Most people reading this will know that I have had a long history with GamerGate and with Gawker Media. I was someone who read their sites for many years and enjoyed much of the content there. Most of my patronage was confined to Deadspin, Kotaku, & Jezebel (where I would argue with feminists in the comments), but I did read a little Gawker here and there. Over the years, I watched as Deadspin and Kotaku took on more of the SJW-style Jezebel influence. I was already trashing the new direction pretty much daily in the comment section of those sites when GamerGate started.
That was my frame of reference when all this shit kicked off. By the time TheRalphRetort.com started gaining attention as a result of our series of exposés on Leigh Alexander I was fully involved with GamerGate. It took up 85% of my day and I didn’t sleep much for fear of missing a breaking story. The pace and scale of happenings were sort of addictive back in those early days. Plus, there was just so much fun and camaraderie with the people involved in the cause. Of course there were issues with factions behind the scenes, but they weren’t as pronounced then as they would eventually become.
Speaking of those problems, by the time late October rolled around they were already coming to the fore. So when Sam Biddle went on Twitter and said we needed to “bring back bullying” so that GamerGate nerds could be brought to heel, it was a huge gift to us. I played the whole thing straight, as if he was seriously promoting the concept of restoring the prevalence of weaponized physical intimidation (it’s never truly left in the first place, let’s be real). It’s much more likely that he was in fact telling a joke. Despite the claims today in New York Magazine by former Gawker chief Max Read, I think most of us knew that Biddle was joking. But that’s not the point, ladies and gentlemen.
The point is, Gawker (and Biddle himself) helped created the culture of fear around speech. They used rhetorical missteps and careless tweets as bludgeons against their political enemies and media competitors. Fortune recently detailed their corporate structure, which shows you that Gawker Media’s hypocrisy knew no bounds. So, why should Gawker be so surprised when their enemies turn tactics they pioneered against them? Of course I and many others played it straight. It’s much better to take you down by any means necessary, or so I thought at the time. I’ve since revised my opinion on the Disrespectful Nod, but if we were in the heat of battle again, I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t go along with it once more.
Speaking of Read’s column today, every one of you should read it. It’s excellent and insightful. It also shows that our approach towards Gawker caused them some major headaches:
Of course, “public opinion” online is hard to gauge, since it tends to be determined by the loudest and most persistent voices. If you can mobilize and engage even a fairly small number of people, you can create an impression of enough outrage to destabilize a business. As Gawker was imploding in the summer of 2015, a group of teenage video-game enthusiasts was throwing gasoline on the already-raging fire. These were the Gamergaters.
Of all the enemies Gawker had made over the years — in New York media, in Silicon Valley, in Hollywood — none were more effective than the Gamergaters. Gamergate, a leaderless online movement dedicated to enforcing its own unique vision of “ethics in journalism,” had first taken up with Gawker Media the summer before, in 2014. Earlier that year, a writer for Kotaku had had a brief fling with a well-known video-game developer. In August, the developer’s ex-boyfriend, a 24-year-old computer programmer, wrote a 10,000-word blog post about her, spawning rumors that she’d traded sex for a positive review of her game on Kotaku. That no such review ever actually appeared on the site should tell you a lot about Gamergate’s relationship to the truth; that Gamergaters believe this is how sex works should tell you a lot about the Gamergate demographic. But none of the specifics of the story really mattered, because ultimately Kotaku was being targeted less for specific ethical violations than for its critical coverage of the portrayal of women and minorities in video games and the sexism of the gaming community. The teenagers behind Gamergate were young, obsessive, deeply resentful of women, and had no sense of social boundaries, and now they finally had a rallying cry —“Ethics in journalism!” — and a common enemy — or, really, enemies, among them the developer in question, Zoe Quinn, and feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian, who became the object of both sustained harassment and violent threats.
That fall, Gamergate began waging a hugely annoying, and sometimes genuinely menacing, war against Kotaku. I personally came to the attention of Gamergate in October 2014, not for a fearless act of journalism, but because I was messing around on Twitter and I stepped in it. Sam Biddle, one of Gawker’s best and most notoriously aggressive writers, had tweeted that the lesson of Gamergate was that nerds should be bullied into submission; this in turn led to a flood of tweets and emails to me demanding that he be disciplined; I responded in a mode that seemed appropriate: I goaded and dismissed and largely treated the people complaining with a great deal of contempt and flippancy.
In retrospect: This was extremely stupid. Even in 2014, Twitter had already become a mechanism by which indiscreet people lost their jobs. Still, it was very difficult for me to believe that anyone genuinely thought that “pro-bullying” is a stance that anyone has ever adopted, or that Sam Biddle’s tweet was a statement in support of bullying. But what I believed, or didn’t believe, didn’t matter. I wasn’t messing around with irony-fluent trolls but with teenagers and college students who seemed unable or unwilling to understand context or sarcasm — exactly the kind of people who might actually believe that Sam Biddle would get a raise for bullying gamers (a myth that still floats around the various Gamergate communities).
More problematically, it would turn out, I was also, unconsciously, messing with the only group even less able to grapple with irony or context: brands. What I’d missed about Gamergate was that they were gamers — they had spent years developing a tolerance for highly repetitive tasks. Like, say, contacting major advertisers.
On Reddit, a campaign was launched to contact every advertiser Gamergaters could find on Gawker’s site — and not just the marketing departments of advertisers like Adobe and BMW, but specific executives. If you can bug a chief marketing officer, it doesn’t matter that your complaints are disingenuous: He just wants to stop being annoyed.
And so Gawker went into full-on crisis mode. Our chief revenue officer flew to Chicago to meet shaky clients; someone I hadn’t spoken with since high school Facebook-messaged me to let me know that her employer, L.L.Bean, a Gawker advertiser, was considering pulling its ads. Nick asked me to draft a non-apology apology — a clarification, basically, that we did not, institutionally, support bullying. Sam was compelled to tweet an apology. Joel, then the executive editor, published on Gawker, over the objections of the editors, another clarification. I then published, without Joel’s knowledge, an apology for the apology. Perhaps tellingly, it was the first time I’d ever really been confronted with the business side of Gawker besides small talk at parties.
Then it all went away. Gawker had taken a hit — thousands of dollars of advertising gone, at least. But in the weeks we’d been hemorrhaging advertisers and goodwill, stories in the New York Times and other outlets — the real media—and a segment on The Colbert Report made it clear that the Gamergaters were the bad guys in this case, not us. The sites went back to normal.
But of course it didn’t go away. Gamergate proved the power of well-organized reactionaries to threaten Gawker’s well-being. And when Gawker really went too far — far enough that even our regular defenders in the media wouldn’t step up to speak for us — Gamergate was there, in the background, turning every crisis up a notch or two and making continued existence impossible.
I think most of us involved with GamerGate in some capacity, even those among us who don’t like each other now, can be proud of that quote:
“making continued existence impossible.”
Also, notice the part in red above, where Read talks about getting involved with GamerGate through Twitter spats? I was one of the people he sniped with. Although he’s since deleted all those tweets
because he’s a pussy, through the magic of the Internet (it’s forever) I am able to bring them to you…
Less than a year later, Mr. Read would resign in disgrace from his perch as Gawker.com editor-in-chief.
It’s funny how shit works out, isn’t it?