What we still haven’t learned from Gamergate
January 20, 2020 8:59 PM   Subscribe

Gamergate should have armed us against bad actors and bad-faith arguments. It didn’t. It’s natural to assess what sociocultural lessons we’ve learned from the previous decade, now that we’ve entered a new one — and whether they’re the kinds that might help us make the 2020s a better era. No honest attempt at such an assessment can be complete without grappling with the messy human dramas and the increasing trend toward polarized, incendiary conversations that emerged in the latter half of the 2010s. And that means contending with the unlikely, unpleasant, and far-reaching watershed movement that was Gamergate...Six years later, here’s a look at some of the lessons we still need to learn from Gamergate in order to keep its victims safe — and in order to keep the next decade from producing a movement that’s even worse.

The article should be read- but here's the authors 5 lessons.
1) Police have to learn how to keep the rest of us safe from internet mobs
2) Businesses have to learn when online outrage is manufactured
3) Social media platforms didn’t learn how to shut down disingenuous conversations over ethics and free speech before they started to tear their cultures apart
4) Violence against women is a predictor of other kinds of violence. We need to acknowledge it.
5) Politicians and the media must take online “ironic” racism and misogyny seriously.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (60 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good luck with ANY of that list ever happening.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:20 PM on January 20 [16 favorites]


Businesses have to learn when online outrage is manufactured

When online outrage is seeded by a bad actor, but then taken up organically by thousands of people who like the idea of raging in the way proposed to them, is it manufactured or is it real?
posted by escabeche at 9:22 PM on January 20 [26 favorites]


The thing about the outrage is that it makes those businesses money. To paraphrase another idiom, it's pretty hard to get a business to care about stopping something when its income stream requires that it doesn't.
posted by axiom at 9:41 PM on January 20 [12 favorites]


Speaking of online outrage in a post-post-truth internet, here's another curious example of niche nerd fandom leading to twisted social unreality-

BuzzFeed News- #ReleaseTheJJCut: “Star Wars” Misinformation Hell Is The New Future Of Everything

The author on Twitter:
The Star Wars community is so polarized and so old that they've evolved past the idea of "post-truth" or whatever into something even weirder. The leaks and the "planted leaks" have all become just part of the normal fan discourse. It's like one meta level up from even QAnon.

There's basically now:
• Stan armies creating fictitious redeeming backstories about movies they don't like set in the universes
• Directors/director supporters spreading fake leaks about studio interference
• Studios revving up fan armies against actors and directors.

Soooo...

[deep breath]

I think what's happening in the Star Wars (and other) fandoms in regards to mass disinformation becoming literal information wars will hit an inflection point pretty soon and, like Gamergate before it, probably have huge sociopolitical ramifications.
As nerdom goes, so goes society at large.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:49 PM on January 20 [26 favorites]


In the article, I think the author is referring to corporations that were scared away by 'manufactured outrage' from advertising on sites, not corporations benefiting from it.
posted by PhineasGage at 9:54 PM on January 20 [7 favorites]


Just as fascism takes legitimate working class anger and redirects it at scapegoats, GamerGate did the same. EA/Activision/Ubisoft and the rest of the gaming megacorps are entirely capable of manufacturing outrage and manipulating public opinion, as well engaging in the core GG accusation of buying reviews by bribing the notoriously weak video game journalism. We're talking about a company that ginned up a fake religious protest as a publicity stunt to make their game seem countercultural and cool; certainly it's believable they're capable of any kind of corporate malfeasance. While they weren't related to GG, they probably indirectly benefited from having fan anger redirected to less powerful targets.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:59 PM on January 20 [7 favorites]


When online outrage is seeded by a bad actor, but then taken up organically by thousands of people who like the idea of raging in the way proposed to them, is it manufactured or is it real?

This describes the Tea Party and it had a real effect despite being invented by deep pocketed political operators .
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:28 PM on January 20 [34 favorites]


EA/Activision/Ubisoft and the rest of the gaming megacorps are entirely capable of manufacturing outrage and manipulating public opinion, as well engaging in the core GG accusation of buying reviews by bribing the notoriously weak video game journalism.

The thing is, buying reviews doesn't happen that often - there's a significant part of the audience already willing to believe that reviews are bought or there's some kind of systemic bias, that it's usually understood to be a poisoned chalice amongst professional reviewers. If the audience finds out, it's usually enough to kill the outlet. Gamespot was one of the biggest gaming sites in the world until the marketing department objected to a mediocre review for the game they'd sold a ton of ads for; it was an also-ran soon after.

