The infamous draft decision of Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) on Gamergate is worse than a crime. It’s a blunder that threatens to disgrace the internet. (I refer here to the original draft; the current revision is here. )
Late last year, a group of computer game enthusiasts and journalists apparently decided to strike out against what they considered unfair feminist critique of violence and sex in their favorite games. They called themselves “#GamerGate.” In principle, their grievance should not be dismissed: we don’t need Miss Grundy to turn games into pabulum. But it’s not clear that they really had a grievance, that the purported fears were anything more than a rationalization for anonymous persecution.
The #GamerGate crowd decided that their ideal tactics were to identify women in the game industry who were “social justice warriors,” and to drive them out of the field. Through Twitter and unsavory chat boards, these women were subjected to intense harassment. Their sexual histories were dissected. They were repeatedly threatened with assault, rape, and murder. Their employers were sent anonymous email, both embarrassing and threatening. Some of the women had to cancel speaking engagements. Some have been forced from their homes.
An Encyclopedia Anyone Can Edit
The reaction of newspapers and magazines to these threats was not favorable to the criminals. But Wikipedia is an encyclopedia anyone can edit – and game fans with lots of computer savvy and plenty of time on their hands should be singularly effective Wikipedians. GamerGate set out to writes its own story in Wikipedia – and to spread the dirt about the women who were its targets.
These efforts were blocked by established editors under established Wikipedia policy. In retaliation, GamerGate planned an operation to get rid of its opponents – the “Five Horsemen” active in preserving objectivity and in keeping scurrilous sexual innuendo out of the encyclopedia. As a side-game, GamerGate also launched efforts to promote the idea that “Cultural Marxism” is a conspiracy of some Jewish academics to control the media.
The original GamerGate operation targeted the "five horsemen:" Ryulong, NorthBySouthBaranof, Tarc, TheRedPenOfDoom, and TaraInDC. All were sanctioned in the draft decision.
For months, these Wikipedia pages have been an escalating scene of daily – indeed hourly – conflict.
Yesterday, ArbCom announced its preliminary decision. A panel of fourteen arbitrators – at least 11 of whom are men* – decided to give GamerGate everything they’d wished for. All of the Five Horsemen are sanctioned; most will be excluded not only from “Gamergate broadly construed” but from anything in Wikipedia touching on “gender or sexuality, broadly construed.”
By my informal count, every feminist active in the area is to be sanctioned. This takes care of social justice warriors with a vengeance — not only do the GamerGaters get to rewrite their own page (and Zoe Quinn’s, Brianna Wu’s, Anita Sarkeesian’s, etc.); feminists are to be purged en bloc from the encyclopedia. Liberals are the new Scientologists as far as Arbcom is concerned.
No sanctions at all were proposed against any of GamerGate’s warriors, save for a few disposable accounts created specifically for the purpose of being sanctioned. The administrator who wrote, regarding Zoe Quinn’s sexual history, that
I know other other allegations exist but will not state what those on WP are because that would be a BLP violation at the current time.
was not even mentioned. The many brand-new accounts who arrived in December with no Wiki experience, but possessing a curiously detailed knowledge of Wikipedia policy jargon, are unmentioned, save for the fact that the decision rests almost entirely on their proposals.
The extensive evidence of off-site collusion, which Wikipedia considers so improper that evidence must not be discussed on wiki but rather submitted in confidence, appears to have been entirely ignored. (I submitted such evidence myself, but received no acknowledgment or thanks; I have been told that much additional evidence was submitted.)
Overnight, the one member of ArbCom who is known to be a woman voted against some of the worst measures, and there are some signs that the final decision might be slightly less bad than the initial proposal. At this hour, they remain a disaster.
Why It Matters
First, this is the end of the Wiki Way. We have a blueprint now that shows how any decently-funded group with a modicum of access to the media – which is to say any group (unlike GamerGate) not patently criminal – can take control of any part of Wikipedia it pleases. You need a PR agency with a few offices in different cities and a phone – resources whose lack complicated GamerGate’s position.
Worse, the decision is so egregiously bad that it may well permanently discredit not only Wikipedia but the entire open Web. If a mature and well-funded site like Wikipedia can’t distinguish between reason and perfidious slander, if it punishes volunteers who enforce its own policies against libel, then who will trust any publication that doesn’t bear the brand of ABC/Disney, Reuters, or Al-Jazeera?
If there’s anything left of the European Pirat Partiet, incidentally, this is your last best chance to show that you can do some good.
Update: * A journalist suggested clarification here. Of the fourteen arbitrators, eleven are believed to be men, one is a woman. The gender of the two remaining arbitrators is not known to the public.
Update 2: A member of the Arbitration Committee has now confirmed (on February 4) that the committee had 13 men and one woman.