How do we #StopWebH8? The Curious Case of GamersGate Harassment
Read the title again. Make sure you take note of the “S” in there. Typos are harmless, most of the time, but a group of people failing to make that little distinction caused a large gaming store to receive so much abuse, “threats and harsh words,” it had to put out a statement that they were not, in fact, affiliated with an online consumer revolt. Recently there was a hashtag used in an apparent congressional briefing called #StopWebH8 and in the light of that I think it is useful to go back to October and examine this gaping crack in the media narrative:
Announcement: GAMERSGATE.COM is NOT Gamergate!
As many of you are aware of, recently there has been a fierce and infected discussion about sexism as well as journalistic ethics in the gaming industry. We’ve received threats and harsh words from around the world and want to make it clear for everyone that Gamersgate.com is not part of this controversy whatsoever.
Next year Gamersgate.com celebrate our 10th anniversary and since start we have been selling games for download. We are one of the original download platforms and we do our best to support gamers so that they can buy and download games to good prices. Anytime, anywhere.
Theodore Bergqvist. CEO – Gamersgate.com
This is important because it shows three things:
- That there was a wave of “threats and harsh words” being directed at GamerGate and there has been since at least October 2014.
- That people are so worked up and willing to blindly attack a target, but also so ill-informed, they will go after something that 10 seconds of research would show is a completely wrong place to direct their rage.
- The media will ONLY report on harassment directed at GamerGate when it is negatively affecting an innocent third party in a way that is impossible to ignore.
Let’s talk about the first point, because I don’t know how a site like Polygon can report on this and not feel a wave of shame when it reports other incorrect news. This is proof, in print, that people in GamerGate are the target of significant amounts of abuse, amounts of abuse a corporation finds it impossible to ignore. Now if GamersGate felt the need to put out a statement, then imagine the level of threats and abuse leveled at an individual. You begin to see the picture develop. Zoe Quinn and the son of a billionaire international arms dealer Alex Lifschitz attended a congressional briefing this week, undoubtedly aimed at trying to convince them that GamerGate is some kind of “Cyberstalking Campaign.” How can we #StopWebH8 when from the beginning the volumes of threats issued were so high against people they were so desperately trying to discredit? Once again this is a smoking gun reported on by media that claims to stand firmly against GamerGate.
The second point would be amusing if it wasn’t so depressing. GamersGate has been around for the best part of a decade, it is an established and very well liked online store. For someone to send a threat to them they must: a) Be monumentally spiteful and antisocial to send a threat at all b) Stupid as all hell as to confuse the two and c) Have limited knowledge of gaming. GamersGate isn’t exactly Steam, but I’ve heard of it and I reckon a good chunk of people would know the name even if they haven’t used the service. Even if this abuse had found the right target… it’s still abuse. There are no “good targets” for abuse (no matter what MovieBob tells you) and the fact that it took such ineptitude in a large volume to bring this to light is mind-boggling. This brings us on to point three:
The reporting was muddled and confused, even causing some to briefly think that it was GamerGate supporters harassing the online store. It seems sites like Polygon took pity on GamersGate and decided to report this announcement despite the deep embarrassment the implied admission of high levels of abuse again pro-GamerGate people would cause. There was also a general tone that the name confusion was somehow the fault of the hash-tag; despite there being no excuse for sending abuse to anyone. Again these were acts of idiocy against not only innocent people, but against completely uninvolved parties. If you read the comments section in the Polygon article the reaction is an embarrassed shrug and “Well it seems there are a few isolated bad apples” begrudgingly admitting the abuse occurred. The mental gymnastics to say that and then generalize gamers as “Terrorists” due to the actions of a few isolated trolls is a sight to behold.
This typo continues to exist in the most hateful messages. Take this for instance:
Once again the misplaced “S” makes it almost humorous until someone fires off an e-mail to an unrelated online store. This is the level of blind, gleeful abuse we are dealing with and for which a public announcement had to be put out to try and limit.
So where does this leave us? Well since October we’ve have absolute proof of a large number of most likely non-Gamer individuals riled up and handed pitch-forks by a media selling fear who have gone after a group of people they see as valid targets of abuse and threats. If not for a rogue “S” we would have never heard about them from a media that is at this point many months complicit in the abuse of these people. We have people in Washington being fed lies by a pair of people who have also contributed to an environment where this abuse can take place and who fervently white-wash its very existence. If they had a hint of intellectual honestly they would try to say #StopWebH8 for all sides of this debate in the face of indelible incidents like the mistaken GamersGate abuse. You can’t say there isn’t abuse going on towards GamerGate, you just can’t, and there is a wealth of evidence out there beyond just this glaring incident.
I think the first step in stopping hate online is to acknowledge the damage one-sided, false media coverage can do, and to admit to ourselves that online abuse happens universally and is not a political or partisan issue. It’s just a thought. Having some level headed sanity would have made the lives of the GamersGate staff a lot easier and it would make the lives of people who support GamerGate less miserable as well.
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