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.
A bit of background on alternative social media
The 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 by converting 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 have meant 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.
So where do feminists come into this
After 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".
One of those individuals to answer the call was Alex Gleason (screenshot of him saying immediately "I'm planning to set up an instance).
A 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.
When 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 @[email protected] account).
This 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.
But 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.
From 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.
From 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.
How 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. ■
This story was written by a source who wished to remain Anonymous. If you would like to contribute and expand upon it please send an email to [email protected]