Limiting the damage from cultures in collision

A Man in Black has a readable twitter essay about the role of chan culture in gamergate, and how the concepts of identity and debate inside a largish subculture can lead to an amazing uproar when they clash with outside cultures.

A brief recap: the Gamergate Controversy was/is a fierce culture war originating in the video gaming community in August 2014 but soon ensnaring feminists, journalists, webcomics, discussion sites, political pundits, Intel… – essentially anybody touching this tar-baby of controversy, regardless of whether they understood it or not. It has everything: media critique, feminism, sexism, racism, sealioning, cyberbullying, doxing, death threats, wrecked careers: you name it. From an outside perspective it has been a train wreck hard to look away from. Rarely have a debate flared up so quickly, involved so many, and generated so much vituperation. If this is the future of broad debates our civilization is doomed.

This post is not so much about the actual content of the controversy but the point made by A Man in Black: one contributing factor to the disaster has been that a fairly large online subculture has radically divergent standards of debate and identity, and when it got into contact with the larger world chaos erupted. How should we handle this?

Chan culture

There is no such thing as “Internet culture”, but the Internet is a breeding ground for subcultures. Many centre on a shared interest, but others emerge due to shared discussion fora. One such forum type is the imageboard, where participants post images and short messages. The nature of imageboards lend themselves to short, snappy spur-of-the moment anonymous comments. The tone is often very rude in a juvenile way. Imageboards such as 4chan have been extremely fertile sources of Internet memes and movements (indeed, 4chan was the origin of Anonymous).

The Man In Black points out that there is a certain sociology going on here. Anonymity leads to rude, mob behaviour. But much of this is good-natured ribbing: since participants do not have stable personas nobody ever loses (unlike in fora where you have at least a pseudonymous identity whose reputation you might wish to protect). That is not to say there is no real sexism or malice there, just that it is mixed up with far more uses of its terminology where the actual meaning is different.

There is also an identification with the mob and its chaotic, dynamic nature – consider the delight Anonymous took in being an inchoate, implacable enemy of whoever aroused its ire (“Because none of us are as cruel as all of us”). As the MIB says, “Chan culture considers personal reputation meaningless but collective identity sacrosanct”. Deliberately trying to stand out is in the eyes of this subculture and in the rules of its discourse uncouth. To claim that the consensus is wrong and that one’s personal experiences can refute a point breaks the rules of discourse. To have a mass of people respond with rude invective to any statement (including statements they actually agree with) is how you have an argument: if you do not want a wave of hostility, why did you invite it by making a claim?

These rules of discourse are of course radically different from in other subcultures. And this nicely explains part of the gamergate explosion: when the Chan culture touches other cultures of discourse there will be fundamental misunderstandings about the very nature of what a discourse is supposed to be.

Cultures in collision

Colliding cultures of discourse is nothing new. Most intellectuals with broader interests will have seen or been in clashes where two groups simply cannot figure out what the other group is doing or trying to achieve: continentals and analytic philosophers (Noam Chomsky debating Michel Foucault comes to mind), economists and ecologists, postmodernists and scientists, punk rockers and music critics, religious fundamentalists and western politicians… maybe they are interested in the same question, but they differ in the way to approach it, what kind of result is valuable, and the proper way of interacting in the discourse. Usually the end result is the conclusion that the other side is misguided or evil.

For communication to actually be possible there has to be enough agreement on not just syntax and semantics (tricky enough) but also the pragmatics of how it is supposed to happen. Normally we learn this by observation. I see academic debate and explanation, and I learn how that kind of academic discourse is supposed to work. I hang out in an online forum, and I will learn the style of it (or leave/get thrown out – not everybody can learn every kind of discourse).

But the Internet means that every culture of discourse can potentially encounter every other. Normally this does not happen since people network with people like themselves, and instead the properties of Internet communities lead to rapid evolution of local cultures of discourse. Sometimes they are borrowed: this blog, for example, tends to stick close to academic philosophical discourse styles much of the time (for example, people often responding with objections even though they are meant in a friendly way – the ideal is honest truth-seeking rather than status gams). However, occasionally a post here touches on a topic of interest to other communities and we get an infusion of commenters from elsewhere. Often this leads to a bit of friction since people don’t follow the assumed and unspoken rules. How can they know that when a philosopher suggests that mulching children could be good he does not actually promote baby-mulching, but trying to make a fine point about some metaethical issue? Normally when somebody says somethingb they mean it.

Blowups seem to happen more and more often thanks to the nonlocal nature of the Internet. I write something that makes sense as bioethics, and find myself vilified (and subject to satirical poetry) by people who didn’t get the context. Somebody makes a joke that is innocuous in their home culture but vile blasphemy elsewhere. There is also a network effect: since messages are transmitted not from central hubs but as branching trees between participants, there is both potential for accumulating bias and misunderstanding, but also that comments on comments become relevant – and they also have blowup potential. As a blowup gets larger more people become involved, each with a certain probability of adding a secondary detonation through some comment or action (I bet that the eventual size distribution of such reactions has a power-law probability distribution). Conversely, when something causes interest thousands or million eyes can focus on a single individual, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

The multisubcultural Internet

In the best of all possible worlds we grow up as an internet-using civilization, learn to recognize that there are fundamentally alien cultures of discourse, and when encountering something weird/vile from out there treat it with tolerance and an honest attempt at bridging the cultural gulf…

…except that the cost of trying to understand foreign cultures of discourse is nontrivial. The above interculturalist utopia is in trouble because new cultures of discourse are emerging daily thanks to rapid technological change and the multifaceted human desire for interaction. I have no doubt many of the regular readers on this blog had never heard of imageboards or gamergate before this post. How much effort should I spend on reading poststructuralism to figure out whether it has a relevant critique of a paper I wrote? Should we expect Chan culture to try to understand the perspective of some of the more sensitive American liberal cultures of discourse (the ones that want trigger warnings on any discussion on anything that could cause offence)? Should we even expect Chan culture to even care? Causing offense is, from its inside perspective, nothing bad.

The problem is that learning cultures of discourse requires interacting or at least observing them, and this costs time and effort. Sometimes observers like MIB makes trenchant observations that can be understood by others, but even knowing that it might be worth hearing about a culture is problematic (will you ever encounter Chans in the future?). We should hence expect to encounter many more utterly bizarre cultures of discourse in the future that we will not have the tools to deal with.

