The Guardian recently asked five feminists whether sexism has become more prevalent in the digital age, or simply more visible? There is no doubt of its growing visibility on Quora.
Last month, one male Quora user’s “first ever post” was to the Rage Against Quora blog — created for “questions, answers, policies and design issues that really annoy you.”
The post, titled Dear Men @ Quora, points to the site’s increasing problem with misogyny. Quora’s growing community of women are repeatedly subjected to sexual discrimination, denigration, sexual objectification and even stalking.
The post’s author appeals to Quora’s male-dominated community to start behaving like “gentlemen” and calls for “all men to stop this kind of behavior.”
A few days ago I came across this question:
Women on Quora: What are the issues that women face when writing on Quora today (March 2014)? What should Quora do about these problems?
The revelations made here are absolutely shocking and embarrassing.
The most shocking was Alia Caldwell’s situation, in which her online stalker actually moved near her and coerced her to leave her hard-worked-for home.
After reading this, I was shocked that these kinds of things have happened on Quora. In many of the cases I’ve read here, men continued to make advances even after being explicitly told NO.
We all came to Quora to gain knowledge, to know things we never knew existed. We did not come here to harass women and stalk them or be harassed and stalked.
The first comment under the post is by Rage admin Tatiana Estévez, who says, “We’re definitely considering all the issues that have come up on this page.” Still, until SocialTimes contacted the site on Tuesday, there had been no official response from Quora regarding what specific steps the company is taking to deal with the issue.
The question linked to in the Rage post was added by Quora’s head of business and community Marc Bodnick, apparently an earnest attempt to identify and address the harassment plaguing its vocal female minority. The question has been answered 78 times.
Some of the most upvoted answers have been downvoted so that they do not appear at the top. One example is this answer detailing vulgar and offensive inbox messages. The offender’s account was blocked, yet the user continued receiving similar messages from other accounts, multiple times, which she believes was the same person using a different name.
“Even though Quora blocked the accounts every single time I complained… every single time I opened my inbox, I had to see this disgusting message,” she wrote. “It was agonizing and harrowing to see it lurking in my inbox. So Quora, please get me a ‘Delete’ button for my messages. I assure you it is more than necessary.”
Another user found a post that included her photo (without permission) accompanied by the following text: “This beautiful bitch in on Quora. I started talking to her and she did not give a shit about it…”
Similarly, after reporting the user “for having multiple accounts and inspite of blocking once, he would resurface again via another account to Inbox [her] again.” This user recounted the events to two different admins, yet after 11 days, the user was still active.
She wondered if Quora is safe, why the report button was not enough to see results, why she has to “run around requesting and reminding admins,” how big the issue needs to be before action is taken and whether she should locate and delete all of her images from around the site.
“Maybe I am over-reacting and words of an older experienced Quoran could aid me a with new perspective – but I’m almost on my way to de-activating my account as I don’t feel safe being on a medium where that guy gets to roam spot-free while I’m squirming uncomfortably,” she wrote.
A day after the public posting, the admins took action and the offensive accounts were banned. But users are asking for more immediate and lasting measures.
Another woman recounted “a little experiment” she ran two years ago in reaction to an overwhelming amount of questions appearing in her feed such as “Why do women do X? What do girls think about Y? Why do women have undesirable attribute A?” She turned the tables and added a similar question about men.
“It was a sincere question about a gendered behavior difference I have observed many times,” she explained. “Shortly thereafter an admin came along and changed the question to ‘Do men do X?’ That question is not equivalent, so I changed it back. The admin and I went back and forth a couple of times before agreeing on ‘Why do some men do X?'”
If Quora wants to make people phrase questions that fairly and precisely, great! I am all for it!
Except it clearly isn’t the community standard because no one is aggressively enforcing that standard for questions about women. When I pointed this out to the admin his response, more or less, was that he didn’t see anything wrong with most of the “Why do women do X?” questions.
So, basically you have a privileged group on the site holding a less-privileged group to a higher standard than they adhere to themselves. That is really not cool. Meanwhile the stream of “Why do women do X?” questions — many of which can charitably be described as low value and some of which are pretty offensive — continues on… and there is little in the implicit community standards or the explicit direction of Quora’s leadership to discourage that.
From Quora Top Writer Marie Stein’s answer:
My experience on Quora over the years has been little different from what other women report: random harassing or just plain dumb inbox messages, sexual remarks along the lines of what someone would want to “do” to me posted publicly (and anonymously) in the body of an answer; direct physical threats (where the poster said that it was easy to find where I live and implied hurting me (ironically, in a comment to my answer to a question about when romantic persistence crosses the line into stalking).
Like most other women on this site, I’ve been dismissed, disrespected, dishonored; objectified, ogled, offended. I’ve been patronized and the recipient of condescending and ad hominem attacks, and unsolicited sexual advances. Most of that behavior slowed to a crawl after I changed my profile picture to one that revealed less of my face (and a few more wrinkles) and as more women, especially young women, with South Asian names became active on the site, and drew away many of the worst individual offenders like bees to better quality, fresher honey.
Stein does report an improvement in her own experience and speculates whether that is due to following and contributing to less polarizing topics and/or better administrative support. She thanks the community: “Because of what I’ve seen on Quora, I’ve become a fiercer feminist. Thank you all, for that.”
Several female users report having altered their profile pictures to appear less attractive and removed personal information to avoid being stalked. Women are being targeted with offensive questions and comments — not always anonymous — inappropriate inbox messages and Quora posts that include identifying information, images and videos found elsewhere online.
One woman answered the question despite feeling “cornered on Quora.” Her issues provide an example of what concerns most women who feel targeted. Once an avid contributor, she now follows “zero topic and a handful of people” because “there have been so many times I’ve felt truly impotent while using Quora.”
- Unable to report content / users via the Android app
- Unable to delete messages in inbox
- Unable to exorcise my content of people I’d muted/blocked
- One word – anons
That’s it. That’s all it would’ve taken. But you broke it. Because it was more important to have green and blue buttons in place.
*I’m sorry, did I violate BNBR [Quora’s Be Nice Be Respectful rule] there? I never understood BNBR. Anyone could be aggressive, ask inflammatory questions or leave obnoxious comments, but should one respond, we’d get slapped on the wrist for violating BNBR.
Quora’s outspoken feminist Erica Freidman responded: “Exactly!! /standing ovation/” and other female users responded in kind. All of these women, rather than simply complaining, offer a myriad of very specific and simple solutions — not all of which require human resources like volunteer admins. But like most suggestions made by the Quora community, they are slow to be adopted, if they are adopted at all.
SocialTimes reached out to Bodnick and Estivez for comment on Tuesday. Both suggested only that we contact firstname.lastname@example.org, but no official reply has been forthcoming. That evening, however, Bodnick added a comment to the women’s issues question pointing to a post he’d just added called Making Quora More Civil: Responding to Recent Feedback by Marc Bodnick on The Quora Moderation Blog.
Quora plans to deal with its “microaggression” problem in the following ways:
- Aggressively applying Be Nice, Be Respectful to Messages.
- Strengthening its policy on bad questions.
- Moving more quickly to ban people who violate Quora’s policies.
- Question downvoting.
It is not clear if these changes will go far enough, as Bodnick himself notes, “These are just a few steps towards improving civility and respectfulness.” Users are still calling for better moderation, reporting and banning features. But it’s a start, and it’s nice to know that Quora is indeed listening and making changes — no matter how small — meant to empower, protect and grow its female minority.