The Megaphone & The Strawmob: #GamerGate and Social Media

UoSM2033 Topic 4: Discuss one of the ethical issues raised by educational or business use of social media that you consider to be particularly significant


GamerGate is a complicated issue. There are many facets to every aspect of it, especially its very nature, but this makes it, as a phenomenon on social media, particularly interesting to examine. I have prepared an audio post to give a brief overview, which you can listen to here (Click through for transcript):

Now, what you must bear in mind is that, despite the “battle lines” supposedly being drawn between consumers and industry professionals, a large number of consumers actually fell on the “Anti-Gamergate” side, rallying around journalists or developers whose works they particularly enjoyed, such as Quinn, Sarkeesian or Wu. We can see quite clearly that these personalities used their followings on social networks like a sort of Megaphone to tow an Anti-Gamergate line. Twitter is particularly effective because of the power of the retweet, which allows statements to be spread quickly and easily around Twitter, far extending the reach of a short, 140 character statement as Jeff Bullas explains.

Meanwhile, the Pro-GamerGate forces, for a long time, had little in the way of figureheads, and so had to use sheer numbers to gain influence. John Bain (aka TotalBiscuit) lays out this asymmetry and its inherent problems in this discussion (5:35 to 7:10):

The fact that “people band together out of necessity” forming “a melting pot of ideals” is a double-edged sword, because whilst, as Bain states, “it is folly to try and label it and decry it as one set of ideals”, it means that the movement itself loses focus on its aims. This is dangerous, because it becomes very easy for someone with a megaphone to take one particular facet of the movement and create a strawman out of it: the Megaphone uses its influence to turn a movement into a “Strawmob”, making it easy to attack. After all, it is quite easy to denounce death threats and doxxing, but quite another thing to suggest we shouldn’t be reassessing the relationship that game developers have with game journalists:

Sentiments expressed in such ways as this tweet by Anita Sarkeesian ultimately lead to misdirection for the general public via wider media. The very fact that I found it hard to find a neutral overview of the GamerGate phenomenon is testament to this; even the Wikipedia entry, most people’s first port of call when investigating such topics, describes GamerGate thusly:

“The Gamergate controversy began in August 2014 and concerns misogyny and harassment in video game culture. While many supporters of the self-described Gamergate movement say that they are concerned about ethical issues in video game journalism, the overwhelming majority of commentators have said that the movement is rooted in a culture war against women and the diversification of gaming culture.”

Meanwhile, mainstream news outlets focused their attention almost entirely on the harassment aspect of the whole debacle, going as far as to only invite those who stood against GamerGate into discussions:

Whether they meant to or not, many of the people arguing against GamerGate have been stifling legitimate topcs of discussion. This is worrying.

Thankfully, people such as John Bain and Jim Sterling have been proactive in bringing the issue back to ethics in journalism. Bain in particular, with his over 376,000 Followers on Twitter, has become a Megaphone for many to rally around, with his extended use of Twitlonger, Soundcloud and Blogspot (ignoring his main focus on Youtube) which all feed into his Twitter:

There is no doubt that a consumer movement such as GamerGate and the positives that have emerged from it could never have happened without social media. Hashtags are vital for bringing people together, whilst, as Professor Julia Hörnle asserts, the online resolution of disputes empowers consumers in a way never seen before.

However, if we are to embrace this new power for consumers, we must be wary of the power that Megaphones hold. The issue of Ethics in Gaming Journalism thankfully gained its own Megaphones, eventually, but what happens if a future issue has no Megaphones on its side? What if no-one with influence stands up for it whilst the Megaphones of, say, a large corporation, reduce it to a Strawmob?

Mike Diver asserts that “what might have been a turning point for the games industry… has been hijacked by lunatics with Twitter accounts”. However, they were only allowed to hijack it because of the amount of attention that was given to them. Yes, these “lunatics” did exist, but in such huge movements as this, there always will be, as John Bain calls them, “lone online psychos”. The actual damage was done by those in the opposition who made these “lunatics” the focal point.

If GamerGate was the first test of a social media based, entirely consumer-led movement, then it was surely a failure. Without a leader, it was perceived as having no credibility by being reduced to its lowest common denominator. We must therefore re-assess how such movements operate and how we perceive them if we are to prevent future consumer concerns from being stifled out in this way.

Look beyond the Strawmob.


References & Bibliography

Bullas, J. (2012), The Explosive Power of the Retweet Revealed by Twitter, juffbullas.com.

Diver, M. (2014), GamerGate Hate Affects Both Sides, So How About We End It?Vice.

Hörnle, J. (2014), How does online dispute resolution empower consumers?, Queen Mary, University Of London Blog.

Kirkpatrick, D. (2011), Social Power And The Coming Corporate RevolutionForbes.

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 23rd November, 2014), Gamergate controversyWikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

On Youtube:

#GamerGate Crush Saga: Episode One on Erik Kain’s Youtube Channel.

MSNBC The Reid Report on #GamerGate (Brianna Wu) on Video Game Journalism (YTheAlien)’s Youtube Channel.

#GamerGate: TotalBiscuit on Ethics, Was Offered Free Stuff for Reviews on David Pakman Show’s Youtube Channel.

#GamerGate: Brianna Wu Accuses Interviewer of ‘Hit Piece’ Attack on David Pakman Show’s Youtube Channel.

I will now ramble about games media for just under 30 minutes on TotalBiscuit, The Cynical Brit’s Channel.

I will now talk about game reviews for just over 30 minutes on TotalBiscuit, The Cynical Brit’s Channel.

Ethics in Games Media: Stephen Totilo of Kotaku comes to the table to discuss on TotalBiscuit, The Cynical Brit’s Channel.

On Twitter:

John Bain – Totalbisquid (@Totalbiscuit)

Anita Sarkeesian – Feminist Frequency (@FemFreq)

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7 thoughts on “The Megaphone & The Strawmob: #GamerGate and Social Media

  1. Coming into this as someone who had only heard negatives about the #Gamergate movement, this is a very interesting post, and has let me understand the issue a lot more broadly. It is, of course, a good plan to attempt to look beyond the strawmob when it comes to these issues, but that does become incredibly difficult to do when there are a fair number of weirdos making these awful threats and doxing (which I had to look up!) Unfortunately, the way media works, they will always look toward the horrible events. People having this done to them for no good reason is newsworthy, and unfortunately, legitimate protest about a legitimate issue is not. Unfortunately, I’d say this is maybe especially true of the media when looking at the gaming community, one it is always happy to put down and reduce to a ragtag bunch of misfits. Realistically, I think the real protesters would have had to drop the #Gamergate hashtag immediately and change to something else to maintain credibility, but with no real leader, that would be incredibly difficult.

    • Hi Andy,

      Well, certainly you would not be the first to only have seen #GamerGate in that light! I definitely agree that with such a fractious movement, it lent itself to the slander it received in the press, especially one that, as you say, is more than happy to “put down” the gaming community. One only has to look back to the number of school shootings in America that people have tried to pin directly on Video Games to get a sense for that! Indeed, even to this day, this kind of propaganda continues, especially in more Conservative press (http://mediamatters.org/blog/2013/09/10/fox-amp-friends-hypes-flawed-link-between-mass/195811). The sensationalism aspect is also definitely worth examining, but we also have to bear in mind that the original Zoe Quinn story would have been quite a sensational piece of news and was quite comprehensively NOT covered by any press – so sensationalism cannot be everything.

      I definitely take your points on what the movement would have needed to do, but I question whether those steps would have been even possible. Firstly, as you state, a lack of leadership severely hindered any change in tact or message that the movement would like to have made. Secondly, the problem is, that if they had changed tagline, it’s quite possible that the negativity that #GamerGate was viewed with would simply have followed them to any new hashtags or movement names.

      Ultimately, I think one of the biggest problems is that #GamerGate was reduced to sides. If you ask people who were there at the start, many would say that #GamerGate was not a movement but an event, a period from which positive change might emerge. Alas, it has been significantly more complicated and messy than that, and it seems things are somewhat at a standstill. We can only wait and see…

      Thanks,
      Calum

  2. I love this post Calum because this is exactly my beef with the media’s coverage of GamerGate. Hopefully noobs like Andy ( I mean it in an endearing way Andy) will read this blog to get a more nuanced view of the issues here. I like how you pointed out that a lack of clear centralized leadership, from amongst the people concerned about the cosy realtionships between reviewers and creaters, cost the movement a lot of traction and credibility. The ethical concerns regarding the trolls and the hate/rape threats and doxxing is completely legitimate and should be addressed but we shouldn’t have let the psychos hijack our grievances. This problem of the Strawmob also affcted the Occupy movements which eventually fizzled out because of a lack of leadership and fringe views/actions getting too much attention which as Andy said is the desire of the media to highlight because it sells. I wanted to know if you had any practical advice to fledgling internet movements on how to keep the momentum going and avoid their concerns being hijacked by fringe views?

    • Hi Nabeel,

      Honestly, with this length of blog post, I couldn’t possibly hope to actually cover every nuance of #GamerGate. There’s a lot that I didn’t cover, but that wasn’t the point of this post – rather, I was questioning how we respond to consumer led movements like #GamerGate, both from within and outside of the issue.

      I do really like your comparisons to the Occupy movements, which has unfortunately all but fizzled out at this point. I was personally considering using the Student Protests from a couple of years back to illustrate my point, especially as they were particularly pertinent to all of us students. I feel it was a great shame that a few fools who decided to begin breaking property or causing violence overshadowed the real message of the march. Indeed, Andy mentions the sensationalist aspect to all of this and I really think that we should be questioning and looking into the broader media and questioning why they feel the need to only focus on sensational aspects of whatever occurrences may be going on.

      As for advice – personally, I’m only one man and we haven’t really seen a particularly successful consumer movement spawn from the web as of yet. I do feel, however, that as nice and idealistic as it would be to have a leaderless movement, in this day and age, with the values we currently hold, that can’t happen. If someone had been a figurehead for #GamerGate from the very beginning, then it would have been very easy for them to shun any harassment, doxxing etc. and for supporters to then point to that leader’s actions and words as the true meaning of the movement.

      At the end of the day, the whole thing was far too fractious to work as it would have liked, and a leader or even some kind of manifesto would have gone a long way to solving that. Of course, the problem then is that you exclude people who may disagree with some of the manifesto/leader’s points. So there is definitely a trade-off and certainly no simple answer as of yet that I can see.

      Thanks,
      Calum

  3. Pingback: The Megaphone & The Strawmob: Reflection | The Progressive: Calum Burgess
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