Perspectives and Retrospectives: Vol. 3

The following piece is gtz’s thoughts on the first year of FUoS. Series introduction here.

I’ll get this part out of the way at the start: Thank you to Jaspir, likeOMGitsFEDAY and inklesspen for all their hard work. Thank you to our friends who have supported and helped us bring specific aspects of this project to life, whether through advice, camera work, image editing, etc. As continued thanks for his artistic help in bringing to life one of our more twisted entries, I’m using this space to encourage you to support my friend in his funding efforts for his next indie game, Daemonicon. His previous work was Out Of Hell, a (free!) gorgeously-detailed total-conversion zombie mod for UT2K4 that he did pretty much by himself. His talent and dedication in putting out a product loved by many are proven. Support, share, tell your friends!

I write the posts with a deliberate voice. It’s a character; an imaginary friend who sees the world with rose-coloured glasses. If you’ve submitted something and we never posted it, there’s a decent chance that it’s because I failed to find the ‘correct’ light-hearted style. We’ve had great success and received a lot of support by sticking with laughter and mockery; straying too far from that into biting sarcastic taunts is something I wish to avoid. So my apologies to those of you who sent without seeing the resulting posts. Those un-posted emails are my own personal failblog.

Even when I am literally sitting here (with my laptop at my dining table — pretty much been in the kitchen for years now), bouncing joke ideas off of friends and family to “find the angle,” it’s not me. I direct, I point, I put up blockades against some of the really venomous, raunchy and scathing ideas, but the final result does not feel like mine. I do not feel true ownership over what is posted. Occasionally I’ve looked through the archives to insert links to similar posts and I get a little flabbergasted. I was searching through Jeepers Creepers for some random boob reference I vaguely remembered and was struck with “Wow, there’s a LOT of shit on this site.” That was a strange moment for me and a crystallization of the disconnect I feel to the project entity.

We’ve done several interviews over email and Skype. I once got up at 5am on a freakin’ Wednesday to do a phone interview for a Swedish national radio program. I wrote an article that was published online and in print about FUoS and the reactions it received. We worked our asses off for several weeks in preparation for our PAX Prime panel. I am literally the only human being shown in the 1950s educational parody video. That wet-set pin-curl hairstyle took about 3-4 hours of active work every time I did it, not including sleeping overnight on a scalp full of bobby pins. Seriously, how early in the morning did 1950s housewives wake up?!

We’ve received letters from parents expressing gratitude for the “work” we do and their thoughts on how it affects their childrens’ lives. I pretty much didn’t know what to do with myself when one of those parents came up to us after the panel and told us how much her son wanted to make sure he attended because of all the harassment he sees online. We get “thought this might interest you” emails from people linking us to various gaming, gender, and harassment-related issues that have popped up online. All over forums and blogs and Twitter people are expressing relief at not feeling alone in harassment. We’ve gotten several submissions that are just stories that someone just needed to tell another person. I watch our traffic and Twitter keywords all the time and have seen people (after emailing us) express how cathartic it is just to tell someone about their experience. (I see this reaction as a side-effect of the problems with the standard “Don’t Feed The Trolls” silencing advice, as expanded upon at my personal blog.)

You tell me how the fuck I, me, the person writing faux-innuendo jokes, am supposed to feel ownership in creating any of those realities. It’s too big. I cannot physically contain it; I refuse to try. A lot of people have seen the site and it has touched them in some largely positive way. I’m afraid that if I truly think about it beyond just numbers in our analytics I’ll just start crying and never stop.

Pride? Sort-of. More like a brain-protecting version of, “Hey yeah it’s cool that other people like it.” Protectiveness? Yes. Ownership? No.

Incidentally, very close to FUoS’ first birthday, I finally received my own harassing message. Haven’t posted it yet. You know what I felt? Glee. I giggled, I grinned, and I had a good laugh when I read the stupidity on my TV. I had read some people saying that they didn’t hate their inboxes anymore; the same messages now had the exact opposite effect. For the first time, I shared in at least part of that feeling.

