One of the reasons why I do not have a comment section on this blog is my disdain for what I call Internet Bullshit.
Internet Bullshit is in part constituted of spammers and scammers, the WWW equivalent of the robocalls which plague my landline at all hours, especially during election season. I sometimes consider not having a phone as well, because the ceaseless phone calls feel like harassment. They are not actually harassment, but they feel like it.1
Other, undigested kernels of Internet Bullshit start out as assertions of fact made without evidence. This is not always a problem. You can ignore ignorant people professing authority about shit on Twitter or in Disqus comment sections. Hell, you might even be one of them. We all make mistakes. Admittedly I am sometimes one of these people, perhaps more often than I realize given how the Dunning-Kruger effect works. I am not particularly bright, nor particularly well informed about everything, although I think I am both when I have a strong opinion. Many of us fall into the trap of saying stupid shit when we have strong feelings about a subject. And yet even when someone is wrong on the internet, it might actually be better to do something else with your time than engage. Unless you have got verifiable facts, you are also probably wrong. Forgiveness of blowhards on the internet is worth the effort, but there are limits to this forgiveness. One of these limits is the use of unjustified claims to support harassment of another person.
My tolerance for bullshit evaporates into nothing when that bullshit is used to justify harassment. Its not just that harassment is bad, but that dishonesty at that level is its own crime. Stirring up a hate mob against someone using false claims to prevent them from getting work? Fuck that. That Gamer Gate bullshit really pisses me off. The problem with harassment fueled by bullshit is not just that this is a hate mob attacking someone. Attacks motivated by misinformation feel doubly unjust, unfair. Not only is the victim attacked, but they did not even do what pissed off their attacker. And when many attacks are incited by a single source of misinformation, its well beyond feelings, becoming slander and incitement, which is criminal behavior on multiple levels.
What blows my mind, and perhaps it should not, is how a mob can be incited into hate by misinformation. This is the kind of irrational behavior which we "civilized people" are supposed to be above. And yet here it is, a contemporary twist on the village idiot torch and pitchfork hate fest incited by lies and propaganda. We saw this with the Gamer Gaters, self-justified to the gills with demonstrable bullshit. I suppose I should not be surprised. This is deep in our nature and at the roots of lynchings, witch hunts, pogroms, and holocausts. All one has to do is fact-check the claims that stirred everyone up, take a moment to assess and call, "bullshit!", but it does not play out that way. Once several people in a group have bad feelings about someone the desire to accept affirmation of these feelings is strong. Whether it is misinformation or the truth, it does not matter. You accept it and feel affirmed in your belief. Usually an entire group already has feelings one way or another about a particular person or kinds of people. It is always easier to hate kinds of people isn't it? Kinds of people are not actual people, and can't be engaged with to convince you that they are human. Also important is that people love to gossip, and they want to belong. Talking shit about other people is thus powerful social glue. Those fucking bonds bind assholes together tight till we are constipated with hatred. This latent anger is tinder for the fires of outrage ready to be sparked by one piece of misinformation. Once the hate starts, it is far easier to go along with the hate fest, than it is to challenge it, and be burned. Would you want to risk being called out by the group and become an object of that ire, or to be kicked out of the group, losing your friends?
Recently I have witnessed this happening to artists I follow on Twitter and Google+. I am talking about Zak Sabbath and Sarah Horrocks. Sarah Horrocks co-authored a computer game with Zak recently called We Eat Blood and All of Our Friends are Dead. It is in White Wolf's Vampire genre. White Wolf published a blog post in response to all the messages they received questioning their choice to contract with Zak. As suggested by that blog post, some people do not like Zak.2 They claim that Zak is a serial harasser so no one should support his games. White Wolf investigated and found no wrong doing on his part. The controversy and harassment over the game however has driven Sarah to exclaim in exasperation that she does not want to work on any more games. It sounds like she is fed up with a mob of people trying to hurt the sales of something she worked hard on. The controversy certainly does not help getting further work and with negotiating contracts. This is what she said in her own words in defense of Zak. Why should any professional have to explain herself like this?3 I applaud Sarah for speaking out, and appreciated reading her perspective. It helps humanize her in this moment of ugly circumstances, and likely a great deal of stress. Perhaps I am a bit like a vampire in that way devouring someone else's pain. The internet is like that too.
Predictably this paroxysm of Internet Bullshit did not have the desired effect, but did cause collateral damage. Sarah Horrocks is done with gaming. "Driven from gaming" is the phrase, the same phrase some of Zak's detractors use when listing his sins against them. Collateral damage is the thing about chaos isn't it? Even if unwilling to reconsider their position on Zak, one would think that they would be given pause by the collateral left in their wake. The motivation here is to right a wrong, to deal with harassment. The method they choose to right this wrong however is harassment. So these people are causing the exact same problem that they claim to be against. Even if Zak is a serial harasser, these claims are no justification for others to harass him. Even if they held it once, these people do not hold the moral high ground now.
