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.

The following two tabs change content below.
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.