Playing Fair, Take Two: The challenges of talking about #GamerGate

The complainant, Hans Schumacher, was one of many who objected to a piece about harassment of female gamers on The National. He said associating #GamerGate with harassment of women is wrong and shows bias. The piece focused on an event for female gamers, and the reference to #GamerGate mentioned its other association as well.

COMPLAINT

You were one of many people who wrote to this office after the airing of a piece on The National on November 13, 2014. The item focused on the response of a group of female gamers to threats and harassment. On The National’s website, the piece is titled “‘GamerGate’ sparks conversation on gaming culture.” You characterize #GamerGate as a “consumer revolt.” You felt it was falsely and maliciously portrayed as something else in this segment. You said its supporters were “slandered and defamed.” You thought that this piece fit into a pattern of CBC bias in covering this topic.

In further correspondence you said that while some women have accused supporters of #GamerGate of harassing them, there is no evidence you are aware of that links this harassment “where individuals explicitly used the hashtag while harassing someone.” You said there was an inherent bias because the reporter, Deana Sumanac-Johnson, chose to only talk to women who were subject of harassment, and not women who have spoken out in support of #GamerGate. You think that associating #GamerGate supporters with harassment is the work of the “gaming media.” You wrote:

As for GamerGate “increasingly becoming a catch phrase for the online harassment of female gamers”, that claim is an unsubstantiated allegation made by the corrupt gaming media as part of a smear campaign to silence its critics and has gained so much traction because both they and the mainstream media, including the CBC and its various outlets, have perpetuated this misinformation.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The executive producer of The National, Mark Harrison, responded to your complaint. He told you #GamerGate has more than one aspect. He said that it is associated with two main issues: ethics in gaming journalism and the treatment of women in gaming. He acknowledged there continues to be a lot of controversy around the hashtag and what it represents. He added that this particular segment was not really about #GamerGate:

The report was prepared by Deana Sumanac-Johnson in Montreal, one of the biggest gaming centres in North America, during Gamerella, a 48-hour marathon for aspiring game developers. The organizers’ focus, the report said, was to make female gamers feel comfortable and safe enough to create.

He said that the one mention of #Gamergate was an aside, not the main focus, and that the tag was also very briefly on screen as a superimposed title in the report under a clip of game commentator Anita Sarkeesian. He added: “There is a relationship, of course, but we didn’t explain what it was and shouldn’t have used the #GamerGate tag so broadly, and should have given a bit more context.” He told you that this report just touched on the subject, but that news staff are continuing to monitor developments, and will look for opportunities to report further on the controversy.

REVIEW

You and others who have written who are passionate about gaming react strongly when #GamerGate is linked to bullying and misogynist behavior. You say that it is really a consumer revolt, a reaction to corruption and collusion between the gaming industry and journalists who write about it. As frustrating as it is for you, as I have written before, #GamerGate is not an organization with a management that is accountable for statements made in its name. It is a hashtag, a thoroughly modern phenomenon of the social media age. Whether you agree or not, it has become associated with harassment of women. The fact that some women don’t agree that it stands for harassment is interesting, but doesn’t change the fact that it has been linked with a range of bullying and threatening behaviors.

Mr. Harrison mentioned in his letter to you that the #GamerGate reference was a broad one. That might be true and more context is always welcome. I understand you reject the notion that anyone associated with #GamerGate is associated with harassment. Others would disagree with your contention. The issue of gamer identity, and the role of women in the gaming world, is clearly a matter of some controversy. This report accurately gives a glimpse into some of the issues and documents instances of that harassment.

The National piece is not specifically about #GamerGate. It began and mostly remained focused on the phenomenon of harassment of female game developers, set in the context of an event organized, as Ms. Sumanac-Johnson says in her script, to make female gamers comfortable and safe enough to create. It focused on women who have been bullied and threatened because Ms. Sumanac-Johnson was at an event that was reaching out to such women. It does once refer to the hashtag in the context of harassment, but it acknowledges its other association as well. After introducing a woman who had been threatened for her support of another female gamer, the reporter states:

Gersande La Flèche was attacked by an online group of gamers whose activities are known as “Gamer-Gate.” Initially a social media hashtag for discussion of ethics in gaming journalism, it has increasingly become a catch phrase for the online harassment of female gamers. Game developers are a particular target, says this researcher in game studies.

MIA CONSALVO (CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY): I have talked with people who say that they’ve had young women in their game development programs like at universities that are dropping out.

While you didn’t mention it in your complaint, many others were also concerned that the report unfairly associated journalist David Pakman with harassment of female gamers. His image along with three others was used briefly in the piece. I note he wrote to CBC directly, and was given an explanation by Ms. Sumanac-Johnson. She explained that his image, along with the others, comes on screen to illustrate the phrase, “Initially a social media hashtag for discussion of ethics of gaming journalism” and that she used him in that context because he was one of the first journalists to discuss #GamerGate. He posted a video after reading her email in which he said that he has received a “completely honest explanation.”

This piece does not violate CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman