I do not consent to #SamaritansRadar

Content note: this post makes reference to mental ill health and suicide

This is a note to everyone who follows me on Twitter, as well as anyone who might be thinking about installing the #SamaritansRadar app, as well as the Samaritans themselves. I do not consent to you using it. Please don’t install it. And if you want to use it, please unfollow me.

 I understand the ethos behind the app, and I think ultimately it’s a good one. It’s just been executed absolutely horribly. What the app does is allow people to monitor you, without your consent, to receive a notification if you tweet certain keywords which might flag up you’re low. This sounds all right in theory, until you realise that not everyone is going to be operating from a position of good faith, not everybody will be keeping an eye on you because they care about you and want you to be all right. Trolling is rife. Trolls like telling suicidal people to kill themselves, and like to attack people at their weakest. What the Samaritans Radar app does is make this far, far easier. No longer do they need to take the time and effort to timeline-stalk, to scroll through every one of your tweets to find an opportunity to pounce. The Samaritans have unwittingly automated the process, giving a handy notification when one of their victims is down.

What I’ve always loved about the Samaritans is they are 100% there for people in times of need. When you’re in the position where you just have to talk to somebody, they’re always there, at the end of the phone, ready to talk to you. It is centred on the person who needs them, and on that person’s terms. The Radar app is quite the opposite of this. This is sad, because it could so easily work the other way around. Why not set it on the person’s terms? If somebody feels like they need others to keep an eye out for them, let them install an app which will notify others–perhaps selected trusted contacts–that they might need a kind word, a reminder that they’re loved and appreciated and they’re a good person.

As I said, I understand the ethos. Sometimes we find it hard to ask for help, and when you’re in crisis you might feel alone. But others monitoring you without your consent isn’t the way forward. I’ve included links at the bottom of this post which explain, from all angles, why this app is a very bad thing.

But please, please, if you use the app, don’t monitor me. I do not consent. I’d like to see the app pulled, and I will donate money to the Samaritans if they do so, because I believe in the work they do, and I also believe there are better solutions to this problem that they could put the money towards. At the moment, I can’t in good conscience give money towards funding an app which I believe to be fundamentally flawed and could further abuse of mentally ill people. I truly hope the Samaritans do what they do best, and listen.

Further reading:

On “Samaritans Radar” (yetanotherlefty)
Email to Samaritans about Radar (Queer Blue Water)
The Samaritans and the Panopticon Society (hundhaus)
Samaritans Radar and Twitter’s Public Problem (a latent existence)

UPDATE: 30/10/14 The Samaritans have announced you can opt out of the app. Unfortunately, the only way to do that is by sending them a direct message on Twitter. And you can only send them a DM if they’re following you. So that’s about as much use as a chocolate strap-on.

UPDATE 2 (30 mins later) I have publicly said I will volunteer to work with the Samaritans to avoid problems like this again. I feel it’s relevant to attach my commitment to this post. Tweets here 1 2 3

UPDATE 3 (~6pm) Some people have been using this workaround to DM the Samaritans. I’ve tried it, and it hasn’t worked yet; I’ll update again if it does.

UPDATE 4 (6.42pm) The workaround works, use it if you want to opt out. I do believe this should be an opt-in rather than opt-out system, though.

UPDATE 5 (05/11/14) The Samaritans have responded to data protection challenges to the app, saying they have no control over the data. However, this has already been questioned, and there may be a precedent for the Samaritans being data controller. Even if it is 100% above board, it doesn’t make it in any way desirable.

UPDATE 6 (07/11/14) Samaritans Radar has been suspended. They will be looking into changes to the app.

Things I read this fortnight that I found interesting

Oh yes, it’s that time of the week again. Here’s some things I read this fortnight that I found interesting.

Dale Farm: an eviction anniversary (Ellen Yianni)- Ellen reflects on the ethnic cleansing at Dale Farm.

8 Heartbreaking Cases Where Land Was Stolen From Black Americans Through Racism, Violence and Murder (A Moore)- Upsetting piece, but it’s history that should be known.

“London – a migrant’s guide” (North London SolFed)- A really useful pamphlet, please share and signal boost.

How To Avoid Wearing A Racist Halloween Costume: A Simple Guide For White People (Mikki Kendall)- I have high expectations of my readers, so I’m sure none of you would do this, but send this to your racist mates anyway.

Fictional Characters Whose Lives Would Have Been Vastly Improved By An Abortion (Mallory Ortberg)- Tongue in cheek, but makes the point well.

The Problem With Ched Evans Returning To Football (Jude Wanga)- Jude says important shit that shouldn’t need saying.

