The Problem with SpankingTube.com

[Note added April 12, 2011. I’m afraid I did speak too soon. It now looks like the temporary equality of M/M content on spankingtube.com was a transitional thing to do with updating their software. Not only is M/M content now hidden from the site’s home page once more, their FAQ now describes their approach to such content: “Male / Male Videos are allowed but are only available if you go under the Channels section and choose a M/M category.” This is unequivocally a discriminatory policy, and not some bug or software artifact. I leave my speculations in the piece below about why they’ve chosen to do this, but it’s clear that spankingtube.com discriminates by sexual orientation for its own purposes.

Note that recent minor changes to the spankingtube.com site, referred to in my last note, mean that the original post doesn’t quite accurately represent the search terminology the site now uses – “categories” are now “channels”, for example. But the crucial facts remain true: M/M content is ghettoised away, and misleadingly omitted from searches which produce results for the site’s home page.]

[Note added March 26, 2011. I’m leaving this post up for a week or two, until it’s clearer how things pan out, but recent changes to spankingtube.com look like they’ve fixed whatever exceptional treatment of M/M content was happening. If this continues, I’ll be very happy to take the post down, and infer that the previous oddness was incidental, and not policy.]

A quick preamble. A good amount of M/M spanking porn hits my kink quite well – especially domestic and school scenarios, with lots of ritual and the right sorts of iconography. That it’s M/M, rather than F/M, is mostly irrelevant, or at least made less relevant by the presence of the right elements for the me that would be the /M. I don’t often seek out M/M stuff, but it’s a very nice bonus when I see something with the right tone. Full stop. New paragraph.

SpankingTube.com is more or less exactly what you would expect, given the name, which deliberately echoes YouTube.com. It’s a free service which allows anyone to upload spanking videos and to make them available to a worldwide audience. The business model seems to be based on using the free content to generate an audience which can then be encouraged to click through to other services: either paid advertisers, paid hosting for users looking to sell clips, or more overtly commercial sites run by the same parent company, HarbeJoe Marketing LLC. Since SpankingTube.com is the second Google hit for “spanking videos” (as of a few minutes ago), the site’s range and potential are significant: many of the over-3500 videos it carries have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times; the site itself has over 42000 registered users, and presumably many more unregistered ones. As was the case with YouTube.com, the site has relatively quickly become an extremely popular way to share and publicise content. All of which is fair enough. End of preamble.

Over a period of months, I started to notice something slightly odd when browsing through SpankingTube.com’s recent uploads. From time to time, content would appear in the “Related Videos” section, displayed along with each video, that I hadn’t seen elsewhere – and this unseen related content seemed typically to be M/M. I didn’t think much of it, but eventually my programmer brain started to dig around a bit deeper to figure out what was going on – and not just because I was worried there was some nice M/M content I was missing out on. In a nutshell, what I found is that videos at SpankingTube.com categorised as either “Male/Male Spanking” or “Male/Male Bondage” are absent from the results of most – not all, but most – content searches that the site allows.

There are basically three ways of finding content on the site:

  1. By choosing a category. Clicking on the main “Categories” tab lists all of the categories used to organise content: “BDSM”, “Bondage”, “Caning”, “Femdom”, etc. “Male/Male Bondage” and “Male/Male Spanking” are two of the available categories. Clicking on each category lists the videos marked as such. This works fine for M/M content, which appears both under the relevant M/M categories (when marked as such), and also under any other categories used to mark the same content – a video categorized as both “Spanking” and “Male/Male Spanking” appears under both categories, for example.
  2. By searching for keywords. This is a conventional search for keywords both in user-generated video descriptions, and user-generated keyword “tags” applied to videos. Comparison between how videos are tagged – orthogonal to the system of categories – is also the basis for the generation of “Related Videos” shown alongside each video. M/M content appears as expected in the results of keyword searches and in lists of “Related Videos”.
  3. By sorting content according to a variety of criteria: “All”, “Most Recent”, “Most Viewed”, “Most Discussed”, “Top Favorites”, “Top Rated”, etc. Here, things don’t work as expected. All but one of the sorting criteria omit completely any videos categorised as either “Male/Male Spanking” or “Male/Male Bondage”. They just don’t appear. This can be seen most clearly by making use of the fact that the sorting can be filtered to show only videos in a specific category. A search for “Most Recent” “Male/Male Spanking”, for example, returns no videos at all. Of the sorting criteria, only “Most Viewed” includes any content categorized as “Male/Male”.

