Marissa Mayer–Hatred Still In Vogue At Yahoo–Part 2

In the prelude to this series, Twitter is Bad–Yahoo May Be Worse, I analyzed the problem of cyberharassment — especially of women and minorities — and offered some solutions, including rewriting the law that gives site owners bulletproof immunity. I also mentioned that Yahoo burns me more than Twitter because the presence of organized hate groups at static locations on Yahoo over a period of years requires the explicit cooperation of Yahoo management.

Then, in Marissa Mayer–Hatred Still In Vogue At Yahoo–Part 1, I suggested that Yahoo wants to use the spectacle of people trying to destroy each other’s lives as a circus attraction to draw eyeballs and sell ads. Flaming, doxxing, creepshots, and all kinds of misogyny and racial or religious hatred are not merely tolerated by some site owners, but welcomed as essential elements of their business plan. Online spectacle as cash cow.

Part 1 ended by pointing out that you can’t appeal to Yahoo’s sense of ethics because it’s missing in action. This remains true whether Yahoo’s CEO du jour is male or female. Their current CEO is Marissa Mayer, who came over from Google. Continuing on…

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright once said that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I personally have no problem with Marissa Mayer posing in Vogue or “having the time of [her] life,” (as the Vogue piece quotes her); but these things distract attention from what she hasn’t done: change Yahoo’s policy of coddling hate groups who harass women and minorities, change Yahoo’s policy of leeching off such free content and using it to draw eyeballs and run ads. Sure, we all want to see women break the glass ceiling, but not if it entails climbing aboard the Yahoo pimpmobile and strapping themselves into the driver’s seat.

There’s an old joke about a blind piano player in a house of ill-repute who claims he has no idea what goes on upstairs. The piano player is neither pimp nor madam, so perhaps his role is minimal. But Yahoo CEOs (and Yahoo lawyers like Anne Hoge, now with WhatsApp Inc.) have always known what’s going on, how Yahoo defends its right to use hate speech as free content, and defends its right to take no meaningful action when consumers claim to be victims of harassment on its service. Yahoo CEOs and lawyers are not like the blind piano player, but more like the pimps and madams who keep Yahoo’s garishly decorated house of ill-repute running day-to-day, determined to extract maximum per-click value from every bigot or misogynyist who sends out diseased messages of hate — or reads them.

The glass ceiling can be broken in two fundamentally different ways: Some women are invited to join the “boys’ club” and embrace policies which undergird the continued harassment of women and minorities. If they have feminine instincts of compassion and empathy, they’ve learned to stuff them in their back pockets while climbing the corporate ladder. Their arrival at the top therefore fails to signal any significant shift toward more woman-friendly policies for consumers. So it seems with Marissa Mayer at Yahoo.

By contrast, consider Ariel Zwang, the CEO of Safe Horizon, a successful nonprofit which is renowned for helping women who are victims of domestic violence. Without attempting to artificially impose gender roles, I would say that she’s a strong woman and role model who cares about the plight of women and minorities, and who didn’t have to sacrifice empathy and compassion in order to succeed. Rather, she’s turned those qualities into strengths and virtues at both a personal and corporate level.

Ironically, while Marissa Mayer was featured in Vogue, Ariel Zwang was one of four women who signed a letter of protest to Condé Nast over a Vogue cover showing model Stephanie Seymour being choked by model Marlon Teixeira. Choking chic, how fashionable! (They mercifully omitted the centerfold of Robert Chambers.)

The controversial Vogue cover cashing in on choking chic

The controversial Vogue cover cashing in on choking chic

A kittenish Marissa Mayer poses in Vogue. But are her ethics also upside-down?

A waxworks Marissa Mayer poses in Vogue. But are her ethics also upside-down?

All women deserve to live lives free from harassment and violence, but we have more natural admiration for women who won’t accept a top position with an ethically challenged firm like Yahoo unless they’re sure they can do something to change its unethical behavior.

This line of thought dovetails with something I posted a couple of months ago: Hina Shamsi on Now with Alex Wagner. Shamsi’s a lawyer with the ACLU who also teaches a course in international human rights at Columbia Law School. I’m impressed with her for many reasons, not least because she used her law degree in the service of human rights, rather than becoming a snaggletoothed enforcer for some sh*tty company like Yahoo a la Anne Hoge.

The world needs women of courage and integrity like Ariel Zwang and Hina Shamsi who care more about touching the world with hearts of compassion than whether or not they’re ever fêted by Vogue.

BTW, it’s funny how those trapped in the fashion bubble have no clue about Net life. Vogue heralds the changes Mayer made to Yahoo Mail as drawing positive reviews, when the truth is that Yahoo Mail users were furious. See Slate.com, Yahoo Mail Users Hate “Gorgeous” Redesign, Can’t Find the Print Button. It’s the same with Yahoo Groups. See TheRegister.co.uk, Ghastly! Yahoo! Groups! gripes! grip! grumpy! gremlin grumblers!