IT HAPPENED TO ME: I’ve Been Forced Out Of My Home And Am Living In Constant Fear Because Of Relentless Death Threats From Gamergate (Brianna Wu)- A horrid personal account of what those horrible misogynists are really about.

No Thanks, Cupid: “Can overweight people still be sexy?” (That Pesky Feminist)- Excellent deconstruction of so-called preferred body types.

Sometimes, I Just Don’t Have Time for Individual Fights (s. e. smith)- On disengaging.

5 Practical Ways To Help Someone With Depression (bisociations)- A very useful guide.

Dear Sex Ed Textbook (Robot Hugs)- Comic on the state of sex education for people with vaginas, vulvas and uteruses.

A racial fetish (Confessions of a drag queen)- On white beauty standards and how race is fetishised.

Nude portraits (Utah Photojournalist)- Really sweet collection of portraits where the photographer is nude, but the subject is clothed.

As a special treat, I have three And Finally items for you to enjoy, so you’ll probably find something you like. Here’s an amazing guide to the internet from the 90s. Here’s a splendid Nicolas Cage sofa. And last but not least, the best pumpkin ever carved.

Easy targets.

Content note: this post discusses abusive relationships and mental health problems

Recently, I have come to understand that I am an easy target for abusers; that there are some thinks about me that make me ripe for victimisation at the hands of some shitty people. Really, it boils down to two things which are kind of about me.

Firstly, I’m an easy person to not believe. I don’t follow the generally-accepted survivor script. I just don’t fit the bill. I’m aware I’m not exactly likeable–obnoxious, rude, loud, petty, spiteful, downright fucking appalling company at my worst–but that’s the tip of the iceberg. I react to trauma in a way which isn’t exactly obvious to a lot of people. I lost the ability to find words. I minimise what happened. I act like I’m fine. It’s how I cope. I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to make it a think, I’d rather pretend it was nothing at all. I’m the first to defend my own abusers, because I want to act like it’s no biggie. And also, because of my other issue.

The other thing is, I have a tendency to think the worst of myself. I am riddled with self-doubt and self-hatred pretty much constantly. This makes me very vulnerable to gaslighting. I have found myself thinking I am a perpetrator in some situations, where in fact I have later processed to understand I was the victim. Basically, I think I’m a monster, so it takes very little work to convince me of that. I kind of believe the phrase “psycho bitch” was invented entirely for me. Therefore, anything that happens to me, I think I probably deserved it, or I instigated it somehow and I’m just getting what’s coming. Also, I scare myself. For a very long time, I was scared to even instigate sex, because I thought I would probably be being coercive if I articulated what I wanted. I still sometimes find it difficult to play an active role in sex because a part of me is convinced that what I want is something nobody else would want to share with me.

On an intellectual level I know that none of this is true, that these feelings are all symptomatic of the fact I am a depressive who has been through some shit. I know I’m better than I think I am, and I know I didn’t deserve any of it, and I know it’s just the mental talking. But nonetheless, even with this knowledge, I feel it. And on top of that, I feel guilt that I’m an easy target, that I somehow let this happen to myself, over and over and over again. I think I’m fundamentally broken, that what is “me” is tarnished, and I’ll never do human correctly again. Despite all the evidence, I feel this and it won’t go away. I look at my current relationships–functional, long-term, and happy–and even then I wonder when it will all go wrong.

Last night, I tweeted about all this. Something surprised me: that other people felt this way. I’d never even imagined that, thinking myself singularly fucked-up. So I suppose this post is for all the other easy targets out there, because I can dispense advice far easier than I can take it.

It’s not your fault, it’s theirs.

You’re not the one who’s in the wrong, they are. Your self-critical nature helps you be a better person, but it’s easy to play on.

That’s not your fault, it’s theirs.

You don’t have to speak out, seek accountability, out yourself as a survivor. We lack the nuance to check in, to find out what’s going on with you, to give you the opportunity to speak out.

That’s not you fault, it’s theirs.

You feel guilty, crazy, terrible, unarticulable badfeels.

That’s not your fault, it’s theirs.

Perhaps if we tell ourselves this often enough, it’ll sink in.

#NoBraDay: Oh ffs.

Today, the trending topics on Twitter inform me, is #NoBraDay, a day where women are encouraged not to wear a bra because… breast cancer awareness, or something. You can probably feel me rolling my eyes through the page.

I’ve tried to discern where this meme came from. It doesn’t appear to have originated with any actual breast cancer charities or campaigns. All I can find is that some dude invented it in 2011. And even that article manages to conflate it with an actual breast cancer awareness project, Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day, which falls on the 15th and is marked by breast cancer survivors talking about their experiences and their decisions about reconstruction after mastectomy.