Of the mechanisms for finding content on SpankingTube.com, those described in #3 are the most important – as, therefore, are any quirks or glitches in their implementation – for two reasons. Firstly, they are the mechanisms presented most prominently on the site, and therefore – I am assuming – are the mechanisms most commonly used to search for content. Certainly they represent the great majority of the search options available on any page, and occupy the great majority of the screen real estate. Secondly, such criteria are the basis for the automatic generation of the videos displayed on the home page at any time: “Videos Being Watched”; “New Videos”. (“Editors Picks” [sic], the other section of videos on the home page, which presumably is not generated automatically, hasn’t yet featured any M/M content.)

There are several key practical consequences of all of this. One is that it is extremely unlikely for any content categorised as M/M to be shown on the home page of the site, even if it should notionally qualify. “Most Recent” videos don’t include any M/M content, even if it is the most recent. “Most Viewed” videos do include M/M content, but since M/M videos get significantly fewer hits than other orientations (the most-viewed M/M video is currently on the 30th page of results, way beyond where most people would have stopped looking), they are de facto invisible. It might well be the case that the audience for M/M content is smaller, but when the site makes it much harder to find M/M content, it’s not a level playing field.

A related consequence is that, unless someone is explicitly looking for M/M content, and knows which searches work and which don’t, they’re unlikely to see it. Notably, a casual user of the site might never be shown M/M videos. The site searches which aren’t based on video content, which cut across all orientations, and which therefore would be expected to treat all content and all orientations equally – “All”, “Most Recent”, “Most Viewed”, “Most Discussed”, “Top Favorites”, “Top Rated” – actually treat M/M content as a special case, and omit it entirely.

So. Is how SpankingTube.com treats M/M content deliberate policy, or just the result of some bug/s? I sent the following e-mail to them on November 15 this year, via the site’s own contact form:

Hello,

I’ve recently noticed that there are some issues with your search functions. Specifically, almost all of the search functions you provide fail to include videos tagged as “Male/Male Bondage” or “Male/Male Spanking”. Even a search for “Most Recent” “Male/Male Bondage” or “Male/Male Spanking” returns nothing, despite there being plenty of those videos in your system.

Going through your “Categories” section, and choosing the M/M categories, does return the videos, and M/M videos do appear in the “Related Videos” section sometimes. But the main searches of the site seem to leave out anything tagged as M/M. For example, the “New Videos” section of your homepage doesn’t include anything tagged as M/M, even if there’s something tagged M/M that’s very recent, and should be there.

Can I ask if this is just a bug in your search code, or if it’s something you’ve set up to work that way?

Thanks in advance.

Paul

I hadn’t received a reply by December 17, so I sent the same e-mail to the site’s webmaster address (which is advertised as the address to use for the “Custodian of Records”). I still haven’t had a reply to either e-mail, nor has the site’s behaviour changed since then. At best, the site’s owners are oblivious to or disinterested in a glitch in their site which discriminates against M/M content. At worst, the discrimination is deliberate policy.

Without a reply from them, I can’t be sure which it is, but there’s some circumstantial evidence suggesting it might be deliberate – other than the lack of response from them to my e-mails, and the continued behaviour of the site. Every page on the site contains a sidebar which lists various links to other sites, typically commercial, and typically set up with an affiliate code, so that SpankingTube.com gets a small cut of subsequent sign-ups. The links are categorised in various ways: “Favorite Links”, “Mega Sites”, “Great Spankings”, “Institutional”, “Individual Model”, “FemDom”, “Video Only”, “Sex and Spanking”, “Bondage”, “Device Bondage”, and “Webmaster Programs”. None of the links in any of these categories are to M/M sites, despite the fact that most link categories are not gender-specific. The site does in fact carry some sidebar links to M/M sites, categorised as “Male/Male Spanking” and “Transexual, Bi & Gay Bondage”, but these appear on only two pages on the whole SpankingTube.com site: the main category listings for “Male/Male Spanking” and “Male/Male Bondage”. This suggests a clear intention to treat M/M content as a special case, which would be consistent with a deliberate omission of M/M content from most prominent searches.

Why would a policy like this make sense to SpankingTube.com’s owners? Given that the affiliate links to the M/M sites make money for SpankingTube.com’s owners in exactly the same way as all other affiliate links, why only display them on the M/M-specific pages, when all other links are displayed throughout the site, including the M/M-specific pages? Perhaps the thought is that the presence of M/M links would somehow deter what the site believes to be its core (straight male?) audience, such that the net effect of showing M/M links prominently throughout the site – and especially on the home page – would be negative. This being the case, the proposed effect would presumably apply all the more to the prominent display of M/M content.