One solution is to make one’s own culture of discourse explicit and clear: anybody posting on this blog has to agree on some set of rules of conduct, and when writing in the media I should state if I am saying something as a scientist or philosopher. Except that this rarely works since even understanding how a rule of conduct is to be interpreted is to some extent a discourse rule, and there are many assumed rules we are not ourselves aware of.

Another solution is to make each forum clearly separate, maintaining a threshold of entry and social behaviours that enforce the culture of discourse (ban rude people, require a PhD in ethics before allowing the word “should” in a post). But this only protects by preventing outsiders from entering the discussion.

Some will no doubt argue that the culture of discourse of Chan culture is pathological and whatever they have to say cannot be as important as keeping the better forms of discourse intact, so the Chan people should just be filtered out. Leaving the practical impossibility aside, it sets a dangerous precedent: just because a group isn’t very articulate in the sense of dominant discourses doesn’t mean it has nothing valuable to say. Suffragettes may have been disruptive, but they had a point.

(In principle it might turn out that there is nothing but vileness in a subculture, but that requires somebody diving in, learning it, and making an objective report. That is hardly feasible for the churning myriad of groups online.)

The most important discussions are the one that happen in the open, the ones that can spread ideas from and into separate subcultures. They are the ones that actually hold societies together. They are clearly not helped by isolation, nor by requiring cumbersome shibboleths of stating assumptions, privileges or tolerance. Some important things might not even be expressible in standard polite discourse as it is currently recognized but will expand it once the initial uproar has died away. Maybe the best approach is to recognize that we cannot avoid blow-ups when incompatible groups interact, but we can aim at damage limitation.

Damage limitation

We might for example start examining how to prevent large-scale cyberbullying: while individuals targetting others can be very nasty, the truly horrific effects of thousands piling on pressure on an individual through all available channels should be avoided.

The most egregious aspects of gamergate have been the doxing attacks against some notable critics: here the linking of an online identity to an offline identity is used as a technique of silencing. The fact that it is so powerful should be a cause of concern to those who think a real names policy is the best approach to cleaning up internet discussions. But as MIB has argued, truly anonymous activity may breed extremely problematic modes of discourse too.

In the Chan case anonymity leads to a particular sociology; in other online foras it can contribute both destructive trolling or, through pseudonymity, necessary separation of a person’s public persona from the persona presenting its vulnerabilities. Requiring a unified identity limits discourse in a variety of ways. A better understanding of how to construct identity management systems that both fit the complex demands of human identity and the different demands of societal and epistemic communities would be helpful.

It might also behoove us to find ways of compensating the victims of having an open, rambunctious and sometimes dangerous public debate. If free speech can ruin reputations, we who think free speech is extremely valuable should still consider whether we can compensate for its bad sides.

 

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44 Responses to Limiting the damage from cultures in collision

  • Carissa Véliz says:

    Thanks for a fascinating post, Anders. Where do you stand on threats? I understand that offensive comments may be part of a culture of discourse that perhaps should be tolerated in some contexts. But threats of violence? Is that where we should draw the line?

    • Anders Sandberg says:

      I think threats are never OK.

      The problem might be when some people *do not even perceive* that they are making threats, or at least that whatever they are saying will be interpreted as threats. I can forgive people slipping up and using nasty – even violent – language inside a social setting where people supposedly get the context, but when interacting with outside settings there is no real excuse. The first case, lacking perception, is a sign of a rather maladjusted discourse culture, where individual intentions get distorted into something that is almost like an emergent collective maliciousness. The second is just stupid blindness.

      The truly worrying thing is that among the people who are using nasty language but not actually holding nasty beliefs there are some who do hold nasty beliefs too. They can both direct some of the non-believers in bad directions and hide among them. And if the discourse system actually encourages them to act on these beliefs then it is definitely emergently malicious. (Conversely, there are of course opposite cases – sometimes the scientific discourse culture acts by making us more meticulous, cautious and undogmatic than we would otherwise be.)

      There might be a responsibility here for everybody to try to police their communities – which are after all not just something you passively join but something you build together with others – so they do not become in effect vehicles for bad behavior. But as some of the debate about how Muslims are supposed to distance themselves from nasty radicals shows, it is easy for an outside set of people to urge this kind of policing, but often rather tough from the inside (or even recognizing that you are inside a particular community: we tend to notice the fine distinctions inside our own group rather than the group itself, and *our* subgroup have nothing to do with the nasty people).

    • mythago says:

      Both sides have received anonymous threats. To date, none of these threats have been traced to a source, not Gamergate, not Anti-GG, nor anyone else.

  • garvan says:

    The most egregious aspects of gamergate have been the doxing attacks against some notable critics:

    Now now. Corrupt journalism started it first.

    Years before GamerGate, journalists have released private information to the public.

    See Gawker Doxxing Gun Owners in New York: ( gawker.com/5974190/here-is-a-list-of-all-the-assholes-who-own-guns-in-new-york-city ) or Gawker Doxxing Rozencrantz ( gawker.com/5950981/unmasking-reddits-violentacrez-the-biggest-troll-on-the-web )

    If it is fair for a journalist to report someone’s private information to the world, then the mass-individualist journalist movement of GamerGate is only acting in the status-quo of what journalism’s ethical standards were already set as.

    • Crusina says:

      Oh boy, here we go with the GG people coming saying “NO IT’S ACTUALLY ABOUT”

      What I find fascinating is that GG hasn’t uncovered anything that nobody hasn’t covered before and it’s completely ignored actual examples of corruption since its inception.

      Kotaku broke the story that Jeff Gerstman was fired by Gamespot for writing a negative review of a heavily advertised game, and followed the story for 5 years.

      Gamasutra and RPS recently exposed the YouTube pay-for-play deals and that was before anyone in GG ever brought it up as well.

      https://www. reddit.com/r/GamerGhazi/comments/2iucqv/a_partial_list_of_game_corruption_scandals/

      More examples of stuff you’ve ignored. Also GG supports ChristCenteredGaming, a website that REVIEWED ITS OWN GAME and gave it a 9.

