If You Don't Stop Online Harassment, No One Else Will
Earlier today, Polygon's Brian Crecente ran what might be one of the most significant articles about gaming culture that you'll read in 2013, all about the effects of the vitriol that game developers and community members in general receive on a regular basis.
Normally this is not the kind of thing I would post on a Thursday. I like having meaty original content up on a Thursday to entertain those of you feeling that end-of-the-work-week malaise, and a simple link usually wouldn't make the cut. But this is more than a simple link. This is a vital piece of perspective for those of us interacting (and watching others interact) online.
... So, you know, basically everyone.
This has been a problem for some time now, but one Tumblr called GamerFury has done a lot to bring the issue back into the limelight. GamerFury was started to share the abusive Tweets that developer David Vonderhaar was receiving for modifying a virtual gun in Call of Duty, including threats to himself and to his family. As has been pointed out many times in the past, there are few jobs that involve absorbing so much harassment with so little available recourse as working in the games industry, especially for people in the public eye. You can't talk to HR, you can't kick them out of the store, the police often have nothing to offer, and most of the time you're left relying on mediation and disciplinary actions from 3rd party services that are swamped at best, apathetic at worst. Unfortunately on platforms like Twitter there's very little that someone can do when they're the target of a community's ire.
Now obviously this isn't just limited to gaming, either. Almost anyone working under the scrutiny of an audience online can find themselves at the heart of a campaign of abuse like the one highlighted on GamerFury.
It's fair to wonder if there's any point in writing an article like the one on Polygon, because the worst offenders probably won't read it or take its message to heart if they do. Maybe they're "different", maybe their target "deserves it", maybe this article is just "whining", maybe they need to "grow a thicker skin"... The usual dismissive bullshit. I don't think this article is meant for those people anyway. Much like schoolyard bullying it's not always just about the bully and the victim, but also the bystander. In online spaces there is often an audience, and they can choose to stay silent or speak out.
When you say nothing, you're really saying that it's okay. It's normal. It's just how people are online. But should it be? Should the internet be the one socially safe place for me to tell a stranger precisely how I want to murder them without my friends immediately disowning me? For this kind of behavior to become less prevalent, it needs to be seen as unacceptable, and that will never happen if the bystanders in these online spaces aren't willing to put their foot down.
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Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.