Self-publishing can tend to attract sleaze (as Amazon could attest after having distributed not one but at least two different self-published pedophilia guides), and it is sometimes tricky for a self-publishing distributor or enabler to keep track of everything it’s allowing. The latest business to find this out is Kickstarter, whose automated crowdfunding campaigns have made it something of a self-publishing darling lately.
It started when comedian Casey Malone noticed and blogged about a nearly-complete Kickstarter program aimed at producing a “seduction guide,” using material gathered from this reddit thread. The guide offers men advice on getting women to sleep with them, counseling them to be aggressive in their actions. Malone posted quotes from this material in his blog entry, and called it “a book about how to sexually assault women.”
(In a statement posted to pastebin, the book’s author, Ken Hoinsky, insists that he would never condone sexual assault or violence toward women, and that these quotes were taken way out of context and referred to what to do only after the man and woman were already in a relationship and “alone behind closed doors fooling around.”)
Kickstarter only found out about this guide two hours before the Kickstarter was due to end, and because of institutional inertia born of trying to err on the side of caution did not act in time to prevent it from closing and funding. (It earned over $16,000 on a $2,000 goal.) At that point, the money was transferred to Hoinsky’s account. Kickstarter posted an abject apology to its blog, stating that it was sorry it had not canceled the project before it funded, it would prevent this type of project from being solicited through it again, and it was donating $25,000 to an anti-sexual violence organization.
The puzzling thing is, Kickstarter supposedly vets projects when they’re submitted, so it can reject objectionable ones early on. The project had a 21-day funding period, yet Kickstarter only found out about its offensive nature 2 hours before the end?
Were the quotes taken out of context, and the guide more innocent than it appeared? I’m well aware of how easy it is to jump to the worst possible conclusions and then have those conclusions spread like wildfire through the Internet while the truth is still putting its boots on. Could that have happened here?
To be fair, the quotes did come from a section discussing bedroom behavior between (presumably) consenting adults, and the rest of the series of posts that make up the book’s material are by and large more tame. On the other hand, this section does come off as creepy as hell even reading through the whole post on reddit rather than just relying on Malone’s out-of-context quotes. He even manages to make the section warning men to back off if the woman says to stop creepy! Even if I give Hoinsky the benefit of the doubt and take him at his word that he didn’t mean it that way, he expressed what he did write badly enough that it could still give readers bad ideas.
Of course, when you get right down to it, perhaps the only thing really notable about this case is the involvement of Kickstarter and the openness. If you search “seduction guide” on Amazon, a panoply of videos, books, Android applications, and thigh-length stockings appears, and any one or all of these might contain advice that’s just as offensive as the Kickstarted one. (And men aren’t the only ones who get guides written for them.) After all, the definition of “seduce” is “to lead astray,” which is to say, to convince someone to do something they otherwise might not want to do.
In any event, the Kickstarter was funded, even if the project was taken down afterward. Given that Kickstarter projects are used for sending out updates and working out how to distribute the product even after funding, I wonder whether Hoinsky will have any trouble getting the completed book out to those who paid for it, and whether those who paid for it would have any cause of action against Kickstarter if removing the project meant he lost access to the contact information of his funders.
Update: Glenn Fleishman at BoingBoing has a lengthy post with a lot more background and context. Worth a read.