Haters gonna hate – a case of abuse in social media

Since this is my last post on this blog I decided to make it a challenge to myself. I decided that first of all it will be difficult because it will be personal plus it will also be quite different from what I wrote before. Looking back at my work during this class I can’t help but notice that my attitude towards social media is dominantly positive. That’s why today I will deal with a touchy issue that sits deep under my skin. My most important online identity is that of a female gamer. Just that statement in many types of social media could open a storm of controversial opinions and possible abuse. That’s what happened in the case of Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist who one day decided to study biased portrayals of women in video games. She launched a Kickstarter campaign that would allow her to gather enough funds to develop a series of videos on the subject [1]. By appealing to general audience she opened a Pandora’s box and was forced to face a massive amount of rage, abuse and online mobbing. Her case became an example in fight against misogyny and inequality in the video gaming industry. Her problems were broadly covered by mainstream media yet her history still seems incomplete to me. What I would like to do in this article is to present a perspective that strongly differs from the most common representation of the problem. I’d like to introduce other factors that affected the whole situation and that might also give a better understanding of social media interaction. I know this is an impossible task for a simple blog post but I do hope that what I can present here can be a good starting point towards a bigger goal in the future.

A screenshot of Sarkeesian's Kickstarter project

A screenshot of Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter project

The abuse Anita faced was of various kinds. She had to handle offensive language, her websites were hacked, her Wikipedia content was filled with pornographic content and she even received threats of violence. As she and most of interested media described it, it was a backlash of the anti-feminists that do not want to see a woman messing with their favorite hobby [2].

Is it really as simple as that? I do not in any way approve of the aggression Anita Sarkeesian, or any other female online for that matter, had to face but what I’d like to discuss is that bringing the whole argument to matters of gender seems to be a damaging oversimplification. My first argument might sounds silly but as they say  “haters gonna hate”. A recent study shows [3] that there are people who simply thrive on hating the work or character of others. In the era of social media it is easier to voice your hate and make it tangible for those you previously might have never affected. Of course, pure haters make up a small group but I do believe they are important in terms of inciting online violence. They provide the opening of a conflict more docile people might never have the courage to provide.

Furthermore, charges towards Sarkeesian were also of a different kind. She stated on multiple occasions that she is a gamer herself and that the medium of video games is personal and close to her. Yet what users online managed to dig up, once again through social media channels, implies that she lied to her public [4]. It is hard to judge to what extent online investigations may unearth trustworthy information yet the possibility of Anita lying about her gaming past was a source of great upheaval to her audience. Her motivations behind the kickstarter project were also questioned as many believed what she is doing should be done for free and with no financial backing. Such claims can be easily retorted [5] but they do nonetheless add to possible frustration of online audience.

Is there then a possibility that what online community tried to do was to control the quality and legitimacy of journalism on it’s own topic? Yes.  Question we might ask is – where is the line between feedback and control and pure abuse? Why do opinions expressed on social media platforms so easily change into unlimited floods of hate? As previously mentioned, many commentators would like us to believe it is connected to the gender issue but similar reactions happen also in cases of men. Often hate can be also connected to manifestations of less mainstream sexualities  or subcultures. Even though such an observation might seem simple it is vital to notice that negative feedback of social media is a much broader problem than just an example case for feminism. It has to be addressed in a more general manner and cases such as Anita Sarkeesian do it more harm than good by re-routing the necessary attention.

As time has shown, many claims against Sarkeesian’s work were correct. In over a year since her kickstarter project was fully backed she released one video out of 12 promised, she didn’t upgrade her production values and to exemplify her tropes she used video material of other gamers without any credit. The video she did release has been criticized for being very subjective and biased [6]. It has also been pointed out as a very superficial presentation of a real issue in video games . The flaws of her work, even though they do not excuse it, shed new light on the abuse she faced before and will possibly incite a new look into the matter.

_________________

References:

1. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/566429325/tropes-vs-women-in-video-games

2. http://hoydenabouttown.com/20120613.11873/internet-misogyny-datapoint-hatefest-anita-sarkeesian/

3. http://www.asc.upenn.edu/albarracin_lab/publications/HeplerAlbarracininpress2.pdf

4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcPIu3sDkEw

5. http://www.newstatesman.com/voices/2012/12/why-should-anita-sarkeesian-have-work-free-return-misogynistic-abuse

6. http://thelearnedfangirl.com/2013/02/24/im-a-feminist-gamerand-im-over-anita-sarkeesian/

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6 thoughts on “Haters gonna hate – a case of abuse in social media

  1. I think you missed the real reason for the out rage.

    If the KKK did a kickstarter to do a video series on how bad the epidemic of black men raping white women is, would you support it? Would you be surprised by or even oppose people using very strong language to oppose such a video series?

    Many, myself included, view Sarkeesian’s proposed video series this way. She did not propose research to see if there was sexism in video games, but set out to prove there was. Just like the KKK video wouldn’t be researching to see if Blacks raping whites is actually and issue. The video’s stated intent is to prove there is.

    • Hi! I greatly appreciate your feedback but agree with it only to some extent. After watching some of Anita’s videos I can say that I do not agree with her perspective on gaming but I do not see how the whole concept of her work is wrong. In her Kickstarter she mentions she wants to “explore, analyze and deconstruct” which to me is pretty much consistent with application of sociological method called discourse analysis. Of course, her results are disputable yet that is not the point of the discussion. I have to say I also do not agree with comparison to KKK since what you bring up as their example is basically racial slur whereas there is quite a large quantity (whether Sarkeesian calls for it or not) of scientific publications that describe sexualized portrayal in video games. If it is of any interest I can provide some references as it is an important topic to me since I wrote my bachelor thesis on it. Finally, I would like to say that I believe what you mention is yet another factor of the upheaval that I did not mention in my post. The wrong presentation of the topic, strong feminist possibly biased angle etc are other aspect of frustration I mention in my article. Stating that the reason you bring up is the sole cause behind the events is one of the oversimplifications I tried to avoid. I most certainly think that your comments should be included in my discussion and it will definitely affect my future work if I decide to venture into this field again/

      • In 1950 there was ‘quite a large quantity of scientific publications that describe’ blacks as inferior. The existence confirmation bias based research does not validate doing more confirmation biased based research. And the Comparison to the KKK is very valid.

      • But then in a way you are making a very strong claim questioning validity of research in general. How can you claim it’s biased if you haven’t even seen it? Is bias just discussing sexuality in general? There are studies that explore representations of characters in video games without pre assumptions. Furthermore do you claim there is no sexism or sexualisation In video games or is your point to question Sarkeesian’s method?

      • Bias is “I’m going to prove that sexism exists in video games” Actual research would be “I’m going to find out IF sexism exists in video games”

        Sexism does exist in video games. Both male and female characters are two demential gender stereotyped tropes. Really the only research I’ve seen says that the two dementional stereotypes tropes of men are not female tropes.

  2. haters going to hate, baters going to bate, raters going to rate, and players going to play, It is the reality we live in, social media has amplified the ability to use and abuse without understanding the underlying meaning, reason or purpose for anybodies business or reality, Hate and Criticism becomes our reality, if that is indeed what we choose to focus on, especially as a start up. Thankfully for every critic out there and hater there is always a good lesson to be learned, if one does not get caught up in the drama of the critic or the intended provocation of the hater.

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