"Proof of concept of how to wage a post-truth information war"
August 15, 2019 3:01 PM   Subscribe

"On August 15, 2014, an angry 20-something ex-boyfriend published a 9,425-word screed and set in motion a series of vile events that changed the way we fight online." How an Online Mob Created a Playbook for a Culture War: the New York Times opinion section looks at five years of Gamergate. posted by zachlipton (36 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is there any way to load the first article into an iPhone on reading mode? The NYT's combination of jiggly graphics and SEO-scraping makes it unreadable for me.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:04 PM on August 15, 2019


It works for me to refresh the page (reader mode has a cache), scroll down to the first "read more" and tap it, and only then activate reader mode. The graph won't come out quite right that way, but the rest works.
posted by zachlipton at 3:13 PM on August 15, 2019


Christ, I end up having to look away from every article.

Where’s the accountability for law enforcement, especially the FBI? They decided it was a joke. They still don’t enforce the law to protect women who are being targeted by what have always been, but are only now recognized as, terrorists.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:14 PM on August 15, 2019 [48 favorites]


Huh, they didn't get Bari Weiss or that other fuckstick whose name escapes me (you know, white guy, kinda dumb? No, the other one) to write a "but maybe Gamergate is good" counterpoint opinion? I'm surprised and delighted.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:24 PM on August 15, 2019 [23 favorites]




Sarah Jeong wrote a bit more on Twitter:
This isn't a call for pity. What happened to me is an increasingly normalized part of the political discourse, with a direct pipeline running from the worst parts of the internet right to pundits on television. If we don't understand it, we're doomed to let it continue unchecked.

Look out for: The othering of a target. Singling out women and those who present femme. Mocking gender presentation. Exaggerating someone's non-whiteness or foreignness. The insinuation of wrongdoing, esp relating to promiscuity. Generating fear, uncertainty, and doubt through countless, ever-morphing outlandish claims of conspiracy. Rallying cries that center around media conspiracy (e.g. "ethics in journalism" or "fake news"). Complaints about a target's unqualifiedness that amount to a charge that they do not represent white, male America. A complaint that boils down to, "You will not replace us." That's the legacy of Gamergate.

My hope is that as you read this list, you thought of dozens of people who've been attacked in similar ways just in the last year.
posted by zachlipton at 4:15 PM on August 15, 2019 [34 favorites]


Little did we know in 2014 that GamerGate was the proving ground for the future rhetoric of the entire Republican party.
posted by T.D. Strange at 4:48 PM on August 15, 2019 [41 favorites]


One major factor that would seriously change the calculus of the whole situation is astonishingly simple. There are plenty of threats-and-harassment laws on the books that aren't being enforced. Like, at all.

Because, and stop me if you've heard this one before, the majority -- perhaps the vast majority -- of law enforcement don't care if certain people are getting harassed and threatened, and a lot of them are, pseudonymously, doing the harassment themselves.
posted by tclark at 4:52 PM on August 15, 2019 [64 favorites]


Speak for yourself, T.D. Strange. I've been saying it since 2010.

The alt-right targeted certain demographics, then leveraged that into political power. They were never even subtle about it. It's been horrifyingly clear in every internet space where the average person is a teenage male for the past 2 decades.
posted by Ahniya at 4:57 PM on August 15, 2019 [27 favorites]


To expand on that: GG wasn't a new thing in 2014. GG was just the first time mainstream anybody paid attention to what had been happening in gaming and comics spaces for my entire life. There had even been named harassment campaigns before. Nobody gave a crap, and surprise! When people spend their formative years perfecting the art of invisibly torturing others they don't stop doing it once grown up. They just apply those same tactics on a larger stage.
posted by Ahniya at 5:00 PM on August 15, 2019 [42 favorites]


Gosh, it wasn't even 2014, was it?

The first rumblings were (as I saw them) the men's rights subreddit being created in 2007? 2008? on reddit, and 4chan springing up slightly before that. I was never on 4chan, but I was on reddit when Men's Rights began and then grew, grew, grew. I was there when the PUA subreddit started and was flooded with stories of men openly admitting to committing sexual assault while trying to get laid: stories like, "I did cop a feel of her tits and we kissed for a few seconds, but then she just up and left, what am I doing wrong guys???" (And those stories were the tamer ones.) I was there arguing with jacknobbits who would come out of these subreddits into the places I hung out in, like r/twoXChromosomes or r/women, about whether or not sexism really exists. (I was younger and stupider, back then, to think I could argue sense into them.)

I mean, people who are scratching their heads about climate change denialists these days? They have no clue, do they? We've been dealing with the MRAs and PUAs for more than a decade now doing the exact same denialism over sexism. We aren't the least bit surprised. (It's the same with racism and the racist subreddits - which I thankfully never interacted with.)

Obviously none of this began with reddit. It was always there... somewhere... and then 4chan and reddit just gave them places to congregate and grow. GamerGate was the first battle cry of these masculinist Nazis - it wasn't their birthplace, nor their nursery.
posted by MiraK at 5:03 PM on August 15, 2019 [45 favorites]


In the 1990s, young me wanted to find fellow people to be enthusiastic about comics with, and tried to find a local group. That was a mistake I never repeated.

