May I Humbly Suggest: #NotYourSword

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Chainsawsuit

Following my last post I got in a very productive conversation on Twitter with a #GamerGate supporter about the pros and cons of #GG expanding its focus to explicitly include fighting harassment online (as well as a couple of unproductive ones).  My interlocutor said that he preferred speaking in more than 140 character blips so he left a comment on the last post that really got me thinking.

His comment, in case you missed it, is reproduced verbatim below [I didn’t touch any of the grammar or spelling because I didn’t want to be accused of manipulating the text but if you want me to edit it, poster, let me know on Twitter and I will clean it up]:

As we were discussing in Twitter, I don’t feel as if expanding the #GamerGate movement to the address of internet harassment is in its best interests. Bluntly, some members of the movement simply don’t care that much; that isn’t to say they think harassment is a good thing, it’s just that either they don’t think it’s a problem that’s as great as people say it is, they don’t think it’s a problem that has a reasonable solution or in soem cases both. I should note at this point that a lot of our opponents have conflated “I don’t care about…” with “I tacitly support…” which is exceptionally dishonest – the former is at worst apathy, which is not the same as condonation.

A large number of GamerGate supporters will have a different objection, and I would say I at least partially share in their concern. They’d say that the statement “the Internet can become such a hostile place for women” is unneccessarily gendered – the internet can become a hostile place for men, too. This is what proponents of social justice would call the “but what about the men” argument – they consider it to be a pointless diversionary tactic, and are altogether dismissive of it. But my personal opinion on this issue is that it’s important to recognise that internet harassment needs to be treated hollistically. I had a big wall of text that summed up my thoughts on this but it seemed to be getting off-topic, so I may post it later if this discussion seems to be productive.

GamerGate has been fairly wary in the past of individuals who attempt to direct it, especially if those individuals attempt to broaden GamerGate’s purview beyond the scope of media ethics – David Draiman, for instance, the frontman of the band Disturbed, demanded that we unilaterally stand in support of Israel and against anti-Semitism. Now while I’d say the overwhelmingly vast majority of GamerGate decry anti-Semitism and a fair few of us support Israel (although not all of us, for sure), we scoffed at this demand. GamerGate isn’t about Israel or anti-Semitism. It’s about media ethics. Of course, trolls moved in and posted anti-Semitic garbage at Draiman and he came away with the inaccurate impression that GamerGate were a bunch of filthy antisemites, when what really happened is that we just weren’t interested in turning our movement into a vehicle for Draiman’s political views.

We don’t even really want to be having a conversation about harassment. Largely, the reason we’re talking about it is because it was forced upon us by the same media institutions whom we are accusing of corruption. We have faced a co-ordinated campaign of misrepresentation and defamation for an entire year centred around painting us as misogynist harassers and abusers with no legitimate arguments. We never wanted to become involved in discussions of feminism, social justice or misogyny – we wanted to get ethical games journalism and then go back to our video games. This wasn’t our fight, until the media dragged us into it. A lot of us feel resentful about that, and the suggestion that we should attempt to sway discussion of GamerGate more toward the subject of internet harassment would not go down well.

On a personal level I feel as if attempting to sway discussion of GamerGate more toward the subject of internet harassment would also be counterproductive from a public relations standpoint. Efforts on our part would most certainly not be acknowledged or appreciated by the corrupt media institutions that continue to defame and misrepresent us to this day, and in fact I feel convinced that they would twist this narrative – “you see, the gamers are admitting they have serious harassment issues in their community! We were right all along!”

At the risk of the ridicule this phrase may subject me to, GamerGate isn’t about harassment – it’s about ethics in games journalism. We have a narrow focus, and that’s served us well so far. I’m certain that a lot of GG’s members would be perfectly ameanable to a seperate movement that discussed internet harassment; indeed, although it’s rarely documented by the media, GamerGate members – women and other minorities in particular – have been on the receiving end of some pretty disturbing abuse from our ideological opponents. I just don’t think asking GamerGate to expand its scope is going to go down well.

A couple of direct responses and then I will get to my humble suggestion.