I’d like to be clear why I think this is important, and why it bothers me. There’s an attitude disturbingly prevalent in the spanking scene that M/M is something very different from any other orientation. It’s not hard, for example, to find parties that explicitly exclude only M/M play. Various rationales are given, some of which plainly misunderstand that M/M play/content is more than merely fine with most non-gay-men, it’s interesting and hot; and some others of which are just expressions of soft homophobia. In the case of party organisers and content producers, one might seek to enlighten their attitudes a little, but in the end it’s their ball, and they can take it home if they want.

SpankingTube.com is a little different. The site’s modus operandi might be commercial, but it relies on a symbiotic relationship with content producers – both professional and amateur. It presents itself as a free way for anyone to upload their content and get it out to the world – much like YouTube.com before it. That the content is used to leverage advertising revenue is a fair and reasonable part of the deal, and the site’s users can see that’s how it works. What’s not clearly part of the deal, is that if the user happens to upload M/M content, they should expect that it’s misleadingly hidden from searches, and ghettoised away from the view of anyone who might not be part of its narrow, assumed audience, for fear of scaring away Mister and Missus Average. That’s a basic mistake about who might be interested in the content. But far more importantly, it’s a way of deceptively discriminating against a single orientation based on a crude commercial judgement. That a site as prominent and widely-used as SpankingTube.com can – at best – allow this to happen, or – at worst – cause it to happen, is a real concern.

If I was someone who used SpankingTube.com to share content, given the above I’d be seriously reconsidering, until and unless the problem – whether software bug or shortsighted policy – was fixed.

[For more on this issue, see posts by Mija and Indy.]

8 Comments

  1. Interesting post, and congratulations due for digging into this with such thoroughness.

    My personal interests don’t cover /M spanking (but obviously I have no issue whatsoever with those tates do encompass that). As such, my personal preference with a site that features all varieties of c.p. would be for there to be some easy-to-use means of selecting / deselecting content that’s of no particular interest to me. I don’t particularly want to scroll through pages with significant M/M or F/M content, as that’s simply of no interest to me, just as many with different tastes might not want to have to browse through (say) lots of F/F content.

    [Since you mention it in passing, I might also say that I actually have no particular problem when groups of people meeting for real life play explain the type of activity towards which their event is oriented. Far from being discriminatory, that seems merely to help people to find events that will fit with their tastes / interests, and where they won’t risk feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome. If (say) a group organising an M/M event wants to state that their event isn’t designed for M/F play, as that’s not their taste / interest / objective with the session, then I’m pretty relaxed about that].

    What’s nasty about the way that spankingtube seems to work – based on your research – is that everything is done so surreptitiously. By excluding M/M content on the basis of skewed algorithms, without explaining that not all searches (and hence preferences) are handled equally, that appears to be overtly discriminatory – and quite insidious.

    I really hope that the owners / administrators of the site come back to you with a response on your research – and, one hopes, with a means of addressing the issue you’ve identified. Well done again for noticing and highlighting it.

    Reply
  2. Hi Paul,

    Thank you for enlightening us. I had no idea that SpankingTube operated that way, but now that you point it out, I don’t see M/M videos.

    I struggle with a closely related issue. I’ve designed my blog to serve as a gateway to other spanking blogs. My blogroll currently features 375 links that appeal to spanking enthusiasts of every stripe. Except M/M. Yes, it’s true, but the explanation does not involve any carefully planned conspiracy.

    Whether gay or straight, I have no issue with M/M spanking or the good people who practice it. If I find a M/M spanking blog that meets my criteria for inclusion in the blogroll, I will happily add it.

    The problem has been that the M/M blogs I review seem to be either (a) overtly sexual (we’re not talking about the incidental display of genitals which is probably unavoidable) or (b) so blatantly commercial that the truly free content is insignificant. I regularly exclude M/F, F/F, and F/M blogs on the same basis. I challenged readers help me broaden our collective palate, but no one ever stepped forward.

    I can’t defend SpankingTube on this point and I won’t try. However, my dilemma illustrates some of the challenges they face.

    Thanks, as always, for encouraging us to think.

    With warm regards,

    Bonnie

    Reply
  3. @Bonnie,

    Honestly, I don’t think your blog and SpankingTube.com are doing the same sort of thing at all, and I wouldn’t suggest you need to struggle with the choices you make. The analogue would be if you explicitly said you’d accept any links from users, with no indication that they’d be treated differently, and then hid some away based on orientation preferences. But your space is clearly yours, and curated by you, and you quite rightly get to say what happens.

    Reply
  4. @Abel,

    I might also say that I actually have no particular problem when groups of people meeting for real life play explain the type of activity towards which their event is oriented. Far from being discriminatory, that seems merely to help people to find events that will fit with their tastes / interests, and where they won’t risk feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome.

