This morning I spent a lot of time in the #CrippingTheMighty hashtag, finding blog posts about it, and getting a good sense of what is and isn’t going on. Below I have an overview of what’s going on, followed by links to posts from the disability community on the issue. If you’d like yours added to the list, please comment!
The Mighty is basically disability content aggregation- think BuzzFeed, but on disability. Some of their posts are reprints or re-formats, some are original to them. From the beginning, different disability bloggers have felt uneasy with The Mighty, and those feelings have become progressively stronger.
On Sunday, December 20th, 2015 the disability community hit a tipping point in their opinion of The Mighty when it published a post called “Meltdown Bingo.” This post attempted to be humorous about an autistic meltdown using the Bingo meme, but instead ended up othering. The key issue with it was that it focused on the observer’s perspective and feelings, not those of the autistic having the meltdown.
While “Meltdown Bingo” was this breaking point, it merely is an example of the much larger issues with The Mighty that the community identified. The Disability Visibility Project’s Alice Wong then started the #CrippingTheMighty hashtag in order to address these issues.
Many of the issues come out of the aggregation approach that The Mighty has. For Aggregation sites to be successful, they need to have clickable content- mainly “clickbait”- that is likely to be seen. It can also have viral potential, either by addressing a timely or important issue or by tapping into an emotional experience shared by the target viewer. Unfortunately a lot of the content that is easy to source that fits this description in the disability community is content that is harmful.
From the beginning, The Mighty has been plagued with complaints that they are an inspiration porn mill. Inspiration Porn is a big problem when it comes to disability related content. Typically it takes something relatively normal that a disabled person is doing, and frames it as inspirational merely because the person is disabled. Another format, and one I’ve observed increasing lately, is the encounter between the abled person and the disabled person that gives the abled person a chance to do something “good.” In this version, the disabled person is even more of a prop than in the former, and could be replaced with a leg shaped lamp rather than with a cute puppy without substantial change in tone.
The other problematic- and possibly more damaging- content type is the warrior mommy blogger content. Beyond the fact that it centers parents over disabled perspectives, it frequently is focused on bemoaning how hard it is to parent a child with a disability and on throwing “pity parties” for parents. This is a dangerous narrative, as it normalizes negative and even aggressive narratives of parenting, which can end in tragic outcomes for the children of the parents that buy into it.
Additionally is the pathologizing and/or othering of the disabled child, down to the minutia of their lives. Under this framework, being respectful of the humanity and even the privacy of the child is ignored, and intimate details end up being published. Things that the parent would never post about themselves or about their non-disabled kids become public knowledge.
There is very little evidence that the editorial team has made an attempt to reign in this harmful content from contributors, until enough people protest individual posts.
While the Mighty has published some disabled bloggers, the decent content from these bloggers is drowned out by the other content on the site. Additionally, these bloggers have mentioned that they are often repeatedly asked to edit their content to be more palatable, more inspirational, and less difficult. Those who still end up putting out content that challenges the medical model and othering narratives end up being bombarded with comments from the community that has formed around the able-written content attacking their post for being too “negative” or not “uplifting.”
The summary of the issue is that The Mighty publishes content that is about disabled people, without disabled people. It fails to respect the humanity and privacy of disabled people, and treats them as subjects rather than as people. Attempts to challenge this is shot down by a community use to having their biases catered to on the site.
The goals of #CrippingTheMighty
There’s some misapprehension that this is an aimless protest, or that the goal already happened when The Mighty removed the “Meltdown Bingo” post and apologized. This is incorrect on both points. The short version is that the #CrippingTheMighty is asking for true reform of the site’s content and editorial policy, with the alternative of a dissolution of the site itself.
One specific ask is to increase the percentage of disabled writers so that parents are not the primary voice heard on the site, and so that disabled perspectives are centered. There is a secondary ask that is being floated for potential ad revenue to be shared with said disabled writers, whose work ought to be valued.
Another ask is for the editors to tighten the editorial policy so that harmful content is less likely to make it to publication. While this ask is focused on the warrior mommy type content referenced above, it also is intended to cover content that treats disabled people as objects. For example, instead of content that focuses on how great an abled person felt seeing a disabled person do something or doing something for a disabled person, it could aim for content that talks about uplifting interactions from the perspective of the disabled person. This isn’t an impossible ask- among the disabled-written posts are posts that fit this narrative.
An over-all shift towards a site wide perspective that centers disabled voices and perspectives is the biggest goal of #CrippingTheMighty. It seeks to bring the concept of “Nothing about us, without us” to the representation presented on The Mighty- and, when we get down to it, to the broader media environment.
Below are some links that the disability (and allied!) community have written about this issue. While I wouldn’t always use the approaches some folks do because of my personal style, they do all have the basics of the issues written about above.
The Mighty: Apologize For The Harm You Do to the Disability Community! by PACLA (Note: while in petition form, this could stand alone as a blog post)
Two Ethical Futures for The Mighty by David Perry
Thoughts on #CrippingTheMighty by The Crippled Scholar
CAN U NOT: A Twitter Ode From Me To The Mighty by Emma Pretzel
Open letter to The Mighty by Un-Boxed Brain
Why I’m not in love with The Mighty by 21 + 21 + 21 = ? (Parent of a child with Down Syndrome; Written in May 2015)
Why I’ve Had it With “The Mighty” by Meriah Nichols (published November 2015)
Meltdown Bingo: Autistic Edition (aka, a meltdown from the inside) by S. M. Neumeier
Neurodiversity Vs “the Mighty” by Michelle Sutton
The Mighty thinks they want a conversation. by K. of Radical Neurodivergence Speaking (note: contains cuss words!)
#CrippingTheMighty by Paginated Thoughts
There are stories about people with disabilities that truly inspire me, and then there is inspiration porn. by IAmTheThunder (Suggested guidelines here are important for ALL people writing about disability, not just The Mighty!)
A Letter to the Editor of The Mighty by Kimberly Faith
An Open Letter to The Mighty by Cara Liebowitz
Please, listen to our voices by Nora
What Do I Want From The Mighty? by Autistic Vegan
Why can’t we all get along?!? by Leah Kelly
Some Real Talk About The Mighty by s.e. smith
Storify of the hashtag by Alice Wong