Should Online Dating Sites Prevent Users From Naming Abusers?

Earlier this week, Tracy Clark-Flory published an article on Salon about allegations of assault in the BDSM community, specifically on FetLife, a Facebook-like social network for men and women in the kink scene.

The Salon article explains that FetLife administrators have begun removing message board posts that name names, and that a group of members upset by this have started a petition to remove from the Terms of Service a clause requiring users to pledge not to "make criminal accusations against another member in a public forum."

The mission statement of this group ("Let us name abusers") reads thusly:

While these conditions may be invoked to stop harassment and to shield Fetlife from liability, they also prevent members of our community from publicly naming and speaking out against abusers, rapists, and other predators. Given Fetlife's prominence and the role it plays in supporting and expanding kink community - particularly its role as a point of entry into the community for young, inexperienced, or otherwise vulnerable people - we feel that Fetlife's current policy is irresponsible and tantamount to enabling abuse. PLEASE CHANGE IT.

Protecting members from allegations of abuse is one thing—on conventional dating sites like OkCupid and Match.com, where profile pictures are more often portraits or headshots, a person's identity can be obscured only so much.

But FetLife isn't technically a dating site; it's a social network. Most use nicknames and monikers that reflect their individual sexual predilections; photos are posed and sexy, and many choose not to show their face. That members who liase on FetLife end up meeting to have sex with one another more often than anonymous friends on Facebook is to be expected of an online community targeted at individuals who share a mutual interest in a very specific type of sex.

As one anonymous commenter on the message board explained, what they want is freedom of expression without special caveats:

All anyone is saying is that we should be able to say "last night, usernamegoeshere hit me nonconsensually," exactly the same as you can do in real life or on livejournal or facebook or whatever, without having it automatically deleted. It's not fetlife's job to determine the veracity. The other person can explain or defend themselves exactly as they would in real life or elsewhere on the internet.

As she/he explains it, this would be a self-governed system, not so much a rule or responsibility, but the freedom to say something if you so choose. Really, it's just freedom of speech—in this case, speech cautioning others against a potential threat. Why should protecting the reputations of certain anonymous individuals supersede the very real importance of preventing sexual violence? If the allegations are false, so be it. But how can we abide the illogic that prevents a victim from warning others in a community of someone he/she knows is dangerous?

Should online dating sites prevent users from naming abusers? Is enforcing silence very different from allowing continued violence? (Uggggk I wish that didn't rhyme.) Discuss... [Salon - Image via Peter Bernik/Shutterstock]