On Twitter, Gamergate, and the Trials of an Internet Debate

by thethreepennyguignol

Recently, I’ve become a bit more active on Twitter. I find the whole concept of it fascinating and brilliant, on many levels; that ability to connect instantly with people across the world yada yada yada you’ve very probably heard this before.

I’ve been following the #gamergate hashtag with interest over the last month and a half or so. Gamergate kicked off in August, and you can read some articles about what’s been happening at the link below. Basically, the campaign ostensibly stands for the improvement of ethics in video games journalism, which I don’t think anyone would argue is a bad thing. However, it;s become a shield for some people to viscously attack those they see as enemies, for whatever reason. It’s difficult to know for sure to what extent the people who doxx (disseminate personal information, such as home addresses and emails, about the selected victim) or throw death threats at those on the apparent other side of the fence are doing so because they believe it furthers their cause (it never, never, never does, and anyone who does use these methods should know that they don’t win arguments or prove points) or simply because having a crusade provides a comforting cover.

And that’s the problem with debating things on Twitter. There are very likely hundreds upon thousands of people, with every shade of opinion, on every matter you want to talk about. In the case of gamergate, there are, broadly, the pro- and anti- side, both of which have been caught doing reprehensible and horrible things that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. It’s spun far out of control and far from any semblance of reasonable discussion, at least to the casual observer. After two months, we’re left with two extreme sides screeching at each other over the internet, while anyone trying to have a reasonable conversation in the middle is drowned out. The particularly awful screengrabs and status updates and tweets are passed around the opposing groups like porn mags, stoking more anger and annoyance and strengthening the belief that these people have to be stopped. So they respond in kind and the cycle starts again. The media cottons on to the news-worthy extremism and the scary quotes that make good headlines, and more outraged people turn up for the party with a very specific view of events. And the ball keeps rolling.

When a huge, sprawling debate like this one, and like many arguments over social media and Twitter in particular, carries on for as along as this, hundreds of thousands of people- each with varying degrees of knowledge, investment, and understanding about the cause- have chipped in. You could browse through scores of Tweets, of arguments waged across continents and months, and what you’d find there would be a mess. With a cause like this one, it’s difficult to know what individuals are really fighting for any more.