In short, this “awareness day” is full of shit. Everyone enthused by it is just banging on about “setting their tatas free”, and it smacks of how Page 3 in the Sun now runs a “Check ’em Tuesday”, where, by the medium of a topless woman, we are encouraged to check our boobs (I am not sure the Sun got the target audience of this message quite right).

This is a quite common thread in breast cancer campaigns, the line which goes “boobs are great, make sure they stay great, yay boobs”, and it’s a crass one. It’s a classic patriarchal line, the notion that our bodies and our tits are there as sex objects, and nothing more. Forget about health, the message is that breasts are cute and sexy.

So today, do whatever the fuck you like with your norks, as I hope you always do. Go braless, wear a bra, bind them, get surgery… whatever the fuck you want. They’re your boobs, and what you do with them isn’t going to kill someone from cancer.

Things I read this week that I found interesting

Greetings, everyone. I read some things this week and found them interesting. Perhaps you will too.

On sexism, sexual assault and the threat of the ‘non-bro’ (Robyn Pennacchia)- Title says it all, this is a very worthwhile read.

Neither pity nor a fetish (CN Lester)- CN talks to cis partners of trans people.

The Closed Mind of Richard Dawkins (John Gray)- Rather scathing review of Richard “more than just a hat” Dawkins’s latest offering.

7 Things You Learn Surviving an Atomic Blast (Cracked)- Really interesting, sad interview with a Hiroshima survivor.

Marriage Will Never Set Us Free (Dean Spade & Craig Wilse)- A great radical queer critique of gay marriage.

Silencing the Bereaved – On the CPS Sean Rigg Decision (JustinTheLibSoc)- Justin’s becoming a regular fixture on these pages for good reason–he’s bang-on pretty much every time.

The Thug Kitchen Cookbook: Whole Foods Go “Ghetto” (The Academic Abolitionist)- On a really gross product that shouldn’t exist and how it’s tied to white supremacy.

Survivors Aren’t Censoring You. But You Might Be Censoring Them. (Antony B. Susan)- Very good piece on safer spaces.

Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio and the cult of the white male celebrity activist (Latoya Peterson)- A good deconstruction of “good” men like Leo and Ben.

I’m Not Your Feminist Mommy & I’m Tired of Holding Your Hand (Anne Thériault)- On exhaustion with explaining shit to men.

And finally, I think this woman might be a witch and I am going to study the arcane asap so I can be like her.

What the media isn’t telling you about the Heywood And Middleton and Clacton elections

On checking the news and Twitter this morning, I’d kind of expected the country to have been overrun by frog-eyed pint-swilling overlords to whom we must all bow. Now, I’m going to outright assume that nobody who reads this blog is particularly interested in having UKIP in charge because I have low expectations of pretty much everything, but they’re not that low, so I have good news for you: don’t panic. 

The media construct narratives surrounding elections. They do this because they need something to report in a 24 hour news cycle, and stories get blown up and spun, despite the fact they’re not really all that true. So, as they treat this as a storming victory for the petty little racists they’ve been building up over the last year or so, that’s not actually the case. Here’s a few things the media conveniently haven’t bothered mentioning much in their quest to create narratives.

UKIP are really bad news for the Tories and quite good news for Labour

Let’s take a look at the Heywood and Middleton results. I’ve made a little graph of vote share, comparing 2010 with this by-election. I’m only showing the parties that were in both elections.image


Now, the media are very fixated on the massive jump UKIP have made, but what interests me is what’s happened to the share of the vote for the other three parties. The Lib Dems and Tories have lost what is technically referred to as a massive fuckload of votes. This election is an unmitigated disaster for them (lol). See, they’ve had their go in government and haven’t satisfied anyone, so the right-wingers have decided to vote for this shiny new party instead. Meanwhile, Labour’s share of the vote has held. It’s even risen ever so slightly, for the first time since 1997. I have seen this election treated as TOTAL WIPEOUT for Labour, when in fact, it’s a perfectly cromulent outcome for them. You see, this is a quirk of our electoral system. It’s how first past the post works. You only get one vote. In 2010, the sort of people who don’t vote Labour spread their votes about, while in 2014 they’ve all gone for the same bunch. And this is at the expense of the Tories and Lib Dems, not at Labour’s expense.

Of course, the Labour Party will take this as an excuse to go further right and more authoritarian, but don’t let that fool you. They’re doing that because they want to, not because it makes electoral sense.

Of course people voted Douglas Carswell in Clacton

Douglas Carswell was the MP for Clacton. Douglas Carswell still is the MP for Clacton. For whatever reason, they like him as an MP. This would be a tedious non-story if he hadn’t changed parties. “MP gets re-elected” doesn’t exactly sell newspapers. In 2010, Carswell was elected as a Tory MP on a 53% share of the vote. In 2014, he was re-elected on a 59.7% share of the vote. Meanwhile, once again, we see the Tory share of the vote tumbling–it’s more than halved.

