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May 18, 2011

The Brocial Network proves just why we need Slutwalk

A new Facebook group called the Brocial Network are posting photos of partially-dressed women without their consent. Just because women post scantily clad pictures of themselves on Facebook does not mean they consent to being sexually objectified or harassed.

Mel Campbell — Freelance journalist and critic

Mel Campbell

Freelance journalist and critic

This morning, La Trobe University journalism student Kara Irving broke a story in The Age (awesome scoop, Kara!) about a private, men’s only Facebook group calling itself the “Brocial Network”.

Irving writes that the group, which had more than 8000 members at the time of writing (including several AFL players, trumpeted the Herald Sun in its lame catch-up story), contains “hundreds of images of women in bikinis and lingerie, obtained from the personal Facebook photo albums of the members’ female friends.”

The group is alleged to have been founded two weeks ago by someone styling himself as “King Brocial”. It’s run according to a so-called “Brocial Code” that requires members to comb their female friends’ online photos for images that “reveal a little too much”. Failure to do so within a week of joining the group is grounds for expulsion.

Members also post the women’s names and links to their social media presences. One woman interviewed by Irving says she has been inundated with friend requests from men she doesn’t know.

The Brocial Network reminds me of the online community of ‘pick-up artists’ documented in Neil Strauss’s book The Game (and might actually be inspired by these kinds of groups). It’s vehemently homosocial (NO CHICKS ALLOWED), has its own argot (basically, putting “bro” in front of ordinary words) and builds its identity on dehumanising women, seeing them as objects to stare at and prizes to be chased.

This is still a developing story; at the time of writing, media organisations were falling over themselves to find and interview women whose photos might have been uploaded to the group. But much of the early commentary has already started to fall into that tiresome old rhetoric: “Women shouldn’t post revealing pictures of themselves on Facebook! Don’t they realise it’s a public forum? We need to teach young people about how to guard their privacy…” and so on.

Sure, we all need to guard our privacy. But the problem here isn’t women uploading ‘slutty’ pics or ‘not knowing’ how Facebook’s privacy works. It’s the way the Brocial Network encourages its members to violate their friends’ trust through the deliberate, malicious circumvention of Facebook’s privacy mechanisms.

Facebook’s privacy settings can be quite tightly and specifically limited. Users can control which aspects of their profiles are visible to the general public, to other Facebook users, to “friends of friends” and to users they’ve approved as friends. Even within their cohort of Facebook friends, users can employ lists to segment which people can see or comment on their photos. This can even be done on a photo-by-photo basis.

The trouble is that none of these privacy settings mitigate against a trusted friend simply downloading a photo to his own computer and uploading it to Facebook again, completely stripped of context. An innocent snapshot from that fun costume party or beach holiday can suddenly become “revealing”.

”It makes me feel sick that people would go to the effort of taking [uploading] the picture and posting it up,” Tillii, 21, told The Age. ”I just thought [the picture] would be taken as fun, not as the way that they’ve turned it around.”

And ironically, the Brocial Network is sheltered by Facebook’s privacy settings. It doesn’t show up in searches, strictly controls membership, and hides from attention by Facebook’s administrators by deleting any images that might be flagged as objectionable. (This, alone, suggests the group recognises on some level that its activities are wrong.)

While the group’s targets can be easily scrutinised, it’s much more difficult for the women to discover if their photos are in the group, and which of their friends had betrayed them.

Many observers might think a more ‘sensible’ way to handle the emergence of groups such as the Brocial Network is not to take potentially compromising photographs, and certainly not to put them online. But people should never be forced to modify their behaviour to indulge those who refuse to respect them, and it’s equally abhorrent to couch this coercion in patronising terms including ‘sensible’, ‘careful’ and ‘prudent’.

This might be tough for the slut-shaming brigade to believe, but when women post scantily clad pictures of themselves on Facebook, they do not consent to being sexually objectified or harassed. Rather, the blame and responsibility should fall on the shoulders of the person doing the objectification or harassment.

The sad fact is that this doesn’t happen. Women remain morally accountable in a way men just do not. Yet even when women organise a public protest against a culture of victim-blaming, they’re patronisingly told what’s really what by Crikey‘s Guy Rundle.

Rundle was around before the internet, you see, so he knows what a real feminist protest is like and, well, Slutwalk isn’t it. He doesn’t even have the decency to settle on a particular tack to undermine the event. Instead, he offers an absurd grab-bag of far-fetched claims and speculations, salted with his sentimental 25-year-old memories.

That contemporary feminism’s politics aren’t radical enough for Rundle certainly doesn’t mean we are in a ‘post-feminist’ or ‘post-political’ era. As long as groups such as the Brocial Network are allowed to operate with impunity — waiting on a student journalist to show them to the whole damn Australian media — we need to reinforce that violation of trust isn’t only a slut’s problem.

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43 comments

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43 thoughts on “The Brocial Network proves just why we need Slutwalk

  1. Edward Thompson

    Broseidon lord of the brocean.

  2. Edward Thompson

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/bro-youre-a-god-among-bros,11333/ (circa 2007) facebook, recycling old internet memes for bogans and the mainstream media ad nauseum.

  3. Son of foro

    The Brocial Network are morons. People need to be aware of the risks involved with pictures they put on Facebook.

    The two statements aren’t mutually exclusive and in fact it is dangerous to leave out the second statement.

