Monday, January 5, 2015

On #Gamergate, CBC's Massive Ethical Fail

After months of waiting, viewers and readers concerned about the CBC's #Gamergate coverage have finally gotten a response. And that response is... underwhelming.

As One Angry Gamer reports,  CBC Ombudsman Esther Enkin has responded to these concerns by saying that everything with the CBC's coverage of #Gamergate is a-OK, despite the clear evidence that it is not. In particular, Enkin replied: "The fact that you reject the negative narrative does not mean it should not be discussed.”

Well. Is that what's been going on at the CBC? The negative narrative being discussed?

Well, a meaningful discussion of a narrative requires that both sides of it participate. And as it turns out, the CBC's coverage has permitted no participation by those on the business end of the "Gamergate harasses women" narrative.

This is made crystal clear by examining the following points of the reporting, on The National by Deana Sumanac-Johnson, and on the CBC's Community Blog by John Bowman.

Point 1 - #Gamergate has become a catchphrase for the online harassment of female gamers.

Sumanac-Johnson has repeated a claim made not by neutral observers, but by by #Gamergate's opponents. As such, Sumanac-Johnson has violated the CBC ethical code's guidelines on impartiality. It reads: “We provide professional judgment based on facts and expertise. We do not promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate.”

The story relies overwhelmingly on anecdotal evidence to support this claim. The anecdotal evidence may be offered by individuals judged by Sumanac-Johnson to have sufficient expertise to make that judgement, but expertise alone is not enough. Any judgement offered by Sumanac-Johnson must be backed by a sound basis in fact. Anecdotal evidence does not provice that basis, and should not be considered to provide that basis.

Sumanac-Johnson has taken numerous women on their word that they were harassed by #Gamergate. While it may not be unreasonable for her to take their word that they were harassed, it's not reasonable to take their word that they were harassed by #Gamergate. The hashtag has attracted a great number of third-party trolls, and Sumanac-Johnson seems to have made no effort whatsoever to confirm whether or not such harassment came from an individual truly sympathetic to #Gamergate's goals. If she did, that is not evident in her reporting.

Which takes us directly to the next point:

Point 2 - The exclusion of Jennifer Dawe.

When preparing reports, reporters make decisions not only regarding which facts to report, but also which facts to ignore. This also applies to voices. They make decisions not only regarding which voices to include, and which voices to exclude.

It's now a matter of public record that Jennifer Dawe, a game developer supportive of #Gamergate, was interviewed for this story. Yet her pro-#Gamergate voice is excluded while anti-#Gamergate voices were included -- exclusviely.

Dawe was advised that her interview could be published as a "reaction" to stories on #Gamergate. That would be very good in principle.

There was only one problem with that: Dawe's interview never aired. Ever.

Her voice -- that of a female video game developer -- was excluded from a story about alleged attempts to exclude female voices from video gaming.

That's rather ironic.

Point 3 - Gamerella.

Again, what is every bit as interesting about Sumanac-Johnson's piece isn't just information she includes, but rather information that she chooses to omit.

Sumanac-Johnson spends a great deal of time on the Gamerella gamejam, in which women interested in video games get together to to develop video games. There's nothing wrong with this in and of itself. Gamerella sounds like a great way to support women choosing to enter the video gaming field. However, the inclusion of Gamerella makes the omission of Zoe Quinn's past behaviour all the more interesting.

An early event in the #Gamergate saga was Quinn's attack on a gamejam with a similar goal. This one was organized by the Fine Young Capitalists, an Ontario-based second wave feminist organization.

Quinn accused them of "enslaving women," despite the detail that 8% of the proceeds from the sale of the gamejam's product would go to the woman on whose idea the game was based. Undeterred by this fact, Quinn then accused TFYC of being "transphobic" despite the fact that their policy on the inclusion of transexuals had been written by a human rights lawyer, and was later given a thumbs-up by an Ontario Human Rights Commissioner. (One of the few times that organization has been of any worth.)

As Quinn stepped up her attacks on TFYC,  the tactics her supporters used included DDOS attacks -- which Quinn herself was clearly well aware of -- and hacking their IndieGogo page in order to shut it down. Quinn's Twitter output during these episodes seemed to indicate that she was well aware of what was going on and condoned it.