      • Chan culture minion says:

        Hello,
        Thank you for your response. I’d like to address a few points you made.

        -Kotaku broke the Gerstmann story
        Good. We need more investigative journalism like this in the gaming industry.

        -Gamasutra covered Youtube reviewers before GG
        Actually, Totalbiscuit, a GG supporter, broke the news before any journalism websites bought it up:
        http://n4g.com/news/1595420/total-biscuit-reveals-shady-shadow-of-mordor-review-code-deal

        -Christcenteredgamer reviewed its own game.
        Intersting. Care to provide a link to this? When did a review site produce its own game? CCG uses a 0-100 scale on both its gameplay and morality scores, so a 9 out of 100 seems unusual.

        • SirPsycho says:

          -Gamasutra covered Youtube reviewers before GG
          Actually, Totalbiscuit, a GG supporter, broke the news before any journalism websites bought it up:
          http://n4g.com/news/1595420/total-biscuit-reveals-shady-shadow-of-mordor-review-code-deal

          Actually Gamasutra covered this before Gamergate existed and has done for a while. Here’s an article from before GG discussing the ethics of youtubers taking cash for positive PR, it even includes TBs standard schtick when he gets caught out, i.e. “I’m not a reviewer so i can do what I want” – http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/219671/Pay_for_Play_The_ethics_of_paying_for_YouTuber_coverage.php

          • Chan culture minion says:

            Okay, I see. I got a bit confused. Shadows of Mordor has been bought up so often that I assumed the post was referring to that.

            This is a pretty nice article by Gamasutra, actually. It would be nice to see more of this.

            Youtube is a new form of media and there’s not always a straightfoward answer to whether youtubers are official reviewers or not. The FTC does have guidelines of disclosure on this sort of thing, though. Anybody, regardless of whether they’re a youtuber or a games journalist, should be transparent about their sources.

            As time goes on hopefully GG can continue drawing attention to these sorts of things.

            Looking at TB’s comment it seems like he did disclose his sources in written form and followed FTC guidelines. Also, he played the game in a series of other games and did not give an official opinion on it. It would be nice to see more obvious disclosure, but I think claiming he said “I’m not a reviewer so I can do whatever I want” is an exaggeration.

            Does anybody have any info on that CCG game review?

        • SirPsycho says:

          -Gamasutra covered Youtube reviewers before GG
          Actually, Totalbiscuit, a GG supporter, broke the news before any journalism websites bought it up:
          http://n4g.com/news/1595420/total-biscuit-reveals-shady-shadow-of-mordor-review-code-deal

          Actually Gamasutra covered this before Gamergate existed and has done for a while. Here’s an article from before GG discussing the ethics of youtubers taking cash for positive PR, it even includes TBs standard schtick when he gets caught out, i.e. “I’m not a reviewer so i can do what I want” – http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/219671/Pay_for_Play_The_ethics_of_paying_for_YouTuber_coverage.php

      • Chan culture minion says:

        Hello,
        Thank you for your response. I’d like to address a few points you made.

        -Kotaku broke the Gerstmann story
        Good. We need more investigative journalism like this in the gaming industry.

        -Gamasutra covered Youtube reviewers before GG
        Actually, Totalbiscuit, a GG supporter, broke the news before any journalism websites bought it up:
        http://n4g.com/news/1595420/total-biscuit-reveals-shady-shadow-of-mordor-review-code-deal

        -Christcenteredgamer reviewed its own game.
        Interesting. Care to provide a link to this? When did a review site produce its own game? CCG uses a 0-100 scale on both its gameplay and morality scores, so a 9 out of 100 seems unusual.

      • LM says:

        So the GameJournoPros mailing list doesn’t count, nor does the response to the Shadow of Mordor incident that GamerGhazi’ers seem determined to pretend never happened? Do Patricia Hernandez’ ties count? Perhaps Alex Lifschitz ranting about payola and how objectivity is dead?

    • Ben says:

      So your logic here is:
      1. GamerGate is against unethical behavior by journalists
      2. Gawker Media, who GamerGate opposes, engaged in unethical behavior
      3. Therefore, GamerGate is going to do the same unethical behavior themselves

      Care to clarify why exactly GG should engage in unethical behavior without consequences? That very same behavior GG claims to exist to end?

      • garvan says:

        Who said doxxing was unethical tho?

        Certainly not this blog, and certainly not journalists themselves.

        Whether or not doxxing is unethical is a question this blog post is asking us to consider.

        Given that this is something that’s occurred before GamerGate existed, and it’s existed before anonymous chan culture, trying to attribute this to anonymity is silly.

        Journalists have doxxed before anons have.

        The unethical behaviour is in regards to corruption within the industry.

        GamerGate wants disclosure when conflicts of interest arise.

      • Some Guy says:

        I would prefer to hear why you are so dismissive of the doxxes carried out by gawker media. Care to explain?

    • mythago says:

      Gawker invented doxxing, but Anti-GG perfected it.

  • Chris Johnson says:

    This is one of the best things I’ve read, and rightfully sums up the biggest thing going on in the world today, IMO — the speed of communication destroying or eliminating contextual barriers, historically preserved by space, social distance, etc. My fear is that there’s a lot more pain to come as society slowly realizes this, but I hope that once this concept becomes embedded into us at birth, we will be far more tolerant and open-minded than our ancestors in the past.

    • some guy says:

      This comment is nothing but fear mongering, and has no basis in reality. If nothing else, human capacities have only increased the more communication that is taking place.

  • A Mathematician says:

    Historically, the gamergate debate collided with chan culture because of vast censorship on places like reddit and gawker on certain topics cf. http://bit.ly/1vmlOle . Indeed, the intersection of the gamergate debate with all discussion taking place on the chans is forced by continued censorship on these topics, cf. threads on blizzard forums.

    Thus by construction, gamergate has its own culture. If you are doubtful you may see this for yourself by a cursory inspection of an arbitrary chan board and a gamergate chan board.