That doesn't mean there's no unethical practice - it's standard practice for big games to be presented 'for review' in a publisher-controlled environment, and that kind of thing is known to influence reviews. It's rare for highly anticipated games to get anything lower than a positive review, because the backlash from the audience is usually very hard to deal with.

And that's the thing about GamerGate: it was always selective and self-serving. Only a couple of months after it bubbled over, YouTube reviewers and streamers, many of whom had been supportive of the mob (or at least fell hook, line and sinker for their dubious claims), had playthrough streams for Shadow of Mordor that were promotions paid for by the publisher, which is a clear and obvious ethical breach, and it barely warranted a mention.
posted by Merus at 10:40 PM on January 20 [17 favorites]


Politicians and the media must take online “ironic” racism and misogyny seriously.

They don't take normal, everyday racism and misogyny seriously, so I don't think they have much chance of understanding or recognizing performative varieties.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:08 PM on January 20 [17 favorites]


Police have to learn how to keep the rest of us safe from internet mobs

In a poll given to American police officers before the 2016 election, 84% of them supported Donald Trump. The police are never, ever, ever, ever going to help keep the alt-right from harming you.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 11:38 PM on January 20 [101 favorites]


The 2020 Internet is like a small town nightclub, run down and infested with drugs and violence. It never gets any better. Every time you just spend all your money, make yourself sick, and then a fight kicks off and you might get a glass in the face, just for being there. But you keep on going there, because... well, it's what you do, isn't it, and all your friends go there, and besides, there's nothing else to do around here, is there.

One day one of your friends says he isn't coming. When you ask him why, he replies 'Well... because it's shit, isn't it.'

And a light goes on.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 11:49 PM on January 20 [34 favorites]


I love video games. I hate gamer culture.

So much of my life is being caught inbetween these two statements and all of the hurt that exists in this space.

*sighs*
posted by Fizz at 12:38 AM on January 21 [53 favorites]


I think the causation is a little blurred here. It's not that Gamergate appeared out of nowhere. It's not a mysterious entity: it's the right wing. It's the exact same ideology and personnel that gives us the modern GOP. That's scary enough-- they're almost half the country-- but when we understand the political situation, we can analyze things better. The "new movement that's worse" already happened.

The to-do list is affected by this. Police don't take harassment seriously because they don't take violence against women seriously. (Compare this article.) Gamergaters are sexist and misogynist because the right wing is: their politicians prosper when they foster sexism and misogyny.

I mean, there's important nuances, but it's all variations on a theme. Entitled gamerbros who hate seeing women in their clubhouse - entitled conservatives who hate seeing foreigners in their country... it's the same mechanism, and an identical core who's egging them on.
posted by zompist at 1:06 AM on January 21 [60 favorites]


Police have to learn how to keep the rest of us safe from internet mobs.

After I teach my dog calculus. One story I heard, the victim had to explain what twitter was. They don't have the vocabulary to take it seriously.

I remember after Christchurch, the media struggling to get up to speed on 8chan, attempting to explain the lexicon and memes surrounding the tragedy. It was all opaque to them. It wouldn't surprise me if they'd never heard of 8chan before. And those were media professionals making an honest try of it.

In a poll given to American police officers before the 2016 election, 84% of them supported Donald Trump.

It's the career path of the school bully. If media experts are struggling, don't expect the police to even try. Expect amused dismissal. They'll laugh about it with the boys later on.

In my country, you need a bachelor's degree in anything to become a police officer. If you can't get into a university, you shouldn't be able to get into a police academy and given all that responsibility and authority! And they should reach a standard of education where they are literate enough to know what goddamn twitter is.
posted by adept256 at 3:26 AM on January 21 [17 favorites]


I remember after Christchurch, the media struggling to get up to speed on 8chan, attempting to explain the lexicon and memes surrounding the tragedy. It was all opaque to them. It wouldn't surprise me if they'd never heard of 8chan before. And those were media professionals making an honest try of it.

Back in the late 90s, I would hang out in a sci-fi discussion group on Yahoo. At one point I saw a post where some dude was doxxing a doctor in Virginia, claiming that she was committing heinous acts; he posted her address and phone number. I called the doctor to warn her; I left a message with the receptionist, and gave her my phone number if the doctor had any questions and wanted to confirm I was cool. Two weeks later, I got a call from someone with the Virginia FBI saying he was investigating the situation, and just had some questions about what was going on and how I was involved. "I saw this on a discussion group on Yahoo," I said.

"But....you live in New York."

"...uh....yeah."

"So....I don't understand how someone in New York is hearing stuff about someone in Virginia."

I had to subsequently explain to him how a discussion group worked, that it was international in scope, and how the World Wide Web worked. The conversation ended with my painstakingly spelling out the URLs of the two posts I'd seen for him, letter by letter, so he could see them himself. Followed by explaining to him what to do with that string of letters I'd just given him.

