On August 12th, Spinster, a women-first social media platform, burst into the Fediverse. In its first month, Spinster faced misogynistic attacks from both the left and the right, repeated attempts to de-platform us (including removal of its android app from the Google Play store), and threats against the site’s users. Despite this, Spinster has established itself as a place for feminist discussion, where a culture of sisterhood, sharing, and freedom has filled the gap tech giants like Twitter refuse to.
The Fediverse is a network of over 4,500 connected servers (called “instances”) that host social media platforms and communicate with each other through a shared data format (the ActivityPub protocol). Originally created in response to concerns about user privacy and rights on mainstream platforms like Twitter and Facebook, the Fediverse has become a place for social media refugees on both the right and left. Until now, though, these platforms have been male dominated.
Servers in the Fediverse tend to lean either right or left, and women and feminists are pushed out either way.
On the left, servers like todon.nl claim to be for “progressives, socialists, anarchists, activists, environmentalists, vegans, anti-racists, anti-fascists, anti-capitalists, pirates, LGBTQIA+, human rights activists, etc.” In other words, everyone but women and feminists. Todon.nl has banned members for publishing blog posts off-site that challenge transgender ideology. LGBT.io, a Fediverse server specifically for “LGBT+ and alies,” banned a transexual male for refusing to call himself “transgender.” Actor Wil Wheaton was run off of Mastodon in 2018 for a series of inconsequential and vague “crimes” only relevant to those who use social media to test their SJW sway, after the admin of mastodon.cloud caved to a pressure campaign.
Servers like Gab.com are dominated by right wing men, and contain misogynistic, anti-feminist, and racist content. In far-right corners of the internet, posting about feminism can lead to anti-semetic harassment. Server admins who attempt to find a middle ground tend to be bullied out of the job, like the admin of donteatanimals.org, who is prepared to quit after facing harassment for allowing gender critical users to hold accounts on his server. Like in most other tech spaces, women have been pushed out of the Fediverse by a male-dominated culture. It’s no surprise that women are hard to find in the Fediverse (except on “sex work” servers, which are dedicated to the buying and selling of sexual services).
Spinster aims to address this, and has already become one of the top 50 instances in the Fediverse, with nearly 6,000 members, competing with others like mastodon.host and chaos.social, which have been around for years. Multiple well-known women who were banned from Twitter on account of their refusal to kowtow to gender identity ideologues have joined to reconnect with their audience, including Posie Parker, Feminist Current’s Meghan Murphy, and Claire Graham (MRKHVoice).
On Spinster, women are allowed to speak about male violence, sexism, and their bodies freely. Criticisms and questions about gender identity ideology are not shut down. As a result, trans activists like Joss Prior, Katy Montgomerie, and Arthur Chu have attempted to infiltrate the site in order to sow discord (despite the fact that it is an open platform that they are welcome to join), smear, and misrepresent the platform and its users. One individual threatened to dox Spinster users by posting their home addresses on the dark web. Some Fediverse users sent Spinster users rape and death threats, including pictures of pointed guns with the caption, “Shut the fuck up TERF.”
Although Spinster is allied with most of the Fediverse in the fight against corporate control of our means of communication, multiple powerful groups within the Fediverse have targeted Spinster through various means. IsolateGab, a leftist group focused on combatting “Gab” instances in the Fediverse, began a campaign to isolate us, despite the fact that we are not a free speech instance, have no affiliation with Gab Inc., and actively moderate hate speech, violent content, and harassment. IsolateGab has painted the nearly 6,000 female users on Spinster as white supremacists, Nazis, and fascists, and has been pressuring other instances to block us in an attempt to cut the only feminist instance off from the rest of the Fediverse. IsolateGab, the supposed anti-fascists, find themselves in good company. 4Chan — a hotbed for racist and anti-feminist trolls — also attempted to shut Spinster down through a DDOS attack (repeatedly hitting our IP address with requests in an attempt to overload the site), which IsolateGab supported. Spinster server admin and co-founder, Alex Gleason, was able to stop the attack within a couple hours by increasing the site’s security features.
Radical.town — purportedly an instance for “radicals” — blocked Spinster before we even opened, removing any illusion that this was related to “objectionable content.” Mastodon.social, one of the largest left-leaning instances in the Fediverse, run by the founder of Mastodon himself, silently blocked Spinster without explanation. The Electronic Frontier Foundation published a post on mastodon.social only a couple days after over 5,000 women were blocked by the instance, writing (ironically):
“Online communities are far from perfect, but they offer women spaces where we’re not constantly outnumbered and outmuscled… Let’s keep striving to make the Internet a better place — one where everyone gets a voice.”