    Indeed I would even suggest that the so-called gamergate culture is actually what normal people call normal culture. Judging by the most prominent characters alone, those of the pro-gg movement both act and look like normal people more than those of anti-gg, cf. McIntosh vs Cernovich. To say nothing of the prominent anti-gg website (gawker) being a famous clickbait website: something which is on the level of tabloid journalism, and not the way normal people behave. Looking further, we see that the pro-gg movement is much larger by population than the anti-gg movement: if nothing else, by the central limit theorem alone we would expect pro-gg to behave like ‘normal’ culture. Whether or not it is just normal people is tangential, but would have interesting consequences. Who then, are the people on the ‘other’ side of the fence? We suggest that they are also normal people, rallied by the cries of a media under attack.

    It is tempting to suggest that the author has done no primary research but is instead writing this article as an observation on the critiques of this so-called “A Man in Black”. Indeed I would claim that this behavior is exactly why there even is an anti-gg movement in the first place. That is to say, too many people count on external sources to compile data for them. When those sources are under attack, they only hear the part of the story they are familiar with.

    Ultimately, gamergate as a movement is a return to justification and rigorous standards for belief, something which we could all benefit from, regardless of what we believe in. I call on everyone to stop reading articles which have opinions and stop reading secondary sources. Dig in to the real source of the crisis: look at the actual emails, the discussions, what was actually said, and draw your own conclusions. You may insist that this will take much longer and you will know less. However, learning the opinions of others is not any kind of knowledge. Find the original data and reflect deeply upon it.

    Finally, a message to the author: I have only read a few works on ethics but if this is what passes for such in 2014 I am quite frankly disappointed.

  • Channer says:

    While I was looking forward to dismissing this out of hand, you seem relatively sane and several of the values and points you draw upon are ones I hold as well. I find your use of Man in Black as a source indicative of flagrantly questionable judgement, and the part where you seem to think only channers engage in doxxing with zero evidence on the matter. (Many supporters of GamerGate have been doxxed; at least one has been physically assaulted and driven from his home for his supporting.)

    Overall, I feel like your opinion and stance is sane enough and reasonable articulated enough to deserve a response to the part that seems utterly insane. And you know, maybe I’m the crazy one. Always be aware of the fact that you might be wrong, right? Maybe I’m just proving your point. That said;

    Should we expect Chan culture to try to understand the perspective of some of the more sensitive American liberal cultures of discourse (the ones that want trigger warnings on any discussion on anything that could cause offence)? Should we even expect Chan culture to even care? Causing offense is, from its inside perspective, nothing bad.

    Should we even expect Chan culture to even care? Causing offense is, from its inside perspective, nothing bad.

    Causing offense is, from its inside perspective, nothing bad.

    Madness.
    http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2164 provides a very short, very succinct explanation.

  • Anonymous says:

    So here is the 8chan thread on your article. http://8chan.co/gamergate/res/22397.html (archive version https://archive.today/zp1ia) So far consensus is that you are (generously!) attributing too much of the blow-up to misunderstanding of Chan culture. Yes, that it is happening. Mainly because nobody realizes that chans are full of women, gays (me), blacks, and jews who take delight in the casual hate speech. Chan culture teaches lots of people how words can’t hurt you.

    You hit the nail on the head referencing sensitive liberal discourse. That’s the problem, that’s the root-cause of the explosion. Gamergate isn’t blowing up because chan-cultures uses salty language. It’s because our heuristic for consensus building has quickly determined that some people are overly-sensitive. When questioned, even in a polite discourse, these sensitive people self-righteously feel entitled to use mass communication to shame gamer/internet/chan culture as a whole.They will use hate and bile usually reserved for sexists and racists and homophobes and anti-Semites. Not the fun, ironic sort chan culture uses, but actual angry rage.

    Yes, the anonymous nature of chan culture makes us very sensitive to attention-seeking behavior. But the reason things exploded was because attention seekers, who consider themselves the vanguard of social progress, actually are getting attention. Gamergate looked bad out of the gate because all media instantly called it a hate-group, and few have back-peddled. Gamergate is a consumer revolt against those with the megaphones who say women gamers are oppressed when, really, lots of women would disagree.

    The fight is between a mass media dependent on narraritive-based journalism which fails to encapsulate a nuanced issue with it’s partisan, progressive discourse. That led to a whole bunch of autists (please take me seriously, literal autists make up much of chan culture) feeling attacked by their own society. Gamers in GamerGate worry that progress considers them on the wrong side of history, like other actual hate groups. Nobody from the mainstream has tried to reach out to these scared autists and tell them “we know, your games aren’t really sexist, it’s just some overly-sensitive liberals acting puritanical, it will blow over, we have this under control. Go back to your games.” Only anonymous channers, and, umm, hate groups have really commiserated with the newly ostracized target for “cultural marxism”.

    There are tons of posts from leftists in Gamergate threads saying how they finally understand Conservatism. It’s been an eye-opener for me as well. Even though I’m gay I am now very critical of progressive rhetoric and agendas, thanks to Gamergate. I’m not alone. Until someone in the mainstream gets a clue, this chain will keep on chuggin’.

    • John says:

      “Not the fun, ironic sort chan culture uses, but actual angry rage.”

      Even if it was, why would you expect anyone outside of that culture to just see it as “fun and ironic”? Because all the slurs and sexism and racism really don’t look fun at all. I see lots of rage. To me, it doesn’t seem any different to the sexism and racism people experience on a daily basis when want to play videogames. It would feel less threatening if it remained limited to their forum but they write comments on very article about that topic and send emails to companies pressuring them to remove advertising.

      Look at the thread you linked. There is not much of value in it. There is bascially no attempt at a reasoned discurse or even solutions to fix what they see as corruption, apart from spamming emails and comments and making melodramatic memes. It is all immature. How will this solve anything? How can someone take gamergate seriously?

      “narraritive-based journalism which fails to encapsulate a nuanced issue with it’s partisan, progressive discourse”

      Why is Gamergate attacking game developers?
      Why is suggesting to have a higher variety of voices in games not nuanced but using words like “SJW”,”retard” or “LW” is?
      Why is attacking Zoe Quinn for made-up charges nuanced (while the male journalists were not harressed)?
      Why is spamming Intel with emails to pull advertising from gamasutra nuanced but Target pulling GTA 5 from shelves is censorship?
      Why is partisanship of gaming journalism bad but the partisanship of gamegate isn’t?
      Why do so many of the nerd heroes speak out against gamergate? Patton Oswalt, Seth Rogen, Felicia Day, William Gibson, Tim Schafer, cartoonist Mariel Cartwright, Joss Whedon, writer Greg Rucka, Wil Wheaton, writer Jim Sterling, John Scalzi, Adam Sessler, Jon Stewart, Jeff Gerstmann, and the creators of Raspberry Pi and Oglaf. Either they are all corrupt and “sensitive liberals” or maybe gamergate are the baddies?