Law enforcement has lagged behind technology for a really long time.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:38 AM on January 21 [66 favorites]


4) Violence against women is a predictor of other kinds of violence. We need to acknowledge it. problem in and of itself and should be tackled as such, not problematised as a predictor of "real" or "important" violence.
posted by Dysk at 5:00 AM on January 21 [38 favorites]


One story I heard, the victim had to explain what twitter was.

And then the victim gets advised to 'stay off the internet'.

My duty as a geek is to tell the people I know, one person at a time, and in language that they will understand :-

1. I don't use social media
2. why I don't use it
3. social media is not the internet
4. how I use the internet for information, recreation and communication without needing social media to do so
5. how they can do it too
posted by Cardinal Fang at 5:02 AM on January 21 [14 favorites]


In my country, you need a bachelor's degree in anything to become a police officer. If you can't get into a university, you shouldn't be able to get into a police academy and given all that responsibility and authority

I don't know what your country is, but in the US civil service jobs are one of the ways disadvantaged people - very much including POC - have to achieve solid good paying jobs. Limiting police service to people who can afford college education is only going to make US police departments even whiter.

where they are literate enough to know what goddamn twitter is.

I don't see how formal education or literacy has anything to do with this, especially before anyone becomes an officer. Far better to redirect money away from buying the sexy militarised equipment to constant on-the-job training in technology and social media.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:24 AM on January 21 [21 favorites]


Law enforcement has lagged behind technology for a really long time.

You have a point - in the late 90's I had to explain to a detective what email was - but on the other hand in Cleveland cops can moonlight (in uniform) as security for nightclubs and stores and other places, and those guys are fucking all over their phones all the time.

So these days I really think this has a lot less to do with understanding technology in the "what is a Twitter?" sense and far more about institutional indifference.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:33 AM on January 21 [12 favorites]


In my country, you need a bachelor's degree in anything to become a police officer. If you can't get into a university, you shouldn't be able to get into a police academy and given all that responsibility and authority! And they should reach a standard of education where they are literate enough to know what goddamn twitter is.

Isn't it lucky for those of us in the US that the primary investigator of Internet crimes, the FBI, also requires it's Agent's to have a bachelor's degree, although I don't see any explicit requirement to know what goddamn Twitter is. Perhaps you could inform us about the Twitter training requirements in your country, we could use that as a model.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 5:46 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


[A couple deleted. Just to avoid a sort of pointless derail, yes Mefi is a type of social media (community discussion site), but one which would generally not be grouped with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. ]
posted by taz (staff) at 5:50 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]


Law enforcement has lagged behind technology for a really long time.

Only when law enforcement wants to lag behind technology.
posted by Etrigan at 5:56 AM on January 21 [12 favorites]


So these days I really think this has a lot less to do with understanding technology in the "what is a Twitter?" sense and far more about institutional indifference.

Yes, of course. These are the same forces that understand why they want to deploy a Stingray at demonstrations.
posted by jaduncan at 6:00 AM on January 21 [11 favorites]


6) We have to resist the urge to say it's too late to do better and we'll never get it right now. That's what these assholes are specifically hoping for you to say.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:10 AM on January 21 [22 favorites]


Only when law enforcement wants to lag behind technology.

Yeah, the reason most of GG's highest-profile targets had to "explain" Twitter to LLE and the FBI is because of disingenuity. It's fun and profitable to take the side of white male supremacy while elbowing each other and making the crying lady try to explain yet again instead of a) admitting to knowing anything b) spending a minute finding out. It feels good to be and stay powerful and to be the gate between marginalized people and help, the arbiter of who is good enough to deserve the services of systems designed from the ground up to protect the interests of the white and wealthy first. It is very hard to prove any of this, by design, so that we can be beaten nearly or completely to death with demands for it delivered by the same gatekeepers and invested parties.

When all this went down was when I first understood that white male supremacy wasn't going to go without a fight, and I was super naive - still am, I suspect - about how ugly it will be.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:33 AM on January 21 [21 favorites]


"Gamergate should have armed us against bad actors and bad-faith arguments"

How?

Humans have been vulnerable to both of those things for a long time. We don't work like our immune system where exposure leads to the creation of antibodies.
posted by Nec_variat_lux_fracta_colorem at 8:40 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


"Gamergate should have armed us against bad actors and bad-faith arguments"

How?

Humans have been vulnerable to both of those things for a long time. We don't work like our immune system where exposure leads to the creation of antibodies.


