Fark—the irreverent online aggregator launched 15 years ago under the tagline “We don't make news. We mock it”—has pledged to ban misogyny from its comments section. “If the Internet was a dude, we'd all agree that dude has a serious problem with women,” Fark founder Drew Curtis wrote in an announcement on the site on Monday, citing a line from Mythbusters’ Adam Savage. As of Monday, the site’s posting guidelines were “updated with new rules reminding you all that we don't want to be the He Man Woman Hater's Club,” Curtis continued. Examples of inadmissible language include “rape jokes,” calling “women as a group ‘whores’ or ‘sluts’ or similar demeaning terminology,” and “jokes suggesting that a woman who suffered a crime was somehow asking for it.” Racism and “LGBT bashing” are also now off-limits. Wrote Curtis: “This represents enough of a departure from pretty much how every other large internet community operates that I figure an announcement is necessary.”
Policing misogyny is fabulous in theory. In practice, it's a bitch. Curtis notes that Fark’s commenters often appear to be engaging in an extreme “parody” of sexism, using a pastiche of satirical cultural references. (Fark contributors favor the SNL line “Jane, you ignorant slut” and callbacks to Blazing Saddles’ rape jokes.) Where is the line between pointed social commentary and vile misogyny? “On SNL and in a comedy movie … the context is clear,” Curtis continues. “On the Internet, it's impossible to know the difference between a person with hateful views and a person lampooning hateful views to make a point. The [moderators] try to be reasonable, and context often matters. We will try and determine what you meant, but that's not always a pass.” He added: “I recommend that when encountering grey areas, instead of trying to figure out where the actual line is, the best strategy would be to stay out of the grey area entirely.”
Telling members of an anonymous Internet message board to stop hating women is, unfortunately, a monumental ask. But instructing posters to refrain from pushing the boundaries of acceptable human discourse—to avoid a “grey area” just in case—is an irresistible provocation. The gray area between vile offensiveness and dark humor is where Fark's commenter community thrives. So Curtis’ announcement has already amassed dozens of comments like:
“What about man-on-man prison rape jokes. Those are still cool, right?”
“Is clown rape off the table, even if the clowns are in full costume, and we are unsure of their respective sexes, and its that artsy kind of clown rape?”
“How about sandwich jokes? [Still] ok?”
“b-b-b-b-b-but what if she really is a whore?”
“We need to stay under the radar: minx, coquette, hussy, etc.”
“This would be the best time to ask for boobies.”
Curtis hopes to establish some “reasonable” line between misogyny and parody, but on a website with an 88 percent male readership that deploys words like slut, boobies, and sandwich so routinely that commenters claim they’ve been magically cleansed of their originally sexist context, I’m not sure that the distinction between the jokesters and the misogynists is particularly relevant. Curtis' own bio on the site is “Drew runs Fark. Drew likes boobies and beer. That's pretty much it.” This is not a place where the participants have established themselves as so obviously not sexist and so clearly respectful of women as equals that joking about misogyny comes across as straightforward progressive commentary. Instead, it feels dismissive and harassing. For women who might also be interested in joining a community focused on mocking news sites, distinguishing between the dudes who really hate women and the ones who are just, like, practicing their art, man, can seem like more trouble than it's worth.
Still: Despite the site’s overarching sarcastic tone, many of the comments on Curtis’ announcement are sincere in their praise of the new rule. The ones who think it’s a big joke will eventually tucker themselves out (on this thread, at least). And from there, giving a crew of invested moderators a mandate to make their own calls about what constitutes misogyny on Fark—even if the poster claims it’s just a joke—will likely boost the level of discourse a smidge. It helps that, according to Curtis, about half of the site’s moderators are women. Curtis disclosed that gender split in the form of a snarky retort to another contributor, but it's probably the most serious investment the site can make to welcome women onto its boards.