The Above the Game Kickstarter and Kickstarter’s Screening Policy

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Over the past couple of days leading up to the successful funding of the Above the Game: A Guide to Getting Awesome With Women Kickstarter, the project has come to the attention of many for its questionable content, and its success in the context of Kickstarter’s basic guidelines. I will preface this post with a trigger warning, as the information below constitutes a sensitive, but very important, subject to discuss. The main issue that has been raised with this particular Kickstarter, a book project begun by Ken Hoinsky, is that the material in the book, while not stated as such on the Kickstarter page, includes advice on “getting awesome with women” that constitutes harassment and even rape. This means that while the book, which has been available on Reddit’s “seduction” subreddit for several years, should certainly fall under the heading of the “offensive material (hate speech, etc.)” prohibited in Kickstarter’s basic guidelines, the book somehow was allowed a Kickstarter.

The controversy was first brought to light by blogger Casey Malone, whose initial post about Above the Game, “This is Not Fucking Harmless,” has received over 7,000 notes. After bringing up the issue, Malone received a lot of website traffic and support in his condemnation of the project, but he and the friends who supported him, also received negative feedback. Malone points out that in bringing up the issue, his female friends who retweeted the post received harassment earlier than he did, and when he did begin to receive negative comments, many of the commenters believed him to be female. Malone’s experience with these responses further cements the importance of condeming Above the Game for its place in perpetuating a culture of disrespect and harassment towards women, on and off the internet.

The Kickstarter page for the project itself doesn’t contain anything extremely problematic, though it does link to the original subreddit featuring the first part of the book. The content itself, and not the pitch, is where the disturbing information is, and forms the loophole that ultimately led to the successful existence of the Kickstarter. The information in the subreddit, which will be published in the book, contains advice like (via Reddit):

If a woman isn’t comfortable, take a break and try again later. All that matters is that you continue to try to escalate physically until she makes it genuinely clear that it’s not happening.  She wants to be desired but the circumstances need to be right… you will learn to differentiate between, ‘No, we can’t… my parents are in the next room…OMG F**k ME’ from the ‘SERIOUSLY GET THE F**k OFF ME YOU CREEP’ variety of resistance.

This quote comes from the “Important Note on Resistance” section, and displays only some of the ways in which Hoinsky suggests in the book that readers take on a level of persistance and disregard for the other individual’s wishes that perpetuates the belief that it is okay to coerce another person into actions they are not comfortable with. In other words, even while Hoinsky tries to stress respect, he actually reinforces the completely misguided idea that a lack of consent can or should be overcome.  In the “Physical Escalation” section of the Reddit sample, Hoinsky writes:

All the greatest seducers in history could not keep their hands off of women. They aggressively escalated physically with every woman they were flirting with. They began touching them immediately, kept great body language and eye contact, and were shameless in their physicality. Even when a girl rejects your advances, she KNOWS that you desire her. That’s hot. It arouses her physically and psychologically.

Again, Hoinsky tells his readers that rejection is desirable, which completely contradicts the truth of the situation: that rejection is rejection, no does, in fact, mean no, and mutual respect is absolutely crucial in interacting with anyone, whether in a romantic setting or otherwise.

The rest of the book sample available on Reddit contains many similar pieces of advice, that amount to an overall endorsement by Hoinsky of actions that constitue harassment and even rape to “get” women. “Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances,” is a bolded portion of the “Physical Escalation & Sex” section. This information should, clearly, be under the heading of “offensive material” that is banned from Kickstarter projects, and Malone believed so too. When he contacted Kickstarter to report  Above the Game for its offensive content, Kickstarter took several hours to respond, but did so with some specificity towards the event and not just a stock response. Via Malone’s Website:

This morning, material that a project creator posted on Reddit earlier this year was brought to our and the public’s attention just hours before the project’s deadline. Some of this material is abhorrent and inconsistent with our values as people and as an organization. Based on our current guidelines, however, the material on Reddit did not warrant the irreversible action of canceling the project.

As stewards of Kickstarter we sometimes have to make difficult decisions. We followed the discussion around the web today very closely. It led to a lot of internal discussion and will lead to a further review of our policies.

As Malone pointed out, the fact that Kickstarter’s people believe the “material is abhorrent and inconsistant with [their] values” but somehow didn’t believe it warranted cancellation is not just disappointing, but fairly confusing. This incident brings up a larger issue with Kickstarter. While it allows many amazing projects to be completed, it also has an extremely vague policy on projects and little screening process beyond reviewing the pitch on the actual website. This is where the Above the Game project becomes an important example.

While the actual Kickstarter pitch appears to be a relatively straightforward how-to book, albeit one that suggests there is a single method to ingratiate yourself with women (who are obviously a very large and diverse group in reality), the page does link to the actual book content on Reddit. The offensive material itself is not on Kickstarter, but would have been easy for the company to review prior to approving the project. While their terms of use explicitly state they are not liable for any information that is linked to via project pages, Kickstarter could still have viewed the content of the book given the already dubious title and purpose. Still, Kickstarter does have a stated policy that funders should “use… internet street smarts” when judging the validity of a project, and make sure to:

“Look for the creator bio section on the project page. Are they Facebook Connected? Do they provide links for further verification? The web is an invaluable resource for learning more about a person.”

It is understandable that Kickstarter would want to protect their company from liability, especially given that it is difficult for them to completely do away with projects that might be scams, but the Above the Game project is not a scam. It is a project that was funded eight times over but contains content that encourages the harmful treatment of women (and has over 49,000 people petitioning for Kickstarter to revoke the funding). The question is, how should Kickstarter address their policies to prevent this kind of issue from arising again?

[Editor’s Note: We’ve posted a full update to this story here.)

(via Casey Malone is the Brute Squad, Kickstarter, Reddit)

Previously in Kickstarter

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