On the eve of the one year anniversary of GamerGate it is now more than ever imperative that the mainstream media examine the controversy closely and readdress the wanton disregard for journalistic ethics in their coverage
Unless you have lived in a cave for the last year you have probably heard of GamerGate. This article, as you can probably tell, is about the controversy. Off the bat I would like to disclose that I am a staunch proponent of the movement and an avid gamer. These video games, which I have devoted countless hours to, aren’t just an idle waste of time, they’re my hobby. My hobby just so happens to be part of largest entertainment industry on the planet, with revenue over $90 billion, more than double that of Hollywood. It is serious business. To put it another way, gaming has ‘levelled-up’ and so too have the money and expectations.
Since its inception one thing above all else has bugged me about the GamerGate controversy. Despite broad coverage of the
hate [debunked] consumer movement by the mainstream media, few outside the gaming community—until recently— have viewed it as a serious matter [The coverage was shocking, but we will get to that later]. Only when discussing diversity and harassment in the technology industry does the conversation veer toward it again. GamerGate, despite many well written refutations, is still bandied around as the mainstream tech media’s ‘bogeyman’.
About now I would usually go into the origins of GamerGate and the arguments around whether it is a ‘hate group’ aimed at driving women out of the tech industry or a consumer revolt over journalistic malpractice and poor ethical standards in video games press, but I already did that in “It’s actually about ethics in…”, my article on the GamerGate and NotYourShield hashtags. I will leave you to read that and come to your own conclusions, and if you disagree, I am not that bothered. I am not here to try and force my clearly biased views of GamerGate on you.
‘Why are you writing this then?’ you may ask.
Well, firstly there have been many recent developments regarding the movement. CBC Ombusdman Pierre Tourangeau, admitted that misinformation had been spread about GamerGate, there was a hearing at the Dutch Press Council (Raad voor de Journalistiek) on EénVandaag’s skewed coverage of GamerGate, and a slate of documentaries, meet-ups and organizations have been announced (too numerous to mention, I suggest asking on Twitter for more information).
Secondly, SPJ Airplay happened. The Society of Professional Journalists is the world’s premier journalistic society with over three-hundred chapters in the United States. The SPJ is over a hundred years old and is responsible for its “Code of Ethics”, an internationally recognised guideline for ethical journalism. Its main goals are to promote ethical journalistic practices and the First Amendment rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Press. They recently held the aforementioned ‘Airplay’, a debate around the ethical concerns raised by the GamerGate movement, at the Koubek Centre in Miami, Florida.
Michael Koretzky is the Director of Region 3 of the SPJ (Alabama | Florida | Georgia | South Carolina). Following the flood of GamerGate tweets in #SPJEthicsWeek, Koretzky wrote about the movement and decided to host a journalistic debate on the topic; SPJ Airplay was born. The original intent had been to have a three-way panel debate pro, anti, non, but the opponents of GamerGate decided to boycott the event, with some asking for speaking fees in excess of $30,000, as a way to show their disdain for the idea.
Next Koretzky compiled a committee of GamerGate proponents to select its panellists, including: John Smith, the stage manager at Airplay who I interviewed for this piece, Allum Bokhari, a writer for Breitbart London, Dave Rickey, and William Usher, a blogger and journalist with CinemaBlend who exposed the Game Journo Pros emailing list. A lot of effort went into selecting the panellists, with Smith commenting in our interview,
We took a lot of the short-lists we saw from many different communities, grabbed short-lists from Kotaku in Action [GamerGate SubReddit], and we grabbed them from 8chan […] We tried to get as many of those little, short-lists as possible.
The original panel announced included: Milo Yiannopoulos, founder of The Kernel and tabloid journalist at Breitbart London, Brad Wardell, a game developer at Stardock, Cathy Young, controversial feminist columnist at Reason, Christina Hoff Sommers, academic ‘equity’ feminist at AEI, and author of Who Stole Feminism (1995) & The War Against Boys (2000), Oliver Campbell, a former games journalist, Mark Ceb, a freelance illustrator and reporter, Jennifer Dawe, a game developer, and William Usher.
Unfortunately due to differences or being unavailable, Wardell, Campbell, Dawe and Usher were unable to participate on the panel. Replacements were added to make up numbers, including: Allum Bokhari, and Ashe Schow, a Washington Examiner reporter. The panellists were then divided into a morning and afternoon grouping, with Schow, Bokhari, and Ceb discussing GamerGate’s origins and ethics in the morning, and the afternoon group of Yiannopoulos, Sommers, and Young discussing online controversies.
