Content warning: Discussion of sexual harassment
It is no secret that men have been raised within a culture that readily provides misogynistic porn — reservoirs of digital pornography exist to access at a moment’s notice. A variety of websites, forums and social media sites host hubs of both consensually and non-consensually posted pornography. Reddit, in particular, is a precarious website — there is no scarcity of subreddits for non-consensual porn, revenge porn, deepfakes and Reddit user-curated pornography stolen from women who posted on other platforms like Twitter and Twitch.
By nature of being a woman online, the expectation of women to perform their sexuality to satiate their male fans has created a collective loss of bodily autonomy. This is where Twitch, again, becomes relevant: Female creators on the website, despite their choice to perform sexually or not, are harbingers of men’s sexual entitlement.
Though misogyny has always been present — in both real life and online spaces — the past few years have given rise to new avenues to deprive women of their bodily autonomy online. The term “deepfake” may be familiar — it was coined in 2017 by an anonymous Reddit user of the same name who began uploading artificially face-swapped pornography. In these videos, faces of popular female celebrities are placed over porn actresses to create simulated, non-consensual pornography of said celebrities. Though this idea has been met with public backlash, deepfaking technology has continued to develop ever since — consumed and produced in secret.
During a Twitch livestream on Jan. 26th, popular content creator Brandon Ewing, popularly known as Atrioc, accidentally shared his Internet browsing tabs to his followers. Though only for a split second, viewers took notice of one particular window, which contained deepfake pornography of popular online streamers. Very quickly, images of Ewing’s tab were spread across the web, including names and images of women deepfaked on the site.
The deepfake site in question is designed to create AI-generated, non-consensual pornography of women content creators. These women did not know of their existence on this site, nor did they consent to its production. It is revolting, predatory — and on top of this, users have to pay a fee to see said pornography, meaning its creator has profited from this exploitation. Ewing himself admitted to his audience in a tearful apology that he had paid to view these deepfakes. He explains that he was casually browsing PornHub when he stumbled across an advertisement for the site, citing a “morbid curiosity” that drove him there. Yet this excuse is flimsy considering he presumably paid for the content and the tab stayed open on his computer. He says that seeking out non-consensual porn like this is not a “pattern of behavior.” His wife was in the background of his apology, understandably in tears herself. Since this incident, Ewing has stepped back from his online presence.
What particularly struck viewers was Ewing’s proximity to streamers on the site — many of them are essentially his coworkers who are also popular content creators in the Twitch world, including Maya Higa and Pokimane. One notable example is QTCinderella, girlfriend of streamer Ludwig, both of whom were close friends of Ewing. Upon finding out about Ewing’s viewing of these materials, QTCinderella spoke up in her own livestream regarding the situation. Understandably, she felt extremely violated, this rupturing her friendship with Ewing. She addressed her audience in tears, beginning by saying, “This is what pain looks like… Fuck the constant exploitation and objectification of women, it’s exhausting.” She correctly asserts, “It should not be a part of my job to have to pay money to take this stuff down.” It is difficult to watch, difficult to reason with how someone could excuse watching or making deepfake content.
Other women featured on the site spoke out, too, including streamer Sweet Anita. In a Twitter response, she says, “I literally choose to pass up millions by not going into sex work and some random cheeto encrusted porn addict solicits my body without my consent instead. Don’t know whether to cry, break stuff or laugh at this point.” These women are unified in their responses of feeling violated, disgusted and unsafe — porn was created of them without their knowledge or consent. It is deeply disturbing, tragic that they even had to create statements regarding the deepfakes. Maya Higa’s response has a relevant, striking line, “I have created zero sexual content in my three years on Twitch. Despite this, my face was stolen so men could make me into a sexual object to use for themselves.”
Though these women have been met with mainstream positive reception, like response videos decrying Ewing from past friends Ludwig and Cr1TiKaL (each with over 3 million views), not all responses have been as kind-hearted. Popular creator Ethan Klein (h3h3productions) reacted to QTCinderella’s video on his podcast and thought it would be funny to play inappropriate music over it, causing him to laugh hysterically as QTCinderella cried in the video. The moment is uncomfortable and insensitive, leaving the podcast crew unsure how to react. Though he apologized for this moments later and spoke in support of her, the incident speaks to the way that womens’ concerns aren’t well listened to online. Many commenters on the podcast clip did not even see a problem with Klein’s laughter, saying things like, “Why is everyone so sensitive?”
The digital realm is already saturated in misogynistic porn, so the depth of sexual violence against victims of deepfakes is desensitized and exacerbated by AI. It is no surprise that male creators laugh and claim the victims are sensitive — they are the ones who enable a culture of misogyny to stay afloat online.
Klein, among others, can laugh at and mock a woman experiencing mass sexual harassment and sexual exploitation because it is what they expect of women. Her body is not her own, nor is her sexual autonomy. These men online view women as objects in the public sphere — they feel entitled to see her, and so they feel justified in supporting non-consensual deepfakes. Mens’ first experiences with sexuality, often, is this misogynistic porn — and because of this, men are raised to view women’s bodies as a ready-to-consume product of their desire. Under these conditions, men are raised to view sexuality as the desire to consume regardless of the other person’s humanity, consent or involvement.
Women deserve their respect, dignity, and right to bodily autonomy. Women deserve to belong in the digital sphere in the same way men can. Women, above all else, deserve to retain their humanity.
If Ewing can degrade and dehumanize women he considered close friends, there is nothing saving the average woman from facing this fate as deepfakes and AI pornography become increasingly accessible.