If you are a kind soul who wishes to help support Sarah Horrocks doing the other stuff she does, you can do so at her gumroad, reachable through her website, or right here: https://gumroad.com/mercurialblonde#.
If you are interested in digging deeper into the anatomy of a hate mob, check out this thread about Zak and We Eat Blood on the RPGNet forum. RPGNet is one of the epicenters of this whole mess. These people particularly do not like him. Check out where the moderators ban people for sticking up for Zak. No need to read the whole thread, but you can see all the common signs of the phenomenon there. What is particularly interesting about this place is that the moderators tend to allow this to go on. And rather than contain or suppress the hate mob on Zak, they encourage it by actively silencing those that stick up for him. And as you can see in the thread, the moderators don't have any sound reasoning for banning these people from their forum. Check out this justification. Completely ludicrous. What you obviously have is a toxic community in which the moderators of that community also hate Zak, and manage it like a star chamber in which to condemn him. Even if he is all they claim, managing their community the way they do is unhealthy. Why do it?
All of this got me thinking more about Zoe Quinn of Crash Overide, an organization to help people deal with online harassment. She gave a good talk on exactly this phenomenon. She based it not only on her own experience as the original lightning rod for Gamer Gate hate, but also on her own experience online as a kid in which she engaged in the same behavior that later targeted her. For this reason, her honest and candid explanations of how internet hate mobs form and act, the video is worth watching. I also like her because she reminds me of one of my cousins. Its good to see her out in the world doing her thing rather than succumbing to all the bullshit, my cousin as well as Zoe.
Yes, I do still have a phone. No, you can not have my number, especially not you, Google, Steam, Apple, Microsoft, and all the rest of you grabby lechers. I would like to maintain the illusion of privacy despite the invasive tentacles of commercial and government surveillance grasping about and endlessly multiplying like a monster in a hentai horror-porn. Yes, there are some interesting parallels between the problem of public-private surveillance and internet harassment: invasion of our private lives, difficulty escaping it if you wish to be a member of the community. And, yes, this is exactly what I was thinking about when I wrote that second paragraph above. No, I do not think that I always try to preempt unasked questions, but I will be mindful of what implications doing so has even when its just a fucking joke. ↩
When I first encountered Zak online, I did not like him either. Zak superficially fits a stereotype that turns my stomach, hipster, gentrifier etc... Most people who dislike Zak, however, object to what they perceive as his confrontational personality. Given the oppressive need for no conflict at all in middle class circles, I understand the negative reactions to Zak. But this is why I gave him a second look, and looked into the claims of his detractors. I am frustrated by those who refuse to accept the conflict which inevitably comes when you need to actually solve a problem with competing interests. I now respect Zak despite my initial disdain because he does not back down from these situations, and he frequently challenges people who surround themselves in cocoons of bad assumptions. I try not to be offended when he throws out comments seemingly calibrated to challenge or shock me. His doing so makes it clear that he is lumping me in with the same people I lumped him in with, but whatever, that is his fucking schtick. Everyone has their issues. I suspect that I have just as much if not more bullshit and baggage to deal with of my own. ↩
I think it is offensive that Sarah's reasoning for working on a project with someone else would be questioned, and yet the questioning is persistent and absurd. Were someone to question me on my decisions to team up with someone, I would not have written that blog post. Clearly she didn't feel that she could let the issue drop. It is too important to her. While on my side I'm thinking that were I in her shoes, I'd ignore this shit. I mean, "that's my right as a man", amirite? Or is that just a white man's prerogative? Its so hard to keep track of these things. All I know is that when facing shit in my past my thoughts have been, "Fuck all the detractors. Hold my head high. And walk right on by without a glance." And I belabor this point here because it illustrates different points of perspective on this. Not everyone has the same inherent social privileges and layers of comfort when someone else's artifical controversy comes crashing down upon you like this. That's the light in which I view her exasperation. I see others spouting bullshit about her being a "quitter because a few people said bad things" and so on. Its amazing how fucking stupid these people are. Being incapable to accept her own decision about her own life as justified must be part and parcel to dehumanizing her as an object of hate. Its clear that people are raising allegations that are close to her experience as a trans woman. Its clear that she was pushed to feel a need to defend her decision to take a job which is ridiculously demeaning. Its clear that people are contacting her about this privately, and so much so that she felt a need to say something. That she felt pressure to deal with this, perhaps because it was her first foray into making video games and she needs to manage her image for future work. Maybe she really needs the money and its stressing her out. And maybe there has been a pile of ugly death and rape threats or other kinds of harassment as we all know happens. To immediately go with the assumption that she's being childish or irresponsible giving all that up is absurd, and a sign of a stunted individual. I mean rather than read my guesses as to what she is feeling, just read what she is saying. This looks like some frustrating fucking bullshit. Not something I would want to do everyday with random assholes as a side effect of my work. ↩