Fisking Vocativ’s Shoddy #Gamergate Piece

Gamergate-Trolls-Zed-002591324270

The original can be found HERE.

Gamergate’s zombie horde of trolls have struck again. This time, the target was Canadian journalist, author and PhD candidate Natalie Zed, slammed for trying to discuss gamergate for an entire conference without publicly saying the word: gamergate.

Gamergate and trolls are two very different phenomena, though both Gamergate and anti-gamergate attract trolls in their wake because trolls like a) drama (which gamergate provides) and b) lolcows (which anti-gamergate provides).

Zed has become a target of ire for a number of reasons, but not least amongst them is that – if anything – she has been a troll. Calling people ‘Deatheaters’ as a means of talking behind their back is simultaneously trollish (designed to cause a reaction) and sneaky. That she has been a gigantic arsehole to anyone and everyone who challenged her hasn’t helped her.

She’s hardly a ‘very brave woman’, as this article would seem to be trying to say. Not a victim, an antagonist. Nor was she helped by the fact that she is, essentially, a walking stereotype. A blue-haired, gender-studies, militantly misandrist feminist who offers nothing but abuse to her critics and then plays the victim.

Last week, Zed attended the Canadian Game Studies Association’s 2015 conference as a panelist. In the opening comments, the organizers asked attendees to refrain from using the Gamergate hashtag, even though many of the panels were focused on the Gamergate phenomenon (depending on your perspective, either a debate about ethics in gaming, mostly focused on the sexism in games and gaming culture, or a vitriolic campaign of hatred directed at women who dare venture into the gaming industry).

So the question would be – why hide? Gamergate doesn’t troll, but it does take issue with bad ideas, poorly presented ideas, unevidenced ideas and attacks on or dishonesty about the gaming community. If these attendees were not engaged in any horrible behaviour they should have nothing to hide and IF they were genuine academics they should welcome challenge and engagement from the public they allege to speak to and for, as it should lead to better work.

Gamergate IS a campaign for ethical games journalism and against censorship. The ‘hate campaign’ thing is a false narrative thrown up to deflect and distract (or as a publicity exploit). Anyone who honestly researches it and talks to members of the movement will know this. It’s not obfuscated at all.

So the question then becomes ‘what were they hiding?’ and since this #deatheaters thing and Zed were exposed, that was brought to light.

The imposed twitter silence was an effort both to protect attendees from Gamergate troll hostility and to prevent Gamergaters from hijacking the online conversation about the conference, rendering Twitter useless for attendees.

Again. Gamergate are not trolls, trolls are not Gamergate. Dissent, examination, discussion, debate, these are not the actions of trolls. Participation is not hijacking. Gamergate is certainly capable of taking over and destroying bad-faith hashtags, as it has done repeatedly to unethical hashtags, but an honest discussion will always be welcomed. GG is keen on honest and open debate yet its opposition will not engage honestly.

Zed tweeted some thinly-veiled frustration. Then she compared the fear of Gamergate trolls to the fear of Lord Voldermort in the Harry Potter series.

Still not trolls and Gamergate is the very antithesis of authoritarian stormtroopers. From Gamergate’s point of view the people one finds in these conferences or trying to censor and control geek media are much more akin to such forces.

The evil wizard is known in the Harry Potter series as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and the conference organizers correctly warned that anyone mentioning #Gamergate risked attracting a deluge of attackers. It’s a completely rational fear, as women who have engaged with Gamergate in the past have been targeted. For instance, trolls shared game designer Zoe Quinn’s address and personal details, and threatened to murder and rape game-studio co-founder Brianna Wu.

Again. Dissent, discussion and participation are not ‘attacks’. This constant mischaracterisation is not productive and only widens the gap. This is not a rational fear at all. Women have not been targeted by Gamergate, unethical and dishonest people have been exposed but gender is irrelevant.

Zoe Quinn has little or nothing to do with Gamergate, Gamergate didn’t dox her, Gamergate never threatened to murder or rape anyone. No threats have been deemed credible by law enforcement (Wu’s weren’t even reported to the police it now seems) and her most notorious troll was a ‘performance artist’ with no links to Gamergate. Indeed the ONLY credible threat, according to the authorities, was the bomb threat against the GG in DC meeting.

Zed then referred to Gamergate trolls as Death Eaters, after the group of wizards who follow Voldemort. #Deatheaters took off among conference attendees, panelists and followers. “It was a really effective way to communicate for the duration of the conference,” Zed says. “People could talk about their work without bringing down a giant torch storm on everyone that was there.”

Still not trolls. It’s worth mentioning here that members of Gamergate have also been doxxed, threatened, had pictures of them masturbated over, have been sent needles, razorblades and other disgusting things, have had their jobs threatened (or lost), have been thrown out of conventions and much more. Genuine consequences much more often, I think, than AGGros.

The entire conference went smoothly, free from gamergate interference. But then, someone said the word that must not be said.

“Literally during the closing remarks on the very last day someone from the official Twitter account used the word ‘Gamergate’,” Zed says. “The tweet was up for about ten minutes before somebody else caught it and deleted it.”

But it was too late. The zombies had stirred. “Somebody said the word and that’s what it does—it brings the scary part of the Internet to you.”

