My Talk at Gnomedex: On Life, Sex, Tech and Social Media

I’m still reeling from the way my talk at Gnomedex came out; it was pretty much an unplanned 20 minutes, with the goal of talking about… well, exactly what I ended up talking about. But I just kind of let go… And to my amazement, I got a standing ovation at Gnomedex. In the ten years of the conference (Bethgo calls it, “the people’s TEDx”), there have only been three standing ovations, and I have the honor of being the only woman to have received such a deeply heartfelt compliment. It’s scary, and exciting.

I know you are going to like this one. It’s got teeth.

Derek K. Miller summed it up beautifully:

Time for some sex talk. We can’t make stable or sustainable online social media models for sexuality. Culture and media talk about sex in increasingly problematic ways: either as a bad and scary thing, or as something that doesn’t exist. Abstinence education caused spikes in STDs, unplanned pregnancies, and more, for instance. A sex-positive approach is descriptive, rather than proscriptive, and applies principles of harm reduction to sexuality. Understand what consent is, how safe sex works, and so on. Started podcasting in 2005, first female podcaster—but there was a backlash when iTunes started podcast support, and Violet was the top podcast. Another example of building a sex-positive community and then having the rug pulled out. If you want to see where things are most fragile, and where people are most hypocritical, start talking about sex. In social media now, we’re swimming through an ocean of bullshit and snake oil. Facebook is Wal-Mart for your communities. Why do Terms of Service vaguely exclude sex, and get used to shut down sex talk online? Do 500 million Facebook users never have sex? We need a harm reduction approach to social media. Gatekeepers shouldn’t decide what’s okay and what’s not okay to talk about. Sexuality is not a drug, not an illegal substance. It’s something that keeps us connected to our bodies. It’s beautiful, and gatekeepers can’t keep telling us it’s not.

Thank you Chris Pirillo and Imei Hsu, and the incredibly supportive Gnomedex staff. Thank you, people who watched, applauded, and shared your time with me!

I’ll do a post later highlighting a couple of other talks I loved. Until then, here’s a pic of dotBen and I, by our dear friend Brian Solis (and this might explain why I kept being mistaken for Lady Gaga):

Violet Blue and Ben Metcalfe

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  1. Fabulous, Derek. Sex is nothing to be ashamed of! It’s not scary or wrong.

    I was on a radio show the other day trying to share my sex-positive message and the female host kept interrupting me to blurt, “Oh my it’s hot in here! Oh dear we’re really getting crazy today!” and I wasn’t being salacious at all, just stating facts calmly.

    Keep demystifying it!

  2. Nice talk Violet:

    A few things:

    What do you think of Craigslist community monitoring? Does that work as a form of harm reduction for social media? A form of collaborative filtering in reverse? Sensor by a vocal majority?

    The “They” you speak of near the end of your talk in this case is the old fashioned capalisim community at work. They’re interested of course in the single minded pursuit of ROI. They want money of course. They’re acting as sensors not because they’re prudish, but because they feel that they can charge more for banner ads if they can guarantee to Coke, Pepsi, Wal-Mart, that they’re ads will not be placed along “offensive” material. And as Steve Jobs picked up, Disneyland sets the tone for what the perfect pricing model to advertisers are.

    This was a problem that contributed to the demise of myspace. The site could not assure advertisers that their banners would never appear above breasts or a cock, or just the work Fuck.

    Several years ago there were several startups funded to solve this problem – the auto-classification and labeling (e.g G, PG-13, R … X) of user-content. One I remember was Keibi (who I almost took a job with). Their pitch was we will identify offensive content…. There were a few others, Turn started that way too.

    Anyway, I recall, this was 3 years ago, Offensive always meant sexual. So for example, none of these auto-classification systems were well tuned at finding racism, misogyny, holocaust denying, political nonsense — just anything sexual.

    And so also went into a panic and they undoubtedly found out they could double their ad rates if they could guarantee that the user-content was Disneyland safe.

    Well… enough on that. I could go on. But you bring up a real important point about the rise of social networking – these are not democratic spaces. This is not BLM land. Facebook is not a bench in Golden Gate Park. It’s private property, and they can ask you to leave for whatever reason.

    Your communities though, of a non-Disneyland nature, bring the point out clearly for all. There is no real freedom to congregate and associate. There is no real freedom of speech.

    The bottom line is: does your page, does your community, does your message, interfere with the price we charge for banner ads. If yes, leave.

    And of course this isn’t shocking. Their business is to sell ads. Casinos do the same thing — if you’re too good a gambler, counting cards, just too lucky, they ask you leave and there’s nothing you can do about it. Like those old diner signs: “we reserve the right to refuse service.”

    So thank you though for the reminder. The social web is not democratic. Our constitutional right do not apply to these places. It’s sex though, as usual, that points this out first. Just like it was sex in literature in the 18th and through the 1950s that told us all what Freedom of Speech means – you can publish Ulysses. You can publish Naked Lunch and Howl. Someday, this might apply to the corporate controlled web. But it looks different.

    One last snarky comment: “reeling” implies a negative reaction. Typically we are “realing in anger”, or reeling from disappointment. I think you mean to say your are overwhelmed, stunned and surprised… Or plain excited happy?


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