A talk with Fark founder Drew Curtis about ending misogyny on his site

plastic bin full of creepy barbies

How one of the Web’s first weird-news hubs is making a cultural shift.

2014 has been the year of commenter crisis. Almost every media site is wrestling with questions of how to police pseudonymous readers inclined to say (and be) the worst. 

Jezebel, inundated with harrowing rape GIFs, agitated for a change from parent company Gawker Media. Twitter pledged to improve its policies after Zelda Williams was chased offline by trolls following the suicide of her father, Robin Williams. Now, old-school weird-news aggregator Fark has announced that it will try to stamp out misogynist commentary

“We’ve actually been tightening up moderation style along these lines for awhile now,” wrote Fark founder and administrator Drew Curtis, “but as of today, the FArQ will be updated with new rules reminding you all that we don’t want to be the He Man Woman Hater’s Club. This represents enough of a departure from pretty much how every other large internet community operates that I figure an announcement is necessary.”

There are lots of examples of highly misogynistic language in pop culture, and Fark has used those plenty over the years. From SNL‘s “Jane, you ignorant slut” to Blazing Saddles’ multiple casual references to rape, there are a lot of instances where views are made extreme to parody them. On Fark, we have a tendency to use pop culture references as a type of referential shorthand with one another.

On SNL and in a comedy movie, though, the context is clear. On the Internet, it’s impossible to know the difference between a person with hateful views and a person lampooning hateful views to make a point. The mods try to be reasonable, and context often matters. We will try and determine what you meant, but that’s not always a pass. If your post can be taken one of two ways, and one of those ways can be interpreted as misogynistic, the mods may delete it—even if that wasn’t your intent.

“We were discussing whether it would be a good idea for a couple of years now,” Curtis said of the decision in an email to the Daily Dot. “It wasn’t a problem with the community as a whole, but inaction was allowing things to trend in a YouTube-like direction. We knew we didn’t want to go there so we decided to do something about it.” Moreover, misogyny cuts readership: “I didn’t want Fark to become a place women wouldn’t go. And some wouldn’t.” 

Happily, the move drew praise, both on Curtis’s thread and from the wider infosphere:

Most of the openly disappointed Fark commenters made sure to indicate that they aren’t themselves misogynist, but enjoy a broad smear of ironic sexism—it’s just so much cuter that way. “I’m not sexist. Sexism is wrong, and being wrong is for women,” read one image macro reply. “OK you mean like misogyny or misogyny misogyny,” asked another poster, adding that “someone had to say it.” A third reader admitted that the 88 percent male Fark community “had a lot more MRA’s than I had previously suspected.”

Of course, Fark already has some extensive community guidelines designed to keep conversation relevant, safe for workplaces, and free of hate speech, and it falls to the moderators to police these elements appropriately. Asked if any consensus on the anti-misogyny front has emerged, Curtis suggested casting a wide net: “If you can’t tell, then delete the comment anyhow. This isn’t capital punishment, it’s an Internet message board. A comment deleted as a false positive doesn’t diminish the world much if at at all.”

Shoot first and don’t ask questions later? It’s the only thing trolls understand.

Photo by Allan Ferguson/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Miles Klee

Miles Klee

Miles Klee is a novelist and web culture reporter. The former editor of the Daily Dot’s Unclick section, Klee’s essays, satire, and fiction have appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, Vanity Fair, 3:AM, Salon, the Awl, the New York Observer, the Millions,  and the Village Voice. He's the author of two odd books of fiction, 'Ivyland' and 'True False.'