Almost No One Sided with #GamerGate: A Research Paper on the Internet’s Reaction to Last Year’s Mob

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Abstract

Lately I’ve been troubled by the fact that GamerGate’s supporters and I seem to have completely opposite perceptions about what most people think of their movement. I’ve had GamerGaters tell me that most people don’t equate GamerGate with online harassment and that most people (or at least, most gamers) are actually on GamerGate’s side. How is it that our perceptions of “what most people think” are so different? Could it be that we all live inside some social-media echo chamber that makes us oblivious to other points of view?

So I decided to start a little research project to settle the question: What did most people think about GamerGate?

The results of this project suggest that the vast majority of people do in fact equate GamerGate with online harassment, sexism, and/or misogyny. More people see GamerGate as a toxic mob rather than a legitimate movement worthy of respect.

The following paper goes into great detail about how I conducted this research and why I reached those conclusions. This paper also reads like a historical analysis of the previous year by uncovering patterns in the ways that different people reacted to GamerGate.

There’s a strong TRIGGER WARNING for anyone who was deeply affected by last year’s events and similar forms of harassment. Things get particularly heavy in the section titled Patterns in How People Reacted to GamerGate.

Table of Contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Methodology
  3. The Data
    1. Link to the Full Data Set
  4. Observations & Analysis
    1. A Look at the Pro-GamerGate Sources
    2. Comparing Estimates of Population Size
    3. Patterns in How Publications Started Covering GamerGate
      1. Intel and its Advertisements
      2. What Exactly is All of this GamerGate Stuff?
      3. Harassment and Death Threats
    4. Patterns in How People Reacted to GamerGate
      1. Revulsion
      2. Fear and Terror
      3. Sadness, Anger, and Outrage
      4. Analyzing and Fighting GamerGate
      5. Mockery
    5. Why Does GamerGate Think Everyone Likes Them?
    6. Patterns in How People Remember GamerGate
  5. Conclusion, and GamerGate’s Legacy

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Let’s Actually Do Something about Internet Hate

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Anyone who follows tech/game industry news has probably noticed a deeply disturbing pattern by now, as outlined by the following examples:

  1. Co-creator of the innovative Head First programming books has been facing years of online harassment and real-world threats.
  2. Pop culture media critic who makes academic video-essays has been facing years of online harassment and real-world threats.
  3. Game developer who raises awareness of mental illness has been facing years of online harassment and real-world threats.
  4. Software engineer who made an anti-harassment tool will almost definitely face years of online harassment and real-world threats.
  5. Game development studio founder will almost definitely have to endure years of online harassment and real-world threats.
  6. …and many other developers, writers, and critics have been putting up with years of online harassment and real-world threats.
  7. [EDIT] Over the course of the few days that it took me to write this post, the founder and editor of a progressive tech publication has started receiving several vicious attacks. Everything about the situation is consistent with other cases that have resulted in years of online harassment and real-world threats.

Perhaps you’ve heard of some of these stories, but most don’t realize that the hate campaigns against these people still aren’t over. Part of what makes this pattern so upsetting is the public’s infuriating habit of stopping to notice what’s happening, being horrified for a moment, and then moving on and forgetting all about it. We almost always leave the victims to fend for themselves against these hate mobs while we happily move on in blissful ignorance.

This is clearly a huge problem, not just in terms of urgency but also in terms of how difficult it is to solve. Most of us don’t even know what we can do to help, and so we usually don’t do much at all. Even when we do try to help, it can often feel like our contributions are just a drop in the bucket, like we’re essentially doing nothing.

And frankly, I’m super tired of doing nothing, especially when there are such few people who are actually working on this problem. Earlier this month I tried to cope with this frustration by trying to convince myself to be more satisfied with the effort that I put in so far. But my conscience has been killing me ever since, because this attempt at complacency felt as though I was turning my back on these people whom I really respect. I realize now that I won’t be comfortable with myself unless I’m actually serious about making a difference here. And to me, taking something seriously means being satisfied only by results, not by effort.

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How I’m Coping with Post-GamerGate Depression

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I’m still having trouble dealing with what happened to the games community during the second half of 2014. A lot of really depressing stuff happened, and so it’s not surprising that that sense of depression still lingers.

Unfortunately, #GamerGate still isn’t over. When I say “post-GamerGate,” what I really mean is “post-(that-time-when-everyone-was-talking-about)-GamerGate.” The hate mob is still obsessively fixating on and continuously harassing the same four or so women, and they’re still coming up with new targets to attack every week.

I was surprised by how much I was emotionally affected by the whole GamerGate mess. I usually don’t get worked up over many things, since I generally try to be laid back and optimistic, and I also try very hard to stay mentally grounded, since I know that politically and emotionally charged events such as this one have a tendency to mess up one’s sense of perspective. And so I was genuinely surprised when I realized how cynical and depressed I had grown over this whole thing.

And frankly, I’m tired of being depressed about this, so I’m hoping that writing this post might help me to get some of it out of my system, or at least reach a greater sense of emotional clarity on this.

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What Community Managers Can Learn from #GamerGate

I personally don’t have much to say about the political and social issues that fuel the #GamerGate mess, but all of this has gotten me thinking a lot about community management. Specifically, I find myself cringing at all of the very serious community management mistakes that have been hurting the #GamerGate movement ever since it started, so I kinda just wanted to write a postmortem-like post on how it all could have gone better.

More importantly, this made me think more about how we can better manage the overall videogame community, because at the end of the day, all I really care about is whether or not people actually like being here. I think this post turned into a pretty great case for why we need more smart, tolerant, and prominent voices helping to keep our community healthy.

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