Online exploitation of women's bodies is not a robot's fault

Elon Musk made a meme about the sexual exploitation of women’s bodies online. So I made some memes about him.

At the frontline of global technological development is a man who treats generative AI as a game, one that is played at the expense of women’s bodies, with hundreds of millions of spectators watching on.

Just weeks after sexually-explicit AI-generated images of Taylor Swift were circulated and viewed on his social media platform X more than 47 million times, Elon Musk trivialised what is a very real threat for women when it comes to these technologies.

On Sunday night (Monday morning in Australia), Musk posted a meme that shows just how little he cares about this threat.

“Boobs rock, it’s a fact,” he wrote on the post.

Elon Musk’s post shows how men (still) disrespect women’s bodies – online and beyond.

It’s the billionaire, Silicon Valley bro version of an 11-year-old boy typing “5318008” on his calculator and turning it upside down so it spells “BOOBIES”. I can picture an adolescent-like giggle escaping from Musk as he put fake boobs on the woman in the meme, wrote the caption and posted it to his 172 million followers on X, his very own platform.

But the truth is – the meme was immature, tone deaf and the clearest indication we have that Musk just isn’t funny.

Luckily, I am. And I want to show him how meme-making is really done.

The AI blame game

If there was any real accountability for Musk and people wanted to bring him down for making fun of a very real issue, I wonder if he would point the finger at AI.

Because that’s the pattern we’re seeing. When the pornographic images of Taylor Swift were distributed all over the platform, people vaguely blamed it on technology. No humans were accountable.

When Victorian MP Georgie Purcell’s body was edited and aired on a national television news broadcast, Nine News director Hugh Nailon cited AI as the reason the image was altered. No humans were accountable.

I’m tired of the AI blame game. It’s about time we point the finger at the real problem here – the people running the show.

Men are so quick to blame it on the robots.

SpaceX’s lawsuit

It’s an interesting choice Elon Musk has made to meme-ify image-based sexual harassment when his company SpaceX is facing a law suit for sexual harassment and discrimination.

In January, the California civil rights department informed SpaceX of seven complaints made by former employees at the rocket-making company. The complaints were in relation to managers nurturing a hostile work environment which allowed jokes about sexual harassment to go unnoticed. According to the accusations, women were paid less than men at the organisation, and any employee who complained about the conditions was dismissed.

Last week, Bloomberg broke the story that, as a result of those complaints, SpaceX is being sued for sexual harassment and discrimination.

Did Musk miss that memo? Because I don’t think prompting AI to alter an image to make a woman’s breasts bigger is helping the case, nor is making a meme about it.

Bad timing on that meme, bro.

Women’s bodies and AI technologies

Elon Musk owns one of the world’s biggest social media platforms. Ultimately, this guy gets to decide what goes on the platform and what stays off.

Last week, Women’s Agenda published an article about a woman who was kicked out of a shopping mall for wearing a midriff top. In the article, the main image showed a picture of her stomach.

When we posted the stories on social media, we ran into a problem. The article was blocked and unable to be posted on X.

Why? Because of the main image. Because of the woman’s stomach.

To be clear: AI-generated pornographic images of women are able to be widely distributed on the platform, seen 47 million times before Musk and the team at X notices a problem. But a woman’s belly? Not ok.

AI-generated porn? Yes. Tummies? Absolutely not.

Women’s bodies are still being regulated by men – online and beyond. The men running the online world don’t see a problem with deep fake images, because it doesn’t affect them: rather, they see it curated for their pleasure and their pleasure only, because “boobs rock”, right? But stuff like this can ruin names, reputations, lives and so much more. 

Of course, regulation on the technology itself is important. Giving people the ability to create this dangerous content gives people the choice to create this dangerous content. That’s why so many women in AI are calling for more regulation and a stronger gender lens in government regulation of AI.

But don’t try to tell me it’s a robot’s fault. Because Musk’s poor attempt at being funny speaks volumes to how men in these spaces (still) disrespect women. 

Maybe it’s not giving people the choice to create the dangerous content that is the problem. Maybe it’s the fact we’re letting them get away with it.


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