I think the idea is that we should have been armed against these particular tactics and aims because they basically copy-pasted them: same grievances, same ideology, same road map, same conclusions.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:55 AM on January 21 [5 favorites]


My duty as a geek is to tell the people I know, one person at a time, and in language that they will understand :-

1. I don't use social media
2. why I don't use it
3. social media is not the internet
4. how I use the internet for information, recreation and communication without needing social media to do so
5. how they can do it too


This is an incredibly indolent and wrong-headed position, and will only serve to have people rightfully dismissed as cranks. People are not doing something wrong for using social media, and deserve to have social media that isn't abusive. Saying "don't use social media" is not an answer, and we need to stop treating it like one.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:56 AM on January 21 [51 favorites]


I'm not feeling especially philosophical about this one, but I'm happy to add resources to the conversation.

Crash Override Network is a resource for increasing digital safety and doxxing resistance, founded by Zoe Quinn, #GamerGate's first target.

"What Gamergate should have taught us about the 'alt-right'": Steve Bannon was one of #GamerGate's architects, and he used it as a trial run for Trump and the alt-right.

"The Cops Don't Care About Violent Online Threats. What Do We Do Now?": "This is the usual lesson: The police are helpless in the face of the mixed signals and technological complexity of online threats. Except they aren't—especially not when the threats are against police officers."
posted by xannifer at 9:51 AM on January 21 [18 favorites]


People are not doing something wrong for using social media, and deserve to have social media that isn't abusive. Saying "don't use social media" is not an answer

Hear, hear! I WILL wear short skirts and get drunk while I walk at night in bad neighborhoods, and I WILL post selfies and have opinions anywhere on the internet including social media. I will do all of this while being a woman gasp shock how dare I.

Anyone who says my behavior needs to change IS the problem. The whole problem. One-off bad actors who have a high chance of being held accountable by a good social system is the ideal we are striving for, and socially acceptable/sanctioned bad actors acting in unison while remaining entirely ignored by the even worse system which nitpicks the actions of victims -- that is the hell we live in.
posted by MiraK at 10:29 AM on January 21 [23 favorites]


Hear, hear! I WILL wear short skirts and get drunk while I walk at night in bad neighborhoods, and I WILL post selfies and have opinions anywhere on the internet including social media. I will do all of this while being a woman gasp shock how dare I.

One thing I saw recently was a tweet thread by sexual assault researcher Nicole Bedera discussing how parents can support their college age daughters regarding sexual assault, in which she points out that "risk reduction" arguments only serve to make women less willing to talk to those giving such advice after being assaulted.

We need to actually deal with the problem, and demonizing social media isn't that.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:40 AM on January 21 [22 favorites]


How is it that WordPress has never taken down The hateful blog that started this all? It is depressing that this many years in we still are powerless to get a company like WordPress to take a moral stand against letting their services be used for harassment.
posted by interogative mood at 10:43 AM on January 21 [9 favorites]


Because that would mean making a value judgment, and if there's one thing Silicon Valley hates, it's value judgements.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:53 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


This is an incredibly indolent and wrong-headed position

Indolent? It's damn hard work.

Wrong-headed yes, for the general concept of 'social media'. I'm happy to qualify that the definition I'm using is 'today's mainstream social media', or what Jaron Lanier calls BUMMER.

Yes, we can / must reimagine and reimplement social media for the good of its users.
No, the current mainstream social media model is beyond repair and must be abandoned - there is no longer a 'safe', 'correct' or 'healthy' way of engaging with it.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 12:20 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Since there's no form of communication that will not be assailed by trolls, capitalists, abusers, political operatives, terrorists, stalkers, scammers, and sociopaths — including postal mail — the idea that people just stop using whatever they use to connect with other people who are not physically in the same space seems not the ideal solution. Thoughtful regulation, oversight, and legal remedies are needed, as in every other case of a business or service that can be exploited, misused or weaponized, and tech leaders and providers should be leading the way on this ... not only because of moral and ethical considerations (which have not been compelling reasons to them so far), but because when legal remedies finally begin to kick in, they will most likely be the most blunt-edged of tools from lawmakers who know little or nothing about the complexities of the problems, and (I'm imagining) probably in response to a major disaster.
posted by taz at 1:30 AM on January 22 [11 favorites]


I'm a '90s liberal nerd, and ten years ago I was on basically the same page as a lot of other men my age. We hated Bush and the Iraq War, voted for Obama and the Democrats but wanted them to be more progressive, supported drug legalization, disliked religion, and fancied ourselves amateur philosophers and connoisseurs of "good" movies, literature, and music.

...then, five years ago, things did start changing. The splinter was GamerGate, or more broadly, "have the Feminists gone too far, and are they now no longer on the side of Facts & Logic, and therefore must be denounced? Can we let the PC Police oppress us, when we only seek to speak the truth about these illiberal, illogical Feminists?"

