CYBER HEADER

On September 25th, 2015 the UN’s Women or­ga­ni­za­tion pub­lished a re­port en­ti­tled “Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls” which was in turn pre­sent­ed by con­tro­ver­sial on­line fig­ures Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian. The vi­sion put for­ward by the re­port was nigh dystopi­an, call­ing reg­u­lar on­line heck­ling like “you suck” a form of vi­o­lence on par with phys­i­cal vi­o­lence. This is some­thing I will be go­ing into in the fu­ture, but this ar­ti­cle is more about the glar­ing flaws and am­a­teur­ish com­po­si­tion of this par­tic­u­lar re­port, in­clud­ing some of its jaw‐dropping ref­er­ence ma­te­r­i­al.

Cyber VAWG, de­spite sound­ing some­where be­tween Cyber VAG and Cyber SWAG, is the un­for­tu­nate acronym they de­cid­ed to adopt for what they see as a form of gen­dered vi­o­lence preva­lent on­line. When the re­port first caught pub­lic at­ten­tion many ques­tioned if the re­port was a joke sim­ply due to the way it read. As peo­ple be­gan to dig deep­er it be­came ap­par­ent this was not only a real re­port, but every facet of its con­struc­tion was in­com­pe­tent.

The re­port is rife with spelling, syn­tax and gram­mat­i­cal er­rors; its for­mat­ting is all over the place and its ref­er­ence struc­ture is be­yond be­lief. I con­test that more rig­or has gone into analysing and un­pick­ing the tan­gled mess that is this re­port than went into for­mu­lat­ing it in the first place. Multiple ba­sic spelling mis­takes as sim­ple as “in­tenet” are in­clud­ed in a re­port put out by the United Nations. My spellcheck­er is pulling me up on the er­ror right now, in the age of word pro­cess­ing how these mis­takes got through is baf­fling.

Jaime Bravo did two ex­cel­lent pieces on Medium cat­a­logu­ing the glar­ing in­ad­e­qua­cies in the re­ports ref­er­ences. Here is a chart based on that analy­sis that I think shows you the scale of the prob­lem

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Self‐reference is a nat­ur­al part of long re­port writ­ing, but the UN re­port large­ly con­sist­ed of spaced out columns and half pages tak­en up by ti­tles or stock im­ages of women. This wasn’t a mam­moth re­port, I’ve read it in its en­tire­ty, and the most time‐consuming as­pect was work­ing around the for­mat­ting. A re­port where 18% of the ci­ta­tions don’t ex­ist, and where a fur­ther 3% of­fer a dead or made up link, in one case a link the writ­ers C dri­ve, wouldn’t pass at a high‐school lev­el. The re­port also pla­gia­rized Associated Press ar­ti­cles and EFF press re­leas­es.

Milo Yiannopoulos lament­ed the stan­dard of re­search on dis­play and ques­tioned the com­pe­tence of jour­nal­ists at The Mary Sue, amongst oth­ers, who ad­mit­ted in their rush to pub­lish an ar­ti­cle they didn’t ac­tu­al­ly read the re­port. Polygon also pub­lished a pe­ice that praised the UN’s de­ci­sion to host Anita and Zoe. This has been re­peat­ed all over the in­ter­net, with it falling to most­ly or­di­nary users to cat­a­logue all of the flaws and sheer mad­ness on dis­play in the re­port. I ful­ly cred­it them in bring­ing this to my and many oth­ers at­ten­tion.

I thought it pru­dent to read the re­port my­self and wait un­til the dust had set­tled to com­ment on the sub­ject and I’m glad I did. But once the sheer un­mit­i­gat­ed cluster‐fuck that was this re­port had been un­cov­ered, the bulk of cov­er­age had al­ready been writ­ten. In a sense, this re­port was too much stu­pid­i­ty at one time and that al­most worked in its favour as peo­ple caught onto as­pects of it but not the en­tire pic­ture.