  1. “Bluntly, some members of the movement simply don’t care that much; that isn’t to say they think harassment is a good thing, it’s just that either they don’t think it’s a problem that’s as great as people say it is, they don’t think it’s a problem that has a reasonable solution or in soem cases both. I should note at this point that a lot of our opponents have conflated “I don’t care about…” with “I tacitly support…” which is exceptionally dishonest – the former is at worst apathy, which is not the same as condonation.”
    • I would argue that apathy is condoning when it comes to abuse and harassment.  Imagine a child on the school yard getting beaten up by a bunch of bigger kids.  If the teachers are apathetic towards the situation, we would probably think that they condoned the actions of the bullies.  Now imagine that the teachers didn’t actually see the bullying happen but were told about it by either the victim or a witness.  If they are apathetic now (they refuse to look into it, they assume that the report must be overblown and exaggerated etc), then I would argue they are still indirectly condoning violence.  They are sending the message that, when violence occurs, they will look the other way.
  2. “They’d say that the statement “the Internet can become such a hostile place for women” is unneccessarily gendered – the internet can become a hostile place for men, too.”
    • Yes.  I agree wholeheartedly that the Internet can be a hostile place for men as well as women.  The difference is HOW that hostility is expressed.  For women on the Internet, the hostility that the receive comes about because of their gendered.  It is gendered in nature.  It is “show us your tits or GTFO.”  It is rape threats and revenge porn.  It is being just a regular member of the gang until you plug in your microphone in a game of Call of Duty, when your teammates suddenly turn on you because they hear you have a female voice.  It’s not that men have it easy on the Internet.  Rather, it is that it is constantly made clear to women that the reason they are getting harassed is because they are women.  And furthermore, a lot of the abuse that men receive online is also gendered; its calling someone’s manhood into question, calling him a pussy or a faggot etc.  The abuse men receive online is often them being likened to women.
  3. “Of course, trolls moved in…  We don’t even really want to be having a conversation about harassment. Largely, the reason we’re talking about it is because it was forced upon us by the same media institutions whom we are accusing of corruption. We have faced a co-ordinated campaign of misrepresentation and defamation for an entire year centred around painting us as misogynist harassers and abusers with no legitimate arguments.”
    • So here is the problem that many of us have with #GamerGate.  It is impossible to tell which people are using the hashtag in earnest (who are just trying to have a conversation about ethics in journalism and resent being side-tracked to talk about what they perceive to be a completely different issue) and which people are “the trolls” who are just enjoying watching both sides fight.  And I will add that, from the outset of #GG, it is difficult to separate the misogynists out from the movement, considering that the two most visible targets, Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn, are not journalists and faced abuse that was specifically gendered.  Those of you who are able to have a civil discussion about this topic (and commenter I think you and I did a good job last night) are being drowned out by the people who see #GG in my mentions and pop in to call me a cunt.  We need some way to identify the people that are worth talking to about the issue of ethics in games journalism so that we can more easily filter out the trolls and the people who are simply taking advantage of the hashtags existence to publicly bash women and get praised for it.

And so I would like to come to my humble suggestion: a new sister hashtag to #GamerGate that I will call #NotYourSword.

#NotYourSword is obviously modeled on #NotYourShield, a companion hashtag to #GG used by women and people of color who resent feeling like so-called “social justice warriors” are speaking for them instead of to them (although Ashley Lynch argues, fairly persuasively in my opinion, that it actually originated as an “astroturf” movement designed to provide cover for #GamerGate).

#NotYourSword would be something that #GG supporters could add to their Tweets or their profiles as a way to indicate that they do not want their movement to be used as a weapon by misogynists, anti-feminists, men’s rights activists, and garden-variety trolls.  It would be a public and enduring way to separate out the folks who just want to talk about games culture without wading into the weeds of identity politics from those who revel in the opportunity to drive women out of gaming and off of the Internet.  It would be a way for #GamerGate to retain their purported focus on ethics in journalism without remaining apathetic about abusers within their ranks.  As someone who has written on this topic for major news outlets I would LOVE to write this story about #GamerGate.  I have been a game my entire life.  I do not think that gaming culture is inherently morally bankrupt.  I dedicated my career to studying gaming culture.  I would love to be able to vindicate gamers as a whole, to report that the culture is pushing back against its worst elements.  But I can’t right now, because the assholes appear to vastly outnumber the folks arguing in good faith.

Update: Dammit!  Someone thought of this hashtag already (I knew it was too good to be true)!  But the idea is still worthwhile I think.  Let’s make #NotYourSword happen.  Let’s make visible the people who love games and who are invested in making gaming culture and the relationship between gamers and gaming journalism better.  Let’s make visible the people who refuse to condone harassment, who are not apathetic when their cause is being used to harm others.

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