This is the exact same behavior that men have engaged in for decades. The difference is that now they're documenting it every time they post, which makes pretending it isn't happening much harder. It was happening 'somewhere'? I think you mean 'in their homes, schools, clubs, locker rooms, and anywhere else guys got together and girls weren't welcome'.

People are using the terrible parts of our culture to indulge themselves and gain political power, but that's also always been true.
posted by Ahniya at 5:11 PM on August 15, 2019 [18 favorites]


Maybe we should have listened to Tipper Gore after all…?
posted by adamrice at 5:14 PM on August 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Gosh, it's already been five years? How the time does fly. The traditional gift for the fifth anniversary is wood, which is why I keep a sturdy length of 4x8 around so as to properly address all self-identified Gamergaters/MRAs.
posted by Mayor West at 5:17 PM on August 15, 2019 [37 favorites]


Maybe we should have listened to Tipper Gore after all…?|

About what? Naughty lyrics in rock music?
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:36 PM on August 15, 2019 [23 favorites]


The PUA stuff (and the more mainstream bro/jock contingent of Tucker Max fans) was the first time I remember organized groups of guys openly “gaming” how to pick up women—turning it into a strategy using a script and moves, like in a video game. But Gamergate did seem like a step forward in the sense that it got “serious” (male) public voices to somehow whitewash these same people and take them seriously. It moved from weird guys in hats to a “movement.”
posted by sallybrown at 5:40 PM on August 15, 2019


These @max_reed tweets ring true to me:
would have been really nice for the NYT to have run this kind of highly visible, clear-eyed condemnation of disingenuous harassment campaigns against journalists and activists five years ago when people were losing their jobs and scared for their lives

to me the lesson from this (very well written and put-together) project should be: what is happening *right now* that the times is too afraid or confused to cover, but will be covering with a slick package in five years? and how can it institutionally adjust itself to cover it?
posted by mcmile at 6:17 PM on August 15, 2019 [86 favorites]


In a transcript of the NYTime’s crisis town-hall meeting, executive editor Dean Baquet grapples with a restive staff and outside scrutiny.
Baquet, in his remarks, seemed to fault the complaining readers, and the world, for their failure to understand the Times and its duties in the era of Trump.... Staffers repeatedly asked Baquet about the paper’s reluctance to use the word racist, in part because his explanations seemed inconsistent. Calling it a “bizarre litmus test,” Baquet argued it was “more powerful” to avoid directly using the label. “The best way to capture a remark, like the kinds of remarks the president makes, is to use them, to lay it out in perspective,” he said. “That is much more powerful than the use of a word.”
So don't call the president's remarks out as racist? Instead simply repeat his remarks?

The NyTimes lost me when it refused to call Bush's waterboarding torture and instead called it and other forms of torture, lifted directly out of manuals on how to break American prisoners of war, "enhanced interrogation". I'm sorry, words matter.
posted by xammerboy at 6:40 PM on August 15, 2019 [38 favorites]


So the executive editor of the most prestigious newspaper in the country is all "mmm, still not sold on the power of words"
posted by jason_steakums at 7:17 PM on August 15, 2019 [37 favorites]


Baquet is black himself, right? I wonder if he's constrained the way Obama was.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 7:38 PM on August 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


It would have been nice if the NYT could have published this without the kind of graphics that create seizure risks for people who are sensitive to that kind of thing.

Pro tip: Tape strips of paper to the sides of the screen in order to read these articles.
posted by Little Dawn at 8:36 PM on August 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


I knew a friend of a friend, who was a gamer, and a gamergater, and a (cis) woman. I was extremely confused, I didn't understand. How she could she be a woman and be a part of that?

It took me awhile to realize it was simple, she was a huge fucking misogynist.
posted by fleacircus at 9:00 PM on August 15, 2019 [24 favorites]


"Using fake Twitter accounts, 4chan users posed as 'angry feminists' and got the hashtags #EndFathersDay and #WhitesCantBeRaped to trend globally."

This sounds almost exactly like what 4chan did when they suggested the okay hand gesture was a white power sign. I've also seen calls to alert the media that air fresheners are a secret signal that the car owner is a KKK member.
posted by xammerboy at 9:02 PM on August 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


to me the lesson from this (very well written and put-together) project should be: what is happening *right now* that the times is too afraid or confused to cover, but will be covering with a slick package in five years? and how can it institutionally adjust itself to cover it?

It takes time for the problems to be expressed, and for reporters/documenters to winnow out the confusion and fear. Of course there's an uptake problem where papers, particularly big ones, are reticent to assign these stories or accept their pitches, but they're hard stories to write contemporaneously unless you have a whistleblower or confederate who is already involved. The gnarlier a group is, the more resistant they're going to be toward curious outsiders, and I'd say this is a general truism among law-nudging subcultures (and worse). "Is you taking notes on a criminal conspiracy?"

