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


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.

John SweeneyEditorialEditorial,Report on Cyber Violence,UNOn 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”…
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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.