      “I am now very critical of progressive rhetoric and agendas”

      The exact same agendas that fought and are still fighting to end discrimination against LGBT? What do those agendas have to do with game journalism?
      And just because you changed your mind that doesn’t mean your position is correct.

    • John says:

      “Not the fun, ironic sort chan culture uses, but actual angry rage.”

      Even if it was, why would you expect anyone outside of that culture to just see it as “fun and ironic”? Because all the slurs and sexism and racism really don’t look fun at all. I see lots of rage. To me, it doesn’t seem any different to the sexism and racism people experience on a daily basis when want to play videogames. It would feel less threatening if it remained limited to their forum but they write comments on very article about that topic and send emails to companies pressuring them to remove advertising.

      Look at the thread you linked. There is not much of value in it. There is bascially no attempt at a reasoned discurse or even solutions to fix what they see as corruption, apart from spamming emails and comments and making melodramatic memes. It is all immature. How will this solve anything? How can someone take gamergate seriously?

      “narraritive-based journalism which fails to encapsulate a nuanced issue with it’s partisan, progressive discourse”

      Why is Gamergate attacking game developers?
      Why is suggesting to have a higher variety of voices in games not nuanced but using words like “SJW”,”retard” or “LW” is?
      Why is attacking Zoe Quinn for made-up charges nuanced (while the male journalists were not harressed)?
      Why is spamming Intel with emails to pull advertising from gamasutra nuanced but Target pulling GTA 5 from shelves is censorship?
      Why is partisanship of gaming journalism bad but the partisanship of gamegate isn’t?
      Why do so many of the nerd heroes speak out against gamergate? Patton Oswalt, Seth Rogen, Felicia Day, William Gibson, Tim Schafer, cartoonist Mariel Cartwright, Joss Whedon, writer Greg Rucka, Wil Wheaton, writer Jim Sterling, John Scalzi, Adam Sessler, Jon Stewart, Jeff Gerstmann, and the creators of Raspberry Pi and Oglaf. Either they are all corrupt and “sensitive liberals” or maybe gamergate are the baddies?

      “I am now very critical of progressive rhetoric and agendas”

      The exact same agendas that fought and are still fighting to end discrimination against LGBT? What do those agendas have to do with game journalism?
      And just because you changed your mind that doesn’t mean your position is correct.

      Plus, this happened:
      “To Gamergate, the Death of Brianna Wu’s Pet is Another Opportunity for Abuse and Harassment” (Article on dogster.com)
      “When game designer Brianna Wu announced on Twitter that her dog, Crash, was ill and ultimately died from brain inflammation, Gamergate supporters harassed her about the dog’s death. At least one person even went so far as to create a Twitter account in Crash’s name (it’s now been suspended) and used it to make abusive comments to Wu as if they were coming from her dog in the afterlife. Wu also tweeted that she’s received photos of mutilated dogs in her corporate email account.”

      Is that really a movement you want to support? But maybe I am just not understanding the fun and irony!

      • LM says:

        Look at the thread you linked. There is not much of value in it. There is bascially no attempt at a reasoned discurse or even solutions to fix what they see as corruption, apart from spamming emails and comments and making melodramatic memes. It is all immature. How will this solve anything? How can someone take gamergate seriously?

        Because you do not know how to read a chan thread, here are some tips. First, every post has to be judged on its own merits, because it could be dishonest or ironic. Second, offense is a signifier of being unimpressed, not of being angry. Third, good-spirited fun is always appreciated. Fourth, quoting others and yourself ironically is a common meta-textual shorthand.

        Here are a few salient points you apparently missed:

        “We weren’t born and don’t live within the walls of a chan, it does not effect how we debate in other platforms”
        “if it was just chan culture then why the hell are redditors supporting it?”
        “Plus people who hang out on “chans” don’t live that culture. It’s an outlet. The political, cultural and racial make up of people who hang out on “chans” is extremely diverse. This is where the confusion or surprise comes from. The SJWs formulated a propagandized image of chan culture and as a result GG.”

      • mythago says:

        Your list of “nerd heroes” failed to include the most strident Anti-GG crusader of them all. Namely, Jian Ghomeshi.

        This is a glaring oversight, as a quick google search will reveal that poor little Jian is currently struggling against various small-minded authorities, who seek to stifle his own unique form of self-expression.

        It’s a safe bet that Gamergate is the sinister force behind this dastardly persecution of a woefully misunderstood “nerd hero”.

  • Someguy says:

    This article would be decent if there was anything close to resembling a fact in it. You cite a storify by an angry twitter user?

    Face it narcissists and would be authoritarians, everyone has a microphone now. No need to be so scared.

  • Channer says:

    Why is Gamergate attacking game developers?
    [citation needed]
    Why is suggesting to have a higher variety of voices in games not nuanced but using words like “SJW”,”retard” or “LW” is?
    Nobody but the anti-GamerGate side seems to be against this, brother.
    Why is attacking Zoe Quinn for made-up charges nuanced (while the male journalists were not harressed)?
    This is so willfully oblivious and pretty much wrong I’m having a hard time addressing this.
    Alright. Who has GamerGate been focusing on writing emails to? I’ve seen no evidence that it’s Zoe. On the other hand, Intel, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and a dozen other companies that I can’t name off the top of my head have removed adds from certain places because they’re receiving emails from a mysterious source. Sites such as Gawker have admitted to losing tens of thousands (or was it hundreds of thousand?) of dollars as a result.

