Staffers at Gawker Media’s popular website Jezebel want their parent company to face up to what they call their “rape gif problem.”
The website posted a statement Monday airing what appears to be a long-standing grievance with Gawker: Jezebel readers have been exposed to violent images and gifs of hardcore pornography posted on the site by anonymous commenters, which the website’s staffers then must go through and individually delete. Gawker management is “well aware” of the problem, which has persisted for months, the statement said.
“This practice is profoundly upsetting to our commenters who have the misfortune of starting their day with some excessively violent images, to casual readers who drop by to skim Jezebel with their morning coffee only to see hard core pornography at the bottom of a post about Michelle Obama, and especially to the staff, who are the only ones capable of removing the comments and are thus, by default, now required to view and interact with violent pornography and gore as part of our jobs,” the staff wrote.
The problem lies with Gawker’s signature comment system, Kinja, which the statement says allows commenters to set up untraceable “burner” accounts without leaving a trace of the individual’s IP address. A Jezebel staffer can delete a barrage of offensive comments and ban the account, but nothing stops that same individual from setting up another account on Kinja.
Nevertheless, the statement said that after those concerns were raised in a meeting Jezebel staffers were told “there were no plans to enable the blocking of IP addresses, no plans to record IP addresses of burner accounts.” They were told some moderation tools were being developed, however.
“If this were happening at another website, if another workplace was essentially requiring its female employees to manage a malevolent human pornbot, we’d report the hell out of it here and cite it as another example of employers failing to take the safety of its female employees seriously,” the statement read. “But it’s happening to us. It’s been happening to us for months. And it feels hypocritical to continue to remain silent about it.”
Gawker Media’s editorial director, Joel Johnson, said on Twitter that the Jezebel staffers were justified in raising the issue.
Re: Jezebel. 1. They rule. 2. I’ve dropped the ball and they’re right to call me out. 3. I don’t have a solution yet but that’s my problem.
— Joel Johnson (@joeljohnson) August 11, 2014
Jezebel’s founding editor Anna Holmes, who left the site in 2010, told TPM Monday in an email that she hadn’t worked with the comment system currently in place at Gawker Media but thought it seemed to enable the “abuse” Jezebel staffers say they’re dealing with now.
“I did not have to scrub offensive content from the comments when I was at Jezebel, although I did ban people for trolling and general idiocy,” she told TPM. “But I cannot remember one instance in which graphic images were uploaded into the comment sections of the site and, honestly, I’m grateful for it because this situation over there sounds like a goddamn nightmare, one made worse by the inertia and/or disinterest of the higher-ups in the company.”
TPM has reached out to Jezebel and Gawker Media for comment.
This post has been updated.