Part One: Retribution

Dr. Nerdlove (I’m going to resist commenting on the name, just bear with me) posted today about recent harassment of Sarkeesian, which has now become the hot topic of this blog, and is making me feel obligated to post pretty much every time someone says something semi-intelligent about it. The article is quite lengthy, and I have several things to address in it, so I’m going to break it up and start with the things that enrage me the most.

In his article, Dr. Nerdlove (who is going to be DN from now on because I can’t make myself type that every time I need to refer to the author) discusses the game (which NewGrounds did take down) made in which the player “beats up” Sarkeesian. He gives the creator’s real name and twitter, and analyzes Ben Spurr’s (the creator) “justification” of his creation. Spurr attacks Sarkeesian for “scamming” people out of money for funding her Kickstarter. As though it were anything but voluntary. There is no way to “scam” people on Kickstarter except by not following through with the promised product, and since Sarkeesian has made videos of this sort before, there is no indication that she does not intend to follow through now.

DN also posts the following, taken from Spurr’s Steam profile:

Can’t a ~*GaMeR GuY*~ game in peace without some obnoxious durrgurrl begging to flirt with him every time he tries to go online?

I think it’s just adorable how absolutely no girls are any good at video games, just like how no woman has ever written a good novel. They are nothing but talk and no action, probably because girls are such emotional creatures and base everything they do on their current feelings and then try to rationalize their actions later. How pathetic.

You know what’s priceless? When a gamer girl posts a pic of herself looking as slutty as possible and then throws a fake fit when people talk to her like she’s a whore. What did you think was going to happen, you dumb broad? Lose thirty pounds.

I’m not going to comment because what would result would be a largely unintelligible apoplectic fit of unconcealed rage.

DN then takes a turn I was not expecting. I’m also not sure how comfortable I am with it. He talks about the fact that another blogger (Steph Guthrie) led an internet campaign against Spurr. His point is, in essence, that this campaign was “entirely too close to the initial ‘shut the bitch up!’ campaign that Anita Sarkeesian underwent for my tastes….That being said, it’s hard to fault her for calling Ben out and making sure that he’s known as the author of one of the most disgusting examples of misogynistic harassment I’ve seen in quite some time.” (There was also blowback against Guthrie, as well, which escalated to the point that some posters were reported to the police for making death threats.)

And this comes back to the idea of hate speech – when is speech protected and when is it not? When do we demand that online gaming sites (like Microsoft Live or Steam) monitor and censor what players are saying or sending to one another? When does that become too Big Brother for our tastes, and when is it creating an appropriate “safe” atmosphere? Would it be appropriate for Steam to censor Spurr’s profile, or is that infringing upon his rights of free speech?

This is an issue that doesn’t just appear on the internet, but that’s where the battle lines are currently being drawn. We don’t see this level of open misogyny in the workplace (or someone would get fired/sued) or publicized on television, so why is it considered “acceptable” online? And what should we expect be done about it? So far, self-policing has been the solution offered up by companies who either don’t want to or don’t have the staff to deal with it. “Report them,” “block them,” and “ignore them” are the solutions we’ve been given.

Reporting is largely useless. Blocking means we don’t have to listen, but it doesn’t stop it from happening. It’s the online equivalent of sticking our fingers in our ears and humming while the monster bears down on us. Ignoring them is worse – that silences the victims instead and tells them that they need to put up with being attacked by the monster instead.

Regulation would seem to be the solution, but isn’t that just another form of silencing? Now there’s a very large part of me that is all for silencing harassment. But there’s that tiny little voice that says “but isn’t that just the same thing?” I guess it puts us in a lesser-of-two-evils position. We have to silence someone, and it’s better to silence the person seeking to do harm than the person being harmed. But – and I think this is where DN was troubled by Guthrie’s campaign – it still leaves me with an unsettled feeling in my stomach.

One thought on “Part One: Retribution

  1. I think the important distinction that most online communities fail to grasp is, a person has a right to express themselves; they do not have a right to express themselves in an arbitrary way in an arbitrary space online. I think that some services that are not inherently tied to their populations or content (like for example twitter, tumblr, or blogspot) would be very inappropriate (but within their rights) to censor people. They’re not selling a community experience, so they don’t need to maintain a community. They’re selling individual platforms for people to express themselves.

    Places like Xbox Live are selling a community and as such, they have a right to control the culture of their community. We might not like how they do so, but that kind of censorship is not a first amendment issue. I can go complain on my blog or twitter if I don’t like it.

    There’s a secondary issue here, that companies that control larger communities haven’t recognized the need to control their social cultures and instituted appropriate countermeasures. You could argue that’s a social problem with the community, but I think it’s a problem with the company culture too. The company needs to value the people who are being discriminated against and want to protect them as their core audience. Then they’ll jump when they see a problem.

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