Usually by-elections happen when the incumbent isn’t there: maybe they’re dead (like in Heywood and Middleton), maybe they were forced to resign due to fiddling expenses, maybe they were just fucking done with politics. It’s very rare that they’re still around to contest their seat. Before Clacton, by-elections triggered to ratify an MP switching parties have only happened six times: Merton, Mitcham and Morden in 1982; Lincoln in 1973; Preston in 1929; Kingston-Upon-Hull in 1926; the Isle of Wight in 1904; and Orkney and Shetland in 1902. In five out of these six instances, the electorate voted for the incumbent MP. In the other case, MM&M, we saw a similar pattern to Heywood and Middleton: the vote was split between two similar parties (Labour and SDP; the incumbent had defected from the former to the latter) while the Conservative vote held allowing them to get in.

It just goes to show: people really do vote for the person rather than the party.

The media manufactured this whole thing

Our democracy is very much controlled by the media. The media pretty much invented UKIP, because at the moment UKIP can give media owners what they want. In 2010, we saw something similar with the Lib Dems. The more the media blart on about how UKIP are a credible party, the more credible they become. This is why people bothered voting for them at all. At present, UKIP best represent media owners: like media owners, they’re a bunch of terrible old rich white men. So of course the media has a peculiar hard-on for UKIP.

Furthermore, journalists are bored because elections are boring. To make them interesting, you need a narrative, and the novelty value of UKIP is currently very exciting to them, especially because UKIP love talking to journalists and mugging for the cameras. It makes journalists’ jobs easier, so of course they’ll regurgitate UKIP press releases.

Unlike the Lib Dems in 2010, though, we’re unlikely to see a Tory-UKIP coalition in our future, because UKIP are wiping them out at elections. Instead, I predict we’ll see destabilisation of Tory safe seats, which will likely guarantee a Labour government in 2015.

Representative democracy is a shambles

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably noticed that this whole system is flawed. Elections are easily influenced, and our first past the post voting system makes it even harder for the will of the people to truly be heard. These by-elections–and the media analysis thereof–lay this bare. If you believe in voting, you’re lumbered with the possibility of having to root for UKIP to keep the Tories out (it splits the vote, remember?). If you want to campaign for electoral reform, you might have an issue where suddenly small parties like UKIP do become a real problem, as well as the nice smaller parties like the Greens getting to have a go. There’s also the option of becoming an anarchist, which is working all right for me, except for the having to organise with some awful people sometimes. However you choose to navigate this territory, be aware: everything is broken. The rot is deep.

The thing we really need to worry about is not whether UKIP win any elections or not, but the fact that our society is so riddled with racism that all of the major parties are spouting nastiness similar to UKIP, and a lot of people seem to genuinely believe it. This is the root that we need to fight, and it won’t be won at the ballot boxes.

Things I read this fortnight that I found interesting

I read things. I find them interesting. I share them with you. Enjoy.

Why Women Avoid the Atheist Movement (It’s Not Our Feeble Lady Brains or Hormones) ([E] Hillary)- An excellent precis of misogyny in atheism.

A Personal History of Misogyny (Christina Tesoro)- A beautifully-written autobiographical piece about how misogyny hits.

Black Censors, White Art (This Day)- On the politics of the fallout of the racist Exhibit B being pulled.

On (White) Advocates (justinthelibsoc)- More on Exhibit B, and how white people are failing as advocates.

On unpaid bullshit: an open letter to Lena Dunham (Becca Day-Preston)- On the harms of unpaid work in “passion industries”.

Strip (Robot Hugs)- A comic from a stripper talking about her job and how not to be an arsehole.

Brilliant or Beautiful: but who says we can’t be both? (Joanne Harris)- A rather lovely article on gendering children’s books. I learned the word “heliotrope”.

So, polyamory, I guess I don’t hate you after all. (Kitty Stryker)- Sweet piece as Kitty reflects on changing views.

It’s October 3rd: The Mathematics of Mean Girls (Tycho’s Nose)- Ever wondered why the limit does not exist? Here’s a fun piece on calculus.

Social Justice Warriors and the New Culture War (Laurie Penny)- Laurie lays the smackdown on GamerGate.

White Mom’s Lawsuit Over Black Baby Exposes Ugly Truths About White Privilege (Derrick Clifton)- Analysis of the story of a white lesbian couple suing a sperm bank over having a mixed race baby.

And finally, someone very very dear to me is in trouble at the moment, and she needs help for living costs. If you have a spare fiver, please consider bunging it her way.