The opposing panel, comprised of individuals neutral to the GamerGate movement, was selected by Koretzky with a background in ethics as a priority. Lynn Walsh, a prominent SPJ member, academic, and investigative journalist with NBC TV, San Diego, Ren LaForme, a journalist trainer with Poynter, and Derek Smart, a games developer with over 30 years industry experience, were selected. With such a grand stage set, what could go wrong?
A bomb threat. That is what could go wrong. For the second time in under six months GamerGate had to evacuate a gathering due to a ‘credible’ bomb threat that law enforcement felt should be acted upon. Unlike the GGinDC event, a casual gathering of GamerGate supporters in the US capitol, which received only a single threat, Airplay received
five or more threats [two or more], including one to the Miami Herald. The Koubek Centre, SPJ Airplay’s venue, was evacuated by law enforcement, despite specialised private security sweeping and securing the venue prior to the event.
The mood outside the venue was jovial, GamerGate supporters are now used to this kind of abuse, and the discussion continued via a stream through Derek Smart’s mobile phone. Water was supplied to quench a serious thirst, as reports from people attending claim it was 96 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade.
You can view my live coverage of the event under the SPJ Airplay tag on my blog or by searching #SPJAirplay on my Twitter timeline.
I covered this first to get the excitement out of the way. It was a contemptible act and frankly didn’t even achieve its presumed goals of silencing discussion. No, like so many things before, SPJ Airplay is now subject to the Streisand effect, with the hashtag trending on both sides of the Atlantic on the day and briefly worldwide.
Now on to the debate. Things started off pretty rough with the audio on the stream sounding like dubstep as Koretzky waffled through the introduction. Once the GamerGate panellists were allowed to introduce GamerGate things really began to go swimmingly. Aside from a few chuckle worthy questions for the woman that Koretzky invited to be the ‘ignorant’ party to the controversy, the debate flowed well with the ethics panel concluding many times that some of the actions of the gaming press had indeed been unethical. The games media was guilty of some ‘high crimes’.
Among this we got a great analogy from Derek Smart on GamerGate. While live-tweeting I saw the online crowd seemed to appreciate this a lot.
Other highlights include Paolo Munoz absolutely destroying Gawker to thunderous applause following Koretzky joking with both panels about Gawker media’s ethical track record, and Lynn Walsh getting serious about how retractions and corrections should be handled. You should definitely watch the first stream all the way through.
The afternoon panel was a little more rocky. It started off with a fluid introduction by Milo Yiannopoulos, CH Sommers, and Cathy Young, though off the bat it was clear Koretzky intended to police the discussion heavily. For the next half an hour or so the debate was very wonky with the moderator essentially testifying instead of allowing an exchange between the two panels. The interruption were so jarring that someone in the audience shouted “Let her speak”. Once conversation got turned back to ethics, journalism and GamerGate things didn’t get a lot better. The journalists on the neutral panel and Koretzky seemed confused by Milo’s claims that researching GamerGate only required hard work. It was clear to me that there is a fundamental problem with the mainstream media’s mechanism for covering social movements, especially largely anonymous ones on the internet.
As with the morning debate, I thoroughly recommend watching the stream, but bare in mind what was said above. It is hard to watch in places and is cut off mid conversation by the evacuation.
All in all, and this will sound strange, I believe SPJ Airplay was a resounding success that Koretzky and his team should be proud of. Whether it makes headway toward vindicating GamerGate and halting the media’s rampant campaign of misinformation is yet to be seen, chiefly because at the time of publication, no mainstream outlet has covered this story, only local news networks. Thank you Mike, and thank you to the Society of Professional Journalists.
An abridged cut of SPJ Airplay produced by YouTuber Leo Pirate.
I sought comment from the community on their thoughts on SPJ Airplay.
Paolo Munoz, has responded,
This is the beginning of the narrative of harassment to end. Gamers live!! [sic]
Oliver Campbell, commented,
The AirPlay event, to me, was a resounding success. There were a few obvious bumps and a huge disruption, but I believe that a great understanding occurred between journalists and
#gamergate, and we can get things moving forward now.
I think the memorable moment for me was when I rejoined as a panelist during the bomb threat scare to help continue the discussion.
Derek Smart, expressed that he liked the piece and has since updated his blog post on Airplay to feature this write up.
“The ride never ends” #GamerGate
Update: 16/08/15 17:28 Corrected value of the gaming industry with citation. Please contact with any further corrections.
Update 2: 18/08/2015 17:32 Typographical errors addressed. More comments added. Correction made to the number of bomb threats.
Update 3: 24/08/2015 00:36 Added Leo Pirate abridged video.