"Secret society is secret."

This isn't to discourage tracking this stuff, just a reality check about the possibility of parachuting into the Richard Spencer weekly meeting or Pedophile Island. If this was possible, law enforcement would be able to distinguish true threats much better, because they would be able to establish trust quickly. But they can't.
posted by rhizome at 9:13 PM on August 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Is it so secret though? Some things are, surely, but people like Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian (and the black feminists in the FPP before them, and Kathy Sierra before them, and so on) were telling us what was happening to them in realtime. It wasn't a secret; the harassment and the death threats were out in the open.

If Gamergate was a "proof of concept of how to wage a post-truth information war," as Warzel writes, it's worth asking, as tclark did upthread, why every institution we had that was supposed to represent truth and be opposed to death threats failed. And there's a fairly direct line from the failure to actually listen to them and take action to, well, *gestures variously at the state of affairs we find ourselves in now*, which makes it even more important to ask how those same institutions are failing in the post-truth information war we're in now.
posted by zachlipton at 10:27 PM on August 15, 2019 [27 favorites]


Otherwise astute Jon Ronson lost me forever by writing about a follow on from GamerGate that involved a woman reporting two men acting inappropriately at a conference, the tweet going viral, and one of the guys losing his job for unprofessional behavior (which he later got back). He took the side of the guy who lost his job and completely ignored the threats, scorn, and loss of her job that the woman endured. I kid you not.
posted by drossdragon at 10:57 PM on August 15, 2019 [25 favorites]


that involved a woman reporting two men acting inappropriately at a conference, the tweet going viral, and one of the guys losing his job for unprofessional behavior

That was Adria Richards doing the tweeting/reporting. That thread is... interesting, in retrospect.
posted by hanov3r at 8:01 AM on August 16, 2019 [6 favorites]


That thread is... interesting, in retrospect.

Yeah, that thread was one of the ones where site leadership finally started to believe the users who had been telling them that we had a huge misogyny problem, and unsurprisingly features many of the same Mefites that would end up pushing GG talking points and attacking Quinn/Sarkeesian/Wu/etc (and many other women as well).
posted by zombieflanders at 8:19 AM on August 16, 2019 [15 favorites]


Holy wow that thread though

:O

As a relative newbie here on MeFi, is there a thread or wiki or something I can read to catch up on this type of history? Because it's amazing that MeFi was able to turn things around from.... that .... just by modding it out, I mean, what?! How does that even work. I want to wander among the ruined gamerboy relics and marvel at the meteor that wiped them from here please.
posted by MiraK at 8:46 AM on August 16, 2019 [3 favorites]


It wasn't a quick process, nor do I think it's necessarily a complete project, but there have been a ton of misogyny MetaTalk threads. It was usually referred to as the "boyzone", so a quick search through the archives for that keyword will probably bring up a lot of discussion about the cesspool (and a lot of nasty pushback from the misogynists).
posted by zombieflanders at 8:57 AM on August 16, 2019 [15 favorites]


In the fall of 2014, a Deadspin writer, Kyle Wagner, presciently declared that Gamergate was the future of the culture wars and that “the rhetorical weaponry and siegecraft of an internet comment section” would be “brought to bear on our culture, not just at the fringes but at the center.”

It only took 4 years to get a Gamergate president.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:00 AM on August 16, 2019 [17 favorites]


I just had a bit of a realization while watching my local lunchtime news: the standards are lower than I thought.

Instead of reporting that the president made a ridiculous and disqualifying offer to buy fucking Greenland, we get "Stay tuned for the reason why one country rejected an unusual offer."

This is trash, but these news shows would be 10 minutes long if all they had was the daily horror of Trump and human interest puppy stories, so they invent this huge middle zone of tiny stories pumped up to destination information. "Queen Margarethe declined to comment."

I'm trying to distinguish this from the everyday naivete of someone who never watches anchored news or TV in general.
posted by rhizome at 12:48 PM on August 16, 2019 [5 favorites]


If this was possible, law enforcement would be able to distinguish true threats much better, because they would be able to establish trust quickly. But they can't.

If they didn't ignore complaints, especially of crimes by cops, maybe communities would trust them more.

Building trust, for cops, shouldn't be hard. All it takes is doing their jobs -- enforcing the law no matter who's breaking it.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 6:48 PM on August 16, 2019 [6 favorites]


If this was possible, law enforcement would be able to distinguish true threats much better, because they would be able to establish trust quickly.

Yes I remember all of the Medium pieces that were written by those women attacked during GG and before and since about how every time they reported threats to cops they were taken seriously and respectfully.

(x/x = 1 = 100% = "all" holds for x=0, right?)
posted by PMdixon at 5:42 AM on August 17, 2019 [3 favorites]


That thread is... interesting, in retrospect.

Wow those user names really take me back. Imagine all the opinions on why we got Trump that we'll never get to hear.
posted by fleacircus at 11:14 PM on August 17, 2019 [1 favorite]




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