As they saying goes, ‘talk shit, get hit’. It’s not that Gamergate just waits to be mentioned and descends. It looks for bad practice and promotion of the false narrative about itself – and then it objects – strongly. It also has an eye out for bullshit, such as seems to often be promulgated at these conferences. Again, this kind of vigorous dissent and ‘peer review’ should really be welcomed by these academics, if they were really academics rather than pseudo academics.

Gamergate is not, in any way, the ‘scary’ part of the internet, unless you’re the sort of person who jumps at their own shadow.

Ironically, or perhaps as one would expect, Zed, who tried to shield the conference from the Gamergate trolls, became their target. “I was in a car and drove from Ottawa to Montreal, and went to bed. And when I woke up in the morning I had 275 notifications in my Twitter and discovered that overnight Gamergate had figured out the hashtag and figured out who I was and what was going on.”

Provoking people is not shielding anyone, it draws ire, it doesn’t defuse it. If Zed – and indeed the whole conference – had engaged honestly and openly with Gamergate none of this would have happened. Zed’s trolling and a degree of ‘say it to my face’, coupled with her – and others – later aggression, lack of academic chops is what gave things a negative slant.

Gamergate has essentially been exonerated from the harassment narrative thanks to the WAM report and due to SPJ taking its concerns seriously enough to host AirPlay. Articles such as this and attitudes such as Zed’s, furthering the false narrative, serve no useful purpose towards bringing this chapter of gaming history to a close.

Over the next 24 hours, about 19,000 mocking and threatening tweets were tagged with #deatheaters.

I watched Zed closely and the threads closely. I’ve been involved in Gamergate since its precursors. I saw no threats. Mockery? Plenty. Criticism? Yep. Dissent? You bet. Discussion? Sure. Threats? No.

According the Zed, trolls have now rendered her Twitter unusable because she’s getting hundreds of notifications a day—mostly abusive tweets, Japanese anime porn pics and invitations for debate. They have taken to criticizing the validity of her work and her appearance, all of which ramped up once they discovered Zed is working on a PhD on Gamergate. Trolls sent out hundreds of negative tweets with the hashtag #gamergatephd. They’re currently bombarding her employers with requests to to disqualify Zed from her program on the (invalid) grounds that openly criticizing the phenomenon is a conflict of interest. Some have suggested showing up en masse at her upcoming speaking engagements or buying up all the domains associated with her name to influence search engine results for Zed, so that any potential employer searching for her would find something offensive rather than her actual professional profile.

Still not trolls, but it is extremely likely that – having established herself as someone who will react – she has now also drawn trolls. Given her abusiveness and dismissal towards people some may well have resorted to ‘shitposting’ through frustration, but saying that they’re victimising her because of it is akin to victim blaming. Why invitations to debate should be considered in the same field as trolling, I’m not sure.

Yes her work and her attitudes are under intense scrutiny and criticism – and again a real academic should welcome this.

The part about her hostility is just bizarre. Would you trust a Neo-Nazi to produce a useful or accurate study on the Jewish community, or vice versa? Zed is extremely hostile to Gamergate and has shown through her ‘discussions’ that she knows fuck all about it and is wedded to promoting the false narrative, rather than learning what it really is. These are not – or at least should not – be the actions or attitudes of any would be academic.

The rest of this seems like legitimate protest towards a hateful person who is lying about them. Not harassment but consequences for an unethical and abusive person. Were the situation reversed, people would be praising such moves to protest. Consider things like the reaction to CH Sommers appearances at American universities. It seems when the same tactics are used in the other ‘direction’, people finally start to see why they might be problematic.

Zed seemed to handle the backlash well, batting away her harsher critics with sarcasm.

This is the very opposite of handling things well. For trolls it is giving them what they want, a ‘butthurt’ reaction. For Gamergaters is only cements her position as an ignorant and unethical pseudo-academic.

Offline, she shows even more resolve. “What I’ve learned is that when you actually get them isolated from the mob and treat them as human beings and have a conversation you see how much pain there is behind that hostility,” Zed says. “I’ve had conversations with people who genuinely feel that there’s not a place for them and they think that this thing that has always been a place for them is somehow being taken away. It’s really gutting to see how much pain there is behind that hostility.”

This is more hopeful sounding, but it’s also massively patronising and not genuinely reflective of the issues Gamergate has. This is simply a ‘softer’ way of trying to say that Gamergate is scared of change, women, diversity, minorities. That isn’t the case at all and if you don’t believe me, just ask #NotYourShield.

But she still doesn’t think that warrants the volume of abuse she, and others, have endured. “As heartbreaking as that is, I fully respect everyone who has been attacked by this monolithic hostile anger. It’s ruined lives and it’s put people in genuine danger. I don’t want to make light of the real damage. It’s sad to be so lonely, but you don’t get to take that out on anyone.”

Again. Dissent, disagreement, criticism and examination are not abuse. Nobody’s life has been ruined and the only people who have had real consequences have been unethical journalists who, frankly, SHOULD have consequences for their actions. Pseudo-academics probably should to. The standards of academic research and discourse around games and other nerd media are frankly appalling. We deserve better.

Let’s end on a positive note.

If you want to ‘get away’ with discussing Gamergate without drawing ire…

  1. Don’t hide.
  2. Treat Gamergate with respect and openness.
  3. Discuss, debate and engage – honestly.
  4. If you call yourself an academic, be one.
  5. Block the trolls without blaming Gamergate for them.
  6. Don’t go on hearsay, ask.

Treat Gamergate and their concerns with respect and you’ll be treated just fine, even celebrated, even if you still disagree.

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