This week, Twitter was a-flutter with news that Playboy magazine had scrapped its annual party school guide in favor of an anti-rape college roundup.
The article included a very legitimate-looking graphic and active links to Playboy's other stories. But it turned out to be an elaborate and incredibly effective hoax, created by an anti-rape organization and a group of college students.
PartyWithPlayboy.com includes the “The Top Ten Party Commandments: The Ultimate Guide to a Consensual Good Time,” which was first posted as a fake Huffington Post story in its college section. ThinkProgress then noticed it and propelled the story forward as the real deal.
The “commandments” include “Thou shalt ask first!,” “Thou shalt take it to the bedroom,” and “Thou shalt not take advantage of sloshed persons.”
“Consent is all about everyone having a good time. Rape is only a good time if you’re a rapist. And f--k those people,” said the fake article.
It also included a link to an “interview” with Hugh Hefner, with Hef saying nuggets like, “If you are a person who simply does not like consent, I would venture to guess that you are a rapist. And to you, I say, stop ruining sex for the rest of us,” and “The only sex that is good is when it’s good for everyone. And I’ve only ever had good sex.”
In an email sent to The Daily Beast, the organization FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture says that it was in on the prank, but gave most of the credit to its college organizers. The group, which says it worked with “hackivist magician” Dan Staples to create the fake Playboy websites, is also responsible for PinkLovesConsent.com—which went after Victoria’s Secret—and is creating a National Mall monument, a giant quilt made up of rape survivors’ stories.
Cinneah El-Amin, 19, a student at Barnard College, is one of the students involved with the hoax. She was responsible for recruiting students, taking photos, and gathering information on the consent work happening on Barnard’s and Columbia University’s campuses, she says. She also volunteers for the Barnard/Columbia University Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center.
“Hannah [Brancato] and Rebecca [Nagle] at FORCE came up with all the ideas, design, etc.,” El-Amin says in an email. “The work that FORCE is doing, in upsetting rape culture, is important to me because I want to live in a world where victims of sexual assault are supported and not shamed.”
And another one of the students, Dasha Burns, is an intern with the organization, according to her LinkedIn profile. She sent the link out to a ton of media organizations and later admitted via Twitter, “ok you all guessed it @upsettingrape was behind the @playboy hoax. Thanks for the shout-outs! You're helping making #consent a hot topic!”
Spreading the word through social-media sites proved key to the plan’s success. FORCE and its members also created fake pages on BroBibles.com and up-worthy.com, recreating those similarly named real websites to direct to the fake Playboy article.
“Most students with smartphones are constantly updating and are connected to their social-networking sites,” El-Amin says. “Again, by spreading these links via major outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and the Huffington Post, FORCE essentially let the Internet do its work.”
After initial shock and joy over Playboy’s decision, some were let down after it was proven to be a hoax. Zerlina Maxwell tweeted, “Maybe publications that saw energetic response to fake playboy story will try to pub real consent stories. Just sayin ...” and Amanda Marcotte writes, “If Playboy wants to show they're modern and sophisticated, they should publish the ‘hoax’ on consent.”
“Targeting Playboy was a brilliant strategic move, not only because of its history as a publication that promotes sex on college campuses with no emphasis on consent, but because of its place in the social fabric of American culture,” El-Amin says. “Thus, when FORCE created a fake party list, very few people initially questioned the validity of the prank.”
Playboy did not answer our request for comment, but a Playboy spokesperson told ThinkProgress that it was not responsible for the “consent commandments.”
In its email, FORCE responds, “What is Playboy saying? While they have told reporters that the site was not theirs they also told partywithplayboy.com’s server to take it down. Trying to take down a website that is getting thousands upon thousands of people excited about consensual sex? Sounds like a party foul to us! We here at consent conspiring headquarters have one thing to say to Playboy: why not join the consent party, already??!?!! Of course you're invited! Consent is for everyone!”
El-Amin says she wholeheartedly supports more “pranks” like this one, because they shed light on problems in an effective way and can spur action. “Ideally, I’d love to live in a world where everyone practices consent!” El-Amin says. “I hope that more college students who were impressed by this hoax continue to have these conversations on their campuses.”