Thursday, 16 October 2014

How Not To Have A Civil Discussion.

I've talked before about the whole GamerGate mess, and am currently planning a call for de-escalation. This is my case for it, and, at its core, it's really quite simple: If you have genuine concerns, Twitter is not the place to do it. If you don't want to support harassment (in general, I'm not going to say one "side" or the other is dicking the other over more, because that misses the bloody point), Twitter isn't working for that. Let's explain why.

The origin of the GamerGate hashtag is only tangenitally relevant to our discussion here. What is more important here is what it has become. Now, let's take a quick screenshot of a portion of the hashtag's current output, shall we? This is a highly frustrating thing to do on TweetDeck, by the way, because unlike Twitter's frontend, TweetDeck refreshes constantly, giving you a true impression of how thick and fast stuff is being posted.

Huh. So, GamerGate is currently, for those who don't know, a hodgepodge, and nothing demonstrates it quite like a selection of the tweets currently on the tag. Look at this. GamerGate is ostensibly meant to be focused on ethics in journalism, and we have, in that set of tweets, someone having a common misunderstanding (It's not the "sexy" most critics object to, it's the objectification, the idea of "Women as furniture/tools" that causes problems.), someone using #GamerGate to post an open letter (that appears to be "on message"), and someone who, quite frankly, is beginning to get what I'm aiming at, although, like many, he's still stuck on the gender-war part of things, and not the flaw underlying the hashtag.

Here, we have several different agendas. Including, er... anti-gamergate sentiments, which is sort of the opposing view, is it not? So let's talk about momentum for a second. Momentum is seen as the main reason to stick to using a hashtag for a movement, because the tweets are short, punchy, and it supposedly means you can all blitz along in a single direction, overwhelming opposition as you go.

Except that isn't happening, for a simple reason. Anybody can post on a hashtag. I did that earlier today, in fact. 

What's even more interesting is that the statement I made isn't even true. I've never even tried an aubergine. So there you have it, a nice, simple demonstration of the most fatal flaw of basing your movement around a hashtag. Anyone can post anything. It's been around 35 minutes at the time of this sentence, and not a single person has noticed I've introduced useless noise into the supposedly clear signal of GamerGate.

So what's ended up happening is that you have folks tweeting anti-gg sentiment (in many different forms, whether they're anti the 8chan involvement, anti the misogyny, anti journalistic ethics, or just anti everything and wanting a fight about it), and that momentum is... Not actually a single force. In fact, it never has been. From almost the beginning, people added that hashtag on the end of their rebuttals, and all you get from looking at the hashtag in tweetdeck as it goes by is... An endless blur of words. Words that contradict each other a lot of the time.

So, in order to make sense of things, folks go elsewhere. They go to mass media, they go looking for information elsewhere. And much of the media, looking for a simple story, have gone for what they perceive as the biggest problem: The harassing elements. The anger, and the fear, and the hate.

This person isn't necessarily one of the people who send death threats and hate speech to people like Brianna Wu, John Walker, or any of the folks involved in this, pro or anti. They hold an opinion I personally disagree with (and are making a generalisation, to boot, which is just sloppy thinking.) But there's no guarantee this person is actively endorsing or participating in hate crimes.

This person probably isn't sending death threats either. He's angry, just like the pro-gg example I gave above, and saying things he may well regret... But that's all.

Ah, but I say that's all, when this is the very core of the problem.

What do "anti-gg SJWs" want? They want better representation of women in video games, and for female developers to not have such a raw deal in developement, and a host of other things that can be summed up as getting the industry to grow and deal with genuine concerns.

What do "pro-gg Gaters" want? They want to answer some questions like whether patreon funding ought to be disclosed, whether review copies are a matter for disclosure, and whether there are conflicts of interest in the industry, and how can we resolve them? This, too, can be summed up as getting the industry to grow and dealing with genuine concerns.

So, here's the main thrust of my argument: This has, through the alchemy of the internet, become something else. And no, before you say it isn't, there are people who have come directly to me with issues about patreons, and asking why reviews are political and objective (And they were pretty satisfied with my answer that this is because you can't actually remove politics and opinion from a review, because lots of things are politics, and even saying "I like this game" is a subjective opinion.) There are people who've come to me with concerns about objectifying women, and I agree with them. There are folks with concerns about employment in the industry, about review copies, about patreon, kickstarter, Early access... And I'll let you in on two little secrets.

