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.
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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.