    And somehow Zoe Quinn (Or pardon me, LW, if you prefer,) is related to this? Or being harassed in excess of this?
    Why is spamming Intel with emails to pull advertising from gamasutra nuanced but Target pulling GTA 5 from shelves is censorship?
    Nobody’s writing Gamasutra’s ISP and telling them they shouldn’t provide service to the hate-spewing blog of Leigh Alexander. If she wants to run it out of her own pocket, that’s on her. She’s got every bit as much right as you or I do.
    But voting with your dollar? That’s a cornerstone of capitalism. I’m not sure what issue you have with writing companies and telling them we won’t support them if they’re supporting people like her.
    Why is partisanship of gaming journalism bad but the partisanship of gamegate isn’t?
    Because the media, and journalism in particular, are frequently held to different standards than people without their platform. You can read about ’em here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journalism_ethics_and_standards They’re interesting things and I think you’d do well to be aware of them, journalist or not. You might even say they’re important. :^)
    Why do so many of the nerd heroes speak out against gamergate? Patton Oswalt, Seth Rogen, Felicia Day, William Gibson, Tim Schafer, cartoonist Mariel Cartwright, Joss Whedon, writer Greg Rucka, Wil Wheaton, writer Jim Sterling, John Scalzi, Adam Sessler, Jon Stewart, Jeff Gerstmann, and the creators of Raspberry Pi and Oglaf. Either they are all corrupt and “sensitive liberals” or maybe gamergate are the baddies?
    Or- or maybe, wait for it- Or maybe your appeal to authority here is wrong on two accounts. One; the media under counterattack has decided to dig their hole deeper, and is shouting to anyone who will possibly listen about how the people retaliating against them are doublesatans, evil incarnate, monsters, misogynists, dead, obsolete, vile, and stupid. And because the media is corrupt and colluding, the majority of the platforms are backing one another up. “Well, it’s kinda odd… But Gamasutra agrees with Gawker, and Ars Technica and Rock, Paper, Shotgun all agree too…”
    And B, you seem to think that people cannot disagree without one group being baddies and one group being ‘heroes’. I’m going to hope that that is enough, and I don’t have to explain the toxic assumptions implicit in that statement. If I’m wrong, for the love of god, ask. Because that is a dangerous statement.

    I’ll be honest, John. I don’t know where you come from on this, I don’t know whether you’ve been doing any research. All I can do is speak with evidence and data available, and recount from my perspective.
    I was watching it a few weeks before it migrated to the #GamerGate tag on twitter. And I found it on twitter a week (two at tops) after it had made that migration. I wasn’t following it religiously, I missed that flashpoint. Zoom, right by.
    I’ve met people I agree with and people I don’t agree with on both sides of this. Just how it goes. Nobody’s all baddy or all goody.
    But by god I haven’t had any issue about which side I think is net positive.
    Censorship? Guilt by association? Bullying, media blitzes, slander, doxxing, harassment? I don’t want any of that. And I certainly won’t support people I see engaging in them.
    And that’s why I’m over here. This side seems by far the lesser of two evils.

    But tell ya what;
    Do literally anything that isn’t evil. And I’ll re-evaluate. Maybe switch sides, maybe not.

  • Nin says:

    I personally think that your analysis of chan culture is somewhat off.

    You’re correct in saying that personal reputation does not matter. This also includes anything regarding the poster’s background such as race, gender, and culture. However, personal opinions, or the words that are said do ultimately matter, which is why chan users are happy to argue with you if they think you are wrong, or agree if they think you are correct, especially since their own backgrounds are also irrelevant to the words that are said. In addition, because personal reputation doesn’t matter, most slurs lose all of their context and thus, their power. It’s the words you say that are being insulted, not you yourself, which is why things like trigger warnings do not exist in chan culture. You could just as easily argue that it’s because of the lack of importance of personal reputation that a chan user can simply speak without using any persona whatsoever and not have to resort to using one to protect himself. Though, I should point out that Jungian psychology isn’t the exactly most accurate one out there.

  • Anonymous says:

    One of the largest problems I have with this article is that it paints chan culture as this incomprehensible monolith, and at the same time half-jokingly suggests that someone ‘should’ have a PhD. in Ethics before they write the word ‘should’ in their posts. chan culture is open to anyone that can fill out a captcha; due to the nature of anonymous posting, all are welcome so long as you don’t compromise that anonymity unless it’s directly related to the topic at hand. If you really want to be a part of the culture, just start posting and shape it with your own posts and opinions. Most people on boards outside of /gamergate/ don’t really care about this scandal anymore.

    There’s also hilariously bad misrepresentations of how badly everyone has been hurt by this scandal, not just Chelsea Van Velkenburg. You can talk about Milo Y. (not bothering trying to spell his last name, sorry!) getting a dead animal in his mailbox, a 14 year old boy being told to go kill himself, and supposed professionals of the industry taking it upon themselves to post addresses to “sic their followers on them”. The whole thing is ugly, and it isn’t all of 8chan’s fault. Notably, the Man in Black is one that actually posted Felicia Day’s public information on twitter, and he was notoriously anti-gamergate.

    I agree that the ever-increasing speed of communication is leading to some problems in public forums, but posts like this one only exacerbate the problem. And unlike an anonymous shitposter’s opinion whom you can easily dismiss, you have a PhD. to wave around long enough for people to blindly listen and believe.

  • Anders Sandberg says:

    Thanks for the vigorous commenting. Some general comments:

    What am I trying to do: my concern is not gamergate, but social epistemology. That is, how do societies process knowledge, information and disinformation? How do we make this process better at being truth-seeking and not harming people? It might be argued that this does not belong on an ethics blog, but if a society cannot keep its worldviews together then we should not expect it to be able to keep its ethics together either – to act right you need to have a adequate understanding of the situation, and many ethical systems think reaching consensus is important for creating proper morality.

    Correct characterization of Chan culture: The above reason is why it is not essential for my argument whether MIB is right or unbiased in his description of Chan culture: it makes a good starting point for diving into the *real* issue, how to deal with divergent cultures of discourse. In fact, I could just as well have made up a fictional online culture or used Chomsky vs. Foucault. Had I been writing a sociology essay it would have been far more important to check whether the facts or characterization was correct (“correct” as defined by whatever methodological school of sociology I might have subscribed to).

    Apologies: Now, that said, I do think there is merit to some of the criticisms here that I have been talking about Chan culture as one thing. It is not. I am aware of that, having read (if not participated in) a number of imageboards over a longish span of time. I know there are places of civility and quiet discussion, and forums where pseudonymity and reputations are an important force. But there are also places that come close enough to MIBs description in my opinion, and that is enough to make it relevant as a starting point for my essay. Still, apologies to the sane parts of Chan culture.