If you’ve followed my series on cyberharassment, you may have clicked on this piece by Lisa Guernsey: Mainstream Sites Serve As Portals To Hate. Ironically, Marissa Mayer has given Yahoo Groups a makeover she dubs “Neo,” without kicking out the neo-Nazis and other hate groups who’ve been routinely harassing women and minorities on Yahoo for years. Fortunately, Vogue got the really important stuff right:

“The day we had that conversation in her white, glossy, minimally appointed office in Sunnyvale, California, she was wearing a red Michael Kors dress with a gold belt and a brown Oscar de la Renta cardigan. This cashmere bolero is her work uniform–she has the same one in ivory, navy, black, hot pink, teal, red, and royal blue, and adds new colors every season.”

Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if even her phone is pimped out! (See The IT Crowd, S02E02.)

Vogue also boosts Mayer for getting props from Henry Blodget — but is the memory of fashion folk so short as to forget that Blodget was permanenently banned from the securities industry for pimping Internet stocks which he allegedly knew were dubious investments? See Securities and Exchange Commission v. Henry Blodget here.

The evidence mounts that Mayer’s an empty matador suit slinging the bull, not an agent for positive change. Though the Vogue piece joins her thematically with Bolero, her theme song should really be the Monty Python ditty about Sir Robin. From the longtime ethical challenges faced by Yahoo (and now Tumblr), Ms. Mayer has bravely, bravely run away. She’s yet another dubious investment touted by Wall Street bigs, who always manage to find a way of maintaining the status quo.

In Part 3 we’ll look more at Tumblr (which Marissa Mayer bought for Yahoo in mid-2013), and at the tortured euphemisms Mayer employs to avoid directly using the word “porn” when describing much of the traffic on Tumblr. We’ll also see some classic examples of the Tumblr brush-off response to women’s complaints of serious harassment.

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Hina Shamsi on Now with Alex Wagner

Why I’m a Hina Shamsi fan

The best thing about seeing Hina Shamsi on Now was being reminded that there are people who care about human rights. High concepts are important in themselves, but sometimes get lost in daily living. When someone like Hina Shamsi invests her soul in sharing high concepts, these concepts become more real and easier to grasp. I YouTubed her segment, hoping more people will see it and think about the issues she raises:

As you can see, she’s an intelligent, poised and dedicated speaker on human rights, and makes her points with quiet dignity and calm. By all means let’s see more Hina Shamsi on mainstream media!

The second best thing about seeing Hina Shamsi on Now is that the discussion brought up issues I’ve pondered and written about. On the one hand, we don’t want to become an elitist society. On the other hand, there are dangers to excessive populism. Former RNC chair Michael Steele kept harping on the point that the average person in the street doesn’t care about Miranda rights for suspected terrorists. This really set me off.

Documents like the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Convention, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are meant to elevate us and rescue us from mob rule. They’re meant to take high concepts concerning the fundamental worth of each individual and how we should try and treat each other under all circumstances (but especially under circumstances of conflict), and make these ideals practical by providing guidelines to be followed.

Many of the rights enshrined in these documents protect minorities, or people who may be unpopular, or who may be accused of wrongdoing. These documents embody great wisdom because they recognize that human judgement often errs, human justice often fails, and both political elites and populist movements can unfairly target groups and individuals for punishment on an undifferentiated basis. Merely accusing someone of a heinous crime, or of holding unpopular views, can easily subject him or her to severe punishment in a society which fails to follow the rule of law.

It is a challenge for all nations, including America, to follow the rule of law, and to do so even when it feels subjectively difficult. In practice, the human tendency is to keep some wonderful laws sanctifying human rights on the books, but only apply them to people we like. This is like giving medicine only to healthy people, not to the sick who really need it.

I wonder how much our young students are being taught about the “veil of ignorance” doctrine and how it helps us design laws and economic policies shaped by fairness. As applied to the Geneva Convention, the veil of ignorance doctrine says that we cannot foresee all the eventualities of war, or when soldiers from our own nation may be taken captive. Therefore, let us establish universal rules for treatment of prisoners so that no prisoners anywhere are tortured. This is meant to be an absolute rule that doesn’t depend on the vagaries of who started the conflict under what pretext or what the underlying economic or geopolitical issues are. You don’t torture prisoners. Period.

The same applies to Miranda rights. Suppose you’re caught up in some type of police sweep. Maybe you were just walking home from work and headed down a block where a demonstration was taking place. Suddenly you’re cuffed and thrown in a police van. Do you want to be read your rights and to contact an attorney, or should those things be denied you based on a pre-assumption that you’re guilty or a troublemaker? For you to have your rights, others must also have theirs. Otherwise those rights will atrophy and won’t be there when you need them.

Human rights laws tend to be informed by the insight that we are all members of one tribe: the human tribe. However, often in times of conflict we create an objectified Other who is demonized to such an extent that human rights no longer seem to apply. We need to step back and remind ourselves of basic set theory: Is this person human? Then they have human rights. Only very foolish, narrow-minded, or power-hungry people take away human rights exactly when they’re needed most: when there is geopolitical conflict, or when people are accused of wrongdoing, or accused of holding unpopular views, or of worshipping God differently than their neighbours, or of hailing from a different tribe.

For human rights to be meaningful, they must be applied consistently and evenhandedly, not just when it’s pleasant, convenient, popular, or politically expedient to do so. When human rights become discretionary–to be doled out according to the whims of some governing authority–they cease to be rights at all.

Thank you Hina Shamsi for inspiring me to think and write about these things!

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