First, for the most part, even though many of those folks post on twitter under #GamerGate... We were perfectly able to have a civil discussion. Secondly, that's because they're just folks, same as us. Brianna Wu is a normal human being. Erik Kain is a normal human being. Boogie2988 is a normal human being. So is MundaneMatt. They have opinions, sometimes those opinions differ from ours, and sometimes they do things that count as "getting angry" or "being hateful"

So... The majority of folks are normal... human... beings. This doesn't sound like an epiphany until you realise that a lot of the language in the tweets isn't referring to those normal human beings. It's all about whether you support a fucking hashtag. What's more, a hashtag that anyone can post anything, anything at all in.

And this is where we come to the crux of things. I'd like to propose a different pigeon-holing. And pigeon-holing it is, it's what we human beings do. But you'll like this one, I think...

There are three factions in GamerGate. Just three.

Folks - Folks have concerns, and opinions. They are angry, and concerned. They want the second group, the Industry Folks, to address those concerns. Some of those folks are feminist. Some of those folks don't understand some parts of the other Folks' and Industry Folks' points of view. These two groups need to stop with this hashtag business, Industry Folks need to open up forums and moderate (explaining clearly what they're moderating, and why), and both these groups need to be concerned with the third group.

The third group are Hate Criminals. These are the only clear winners right now, because anger, and fear, and hatred serve them well. Every time you tell a normal person who uses the GamerGate hashtag they're a misogynistic fucktard? They laugh. Every time you tell a normal person who doesn't use the hashtag they're a man-hating ice bitch? They laugh. Which brings us to another reason Twitter's no good for calm and civil discussion (although some of us, myself included, have managed... But not without a lot of work...)

Twitter's current rules mean you have to be directly involved to report a hate crime  . That, in layman's terms, means you have to be the victim, or you have to be the Hate Criminal. And, forgive me for stating the obvious, but the Hate Criminal isn't going to report themselves. The victim isn't always going to report either. And, when the victim lives in fear and doesn't report, the Hate Criminal laughs again. 

(FACTCHECK EDIT: There is an option for not being directly involved, but being offended. Use that... But the rest still stands.)

So here's my call for de-escalation. It's really simple, let's start with the Industry Folks end of things.

Industry Folks, you need to show everyone there's a place for civil discussion that isn't a bloody hashtag. You need to be really obvious about it, and you need to keep at it. Yes, you'll need to moderate your forums, make sure that haters get banned, and preferably reported to the proper authorities. You'll also need to clearly state that's what's going to happen.

Folks, you need to stop thinking of this in terms of hashtags and "sides". Once you've done that, you'll quickly find out which other folks are angry right now (don't get angry back, just back off quietly, let them calm down. If both of you folks get angry, then the hate wins.) You need to be able to agree to disagree, to explain clearly to each other (yes, I know some of you don't words good, but that's what sitting back, organising your thoughts, and writing things down to help your own thinking is for.)

Both of you, however, need to concentrate on that third group. Because that third group doesn't want the industry to grow. It doesn't want calm and civil discussion. It doesn't want to understand, like many of you do. All they want is hate. Do you want hate? I don't want hate. I find hate utterly useless, because it makes you make mistakes, it makes you over-react, it makes you stupid.

We can't discuss until the hate is dealt with. We can't grow until the hate is dealt with.

Stepping off the soapbox now, although I may try and reiterate this message elsewhere. I'm not going to bang your heads together to make you stop arguing, because you're better than that, I think. I don't even care whether you prove me wrong. But for now, know that this is my stance on claims that "we have it worse than the other side"

I don't give a fuck, because I consider it more important that this is happening on any "side" you care to name. I am not pro or anti gamergate. I'm just anti-hate, and pro-calm discussion.

EDIT: Here's a little numbercrunching by NewsWeek. For all the claims of "anti-harassment" and "ethics in journalism", that sure looks like a major off-message focus to me!

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