Everyone I knew split into two cultural camps, and although there is some overlap, it's been striking to me how any of these traits is, almost always, part of one camp or the other.

-- Voted for Hillary in 2016 / Voted for Bernie Sanders/Jill Stein.
-- Likes Captain Marvel / Thinks Brie Larson should be ruined.
-- Likes The Last Jedi / Thinks The Last Jedi ruined Star Wars forever.
-- Just wants new characters in Smash Bros. / Thinks that forces are out there to destroy video games!
-- Will vote for any Democrat / Will vote for ONLY Bernie, Tulsi, or Yang.
-- Believes that right-wing fascism is a real threat / Believes that "the system" is the real threat.
-- Getting kinda tired of South Park / Uses Cartman avatar online.
-- Applauds Greta Thunberg / Thinks that she's a whiner who should shut the hell up.
-- Have you seen Watchmen yet?! / I refuse to watch Watchmen because it's not SUPPOSED to be a black thing.
-- Thinks Trump is the devil / Thinks Hillary Clinton & Liz Warren are the devil.

And now we are all divided.
posted by Chronorin at 2:28 AM on January 22 [12 favorites]


Yes, we can / must reimagine and reimplement social media for the good of its users.
No, the current mainstream social media model is beyond repair and must be abandoned


I guess we gotta write off Mefi then, since it's basically the same model.

Or we can start demanding meaningful and sane moderation practices of twitter and facebook, because they evidently work.

And yes, they do scale. There just aren't the economies of scale you might want. The cost per user isn't going up as your site gets bigger, it just isn't going down either. Pay what it costs, twitter and facebook.
posted by Dysk at 2:43 AM on January 22 [5 favorites]


Yes, we can / must reimagine and reimplement social media for the good of its users.
No, the current mainstream social media model is beyond repair and must be abandoned - there is no longer a 'safe', 'correct' or 'healthy' way of engaging with it.


Are you even listening to what you are saying here? You openly acknowledge that you personally do not use "today's mainstream social media", yet you presume that you know what's best for the people who use it as a vital and necessary social channel over their needs. Not only is that the height of arrogance, it's also how the hell we got here in the first place - "geeks" acting like they know best even though they don't have any experience with what they're dealing with socially.

Instead of treating social media users as people who need to be "saved" from themselves, perhaps we should be listening to them and seeing what they say are their needs and wants, and working from there.

As for the indolent comment, that comes from a line in a game I enjoy, in which the speaker was looking to remind those who would think they know better than the people impacted of what their needs are:
To ignore the plight of those one might conceivably save is not wisdom—it is indolence.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:46 AM on January 22 [9 favorites]


What game you enjoy, Nox?
posted by avalonian at 7:44 AM on January 22


Re: indolent, I believe Nox was saying "just stop using X" is a lazy response to the problems of X, not that quitting X is a lazy act.
posted by MiraK at 9:12 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


five years ago, things did start changing. The splinter was GamerGate

The split you described is spot on, Chronorin, but I think it was around for much longer. Computer-nerd culture has always been hostile to women and nonwhite/nonwestern people (New Atheists, for instance, or any comic book or scifi fandom, have uncountable sexual harassment or sexism or racism blowups) - and before them there were science bros (Feynmans and Asimovs) - and before them there were, like, Sherlock Holmes-flavored dudely men with their men-only Science of Deduction clubs - and before them there were all the Men of Science keeping women out of universities - and before them there were monks doing manly science things that nuns were forbidden to do - and on and on and on.

The threads that unite them all are:

1. the idea that Logic and Reason and Science are THE ONLY THINGS that matter, everything else is worthless.

2. women and nonwestern people/cultures = unscientific/illogical/communal/emotional, and science has proven that they are inherently, genetically predisposed to be like that. When combined with (1) this makes women and nonwestern people/cultures worthless.

3. (in modern times) tech solutions are the way to solve every problem. Any errors are logical, rational, scientific errors, and therefore even errors in tech prove that tech in infallible.
posted by MiraK at 9:47 AM on January 22 [15 favorites]


> Everyone I knew split into two cultural camps, and although there is some overlap, it's been striking to me how any of these traits is, almost always, part of one camp or the other.

I voted for Sanders in the primary and Clinton in the general, as did almost all Sanders supporters.

I'm voting for Warren this time around and whoever wins the nomination in the general. I think most Democrats will do the same, regardless which candidate they end up voting for in the primaries. (About half of Warren supporters are former Sanders supporters. The rest of us were Clinton supporters. We don't hate each other.)

I think right-wing fascism is a real threat and our political system needs to be reformed.

