A letter to Automattic Inc. (parent of WordPress.com) on the “MWMF trans woman hit-list”

[Ed. note: delivered to Automattic Inc., 8 September 2011]

Personal attack blogs: Blogs with the primary purpose of attacking an individual or group of individuals are not welcome on WordPress.com. We have a particularly low tolerance for anonymous bloggers who make personal attacks without standing by their words with their real name.

If you find a blog that violates our rules please report it.

Hello Automattic, et al. —

It was brought to our attention that a blog account on your WordPress.com service by the name of “GenderTrender” [http://gende—-nder.wordpress.com] has issued what appears to be an exposure list, or “hit list” of select individuals for whom that blog’s administrator is impelling readers to act on a vow of physical contact. The list in question — [linked here] — would, as a plain reading, indicate a call-to-action which could result in the specific harm of the individuals itemized and profiled on that list.

It appears that an enmity towards a targeted demographic is a recurring theme in the GenderTrender blog. This alone would, without exceptional interpretation, indicate a wilfulness for attacking that demographic with the intent of defamation. The cited link previous, however, would take this enmity and vow to harm these people a problematic step closer.

May I focus your attention to the start of this letter and the following passage from your current Terms of Service, last amended 17 May 2011, in which item 2, item 6 reads as the following:

2. If you operate a blog, comment on a blog, post material to the Website, post links on the Website, or otherwise make (or allow any third party to make) material available by means of the Website (any such material, “Content”), You are entirely responsible for the content of, and any harm resulting from, that Content. That is the case regardless of whether the Content in question constitutes text, graphics, an audio file, or computer software. By making Content available, you represent and warrant that content is not pornographic, does not contain threats or incite violence towards individuals or entities, and does not violate the privacy or publicity rights of any third party,

Without limiting any of those representations or warranties, Automattic has the right (though not the obligation) to, in Automattic’s sole discretion (i) refuse or remove any content that, in Automattic’s reasonable opinion, violates any Automattic policy or is in any way harmful or objectionable, or (ii) terminate or deny access to and use of the Website to any individual or entity for any reason, in Automattic’s sole discretion.

While we understand that Automattic, decentralized as it is, principally conducts business in the United States, we also understand that in light of broad constitutional protections, the U.S. Supreme Court has carefully proscribed specific circumstances as “free speech”. It also appears that the blog in question is managed by an American citizen living in the U.S.

This said, the risk that Automattic faces is not only a question of legal liability for Automattic and the WordPress word mark (should any of these women be harmed as a direct consequence of this published exposure “hit list”), but also because that incident for which your organization shall be be held liable was alerted in a timely fashion after the list was published after which insufficient action was taken. This list is hosted on the WordPress.com domain, which furthers the necessity for Automattic to investigate this claim before any substantive harm to the targeted people can be done.

We understand that at least one of your team members has dismissed your Terms of Service and the plain-language passage at the start of this letter by requesting that a “court order” be procured and electronically delivered to ‘court-orders@wordpress.com‘. We need not remind you that the time it can require to wend through any legal system (jurisdiction not specified) can take time — time which may be used to orchestrate specific harm to the people under threat.

We ask that Automattic fulfil its stated “low tolerance” for wilful harm (or threat thereto) on behalf of its users. We ask that Automattic carefully review verification that the user(s) representing the “GenderTrender” blog agreed to these Terms of Service when they registered. We ask that Automattic expunge the blog in question and to revoke the user(s) privileges for using WordPress products in the future for violation of stated Automattic policy.

We shall, should it arise, provide a copy of this letter to the law enforcement agency responsible for investigating a criminal case should any of the named people on the exposure “hit list” is assaulted or materially harmed as a direct consequence of the blog in question.

Thank you for exercising careful action on this concern.

Sincerely yours,

Patience Newbury
Editor, Cisnormativity blog