Saturday, May 03, 2014

Vidcon - I'm Mad As Hell UPDATED

I have tried to write this post without being mad. Staying calm. Giving the benefit of the doubt.

And no matter where I begin, I end the same place: mad as hell.

For background on Vidcon, harassment, allegations about sexual abuse and/or misconduct, DFTB Records, and Youtube stars, please check out my past post about this, Power and Policies and Ages.

One pertinent part of my post: "In summary, the allegations are about a YouTuber and his ex-girlfriend, as the YouTube article on power relations explains the allegations, and includes this: “[the relationship] started when she was just 15 and progressed to physical abuse shortly after she turned 16, under the legal age of consent in Missouri. The two met at Vidcon 2010 when she was 14 and he was 21.

When I wrote that, in March -- when the allegations described above first surfaced -- I noted (as others had) Vidcon's apparent lack of public policies, but my focus was on libraries.

As I read more, especially about the videotaped harassment of girls last year in the How To Pick Up Girls episode at Vidcon 2013, I got angrier. Please note that this is the most "ideal" type of harassment a person could hope for in that you can't argue with a recording. The articles about this at the time championed Vidcon's attendees for being on the side of the girls: see YouTube Kids Remember to Be Awesome and This Week At Vidcon No, Randomly Grabbing Girls is Not OK. What was "awesome" was that bystanders said something and the people who did this were thrown out of Vidcon, and the girls weren't accused of, well, the usual stuff. Cynical me wonders how "awesome" the response would have been without hard evidence, but as I said, I AM MAD.

John Green (who with his brother, Hank, cofounded Vidcon and are the two public members of the entity that runs Vidcon), posted in his tumblr about this in a post named, "Things That Go Without Saying But Apparently Don't So I'm Going To Say Them." Green proceeds to set out what appears to be a code of conduct/anti harassment policy for Vidcon: don't harass others, there will be a number for those to report things next year, people were "clearly" informed of Vidcon standards.


Despite Green saying this in a post 8 months ago, the actual, real, entity of Vidcon?


Oh, I thought, it's just not on the Vidcon website and while that may be troubling when it comes to findability and transparency, there is something, right?


C.C. Finlay directly asked Vidcon and got a response that in a nutshell says "we're awesome so we don't need that." No, really -- go read his full post at "So I Asked For a Link to Vidcon's Harassment Policy and They Said They Didn't Need One." Read it and then think about this part of Vidcon's response:

"As far as an official harassment and conduct policy goes, I don't know that we have anything publicly available yet. VidCon attendees, guests, and staff are extremely respectful to each other, and we work hard to provide a safe environment at our event. It's because of this that there hasn't historically been a need for such policies. Though as VidCon continues to grow, I think it is important to have something in place, and we're certainly looking into it."


Vidcon attendees are just so respectful by default that this type of stuff doesn't happen. Ignore the stuff listed above.

This is problematic on so many levels. Partly, because when your belief is, well, we are respectful people who don't do that type of stuff, you create a situation that makes it that much harder for someone who is subject to harassment. Because hey, maybe I'm being wrong to object to the person making me uncomfortable or touching my body -- this is an extremely respectful place, right, so if it's happening it means its OK and anyway who do I tell?

This is especially true when it's a teen, who, no matter how intelligent and smart, is still a teen who doesn't have the same range of knowledge and experience when it comes to this. Who do they tell, when there is no code or policy that includes a name of a trained staff person to talk to? Many teens would think "but then I'll get in trouble for letting it happen, and I'll be punished by not being allowed to come next year, and maybe it was my fault for smiling." Adults certainly think some of this.

And another thing: if you have no avenue for people to report abuse and harassment, how can you confidently say it doesn't happen?

Bottom line: Vidcon was aware in August 2013 that they needed a policy and, in Green's own words, could not rely on everyone knowing what "goes without saying."

It's now May, a new Vidcon is fast approaching, and .... nothing. Nothing has changed.

With no changes, Vidcon is not a safe place. And those changes are easy to make: simply make Green's informal tumblr post the actual Vidcon policy.

Edited to add: (5/3/14, 1:40 PM EST)

Some new developments!! Via Twitter, Vidcon pointed me to their tumblr post (dated today) which contained the following, new information:

"Just wanted to reach out real quick and clarify that VidCon has always planned on disseminating and enforcing an official code of conduct policy prior to the execution of this year’s event. It will, of course, include anti-harassment elements. It is true that in the past we have advocated for decent behavior and relied on the sound judgment of our guests, attendees, and crew to determine when the line was crossed, (and unfortunately we have had to remove disruptive attendees in the past) but this year we will spell it out point blank - we are currently refining that policy via our legal counsel, a community-based task force that was formed some months ago, and our service providers (security, venue, etc) to make sure that the “official” policy is legitimate, enforceable, and reasonable. We’ll keep everyone posted. Thanks for your concerns! Best, Michael (Chief Operating Officer of VidCon.)"

Yes, this is different from the Vidcon response Finlay received.

While I am glad, and relieved, to see this, I hope that part of their process includes staff training -- so that questions like Finlay's get this response, rather than the response that was given. We adults in the workforce may sigh when we have to go to yet another HR policy training workshop, but it matters that all employees are aware of policies.

I also hope that task force includes a variety of voices and experiences.

Updated 5/52014, 12:30 PM

First, check the comments to see Sarah's very complete, and documented, list of various instances that relate to past Vidcons which show part of the problem is the delay in having any code or policy.

Second, another update! This on the "taskforce" which was more of a result of several allegations -- for a list of all links, which is continuing to be updated, check the tumblr Unpleasant Myles.

So, this: Combatting Sexual Violence in Youtube Communities.

Glass half full: FINALLY, information, a timeline!