I like Greta Thunberg and appreciate what she's doing.

I have no idea what the fandom disputes you listed are about, and I don't give shit about them.

You seem to be trying to divide world into good people like yourself who always take the right side in every dispute, and other people who are bad, bad, bad and always take the wrong side any dispute, whether it's politics, fandom arguments or anything else. People in the real world can't be neatly sorted into boxes like that.

Your argument and my vehement disagreement with it is almost completely irrelevant to the topic of this thread.
posted by nangar at 11:20 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


But there is enormous value in identifying the weird little seemingly-irrelevant commonalities found among people on the "bad, bad, bad" side (which btw is a completely fair characterization of GamerGate folks!), like pop culture and fandom wars or user icons. After all, GamerGate itself was a pop culture-based war that built directly and immediately on the backlash against Anita Sarkeesian saying we need better female characters in video games. Pop culture wars are the means by which GamerGaters are recruited. Memes are to GamerGaters what the Nazi salute was to Hitler. To argue that we shouldn't pay any attention to the symbols and the language and the expansion strategies of modern-day fascists makes no sense to me.

And of course, more obviously, the pop culture wars are racism, sexism, and other deeply political battles. People who hate The Last Jedi don't just incidentally happen to be anti-feminists who all decided to hate a random movie because of groupthink or because it's like a uniform! They hate it BECAUSE OF its plot that revolves around experienced, smart women having to clean up the messes made by reckless, lone-hero-type dudes. What you dismiss as "I don't give a shit about fandom disputes" is the actual ground-level manifestation of larger political battles! It's not irrelevant, it is the very thing we are discussing when we discuss GamerGate or racism or sexism or fascism.

(and PS, nangar, it sounds like you align with the left category almost perfectly? Your comment is a list of ways you resoundingly fail to deviate from Chronorin's classification.)
posted by MiraK at 12:14 PM on January 22 [10 favorites]


> And yes, they do scale. There just aren't the economies of scale you might want. The cost per user isn't going up as your site gets bigger, it just isn't going down either. Pay what it costs, twitter and facebook.

Moderation doesn't scale past a certain conversation size. It's not a question of economics, although Facebook and Twitter and others certainly under-spend on moderation and won't spend any more than the bare minimum. It would help if they spent more money, but simply scaling the number of moderators to the number of users does not solve the problem by itself. Moderators are human, and are limited by how fast they can read (and think). Engaging threads with a large number of active commentators will move far faster than moderators, or a team of moderators can read, and a thread on a contentious topic is going to derail itself into nastiness faster than a moderator's web browser's can reload the page. It's exhausting work, especially at a sustained level of high intensity (thanks taz & team!). We saw this at work on Mefi with the post-2016 election threads (and hey look we're this close to relitigating the primaries in this thread already).

What the mod team here ended up having to do is to ban entire topics for being too contentious, and to explicitly shape the threads by banning certain commenting styles, or by relegating it to metafilter chat, which has less moderation and fewer users. It works here because of our community, which is intentionally designed (though far from perfect). Our moderators do an amazing job here (go donate!) but let's not pretend that Facebook and Twitter would be fine, if only they'd pay for more moderators. Platforms (inc mefi) need to invent and adopt new features and tools if online discourse is to evolve.
posted by fragmede at 1:19 PM on January 22


Pay more for moderators, be more willing to ban problem users, and behaviours. There's no reason Twitter and Facebook can't ban certain topics or modes of conversation too!
posted by Dysk at 1:23 PM on January 22 [9 favorites]


Like, 90% of the most egregious and pressing problems could be solved really easily by actually being willing to moderate by content rather than form, and ban nazis and bigots. I know it's practically become received wisdom that Social Media Won't Do That, but there isn't any reason why they couldn't, or why they shouldn't.
posted by Dysk at 1:38 PM on January 22 [8 favorites]


Well the standard argument is SUPPOSEDLY "free speech" but in reality it's an unwillingness to recognize that this is hate speech (i.e. one of the genuine exceptions to free speech).

Why the unwillingness? Because the people being hurt are low-value folks like women and poc. Any organized movement aimed against white dudes would never even get beyond the level of satire before being stamped out of existence by the collective actions of multiple institutions (police, psychiatry, publishing, capitalism, art, all the way down to polite drawing rooms), as the real life example of Valerie Solanas demonstrates.
posted by MiraK at 1:47 PM on January 22 [8 favorites]


MiraK, I'm not a fan of superhero comics. I don't have netflix and can't afford it. This isn't a ruse. I genuinely don't know what the fandom disputes Chronorin referenced are about.

