When Social Media CEOs Abet Stalking

[Content Note: Stalking]

Warning! A serious, and not remotely joking note upfront: If you reply to this story, either in the comments here or on Twitter, you may be stalked by a known stalker. Please consider your self-care first and foremost. 

I am a survivor of online stalking.

I don't talk about that much online because when online stalking is one of your triggers, talking about it online feels like hanging out a sign inviting people to hurt you. It'd be like posting a link to my email address, another link to icanhascheezburger, and mentioning off-handedly that I'm triggered by pictures of cats. I wouldn't deserve what happened next, but that doesn't make the fallout any less predictable. I know that simply existing on the internet as a woman means some people will try to cause me harm, so I try to navigate online spaces in ways which don't divulge certain triggers.

Online stalking is serious. It ruins lives. It ends lives. People die from online stalking. It's not a joke or silly or funny or harmless.

An anonymous account on the internet, a person who goes by the name of "ElevatorGate" -- which is in itself a reference to an incident where a prominent female atheist was propositioned in an elevator in a way which made her feel uncomfortable and possibly even unsafe -- has been abusing the social media tool Storify in order to stalk and harass women, especially trans women, online. And Storify has not only failed to take this abuse seriously, but has also chosen to abet his abuse in harmful and egregious ways.

Let me back up. Yesterday I would have breathlessly told you that Storify was a valuable tool for compiling social media information. Twitter activism is powerful and meaningful, but Twitter makes it very difficult to compile lists of tweets (it's a 5-click process, at best, via Twitter). And Twitter also has a 3,200-search-limit on tweets: your 3,201th tweet, as well as every tweet before it, doesn't display in your Twitter account. That means that the only way I can access, for example, my filibuster tweets is via a laborious tweet-compilation process which Storify makes infinitely easier.

That's when people are using it properly. ElevatorGate has been instead using the Storify tool to obsessively compile the tweets of women he is stalking. Not tweets about activism or public events, or the sorts of things Storify is theoretically to be used for, but tweets about their favorite foods, about their daily lives, about their cat pictures. (I'm not going to link to examples of this and further victimize the women involved; suffice to say that I've looked through some of the 6,700+ Storifys in his profile.) He then uses the Storify "email notification" tool to spam the women he stalks with just that little daily notice that, hey, he's watching them. Every tweet they make. And storing those tweets up forever and ever without their consent.

Including tweets which, taken in the aggregate, could be used by anyone online to identify or locate or dox these women. 

Several wonderful activists on Twitter who I follow have been speaking to Storify asking them to ban this user and delete his account. They have noted also that the Storify TOS must be updated to address people who use this valuable tool for stalking purposes. The Storify people have not been unresponsive, but they have (wrongly) seized on the belief that the real problem here is the "email notification" abuse and not the stalking behavior characterizing the compilations of this user. The Storify team alerted one of the activists that they had warned the stalker about his usage of the notification process and limited his ability to send notifications, though not his ability to continue to Storify.

[Note: These tweets shared with the consent of @brassiest, @hubbit, and @colorlessblue.]

@brassiest: Just recieved email from Storify. They have removed EG's ability to send notifications & have given him a warning regarding his usage. @AnaMardoll [replying to @brassiest]: I'm really glad @storify listened. Online harassment is serious.
@hubbit: I worry that his inability to send notifications doesn't stop him from actually storifying, though. @AnaMardoll [replying to @hubbit]: You're right. They need to limit him further, or make a way for users to block being Storied by a user. @hubbit [replying to @AnaMardoll]: Most evolved social platforms have a block function. I'm surprised Storify doesn't have one. @AnaMardoll [replying to @hubbit]: I'm guessing the idea is that lots of people use @Storify to document abusive Twitter behavior (see Caitlin Moran.)
@AnaMardoll: But there needs to be a way to alert @Storify to someone using their tool to harass and a block to be issued.
@AnaMardoll: Whether that should be automated or not, I can't say. I hope that @Storify will use this incident to create a process.
@colorlessblue: but that means he's still able to stalk and the victims just won't be aware. @AnaMardoll [replying to @colorlessblue]: I agree. It's just a start, and they need to go further to prevent online harassment via their tools.

I was feeling really good about what I believed was an example of a social media platform's choice to take concerns about stalking and harassment seriously and respond in a way that meant someone sensibly reviewed the situation, saw that this was clearly not the use-case their service was intended for, and intervened in a sensible manner. I was reasonably confident that disabling ElevatorGate's "notification privileges" was the first step towards banning him, deleting his stalking Storifys, and hopefully modifying the TOS.

But no.

[Note: These tweets shared with the consent of @hubbit and @yonmei.]

@hubbit: People who are threatened by elevatorgate: I have the ear of @xdamman, the boss of storify. Anyone care to weight in on this? Examples? @yonmei [replying to @hubbit]: I follow a bunch of people who're getting stalked by ElevatorGate & it's irritating that I can't block him. [@yonmei continues]: It's even more irritating that Storify have opted not to respond to my complaint that I can't block him.
@xdamman [replying to @yonmei]: you can turn off those emails with 1 click. Also we have momentarily blocked email notifications from EG.

Obviously this was the opposite of helpful, for a number of reasons, but I decided to assume that this was just a case of not fully understanding how stalking works and what Xavier Damman was asking of us.