    Discourse, not culture: It is worth noting that I am not condemning even the Chan culture MIB is picturing. I am not arguing that a rude mob with a peculiar mode of discourse is *wrong* (I am, in my early comment, outlining when I think a community actually is morally wrong). Each culture of discourse, whether refined art talk at modern art museums, ethicists picking apart each other’s papers, or pub arguments, has its own strengths and weaknesses. There are probably some issues rude mobs are better than ethicists at understanding and reaching consensus on (well worth studying, actually). The only cultures of discourse that I think are wrong are (1) the ones that systematically deviate from truth-seeking (that is, they do not care for better understanding or are unable to achieve it because their methods are broken), and (2) those that have a form of discourse that harms people (say by killing or mobbing dissenters, or using real threats as a part of discourse).

    Even if we think most cultures of discourse are OK in themselves, their interactions can be troublesome. This is what makes me concerned and interested, since we are going to get way more of this. In a few years thanks to smartphones and translation we are going to be rubbing shoulder with billions of people in online cultures we are currently hidden from by language barriers – many of which have even more divergent views than our current crop in the “Western” Internet. We need to become better at handling that.

    • Anonymous says:

      Interesting. I hadn’t used imageboards much before Gamergate and have been surprised the strength of anonymous discourse in building consensus quickly. Posts read like a stream of thought. Ideas pop up, they are argued, and by the end of a thread a position is settled on.

      Identities entail credit and blame and all sorts of noise that clogs up a conversation. There is none of that with GG — with the exception being drama around internet celebrities. This really proves the rule. Anonymity lets ideas stand on their own.

      Reading a stream-of-thought imageboard thread is comparable to thinking on your own. I think this is how chans end up building mobs — the conversations involve so many lurkers on top of the few anons who are posting. The “hatespeak” contributes to the feeling of reading-as-cognition too… how rude is your inner voice? I’m sure there are lots of thoughts and opinions you have you can’t share without much rewording and softening. Imageboards skip all that — use quick racial slur and move on with the thought.

      With anonymity you have discourse between minds, not between people. That is superior style of communication for fast-moving, leaderless happenings like gamergate. I wouldn’t want everything to work this way, and for those who don’t like anonymity we always have Reddit. http://www.reddit.com/r/KotakuInAction/

    • Something says:

      Thanks for the article. Most people dismiss chan culture without a second thought.

      One issue with trying to pin down chan culture is that it is fragmented by nature. Although to an observer of a thread there is little distinguishing one post from another besides the words and pictures in the post, I think each individual poster views himself or herself as an individual entity, not necessarily tied to an identity. For every generalized statement made about chan posters there is probably a significant number of posters who don’t meet the requirements for that statement.

      For example, even a lurker reads a thread universally praising a hypothetical video game, that lurker does not need to subscribe to the consensus. He or she can make an individual decision on the merit of the game based on the thoughts presented in the thread. On a side note, consensus is very rarely achieved in threads. Most of the time people will argue fruitlessly until the thread dies.

      As for the “rage” one sees on chans I think that is because people are allowed to express thoughts that aren’t normally seen in public. A sort of release, basically. I don’t think that sort of rage is characteristic of the poster as a whole, like an angry internet troll is his or her “true self” or something. It’s another trait that has to be considered alongside the person’s other features as a whole. You see this in GG: on the 8chan imageboard people are abrasive, but GG has adopted an official policy of “weaponizing niceness” and acting polite and mature in more public spaces like Twitter.

  • Ola says:

    Hi Anders

    Thanks for a really good read and I have to say this is a extremely interesting topic. The myriad of different arenas, mediums, communities ect is enough to make anyone feel exhausted.
    The internet, or the massive power that self publishing offers is ofc, a double-edged sword. On one side it gives “everyone” a voice. At the same time it will drown that voice in the myriad of others. This will often make discussion extremely polarized as 1. more extreme opinions gain more traction, and 2. If you pick a side your voice is at least represented. But in the extreme cases in the “chan culture” or whatever you want to call it, mob mentality is not just a refuge in a world with to many voices but seems to become the de fact rules of engagement. It’s the mob, the force, the legion thats important and individual sentiment (which will always be more nuanced) is discard, irrelevant or outright attacked. Looking it this, it is not strange that journalists, strong voices, or individuals who “goes viral for whatever reason” quickly can become targets of massive campaigns. If the cause it just or not in this case becomes irrelevant since this makes for 1. a poor arena for discussion or discourse, 2. seems to be a breeding pool for conspiracies and miss-information. As this feeds back into itself it makes it more and more impossible to have any kind of resolution and produces nothing but a echo chamber. Immune to criticism as there are no one able to speak for everyone. There can be no discourse, only mob justice.

  • Lokari says:

    Gamergate is far more than games. It represents a clash of people who outgrew conventional social norms due to pure communication by internet as opposed to traditional communication methods involving face to face interaction and social skills coming from our evolutionary past as apes(sexualization of conversation, sex for social support or promise of sex, higher social hierarchy status and so on). The traditional(or normal) communication methods allowed certain groups and individuals to reach positions of influence using social networking or favours. This stands in contrast to pure Chan culture where communication is based purely on text and graphic interaction and where many are outside of traditional social networking mechanisms which they see as corrupt.
    When position of certain video game journalist and producers was put to scrutiny and their networking exposed many of the chan culture were outraged at the nepotism.
    To which the “anti-chan” culture said “this is normal, this is how people build relations and network and get jobs”.
    Both sides are right and both sides are wrong.
    The chan culture represents purity of communication and opposition to practices from more animalistic communication past.
    To “anti-chan” group their behaviour is normal, this is how it works among “normal” people. Somebody likes you, you socialize, somebody gives you recommendation for job, even if there are better ones, just because he knows you personally and finds you “likeable”.
    This is an old model, not suitable for those who were able to free themselves from this through internet. Hence I am not surprised at the clash.
    Where monkeys met robots conflict will happen.
    Right now there is a lot of pressure to socialize internet, make it “normal”, “sociable”. Things that many of old chan guard detest as they never were “normal” or “sociable”. I am one of them. Internet was our promise of freedom, now it seems it becomes the tool of those who would oppress us.