  4. mikeb

    No problems with the intent of this piece but have a problem with this comment “much of the early commentary has already started to fall into that tiresome old rhetoric: “Women shouldn’t post revealing pictures of themselves on Facebook! Don’t they realise it’s a public forum? We need to teach young people about how to guard their privacy…”

    Why is this tired old rhetoric? This is something that needs to be drummed in and drummed in until it becomes second nature to NOT put anything on the internet that you would not want to be seen publically. I have three daughters that I know have done “stupid” things & I know that the vast majority of their “friends” on facebook are not real friends at all. I have impressed on them that the “stupid” things they have done might be highly amusing now but some time down the track could end up biting them on the proverbial. It is pretty standard practice for employers to check social networking sites for potential info on prospective employees. Would you want that picture of you holding the stubby of corona between your bo*bs to be the difference between landing the job & not? Just don’t do it!

  5. abarker

    At a former employer, I worked with a guy who was as nice as pie to the women in the office. Always sounded interested when he talked to them and asked how their weekends were, and, when the conversation finished and they walked away he would make thrusting motions at his desk, turn around and make ‘funbag’ motions with his hands and generally let everyone around him know how attractive he thought they were.

    He was one person to their face, and another behind their back. He was a bit immature to be sure, but I wonder how many other guys are out there who have done exactly the same thing here to females who are ‘friends’?

    I generallyagree that, in the words of Jerry Stiller, “Don’t hang the meat in the window if it’s not for sale”, but there’s looking, admiring, and then running off to your mates with photos in hand saying ‘Look at the calibre of women I have around me!’

    It’s all a bit sad really.

  6. Luke Buckmaster

    If you’re going to mention a gripe against Guy Rundle — and that’s totally fair enough, if that’s your passion — I thought it would be better if you could provide a direct quote or two from his story so that people like me could properly understand what motivated you to get out the knives. Rundle’s piece wrapped a personal/historical context around the Slutwalk movement, which I appreciated. Your criticism looks a little weirdly out of place and perhaps better suited to be a story in our comments section (which I would love to read).

    Writing lines like “Rundle was around before the internet, you see” tends to remove fairly rapidly any moral or intellectually higher ground. I’m not coming from a Rundle apologist perspective; I’m coming from the perspective of a fellow feminist who is genuinely interested in what was so insulting about his piece because, I’m sorry, I didn’t pick up on it. What I did pick up on was words-as-weapons on Twitter used afterwards (not by you) to describe him such as “white man,” used repeatedly, as if writing about feminism should be exclusively reserved for women. I sincerely hope that is not what his detractors think, just as I hope on subjects like this that criticism can be focused on content rather than age or gender.

  7. Captain Planet

    As per Son of Foro’s comments.

    So, they’re a bunch of pricks. Anyone with an ounce of morality can see that and only a sociopath would disagree.

    Well, wake up call time. The world is full of nasty people.

    Yes, the blame for this sordid exploitation lies with the perpetrator, not the victim.

    However, stepping aside from blame, there is an obligation on everyone to take a realistic, self – preservation approach to internet privacy.

    Never post anything online which you do not want shared with the entire world in the worst possible way.

    And please don’t complain about how you should be able to post scantily clad pictures of yourself without them being abused, and without being objectified. This is the real world where nasty people exist and YOU are responsible for your safety.

    Imagine this.

    I walk into a cafe in the CBD and after my meal I stand at the counter to pay. Looking for a $20 note I spread my collection of eleven $100 notes on the counter. Damn, there is not a $20 amongst them, and the cashier tells me they can’t make change for a $100.

    So I walk out the door to go to the ATM and leave all my money on the counter.

    Then I come back 20 minutes later to find my money is gone! GONE! The cashier says he turned his back because he had customers to serve! I can’t believe that anyone could be so heartless as to intentionally ROB me! It’s WRONG! And everybody in the cafe is trying to blame ME! As if it’s MY fault! I should be able to leave any amount of money anywhere I like without fear of being victimised! The blame lies with the criminal, not me! I demand the right to leave my money lying around wherever I like, and I demand that society educate thieves not to steal instead of trying to insinuate that it’s MY fault when I’m the innocent victim!!!!

    Yes, of course there are issues of betrayal of trust by “friends” with the Brocial network situation, which are not present in my hastily cobbled together analogy.

    The point is that it’s a nasty world out there. You don’t have to like it. You can try your best to change it. You can agitate and activate and educate and protest.

    At the end of the day, the world is full of nasty people, and the only way to avoid being victimised is to be careful to keep yourself safe by not giving people the opportunity to victimise you.

    I don’t have any half naked photographs of myself on the internet. If some less than appealing picture of me is misused, and I put it out on the great world wide web in the first place, well I’m not going to be happy, but I will also acknowledge that it could have been prevented by me being cautious enough to not put the picture out there in the public domain in the first place.

    To make myself clear: the obvious (and contemptible) denigration of women that is being undertaken in this Brocial business, is disgusting, and symptomatic of major problems in our society with respect to the objectification and devaluing of women. No contest there. But to take this argument to the extreme that suggests that women (or men) should be able to post anything they like on electronic media, and somehow disregard the potential for misuse, is either naive in the extreme or a huge exercise in wishful thinking.

  8. Richard Murphy

    I second Luke B’s comments re the Rundle gripe in what is definitely tar baby territory.

  9. nicolino

    I second Captain Planet. We’re awash with this “victim” attitude and good old common sense has long fled the room.
    If you’re gullible enough to use social networking to reveal your inner self then expect everyone on the net to be aware of it. It’s called native intelligence 101.

  10. catfish

    From one of the linked articles:

    “University of Melbourne public policy lecturer Dr Lauren Rosewarne said: “Any website that has images of women posted, asking men to rate them, is revolting. There’s no excuse.”

    If I am not mistaken facebook was founded with this very idea of rating females in mind.

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