@AnaMardoll [replying to @xdamman]: but we shouldn't have to mute ALL storify emails to avoid one stalker, you see? [@AnaMardoll continues in reply to 2xdamman]: that would be like telling someone to never answer the phone because they have a stalker. [@AnaMardoll continues]: Excessively @Storify-ing someone's tweets to harass them should be against TOS.

That's when he started quoting Voltaire at us, which someone should really add to the list of Official Logical Fallacies, because this is not a Free Speech issue. Storify is a service, not a government entity.

[Note: This tweet shared with the consent of @hubbit.]

@hubbit: It's not the notifications that bother people, its his collation. Not getting the notification is creepy. @xdamman [replying to @hubbit]: can't do anything about that. It's @elevatorgate's right to quote public statements

Link points to a Voltaire quote at Brainyquote

And that tweet with the Voltaire quote? That is when it happened. Xavier Damman, who has 21,000+ tweets on his account, is the CEO of a social media company, and is specifically the CEO of a social media company that interfaces closely with Twitter and understands its internal workings, decided that using the term "ElevatorGate" (which is a very common term on Twitter, since it was a very well-known incident) wasn't appropriate for this conversation, and instead switched to using "@elevatorgate" which meant that the tweet was sent straight into ElevatorGate's mentions.

That meant that every name in the tweet went straight to ElevatorGate's twitter page. It meant that ElevatorGate was directly made aware that he needed to click over to Xavier Damman's twitter profile to see who Xavier was tweeting to at that moment about stalking concerns. It meant that when ElevatorGate clicked over to Xavier Damman's profile, he could instantly see on a single page every user Xavier Damman had tweeted at regarding stalking concerns in his last 3,200 tweets. It meant that anyone searching for "@elevatorgate" on Twitter -- including ElevatorGate himself and his followers who immediately pounced on the mention -- was given our names and notice of the conversation. It meant that Xavier Damman sent an engraved list of People Concerned About Online Stalking to a Known Stalker that his company claimed to have already "warned" about stalking behavior.

[Note: These tweets shared with the consent of @yonmei.]

@yonmei [replying to @xdamman]: So, you've just made sure that creepy stalker guy is aware of this conversation? THANKS. @AnaMardoll [replying to @yonmei]: .@Storify and @Storifyhelp, are you okay with @xdamman making a stalker you warned aware of who is complaining about him?

Literally within minutes of Xavier Damman's choice to tweet at ElevatorGate, I received a Storify notification that he was compiling my tweets (and that's just one of multiple storifys he made of me), along with the tweets of multiple other people who follow me and/or were participating in the conversation with Xavier Damman. Then more notifications from other Storify users who follow ElevatorGate, men calling me a "narcissist" and a "permavictim" for being angry that a powerful man deflected criticism by sending the names of his critics to a person he knows to be a confirmed stalker.

Those men filled up my Twitter mentions too, explaining to me that online stalking is no big deal, explaining to me that my lived experiences with online stalking are so much nonsense. I even got a LOLCAT picture apparently created especially for me! [Caption: Picture of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka saying "Fascinating. Tell me more about how someone retweeting something you wrote triggered your self-diagnosed PTSD."]

I can block abusers on Twitter from contacting me (and ironically I had just this morning cleaned out my blocks from the filibuster live-tweeting! Wheee!), but the only way I can block notifications from stalkers on Storify -- notifications, I will add, which don't just tell me I've been Storifyed, but also send the post title to me, which, yeah, there's no way to put something triggering in a post title, is there? -- is to turn off notifications (a big part of the Storify social media experience) and to essentially never use Storify again. That's the solution I feel is being offered us: 'Don't want to get stalker-grams from Storify? Don't use Storify! Turn off all the notifications and walk away!' That's a paraphrase and not a direct quote, but it's how I feel I am being treated.

@AnaMardoll: .@xdamman, I am waiting for action from you on telling the known stalker my name. @xdamman [replying to @AnaMardoll]: I didn't give your name to anyone. Your profile and tweets are public. Anyone can find them.

Xavier Damman isn't some newbie to social media who doesn't know how mentions work on Twitter. With 21,000+ tweets, he has 3,000 more tweets than @Shakestweetz. I, practically a Twitter neophyte compared to some, know how mentions work with less than 9,000 tweets under my belt. There is no plausible way that Xavier Damman doesn't know that he alerted a stalker to a conversation being taken place about him. There is no plausible way that Xavier Damman doesn't know that he sent a list of people who care about online stalking to a known online stalker.

And while I can maybe, maybe, believe that Xavier Damman just didn't think about what he was doing when he did it -- because, hey, privilege-blinkers are real -- I cannot believe that Xavier Damman didn't know what he was doing when he dug in his heels and started insisting that he didn't do anything wrong, and conveying with his hastily-followed silence that his company isn't going to do a damn thing about placing me, and dozens of other people, on the radar of a man who they already know to be abusing their service in order to stalk and harass.

Storify and Xavier Damman owe me, and dozens of other people, an apology.

Storify and Xavier Damman owe us a change to their TOS to prohibit stalking behaviors.

Storify and Xavier Damman owe us a statement that they have banned ElevatorGate and taken down his storifys.

Meanwhile I'll be over here, explaining to my family, my friends, and my follows that I have a new stalker now and that they might all want to disassociate from me for their own safety -- and that no matter what Storify or Xavier Damman do, they can't protect me from the person they set on me, whether that act was careless or deliberate. What a terrible, horrible place for me to be in, to have to tell the people I love that being my friend might cause them to be harmed.

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