Did no one read this be­fore it was pub­lished? Did Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, who have tout­ed their UN vis­it as a vic­to­ry, re­al­ly mean to en­dorse a re­port so ut­ter­ly bereft of ba­sic stan­dards? There are two pos­si­bil­i­ties here: ei­ther Quinn and Sarkeesian didn’t read the re­port and pre­sent­ed it to the United Nations with­out a clue about its real con­tent or they whole­heart­ed­ly en­dorse the idea that videogames cause vi­o­lence; a the­sis that has been con­sis­tent­ly and thor­ough­ly shot down in a moun­tain of aca­d­e­m­ic re­search span­ning decades. They ei­ther dis­play ut­ter in­com­pe­tence or out­right hos­til­i­ty to­wards sci­en­tif­ic con­sen­sus.

Let’s get to the real dirt of this re­port; a sec­tion of this re­port — one that wants to be tak­en se­ri­ous­ly on a glob­al scale — that had gamers laugh­ing and cry­ing in equal mea­sure:

There is wide­spread rep­re­sen­ta­tion of VAWG in main­stream cul­ture, in­clud­ing in con­tem­po­rary and pop­u­lar mu­sic, movies, the gam­ing in­dus­try and the gen­er­al por­tray­al of women in pop­u­lar me­dia. Recent re­search on how vi­o­lent video games are turn­ing chil­dren, most­ly boys, into ‘killing zom­bies’ (118) are also a part of main­stream­ing vi­o­lence. And while the pre­sen­ta­tion and analy­sis of this re­search is be­yond the scope of this pa­per (119), the links to the core roots of the prob­lem are very much in ev­i­dence and can­not be over­looked.”

This is ex­cru­ci­at­ing on its own, but source 118 links to some­thing tru­ly re­mark­able to at­tempt to jus­ti­fy this point:

ROGRAMMED TO KILL – Video Games, Drugs, and The ‘New Violence’ [Excerpt] We’re get­ting killings which are caused by the use of Nintendo‐style games, such as the game Pokémon, with chil­dren, and also with po­lice and oth­ers. Ban ‘Point‐Shoot’ Games In an April 2000 in­ter­view with Executive Intelligence Review mag­a­zine, at­tor­ney Thompson as­sert­ed that the vi­o­lence as­so­ci­at­ed with the “point‐shoot” video games is not a free speech is­sue, and that it can be stopped.

The piece de­scribes Hasbro Interactive as:

Official U.S. dis­trib­u­tor of Pokémon (ab­bre­vi­a­tion for “Pocket Monsters”), the killing game de­signed for tod­dlers be­gin­ning at 2 and 3 years old; Dungeons and Dragons, the me­dieval sa­tan­ic and mag­ic fan­ta­sy game; Risk II, a “ruth­less quest for world dom­i­na­tion”. One of the Hasbro Board mem­bers is Paul Wolfowitz, the co‐head of George W. Bush’s team of for­eign pol­i­cy ad­vi­sors.”

And de­scribes Nintendo of America as:

Manufactures Pokémon, Game‐Boys, and equip­ment for sa­tan­ic video games.”

Leaving aside how damn met­al a “killing game for tod­dlers” sounds, I think this should put to bed the va­lid­i­ty of the view­point of the re­port and those pre­sent­ing it. A UN re­port sources a dis­cred­it­ed 15 year old ar­ti­cle that in­cludes the quotes above and uses it as proof that me­dia is harm­ful and is “turn­ing chil­dren, most­ly boys, into ‘killing zom­bies.’”

These state­ments and their sources are en­dorsed by, put for­ward by, and cham­pi­oned by Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn and the UN Women or­gan­i­sa­tion in a re­port that was pub­lished in a state that re­sem­bles a poor first draft. This is the qual­i­ty of ev­i­dence pre­sent­ed by the peo­ple who want to cen­sor the in­ter­net in or­der to not have their feel­ings hurt. They’d be ter­ri­fy­ing if they weren’t so com­plete­ly and ut­ter­ly in­ept.

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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long‐form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.