  • Frank Gainsford says:

    Many thanx for a great post that highlights the many issues associated with online identity and anonymity. This is a very big issue and needs to be handled in a manner where one can understand. In my mind the issue is that those who propose anonymity are disruptive by nature and can not handle a meaningful discourse that leads to an improvement in understanding and resolving issues.

    I am A south African and would like to put this issue forward for open and honest discussion by those who are prepared to be named and identified for who they are…

    One of the issues that come forward from a racial perspective here in south Africa is the issue of looking folks in the eye when your speak eye ball to eye ball. Within the *”WHITE”* community when a child is chastised he / she is confrinted and full eye contact is demanded. Within the *”TRADITIONAL BLACK”* community if a child dares to make eye contact when being chastised there is an issue, as it is demanded that he / she avoid all eye contact when being chastised by an elder.

    with this in mind, how does one react within thew work place when being chastised by a senior person. of a different ethnic background, for some wrong doing within the work environment?

    this difference in cultures has lead to many misunderstandings and an awful lot of folks being dismissed for not showing the required respect, or showing blatant disrespect, to senior employees.

    these are the same kind of issues that the author is attempting to highlight within the online environment. How does one address the issues and not take flack from either side or perhaps even both sides?

    When relgion steps into this mix then there are even more issues, and the stakes are even higher, as many are prepared to kill and die if that would ensure the protection of their religious views and associated religious networks.

    those who are doing wrong always need a place to hide..

  • Cats&Dogs says:

    Now there’s a meeting of minds you could have made big bucks and long odds betting on at the start of 2014: 8Chan (formerly 4chan) and Oxford Ethics. Fascinating in itself (it also shows you that the chans are rather deeper than some expected).

    Just to throw some thoughts into the mire, which as an outside I’ve not seen mention of, and yet seem pertinent. They might even hint at the actual “cultures in collision” of the title:

    1) Of the two people at the epicenter of this event, one was a moderator of Reddit’s /narcissist board and one had recently been involved with a very public firing and loss of $400,000 investment to a media company, and had signed contracts which were broken. From public sources, it appears neither were particularly ‘shy’ of a certain amount of self-dramatization, which of course feeds the larger scene.

    2) The ‘independent’ gaming community in question is an extremely small subset of the actual (global) independent gaming community. It has its epicenter around Toronto and has a very particular ethos to it and again, has no shortage of quite similar dramatic internet battles (Google: Fez, Phil Fish and so on). The funding aspects to Toronto and Independent gaming awards are, again, very particular to that culture (cf Patreon & funding).

    3) Much of the focus on the media angle ignores the clear ‘behind the scenes’ input of both American ‘conservative’ mimetic / community webs (Briebart and dog whistlers from all over) , paid PR firms and certainly at least one legal firm. The gaming media industry released similar stories in quick succession (and this broke into second layer commentary in places such as Forbes) which was obviously a coordinated media campaign; the American ‘conservative’ mimetic community got involved, places such as Reddit quickly enforced silence on the issue (through shadowbans / deletion) until the Streisand Effect came into play, and 4Chan appears to have been altered at a fundamental level under unknown pressures. Moot, the owner, removed a large section of moderators and removed all threads on the subject, and it appears 4chan continues to be ‘gamed’ by various parties at this point.

    There was certainly a discussion somewhere that cost a fair amount of money to implement, which of course is not open to public scrutiny.

    4) It has been hinted that the ‘core’ of #GamerGate were an organised team consisting of “a lawyer, a ‘failed’ IT specialist, an accountant and others” [I’ll leave you to find out where that was discussed], and that their identities were discovered outside of Twitter / doxxing. There is also a fair amount of evidence that PR firms and media companies linked to Toronto and individuals were also running their own playbook to shape the media portrayal of events. Far from being solely a case of “internet lulz 4chan vrs the femminazis”, there has been some medium level engagement by certain players to protect both the bottom line and to prevent an open discourse into how certain industries work.

    Looking over various stages of the debacle it appears that many of the actual principle actors remain let us say… anonymous themselves.

    5) It’s clear that almost nothing written on the topic is based on factual evidence, and indeed, most (if not all) parties involved have no desire for abstract concepts such as ‘truth’ to prevail. Most of those involved seem fairly repugnant, and on the higher levels of involvement there is 100% a sense of ‘ends justify the means’, from both sides. However, painting this debacle in terms of “aspergers man-children and woman haters vrs the world” is missing the swirling undercurrents.

    The end upshot was that 4Chan was broken, which I do find interesting, however. I’d also like to know which Law firm partook in the whole affair, and who retained them.

    That’s not to say I agree with anything that is espoused under #GamerGate, however, if you view this through a different cultural lens, what was actually going on was fairly explicitly about active social power hierarchies being enforced behind the scenes. Oh, and that’s always about money.

    p.s.

    Brave author, 8chan now know about this blog. Your inbox might never be the same.

  • Anonymous due to Gamergate worries says:

    This is probably the best thing that was written during the entire GamerGate fracas. I hope it remains available on Wikipedia in the future.

  • SJS says:

    s/status gams/status games/

    s/somethingb/something/

    (No need to keep this post.)

  • Kim Etzerodt says:

    “The most egregious aspects of gamergate have been the doxing attacks against some notable critics: here the linking of an online identity to an offline identity is used as a technique of silencing. ”

    But not the exact same thing done to the supporters of Gamergate and the subsequent complete silence on any of this from the media?
    Being sent a syring with fluids in it, being sent a knife, being fired and accused of spreading child porn.
    The scale of the mind melting scream of outrage from the media if this had happened to Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn or Brianna Wu would have been off the charts. But now they happened to gamergate supporters, so we don’t care about it. It’s only terrible when it happens to us.

    A game dev was attacked on Twitter and had false allegations made against him about his Pateron account being illegal in an attempt to rob him of his livelihood?
    Horrible?
    Well, the victim was pro-gamergate Roguestar, and the person accusing him of illegal activities to steal his livelihood from him was anti-GG Brianna Wu.

    And nobody writes a single word about it.

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