I've been following discussions about Gamergate because it's a horrific instance of on-line harassment, and what happened here highlighted US law enforcement's unwillingness to deal with this issue. On-line harassment and threats of violence aren't issues limited to the gamer community.
posted by nangar at 2:02 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Pretty sure the real reason businesses like Facebook and Twitter don't pay for moderators is they're required by law to prioritize returns to investors and if they don't the board of directors will never name them CEO. This has been a concerted effort by the ultra-wealthy ever since they got away with creating a sock puppet (read: corporation) that they get to use to externalize any costs associated with extracting wealth from bodies/communities/resources. Citizens United and courts packed with white supremacists that believe corporate power is supreme just make sure no reinterpretations of these precedents takes place.

Of course there's more to it than that, and it's likely there's an even more profitable business model that would involve moderation, but in the U.S. it's: limit liability (usually by corporation)->find a way to extract wealth from bodies/communities/resources in the ways we know won't be litigated against -> repeat. That's what investors want. That's what's worked for those its worked for.

Nothing about effective moderation fits the model of wealth extraction, so its unlikely we'll see it modeled by businesses on publicly traded markets. I'd love to be wrong.
posted by avalonian at 2:14 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


France's National Police has a specialized division, OCLCTIC, dealing with criminal activity on the internet. I found out about this a few years ago when they got in the national news. Someone had posted on a French gaming forum asking about how to purchase a machine gun on the black market. Other users of the forum immediately notified this website run by the Interior Department. The guy was arrested next morning, and turned out to have plans to assassinate the president. This webpage has a brief explanation in English of how this works. The bulk of the complaints they get in are reports of fraud, but the division also deals with threats of violence and violations of French hate-speech laws.

We really need something like that in the US.
posted by nangar at 2:17 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Pretty sure the real reason businesses like Facebook and Twitter don't pay for moderators is they're required by law to prioritize returns to investors and if they don't the board of directors will never name them CEO.
avalonian: can you cite the law requiring that? The law is extremely deferential to business judgement: if Mark Zuckberg said “we decided the long-term risk to our reputation were unacceptable”, he’d have no serious chance of legal action. He wouldn’t do it because that’s not who he is, not because of a legal requirement.

I mean, they defrauded a bunch of companies with their “pivot to video” claims and barely even got a wrist-slap.
posted by adamsc at 6:15 PM on January 22 [7 favorites]


On-line harassment and threats of violence aren't issues limited to the gamer community.

A. MEN.

(see what I did there oh my I feel clever tonight)
posted by MiraK at 6:56 PM on January 22 [6 favorites]


Like I said, it's never 100% black-and-white, nangar. Just commonalities. Me? I love The Last Jedi and Captain Marvel, but strongly dislike Ghostbusters 2016. Someone might read that and automatically think of me as a "bad person."

Still, it's interesting. I had an online acquaintance who was an Obama-and-Hillary-hating dudebro who liked Bernie and Trump. After not talking to him for years, I asked him -- hey, dudebro, what did you think of Captain Marvel and that whole thing?

His immediate response was that "Brie Larson isn't the first dumb celebrity to make such huge, embarrassing mistakes." Ah, yes. I see. Just about what I expected.
posted by Chronorin at 9:01 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


I feel that Darius Kazemi's post on how to run a social network instance should be required reading for anyone interested in the topic of moderation on social networking platforms. But here's a little tl;dr from it:

- Social networks work best when they are not everyone-is-invited, growth-is-the-goal huge, but rather small self governing instances networked together.

- With a small instance (no more than ~50 people) the admin knows everyone on their instance, and everyone knows everyone else on the instance. Problems can be dealt with in-person or with a call or video chat with the offender. People are less likely to post abuse because their friends would be witness to the abuse resulting in consequences IRL and/or getting kicked off the instance.

- You're not cut off from the larger network -- you federate with other instance. When all instances are small enough to be self-policing in this way the whole network is healthier. Toxic instances can be removed from your instance's network via defederation. (Yes, this puts toxic people in an echo chamber, but at least you know where to find them when hate crimes are commited, and it keeps them from infecting the larger network and gaining followers.)

- Cost is born by the instance members. Hosting costs for one instance are less than $30/month, so divided by 50 people that's less than a dollar a month.

- The barrier here is knowing someone who knows how to set up and maintain an instance, but that's getting easier all the time. If you know someone who knows something about computers, they could probably figure it out.

