Friday, April 27, 2012

Dear Sports Blogs, Please Stop Accidentally Enabling Creepers

I was catching up on Kissing Suzy Kolber today when I came across an article by Justin Halpern. He had an amusing hypothetical idea: Suppose Mel Kiper was at a bar and was grading women instead of football players. As part of the article, he grabbed a random photo of some women at the bar from 2007 and talked about each woman in turn. I assumed the ladies were friends of his or somehow in on the joke. No big deal, right? Here's a photo of some "random" guys in a bar from 2007, for example, that Justin might have used had he been gay or a woman*. Who is your first-round draft choice from the photo?

I want to give Justin the benefit of the doubt. Five years ago, grabbing a random photo, it's unlikely that anyone would find out who those ladies were or know those ladies. But, now that we have reverse image search via, the ladies in the photo could be tracked down and identified. They did indeed find out that their photo was being used.

Now imagine how sweet it would be to be described like this on the Internet (taken from Justin's story):
"...His/Her slim physique will be able to take the pounding that comes with a one night stand"
"He/she probably won’t be someone who you can immediately insert your penis in to"
"...He/She more than makes up for with his/her willingness to find a penis, and just put it in his/her mouth"

The lady whose blog it was from requested that the photo be taken down, to no avail. So this poor woman is stuck with slutty comments attached to her and her friends, and being easily found by any creep who reads the comment section. I know, the typical reader for sports blogs isn't Michael David Barrett. But what sucks is, why couldn't Justin use a photo of HIS female friends, if this is just a light-hearted joke? I assume he does has some female friends (insert lazy cliche about virginal writers here). If it's all for laughs and giggles, use a photo that you have permission for, or pick on public figures. (Someone in the comment thread suggested the Kardashians, for example). It's not difficult to find other ways to get our jokes in.

I want to emphasize, most sports bloggers I have met in person were great guys. They were funny, dating/married to lovely women, and not at all socially unacceptable. But there are way too many examples of careless bloggers accidentally putting innocent men and women at risk of Internet creepiness.

For example, a sports blog had a photo of a pretty woman to accompany a random story. When I clicked the link to see if it was some celebrity actress I had never heard of, turns two clicks, it led to a high school student in New Jersey's Facebook photo. I'm going to gently assume that the blogger in question doesn't spend his time trolling Facebook for high school girls. (Yes, I checked if he was on her friends list, he wasn't). But by them publishing the photo, he put that 16-year-old girl at risk of being stalked and/or humiliated.

Sports bloggers need to educate themselves about technology in general to stop accidentally giving away their sources and their secrets when it's not necessary. And this isn't just about women. Take, for example, Deadspin's Barry Petchesky, whose writing I enjoy. He wrote up a very funny post about a finance guy who used spreadsheets to keep track of the women he dated. Unfortunately, this happened (click to enlarge):
Barry went back and fixed the spreadsheet and moved the identifying comments out of the thread, but unfortunately the damage had already been done. Obviously, someone at Dave's office (the office we all know about now, via Linkedin) could use this information against Dave. Or, someone could look up the photos of the women and track them down.

Let me state the obvious. I don't think Justin Halpern is a creep who stalks random women on blogs that are five years old. I don't think that the sports blogger who linked to the photo of the high school girl is at risk of a visit from the police. And I don't think Barry Petchsky's mission in life is to enable stalking. I get it: the more raw the story, the more details, the more titillating and exciting. But I'd just remind you what AJ Daulerio said his biggest regret was. He ran a video of a college girl having sex, and ended up getting an email from her father, who had to watch his daughter possibly being raped in a dirty bathroom. In the end, here's what AJ said:
"Daulerio now says he wishes he hadn't run the video. "It wasn't funny," he says. "It was possibly rape. I was trying to kind of put it in that same category [as the Dallas video]. I didn't really look at the thing close enough to realize there's maybe something a little more sinister going on here and a little more disturbing."

Lest you think this is me riding a high horse, here's my own confession of making this type of mistake. When I first started this blog, I used to run a series on here about sports crushes. It was supposed to be a light-hearted look at women who were good people, interesting, and attractive. "Here's this pretty athlete who also works with disabled kids and is in Mensa." A goal was to pick athletes and writers who were obscure. It meant more Google traffic because of less competition. But I too was enabling stalking behavior.

I have to ask myself, what type of person is using Google for more info on "Jane Doe college basketball photos hot?" Do I really want to be enabling that person? Sure, I have good intentions, it's good for traffic, blah blah blah...but at the end of the day, I am guilty of the same. So I recently pulled those posts from the site. This is my admission that I've made this mistake too, and my attempt to fix that. I hope that others give it some thought the next time they write a story on non-famous people. I know that some of you will take this as lengthy needless moralizing. But I truly am concerned that if we're not more careful, some innocent person will get fired, stalked, or harassed. And no writer wants that on their conscience.

*Those are well-known sports bloggers, as you might have guessed.

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