Today a former colleague of mine said there was a Reddit Ask Me Anything he’d wanted to tell me about this past Saturday. I interrupted him and said, oh yeah, Dr. Charlotte Laws. I couldn’t resist mentioning that this woman famously known as the Erin Brockovich of Revenge Porn who was instrumental in the takedown of Hunter Moore had personally tweeted an invite to me. He then went on to say that he didn’t end up tell me about it because it was so inundated by trolls.
I applaud Dr. Laws for entering that lions den knowing that it would be full of those who felt that she was trying to steal and torture their cubs. It takes chutzpah and courage to do a Reddit IAmA in the first place, not to mention as a person with an unpopular viewpoint as she has with its readership (commentership?) . There is not a single woman in the top 25 IAmA’s of this year. Dr. Laws’ March 15, 2014 IAmA sprung no shortage of traffic with almost 14,000 votes (currently 7080 up, 5821 down) and 2140 comments. Compare that to Leo DiCaprio’s 204 and Ken Burns’ 1542 comments respectively when they did IaMAs (though few outshine the I Am the Guy with two penises with 16863 comments, nsfw).
Dr. Laws’ answers are intelligent, gracious, and patient. It sparked legitimate discourse and education about revenge porn, the meaning of it, the impact that more regulation would have – and not have – on the internet, who should bear the burden of revenge porn (i.e. the victim, the internet provider, the police, the person who posts the revenge porn). The debate continued among Redditors in the comments, with Redditors spread on both sides of the issues and also calling each other out on misogynistic statements aimed at Dr. Laws and the blame that some of the crueler commenters cast at the victims.
After the hour-long Q&A Dr. Laws stayed for an additional 45 minutes and then returned the following day for thirty more. Many Redditors, oblivious that it ended, wrongly claimed she answered only the easy questions and skirted the tricky ones when in actuality 1600 questions/comments were submitted after it was over!
In spite of the fruitful debate, the IAmA was also riddled with personal derisions unrelated to the controversial work Dr. Laws is doing to outlaw revenge porn – calling her a soccer mom, questioning her education and religion, shaming her daughter, calling her a “stupid feminist,” linking to and insulting her personal website and pictures of her daughter. Striking was the amount of emphasis on Dr. Laws’ actually very limited involvement with Jezebel and Gawker (Jezebel and XOJane each published an article). Some of the most maligning commenters seemed to think she worked at Jezebel and included in their comment a line about how they expected Jezebel to publish something criticizing their derision of Dr. Laws and ignoring the Redditors’ legitimate concerns about how Dr. Laws is basically trying to steal the internet and first amendment. It’s striking how the commentary on the more crass end of the Reddit spectrum now also contains that self-consciousness, possibly a gleeful one, hopeful that indeed Jezebel will publish responsively. The harsh anti-Jezebel mentality, really irrelevant in the context, was pretty alarming.
All of this is happening right now as women writers are talking more and more about the gendered harassment and stalking they are experiencing on and offline, with Amanda Hess’ article for the Pacific Standard entitled “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet” drawing particular attention to the issue. No doubt the problems impacting (but not ruining) Dr. Laws’ IAmA – the sexualized insults, the resentment of her vocalized and empowered position, voiced hatred over websites that do respect women – are issues shared by many women who are powerful online. Tonight I expect this conversation to continue at the New America Foundation where a brain trust of women will be talking about “Why Women Aren’t Welcome Online.” Participants in the discussion are Amanda Hess, Danielle Keats Citron, Lee Rowland, and Maria Streshinsky.