroom with hookers…at least not in Russia…but certainly Pence and his merry crew of Christian Dominionists. But we can’t do what FetLife did. We can’t sacrifice our principles and our community in the interests of making ourselves a smaller target. Because while the nail that stands out farthest gets hammered down first…in the end, if all you have is a hammer, sooner or later everything looks like a nail.