I think more moderation of ad-driven social media is a really bad idea because the working condition of moderators for these kinds of platforms results in PTSD. I've seen one really sickening post involving animal abuse on Facebook that I can never un-see . This happened years ago and it still pops into my head at random times to this day destroying any shred of mental peace I might have at the moment. Looking at that kind of content all day is a job that should not exist full stop. But as long as we have ad-driven social media, I don't see how we get rid of it.
posted by antinomia at 3:43 AM on January 23 [7 favorites]


The federation thing has always felt kind of like a technological solution to a social problem, and like the barrier of requiring users to run their own instances is bigger than you might think. Mastodon tried it, but hasn't been overly successful relative to the more traditional social media. You still have all the same moderation issues as well, only now they're on mostly-volunteer instance admins who have to look at the horrible in order to decide which users to ban, and which other instances to defederate. And they won't even be getting paid for it, or provide with any kind of institutional support (which is something Facebook et al could do, even if they don't currently).

I do think the awfulness of the moderation burden can, in the medium to long term, be reduced significantly by having an actual meaningful deletion and ban policy. It will for sure take a while for new norms to be established, but I reckon they would - especially with greater willingness to ban problem users. Part of the issue that Facebook has currently is that so much awfulness is borderline (or even outright allowed) relative to their policies, which encourages more awfulness (especially when users aren't readily given bans, but instead allowed to post awful shite which has to be moderated again and again).
posted by Dysk at 6:32 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I've read his piece, and he's just dodging all the same social questions as Facebook, just in a different direction. Reducing communities down to a small number is not only no guarantee of protection from abuse, but has historically in the real world enabled and protected it. What aspect of a community actually stops abuse are that community's norms - this is, as Dysk has been pointing out, where social media companies are falling down, not even enforcing their own rules on the matter. Defederating from "toxic" instances is just the "no longer see the toxic waste" argument,which ignores that the problem is the toxicity existing.

In the end, it's just dodging the same issues as Facebook, just in a different direction. The really frustrating part is that he comes so close to actually getting the answers, but is so wedded to the small community idea that they slip by.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:52 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


...then, five years ago, things did start changing. The splinter was GamerGate, or more broadly, "have the Feminists gone too far, and are they now no longer on the side of Facts & Logic, and therefore must be denounced? Can we let the PC Police oppress us, when we only seek to speak the truth about these illiberal, illogical Feminists?"

Five years ago? Rush Limbaugh and his ilk have been selling that message for three decades or more.
posted by Gelatin at 7:49 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


avalonian: can you cite the law requiring that? The law is extremely deferential to business judgement:

I'm broadly referring to fiduciary duties, and I agree the law is deferential to business judgment, but my understanding is that's only insofar as business judgment aligns with investor expectations. I've crossed my streams a bit here as I've been studying way too much fiduciary law these past few weeks.

My sense on "“we decided the long-term risk to our reputation were unacceptable”, he’d have no serious chance of legal action." is that, while maybe Zuckerberg could try and take that stance, and as the largest shareholder would have more power than similar institutions, the impact on institutional investors would likely be immediate. The likely decrease in market price due to institutional investors hopping on the more reliable "limit liability (usually by corporation)->find a way to extract wealth from bodies/communities/resources in the ways we know won't be litigated against -> repeat" would, in and of itself, dissuade that move in the existing U.S. business environment. I do feel confident, in the near term, Facebook's market cap would dive.

Now here I'm on less sure footing, but that projected result in-and-of itself would reflect a lack of fiduciary care for the investors by Zucker in the near term at least. Investor expectations dictate market pricing dictates value of those securities in the possession of said investors and their resulting decrease in value. So Zuck makes the call that contradicts existing market "wisdom", stocks drop because all institutional investors base their decisions on said "wisdom", stocks that drop are in the possession of institutional investors and Zuck's founder buddies, they don't like that, they kick him out. They don't have to sue him, they just have to convince 51% of voting class shareholders based on how their brains work.

My sense is that, if an actual good person co-opted Zuckerberg's executive function, the remaining major individual ownership stockholders, along with institutional investors, would have more than enough cause to knock him out of the CEO spot and replace him with someone who's down with the "limit liability (usually by corporation)->find a way to extract wealth from bodies/communities/resources in the ways we know won't be litigated against -> repeat" model, because that's what institutional investors do, and nothing I've seen from the other Facebook billionaires tells me they're not down with that.
posted by avalonian at 9:41 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


they defrauded a bunch of companies with their “pivot to video” claims and barely even got a wrist-slap

This falls under the part of my model of "extract wealth from communities in ways we know we won't be litigated against." Though I would amend to say "litigated against and total financial cost of litigation (defense, settlement, etc) is worth it when taken as a whole".
posted by avalonian at 9:46 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


They don't have to sue him, they just have to convince 51% of voting class shareholders based on how their brains work.

You know that Zuckerberg has a majority of the voting shares due to class B shenanigans, right?
posted by PMdixon at 3:43 PM on January 29


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