Kinship? Yes.

A couple weeks ago, FUoS had another first: a request from someone to have their harassing messages taken off of the site. This person had Googled their own username, and lo and behold, all the results came up with FAT UGLY OR SLUTTY DOT COM. We’ve had folks “featured” on the site show up in comments and defend their actions, or deliberately try and incite some flamewars in the post’s comments. But this was new. This was the first time someone actually had expressed a modicum of regret after seeing it on FUoS. You can argue about what “power” this project should or should not have, but that doesn’t really get to the actual problem we faced: the power is already there. What do you do with it?

Subject: Uh hey
Im [username] and i googled my [username] and i saw that i was in [category] can you remove that its dumb and immature im only 16 when i made that to sum chick cause i was bored and id like to not be reped in that way could you please take it down.? i learned my lesson dont be a jackass on internet things

You know what? Okay. We’re a bunch of random people who started a joke site and probably couldn’t tell you precisely what’s going on here. But there’s something, something, in this email that says he gets it, even just a little bit, and I believe it. Maybe it’s not actually in the words he wrote. Maybe if you got that email it wouldn’t be enough. But it’s enough for me. The post with the original messages will remain on-site, and all references to his username have been removed.

We’re not robots, and we’re kind of feeling our way around this thing. I’m serious about that. A lot of this is gut feeling and that’s partly why I wanted us to do this series. A long time ago I posted something that was two messages, where the second one included an apology because the person was just mad and took it out on our submitter. This email, for some reason, makes me look at that old post differently, and I can’t think of a good reason why my gut says the above person’s username has to stay there but this one gets removed. I couldn’t tell you what I felt back then, but it feels different now. So, I’ve removed that username as well. (Not that I think that other user will care or even know; FUoS doesn’t flood their Google search results in the same way.) It will take a while for the Google cache to clear, but it will.

…Responsibility? Yes. Mistakes? Oh god, for days to come I’m sure.

3 Responses to Perspectives and Retrospectives: Vol. 3

  1. Anonymous says:

    You are my hero.

  2. You guys are totally amazing.  This is such a radically kind thing to do, and part of why FUoS is such a great educational innovation.  Very unlike Hollaback’s emphasis on accountability through publicity.  If you received requests from other people to be anonymized, who were NOT contrite or sorry, would you do it? would it matter if they were “young” (and presumably foolish) or not?

    • Anonymous says:

      Ah, I should have realized someone would get to the heart of it eventually. ;)

      The truth is, I’m not sure. That’s very unsatisfying and uncomfortably vague, but it’s part of that “gut feeling” thing. It feels kind of “case by case” — like, for example, this recent one technically includes an apology to the recipient. But the brush-off message beforehand puts a different spin on it, you know? I had no issues with keeping the name on that one. 

      We’ve had a few people send in some game-related stuff they captured on Facebook, and I haven’t posted them. It feels like there’s a line, probably a blurry one, but a line nonetheless, between a Gamertag and a person’s first and last name. I don’t have a satisfactorily articulated, strong reason why I feel they’re different enough to keep separate. With that said, I swear, some of these people have no concept of how linked some of their full names are to their Gamertags. All sorts of people harassing other gamers are using their same Gamertags as Youtube usernames and whatnot, filling out complete profiles with name, age, and location.

      When the above apology came in, the other three staff members told me what they thought and we came to a consensus pretty quickly. And after writing all that, I realize that when it comes down to it, we still have a LOT of content even if one person gets anonymized. It’s hard to be definitive about it without seeing a specific case, but just like with dick pictures, maybe some things aren’t worth the headache in the name of Perfectly Infallible Policy on a hobby project. Especially a project that plays with that fine line of socially acceptable behaviour that so many people disagree on. Perhaps that means that generally speaking, my own vote would be to just anonymize it and move on.

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