If the topic was harassment of game developers keeping women out of the video gaming field, why did the harassment -- often by third-party trolls -- warrant mention, but Quinn's harassment of video game developers did not? Particularly as Quinn's deliberate torpedoing of the TFYC gamejam reduced opportunities for women to get involved in the video game field?

Point 4 - Video games victimize women?

Anita Sarkeesian herself could have written Sumanac-Johnson's line about Gamerella participants demanding "games that don't victimize women."

Of all the clear signs that Sumanac-Johnson has subscribed to a particular point-of-view and is promoting it via her reporting, this line is it.

Even if Sumanac-Johnson were simply conveying the opinion of the participants of the Gamerella gamejam, why not simply have included footage of one of the participants uttering such a remark (provided that she had such footage)? Even the optics of Sumanac-Johnson appearing to editorialize in her report contributes to an appearance of bias.

Point 5 - The CBC's coverage of #Gamergate has exclusively been of an anti-#Gamergate angle.

Sumanac-Johnson's reporting hasn't been the only CBC reporting on #Gamergate.  John Bowman, of the CBC's Community Blog, wrote an article going on at length about harassment experienced by female gamers in social media.

The article focuses intently on the harassment that Anita Sarkeesian -- allegedly at the hands of #Gamergate supporters, but with the number of third-party trolls active in the hashtag it's nigh-impossible to know -- and includes the following paragraph:
"It's difficult to understand why a series of videos on sexist portrayals of women in video games would bring about such an extreme reaction..."

No mention is made by Bowman of the number of Sarkeesian's critiques have been confirmed as factually inaccurate. In particular, her claims that Hitman: Absolution "invites" players to murder strippers during a mission that actually penalizes the player if they happen to do so. (YouTube playthroughs of that mission posted by players invariably feature the player sneaking around the characters rather than interact with them.)

To have someone insinuate that you're misogynistic for enjoying a game that is not in fact misogynistic, and is in fact demonstrably not misogynistic, would make anyone angry. That Sarkeesian and her followers insist upon giving the targets of her critique no opporunity to confront their accuser makes it that much worse.

(I have to take a time out here for some full disclosure: I've encountered and confronted misguided pro-#Gamergate individualswho believed it would be perfectly acceptable to produce revenge porn with a Sarkeesian look-alike character. This is a taste of the anger that Sarkeesian has inspired with her demagoguery. The number of pro-#Gamergate individuals active in that discussion who condemned and discouraged this outnumbered the misguided individuals in question. Take note: while this is anecdotal evidence, those accusing #Gamergate of harassing Sarkeesian -- particularly at the CBC -- carry a burden of proof they've never satisfied, and in fact never even tried to satisfy.)

From the way the CBC has reported on #Gamergate an otherwise-uninformed person would never guess that there's two sides of the story. That there's no debate. And that simply isn't so.

Deana Sumanac-Johnson knows this. She interviewed Jennifer Dawe. So while John Bowman can theoretically feign ignorance on this point -- though few would believe him based on the anti-Gamergate agitprop appearing in his Twitter timeline -- Sumanac-Johnson cannot.

At a certain point when there is enough evidence that the CBC has set aside the very notion of its own impartiality standards it simply cannot be accepted as coincidental. So for CBC ombudsman Esther Enkin to tell individuals lodging complaints that the narrative should be discussed is pure hogwash.

In saying that the narrative should be discussed she's not wrong. The narrative should be discussed. But perhaps the narrative should be discussed by those on both sides of it. Such as, say... Jennifer Dawe. And yet we happen to know full well that while the CBC discusses the "#Gamergate harasses women" narrative exclusively from an anti-#Gamergate perspective, they sit on an interview from a woman of a pro-#Gamergate perspective.

That's not discussing the narrative. That's dictating the narrative.

Discussing the #Gamergate narrative meaningfully requires both sides to discuss it together. If the CBC is serious about discussing the narrative, my biggest question is this:

When can we expect that Jennifer Dawe interview to finally see airtime? When can those of us supportive of #Gamergate expect any kind of opportunity to rebut the anti-#Gamergate narrative being pushed by the CBC? When will we see any kind of research put into any of the CBC's #Gamergate reporting?

These are questions Enkin cannot expect to sweep aside.

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