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Editor's Note: The article below cites quotations that use explicit language.
Last week, a Kickstarter campaign for a book called Above The Game: A Guide to Getting Awesome with Women received much flak after comedian and writer Casey Malone pointed out disturbing passages from the book posted on Reddit.
Yesterday, the book’s author, Ken Hoinsky, announced that he will be rewriting parts of his book, with guidance from Ben Kassoy, a petition writer at DoSomething.org, as well as other anti-sexual assault advocates and organizations.
For those who missed the controversy, here is the back-story. Over the last eight months, Hoinsky has been writing a series of guides on a subreddit called ‘Seduction’ (also known as ‘Seddit’) under the alias TofuTofu. The advice columns have dealt with everything from the “Fundamentals of Attraction: Authenticity, Desire, Excitement, Lifestyle” to “Physical Escalation & Sex.”
Seeing the success of his guides, Hoinsky decided to expand on his advice and write an entire book on how to become a pickup artist. He turned to the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to raise $2,000 for his book. The campaign ended up raising well over that amount -- $16,000 in three weeks.
On the last day of the campaign, however, a damning blog post by Malone pointed out troubling passages from the Reddit guide about ‘physical escalation and sex.’ Some of the most unsavory quotes included:
Decide that you’re going to sit in a position where you can rub her leg and back. Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances...
Pull out your cock and put her hand on it. Remember, she is letting you do this because you have established yourself as a LEADER. Don’t ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick.
Hoinsky’s guide did include an ‘important note’ about unwanted physical contact and resistance, which Malone didn’t point out, though it's clear how the passages above could be misconstrued and could lead to grim consequences. The comedian ended his blog post by asking his readers to report the project to Kickstarter. With only hours left before the end of the campaign, sites like Jezebel picked up the story, causing it to go viral and inciting loud public outcry.
Despite the controversy surrounding the campaign, Kickstarter initially said that it would allow the project stay up because while the company found the passages “abhorrent,” they did not “warrant the irreversible action of canceling the project.”
Around the same time, Hoinsky issued a statement defending his book, saying rather sheepishly: “If "Don't wait for signs, make the first move" promotes sexual assault, then "Kiss the Girl" from The Little Mermaid was a song about rape.”
In the meantime, a petition on the site DoSomething.org had collected tens of thousands of signatures asking for Kickstarter to take down the campaign. Amid the mounting pressure, Kickstarter wrote a blog post titled ‘We were wrong’ on Friday, two days after the campaign had hit its goal and Hoinsky received the money.
In the post, the company said it had made a mistake by allowing the campaign to proceed, which it attributed to a lack of time to think the issue over, as well as a bias toward creators. The company went on to say that it’s too late to process refunds and pull the money from the campaign, but that it was removing the campaign page from the site, “prohibiting ‘seduction guides,’ or anything similar,” and donating $25,000 to an anti-sexual violence group called RAINN. (Needless to say, $25,000 is a much heftier sum than the $818 Kickstarter pocketed from Hoinsky’s campaign.)
The story continued to make rounds over the weekend, with Kickstarter’s apology largely mollifying those outraged by the campaign. Also over the weekend, Hoinsky met with DoSomething.org’s petition writer Kassoy. They discussed the campaign and agreed to rework parts of the book that may be misinterpreted. Yesterday, Hoinsky released a video responding to the controversy, in which he said that he will work with other organizations in order to ensure the book doesn’t send across the wrong message. (You can watch his apology video below, and go to the site he has set up to catalogue his progress here.)
In the controversy’s aftermath, it will be interesting to see if Kickstarter makes any concrete changes to its terms of service, aside from apparently banning “seduction guides.” The platform may enforce stricter vetting policies internally, or it may become less biased towards the creators that use the platform. While the former would be a welcome development (and may help prevent fraudulent campaigns like Kobe Beef Jerky from getting onto the site), the latter shift would be a mistake.
To be sure, the platform needs to keep out malicious projects. But it should do so on a case-by-case basis, rather than become more restrictive due to controversy surrounding one campaign. In short, Kickstarter should be more vigilant in ensuring all campaigns adhere to its terms of service; it shouldn’t become more prohibitive and closed off to creatives than it already is.