Though they targeted and cut off the largest (and possibly only) women’s instance in the Fediverse, Mastodon.social has no issue with women who suit their interests. They happily federate with switter.at, an instance dedicated to selling sexual services, as well as multiple instances dedicated to porn. In fact, mastodon.social’s three closest federation partners are all porn instances: humblr.social, sinblr.com, and twimblr.xyz. According to the male-centred left, the only women that should be tolerated in the Fediverse are those who cater to men’s sexual interests.
Fediverse admins, of course, have a right to block servers that their users don’t wish to interact with. Spinster, for example, has blocked instances dedicated to porn. IsolateGab, however, went further than simply blocking, determining that Spinster shouldn’t exist at all. IsolateGab has attempted to have Spinster de-platformed from Digital Ocean (our hosting provider), PayPal (where we receive donations), Tusky (a Fediverse mobile app), Moa (a Twitter/Fediverse bridging tool), and the Google Play store. After mass-submitting false reports, IsolateGab was successful in pressuring Google to remove Spinster’s mobile app from the Google Play store. Google claims that Spinster was suspended due to a violation of their “User Generated Content” (UGC) policy, despite the fact that Spinster adheres to every requirement for apps that include UGC, including “robust, effective, and ongoing UGC moderation.” The Spinster app is currently in an appeals process.
IsolateGab calling on Google (one of the most powerful tech companies on the planet) to silence and control women is ironic, since the Fediverse is supposed to be an answer to corporate control of technology. The hypocrisy of the patriarchal anti-capitalist left becomes more and more clear: they don’t want to end social hierarchy, they just want to be the ones on top. The sex-class hierarchy remains even as they claim to start a revolution.
The attacks from the left against Spinster, a women-centric platform that is overwhelmingly female, is par for the course. Women’s spaces have been under attack from the left and trans activists for years, as we saw recently, when Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter was subjected to death threats and defunded by the City of Vancouver due to their women-only policy.
Despite the attacks, a sisterhood has developed on Spinster. Users from other platforms where gender critical women congregate — like Reddit, Twitter, Mumsnet, and Tumblr — have joined Spinster. As a result, Spinster has bridged some of the generational divides that prevent older and younger feminists from interacting with each other, helping to spread inter-generational knowledge that is vital to a healthy women’s movement.
A unique Spinster subculture is already forming, as users share memes and inside jokes. A user-generated poll circulated in the first few days asking users to vote for an emoji to indicate on their Twitter profiles that you could find them on Spinster. The spiderweb emoji won, a reference to “spinning.” Some women have started making Spinster-themed art and merchandise. Others have founded a radical feminist book club that meets every Wednesday. They just finished reading Andrea Dworkin’s Woman Hating, and are moving on to Sheila Jeffrey’s Gender Hurts this week.
Women have been finding community, empowerment, and courage by connecting with one another. One user posted:
“I didn’t really have expectations when I joined Spinster. I was curious and I was longing for a place for women, where we can freely express our opinions. It’s been only a few days now and I already feel a sense of sisterhood, a deeper connection with such wonderful women. I love seeing your posts, reading about your experiences, your thoughts, and I am finding myself in so many of them. Being women is what unifies us.”
Other women say that the first few weeks on Spinster empowered them to become more vocal advocates for women, taking that bravery into their life outside of Spinster. Arianna (@Ari), a user who joined on opening day, wrote:
“After only a few days here, I’ve noticed changes in my behavior on other social media (and even offline). I’m less afraid of speaking out and being assertive, I care less about what others might think of my opinions, I feel overall more confident. Knowing that there are so many women who feel and think similarly to me, all compassionate and actively supporting each other, is truly meaningful!”
Multiple women found the courage to use their real names while publicly discussing their radical feminist politics for the first time, a frightening thing to do in the face of harassment and attacks. When women get together and speak freely, it results in consciousness-raising, support, and empowerment. This is one of the reasons that women-centred spaces are seen as such a threat.
While we wait for Google to decide whether women supporting and empowering women is too “objectionable” for their store, we plan to build our own feminist technological ecosystem if we have to — app store included. The Spinster team is already growing. There are currently a dozen feminist and allied technologists working around the clock to fix bugs, add features, and build support for new platforms. We received 15 applications for new moderators, as well as nearly $2,000 in one-time donations and $200 in recurring monthly donations. Despite the backlash, or maybe thanks to it, Spinster is becoming an unstoppable force of female determination in the Fediverse, and we refuse to be silenced.
M. K. Fain is a radical feminist writer and engineer, and is the Co-Founder of Spinster.