The Megaphone & The Strawmob: #GamerGate and Social Media

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


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

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

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

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

This ultimately leads to misdirection for¬†the general public via wider media. The very fact that I found it hard to find a neutral overview of the GamerGate phenomenon is testament to this; even the Wikipedia entry, most people’s first port of call when investigating such topics, describes GamerGate thusly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look beyond the Strawmob.


References & Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

On Youtube:

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

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


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