On August 12th, a new social media platform Spinster, targeted at creating a safe space for transphobic speech was launched promoting itself as "Free Speech for Feminists". It immediately came under questions from trans advocates and anti fascists for its connections to Alt-Right social media networks. Within a week it had onboarded over 4500 users, the vast majority of them drawn from the "Gender Critical" movement, and instances had been seen of users dehumanising and promoting the murder of trans people.
bit of background on alternative social media
first alarms were raised pre-launch over the developers unusual
choice to base their platform on the source code for Gab. Gab was
founded originally as a safe space for far right internet
personalities and activists ejected from major social media platforms
in the wake of protests that tech companies had been too soft on
fascist content, making Gab a sort of neo nazi replacement for
Twitter and Facebook. While this created a temporary clubhouse for
extreme right wing content dominated by open celebrations of
lynching, genocide, holocaust denial and more, Gab has since been
trying to find ways to re-connect
its userbase with the more mainstream social media
the site to link into the open source Mastodon, an decentralised
social media platform where different instances are able to regulate
themselves as part of a wider federated network. Gab presents itself
as simply being a "Free Speech" fundamentalist network, but
its origins, far right userbase, and history
of connections with neo-nazi mass killers
that much of the rest of the "Fediverse" (the federation of
other autonomous servers which make up the Mastodon network) have
blocked Gab aligned servers.
where do feminists come into this
the digital blockade against gab, it's founder Andrew Torba called
out for supporters to set up a range of instances which would
federate with Gab in order to ensure there was a viable social media
ecosystem. Gab is perfectly functional as it's own unit, open to
registration by anyone on the internet, but it's founder and backers
have chosen to present the choice of fascism intolerant instances to
defederate as being "against free speech".
of those individuals to answer the call was Alex Gleason (screenshot
of him saying immediately "I'm planning to set up an instance).
few days later, his girlfriend Mary Kate Fain lost her job at a
software cooperative in response to her publication of transphobic
blog posts, and the pair of them launched Spinster for testing. The
couple are well known for their work in the animal liberation
circuit. Fain is now the CEO of spinster and Alex appears to be
handling day to day technical maintenance.
questioned about why the developers chose to adapt their code from
Gab instead of the mainstream mastodon codebase, Spinster tried to
explain it away as simply a preference for Gab's user interface.
After the first week, when Spinster's app (a clone of the already
banned app Gab) was removed from the Google Play Store for openly
refusing to curb hate speech in user generated content, Spinster
immediately reached out to the Gab development account precipitating
offers of help and suggestions to integrate more closely with Gab's
app infrastructure. (Screen shots available of them @ing the
demonstrates one of the big concerns with Spinster: that by choosing
to open a platform deliberately linked with an alt right platform,
their fate, with their codebase and need to maintain daily operations
is tied up with Gab's.
there's more to it than that
It's clear from Gleason's posts (and patreon) that he presents himself as a left-anarchist and sees this whole project as part of creating some libertarian free speech autonomous zone, but he also repeatedly devolves into Red-Brown daydreaming, minimised the killing of Heather Heyer as merely an incident of "Male Violence" and has suggested that anti-fascism is a form of sexual perversion.
the way he addresses his far right colleagues on Gab it is clear he
sees them as allies to his work and is trying to overthrow the
injustices created by "leftists" and "SJWs" by
allying himself with them. Somehow trans people's existence, claims
to space in our communities and safety from violence have become
emblematic of all of the issues he has with the left.
a bigger picture point of view this amounts to an enormous pull of
feminists ranging from those who are merely skeptical of trans
activism to those who are outright hostile to it being pulled into a
space adjacent to and endorsed by the far right. Due to the decision
to fork (adapt) Gab's code, much of the app infrastructure and the
Mastodon network itself has already cut spinster off in anticipation
that this is simply an offshoot of a far right project that needs to
be isolated - meaning that the women drawn to this platform are
likely to be targetted by even more concentrated efforts to recruit
them to the right.
This is following a well tried and tested pattern of publicity where Gleason presents the likely future cutting off of Spinster (as a Gab satellite) as a form of misogyny - specifically silencing women's voices. Like with Gab this claim falls hollow - the women using Spinster are as able to speak their minds as freely as they like (so long as they follow the Spinster moderation policy - racism, sexism, ablism, even animal cruelty are banned, everything is covered in their policy other than transphobia!) whether other servers in the Mastodon network choose to federate with them or not. But this narrative nevertheless serves to help create an atmosphere of shared victimhood with all those silenced fascists on Gab all the same.
has it panned out
It's early days still but we've already seen incidents of the fascist attitudes amongst users. In one instance, noted TERF Posie Parker described trans women as insects crawling around on flypaper. In another, a stills taken from film of a trans woman's murder was celebrated as righteous justice using a fictional narrative about her having entered a women's toilet, and this false narrative was used to promote more widespread transphobic action (screenshots available). It is yet to be seen how relations will develop between users on Spinster and users on Gab. ■
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