Glass half empty: still no transparency about the make up of who is involved. (Who makes these posts? When someone with Vidcon only uses their first name, it's hard to know who they are ... or to look at Vidcon's own site for information on staff.)

This still doesn't resolve the underlying Vidcon issue: that (as Sarah points out) in 2012 they knew about Lombardo; in 2013, picking up girls and the song with offensive rapey lyrics; so why the wait until mid March 2014 and the Milsom allegations to move forward on a policy or code or whatever you want to call it? Why is Vidcon more unique than ComicCon or SF cons etc, that it's taking them longer to put together a policy ... well, it's tough to decide the timeline of putting together a timeline of how long Vidcon has/should have been working on something.

Or the new issue: that if I'm not on social media, connected to the right twitter and tumblr accounts, I'm unaware of this. So, the parent of the teen who is begging to attend Vidcon? All they continue to know is Vidcon's unchanged FAQ, saying it's OK with Vidcon if it's OK with parents and having no chaperone tickets for those parents.

I'll keep updating this, in part to have a one-place for pertinent links.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

The update is good to read, but you are right! The staff need to be trained so there is not the "we are awesome" response/attitude floating around.

Sarah said...

I just wanted to thank you again for continuing to call attention to this issue. I've been surprised at the relative lack of conversation within the kidlit/YA community about the DFTBA sexual abuse allegations in general. Perhaps, partly, this silence is due to the separation between our own field and that of the teen YouTube culture at the center of the story. But I also think that such silence often descends when there are any allegations of sexual abuse and assault. Silence has pervaded the YouTube community as well, and there has been almost no comment from the leadership of DFTBA and VidCon-- aside from initial statements and one flawed video on consent. I know that many within the YouTube community remain completely unaware of the allegations.

The absence of acknowledgment or open discussion is to the detriment of young survivors who had the courage to come forward. It also raises concerns about whether enough is being done to prevent abuse in the future. So again, I appreciate you speaking up.

I wanted, too, to add some additional thoughts on what I find so concerning in both VidCon's continued lack of a formal policy on harassment, and in their response to inquiries.

In the aftermath of the allegations that surfaced this March, Hank Green announced the formation of a private task force to address the instances of alleged abuse within DFTBA and the Nerdfighter fandom. (As of this writing, those accused of sexual misconduct number in the double digits.) Mike Lombardo, an artist on the DFTBA label/VidCon participant and someone the Greens knew personally, had already been arrested on child pornography charges stemming from interactions with fans in 2012. ( Following that arrest and conviction, no changes were made to policies or procedures within DFTBA or at VidCon. 1/2

Sarah said...

It was therefore my hope that now, as part of its recommendations for reform, one of the first actions of the new task force would be to institute a policy on sexual harassment at VidCon-- a place where young fans and adult idols have direct interactions-- and to revisit the question of whether underage minors should attend the convention without adult chaperones. Not only are harassment policies always important, but given the history and dynamics of this con, one seems especially needed. It would also immediately signal a commitment to general institutional change.

As you noted, at least one of the abusive relationships began with a meeting at VidCon. That relationship was observed there by Hank Green and other adults, but no one saw cause for concern. After the survivor came forward, the Greens expressed dismay, and a renewed determination to make VidCon safe.

The fact that a policy is not yet in place reveals a lack of commitment behind this statement and other statements you cited regarding a previous incident of harassment. Though VidCon has now announced that they're working on a policy, I'm troubled by the implications of the delay and confusion for real, concerted institutional reform within the organization as a whole.

Regarding VidCon, there have been several other incidents that signaled the urgent need for a policy (and enforcement of that policy) in the past and the need for deeper institutional reform now. When YouTube celebrity Onision-- someone already known for making misogynistic videos and calling on fans to harass ex-girlfriends-- made disturbing comments about rape, parents and others petitioned VidCon to have him removed from the guest list in 2012 (the same year as Lombardo's arrest). Though the article states that VidCon did ban Onision, the link to Hank Green's actual response shows that while he reserved the right to ban him in the future, his first concern was for Onision's safety following the "controversy."

The letter also expresses the idea that even if VidCon organizers do not approve of misogynistic and abusive content, the freedom to create and share that content at the convention is important. Other convention-goers have reported seeing similarly abusive content onstage:

Given that this is also in direct conflict with John Green's statements about VidCon policy, and with the overall desire to ensure a safe environment for young fans, the need for a clear, forthright policy is obvious.

I hope that a policy will come soon, and that it will be well publicized. I also hope that leaders within the organization will acknowledge that the absence of a policy in the past, and the tolerance for deeply problematic dynamics at VidCon, have enabled abuse. With that acknowledgment will come the possibility for real reform, and the assurance that VidCon can be a safe environment for all in the future. Because they owe this to their teen fans-- especially young people who were brave enough to come forward and report abuse, and who have been met with continued silence.

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Blah, yeah, this has been making me really angry and bummed. I want the brothers Green to only do awesome things. After the enormous fracas around sexual abuse in the DFTBA arena, it seems insane not to have a clear harassment policy in place for this Vidcon.

Carrie Mesrobian said...

I think the reason the kidlit/ya community hasn't spoken up is bc many Green Bros fans & Nerdfighters conflate any criticism of this to be criticism of the good work these men do.

I'd like to think we can walk and chew gum at the same time: we can call out the lack of response/lousy response/late response about this and still appreciate what nerdfighteria means to people does on a community level.

Their silence and delayed action, though, seems like the Same Old Shit we get from Men In Charge and the context is that women and girls are fucking sick of that feeble, back-burned response.

lalibrarylady86 said...

I've been trying to find more and was not sure if you knew about this post on the "official" Tumblr of the Nerdfighter community. It appears to have been posted on May 4th. So a week and a half ago and I have not been able to find any new updates.