    “People meeting for real life play” covers a huge range of activities, from a few friends at a house-party, to Shadow Lane, and I don’t think they’re all the same. It also does matter why inclusion/exclusion is done. Any time a single orientation is excluded, I’d bet money the reasons are not likely to be worthy ones. The SCONY “it would scare the horses” rationale for disallowing M/M activity has always struck me as particularly egregious – it’s the sort of thing I meant when I used the phrase “soft homophobia”.

    There are also different ways in which someone can be made to feel unwelcome. M/M activity isn’t a huge part of a Shadow Lane party, for example, but it’s not unwelcome. If it was, I’d feel unwelcome, not because I’d worry that my play was likely to be affected, but because I wouldn’t want to be part of that sort of environment. With respect to gatherings of that type, I very much like the pan-sexuality – Zille’s fantastic SF party last year being a wonderful example. A party which is optimised for a specific group’s likelihood of matching up, wouldn’t feel like a party to me, so much as a meat market.

    Reply
  5. I guessed that part of my long comment might be the one that would provoke a response, rather than the debate on the main thrust of your post! I appreciate it’s a sensitive topic – and one in which it’s good when people honour others’ differing perspectives.

    I can’t comment on your SCONY experiences, knowing nothing of that organisation. However, I’ve been to many successful, happy gatherings that have happened to be /F only (as that’s been the interest / orientation of those attending). Any view that the organisers’ “reasons are not likely to be worthy” and that they may be guilty of “soft homophobia” seems grossly unfair on some of the most wonderfully compassionate and sympathetic people I know.

    And why the leap to ‘homophobia’? As the final part of the paragraph in my original comment noted – not included in your extract – precisely the same principle seems, to me, to apply to events that are /M in nature.

    Reply
  6. @Abel,

    I guessed that part of my long comment might be the one that would provoke a response, rather than the debate on the main thrust of your post!

    Well, yes. I know that bit of your comment was an aside, but a reply from me to the rest of it would probably not have been much more than me agreeing with your agreeing with me. Not very interesting or useful. And I suppose I do think that the attitude of SpankingTube.com towards M/M, and the attitudes of many event organisers towards M/M, come from a similar place, so it’s not irrelevant.

    However, I’ve been to many successful, happy gatherings that have happened to be /F only (as that’s been the interest / orientation of those attending). Any view that the organisers’ “reasons are not likely to be worthy” and that they may be guilty of “soft homophobia” seems grossly unfair on some of the most wonderfully compassionate and sympathetic people I know.

    To clarify, just to make sure we mean the same thing, when I talk about exclusion of a single orientation, I don’t mean /M (or /F, or F/, or M/). I mean M/M. There might be places I don’t know about where other single orientations are excluded, but in practice where there’s just one, it’s more or less always M/M. That’s what I meant when I said that M/M is treated as something different from any other orientation.

    There’s a basic fundamental difference between an event which is organised for a specific sub-group, and an event which is organised for everyone except a specific sub-group. Look outside of spanking parties to analogies in the wider world and I think it’s clearer why they’re different.

    Other than Shadow Lane and Zille’s SF group, most of the large spanking organisations in the U.S. (I’m less familiar with the scene in the U.K.) welcome M/F, F/M, and F/F, but not M/M. Why would that be? What assumptions does it make? If events are merely for people into spanking to get together, without an assumption that they’d necessarily play, why exclude M/M? If events are designed for play, what assumptions does an exclusion of only M/M make? Allowing F/F makes it clear that it’s not about keeping the event for straight play only. Allowing F/M makes it clear that it’s not about keeping the event for male tops. So it’s okay for women to top and bottom with both men and women, and it’s okay for men to top, and to bottom, just not with each other? That doesn’t make any sense, and is very hard to justify. From a purely practical perspective, it assumes: i) that M/M play isn’t interesting to women, in the same way that F/F play is interesting to men; ii) that while at least some of the women at the event might be into playing with both women and men, none of the men would be. Both of those assumptions seem to me to be false – speaking as a straight man who can quite easily imagine playing the right sort of scene with another man.

    And why the leap to ‘homophobia’? As the final part of the paragraph in my original comment noted – not included in your extract – precisely the same principle seems, to me, to apply to events that are /M in nature.

    The reference in your comment was to M/M, rather than /M, and I do see those are different, for the reasons discussed above. A gathering designed for M/M play would be a very different sort of thing from a gathering designed for any play except for M/M.

    Again to be clear, the charge of soft homophobia – which I certainly stand by – wasn’t a blanket charge against any event at which M/M play isn’t part of the remit, any more than I’d claim that a M/M-specific event was heterophobic. But an event which excludes only M/M play would IMO have a hard case to make that what they’re doing isn’t discriminatory.

    Reply

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