January 19, 2015


Part 2 of a series: Infamous ❧ Thoughtless ❧ Careless

Some cooler heads at Wikipedia's Arbcom seem prepared to demur from some of the most egregious sanctions in the infamous original draft decision on Gamergate. Two apparent outcomes hang in the balance. The original plan would ban all the major feminists and GamerGate critics involved in the area from mentioning anything pertaining to games, gender, or sexuality anywhere in Wikipedia. The compromise, apparently, is to sanction one second-tier Gamergate ringleader as well, and perhaps to deadlock on sanctioning some of Gamergate’s targets.

What is conspicuously absent from the discussion is any trace of explicit concern for the way Wikipedia has been exploited as a platform for spreading baseless speculation and innuendo about the sex lives of women who have been targeted – targeted either because GamerGaters want to drive them out of the industry, or because some GamerGaters think this is fun.

A prominent journalist took me to task because, in “Infamous,” I assert the first motivation, while the second is equally consistent with the known facts. I grant that they might be doing it for kicks, but I assume that most people would have some rationale for doing such awful things.

Nor is there any hint of recognition in the draft decision of the harassment endured by Wikipedia editors through offsite channels. This evidence may only be supplied to the committee in private. They say the received a lot. I sent some myself, and offered to send more. The committee failed to acknowledge receipt, to thank me, or to request more evidence.

Things we know include:

What we don’t know, however, is how many Gamergate critics have had their boss receive anonymous email accusing them of sexual improprieties or God knows what. We do know that the women whom Gamergate targets have been exposed to a deluge of such stuff.

We don’t know how many of their spouses have received mysterious messages about infidelity.

We don’t know how many have seen creepy pictures of strangers standing in front of their workplace, just to remind them that their anonymous opponents know exactly where to find them.

We don’t know how many have been the subject of police investigations and SWAT raids triggered by spurious Gamergate “tips.”

We don’t know. If you’re a Wikipedia contributor and you have a boss, you might not know whether it happened or not. Your boss might not tell you. – and if she did, you might not be eager to tell Arbcom all about it and maybe see the accusation show up on the lunch room bulletin board or in your next employer’s Google search.

If you’re a Wikipedia contributor and you have a spouse, your spouse might not tell you about that weird email about what someone says you did at the conference in Orlando.

Because we don’t know, we can’t pass judgment on the suspects. But we can certainly express sympathy and support to the victims – even if we can’t know all the details. And we can look for places where such harassment may have occurred and take steps to fix whatever damage was done.

Thoughtful organizations come to the aid of their staff when aid is needed, even if the problem is not the institution’s fault. Thoughtless organizations say, “there isn’t enough clear evidence.” Thoughtless organizations say, “there’s nothing we can do – call the police if you want.” Thoughtless organizations say, “she’s just a volunteer.” Thoughtless organizations say, “we can only look at the evidence, even if it’s mostly supplied by an army recruited to manufacture it. We don’t have time to look into this, or even to read the talk pages ourselves.”

If we gave the matter some thought, we could see where help might be needed, where harm may have been done, and supply help and assistance. This is what ArbCom should have done.

But that’s too much trouble. It requires too much thought.

It’s much easier to pick out isolated misjudgments culled from hundreds of thousands of words of discussion by an army of anonymous trolls, recruited to provoke intemperate outbursts using disposable account names and carefully coordinating their campaign.