Playing Fair: The challenges of talking about #GamerGate

The complainant, Patrick Upson, thought a CBCNews.ca Community Blog was biased because it focused on the negative view of the GamerGate controversy. The blog was even handed and provided enough information within its narrow focus.

COMPLAINT

You were one of many individuals who wrote to object to a “Your Community” blog posted October 17, 2014. It was entitled “#StopGamerGate2014 hashtag suggests internet is growing tired of GamerGate.”

You said the blog was factually incorrect and that “it’s an absolute disgrace and CBC should be ashamed of the reporter involved.” You felt the reporter, Lauren O’Neil, “cherry picked” the #StopGamerGate2014 hashtag to create bias against the “#GamerGate community.” You felt she wrongly created the impression that the GamerGate community is misogynist and that she should have also mentioned the group that functions under the hashtag #NotYourShield, which includes a large number of women and minorities that support #GamerGate. You said this was a misrepresentation of an “inclusive international community.”

You said the “facts surrounding #GamerGate are muddied because of the narrative bias the gaming media has injected into the issue.” You believe the mainstream media is taking at face value the characterization created by gaming industry journalists who colluded to blacklist some people and to support others, who are their friends. You explained #GamerGate came into existence to fight the corruption in the industry. You explained it was a reaction to a series of articles published in major games publications:

However, the real reason #GamerGate exists is because of the 10+ articles that appears in all the major game publications over 24 hours calling for an end to the “Gamer Identity” which painted gamers as cis-white-male misogynists. It’s clear looking at twitter statistics after the articles were published the community exploded. After #GamerGate really got started the discovery of the GameJournoPros (4) list was found where journalists, for all the major gaming publications, colluded to spin a narrative, black list dissenting journalist, suppress some developers (such as the fine young capitalist), while promoting “friends” (such as Zoe Quinn).

You think the CBC Community blog post simply reinforces the stereotypes about gamers, a stereotype you reject:

#GamerGate is fighting so that I can, without shame, call myself a “Gamer”. We are fighting to include women, minorities, LGBT in our hobby, not keep them out. What we’re fighting to keep out is political bias and social agendas by people profiting off maintaining a narrative and shaming people into staying quiet about it. I’m proud to be part of the community and it isn’t going anywhere, it only continues to pick up steam.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Managing Editor of CBCNews.ca, Brodie Fenlon, responded to your concerns. He pointed out the article’s purpose was to explain why the hashtag #StopGamerGate2014 was trending that day. He added that this was not a detailed or comprehensive look at #GamerGate. He said that in order to explain why #StopGamerGate2014 was gaining steam, reporter Lauren O’Neil had to provide some background. He said she did so fairly, and that CBC News is not taking sides in the debate. He pointed out there is a lot of confusion about the meaning of the #GamerGate hashtag:

That’s because hashtags can be used by anyone for any purpose. In your complaint, you correctly cite the origins of the Gamer Gate movement, as Ms. O’Neil did in her post. She writes, “The #GamerGate hashtag was initially used to organize a heated online conversation about ethics in gaming journalism.” However, it is also accurate and fair to say that the hashtag is now not only used for that purpose.

The post goes on to say, “The conversation around ethics in video game journalism is ongoing within the gaming community, but the #GamerGate hashtag has expanded in recent months to include — if not become completely overtaken by — several other diverse themes. One of the discussion threads now most commonly associated with GamerGate revolves around misogyny within the gaming community and, specifically, the harassment of females within the industry.”

We see it time and again: organizations, brands or people of a similar point of view begin using a hashtag for one purpose, and it gets ‘taken over’ by people with a different intent or point of view. Understandably, it can be very frustrating when this happens to you.

REVIEW

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices lays out criteria for balance and fairness. In essence, all points of view should be treated with openness and respect, and a range of perspectives should be present in coverage of a topic over time. What informs the thinking around what is required in any given piece is the focus and context. The Community Blog is a feature of CBCNews.ca that checks in on social media buzz on a wide range of topics. The blog in question was about a hashtag that had emerged to counter #GamerGate, and was trending that day. Logically, Ms. O’Neil had to focus on some of the negative associations with it. She did so in a measured and precise way. She was not taking sides; she was not condemning those who support GamerGate. In this case balance was provided by pointing out that there is more than one view of it. Ms. O’Neil wrote:

For months now, members of the embattled gaming community have been at war with each other over everything from accusations of biased video game journalism to reports of widespread online harassment against women within the industry.

The web has come to know this ongoing saga as GamerGate — a term that is as difficult to define as it is to keep track of.

If this were an in-depth piece on GamerGate, it might have required more detail. But it was not that. This was a brief look at the trending of a hashtag; that does not oblige the writer to talk about other hashtags in defence of GamerGate, as you suggested.

It is frustrating to you that the #GamerGate hashtag has come to be associated with misogynistic and bullying behavior. But it has. It is not inaccurate, or colluding with the gaming industry, to talk about it. It would be equally unreasonable for CBCNews.ca to run a piece about this topic and characterize it only as a consumer movement, or a reaction to corruption in the gaming industry. The fact that you reject the negative narrative does not mean it should not be discussed.

Again, in the context of this blog about a counter hashtag, Ms. O’Neil chose her words carefully:

The conversation around ethics in video game journalism is ongoing within the gaming community, but the #GamerGate hashtag has expanded in recent months to include — if not become completely overtaken by — several other diverse themes.

One of the discussion threads now most commonly associated with GamerGate revolves around misogyny within the gaming community and, specifically, the harassment of females within the industry.

She talks about the theme of misogyny being associated with GamerGate, not saying it is GamerGate. There is an important difference. The fact is escalating harassment of some female game developers and journalists occurred at the same time as GamerGate. That is what Ms. O’Neil was reporting, and reporting accurately. I am aware there are those that dispute the facts.

CBC Journalistic Policy on Impartiality states: “We provide professional judgment based on facts and expertise.” Her presentation of the facts was even handed and provided other perspectives, pointing out that what GamerGate means is in dispute, and there are those who defend it from the accusations against it. She acknowledged the controversy, and stated the defense.

GamerGate is a hashtag, it is not a traditional organization with designated leadership or a manifesto so that one can clearly point and say this is what it stands for, this is the position it takes on the issues it cares about. You reject the negative connotations of GamerGate because it does not apply to you as a gamer. That doesn’t make it wrong to talk about the fact that some negative things are now associated with it. As William Evans wrote on his Black Nerd Problems blog entitled “#GamerGate: What people want it to mean vs What it actually means”:

I‘m sure it’s frustrating, to have what you believe to be a well-meaning critique of an industry practice be recognized mostly for harrassment, rape and mass shooting threats. But, that’s exactly what it’s known for now, and no amount of “you people just don’t understand” hand wringing is going to undo that. There is a difference between wanting something to represent a certain sentiment and the reality of what it actually represents. I’ve played played [sic] copious amounts of every major Grand Theft Auto release since it came to the PS2. I can tell you that it’s amazing at carving out the slice of Americana, giving your [sic] a sarcastic and cynical parody of how we live as Americans and what ultimately rules us pertaining to capitalism and consumerism each day. And I’d be right. But someone can also say that is one of the most violent and misogynist games that we get every few years or so…and they would be right too. What the game represents to the gamer public and the general public are two different things.

Since the arguments about gaming, gaming identity and the role of GamerGate appear to be ongoing, I have no doubt that CBC News will be addressing this area of popular culture again. They will be mindful of the need to provide a range of perspectives. The blog did so within the context of the issue it was addressing. There was no violation of CBC policy.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman