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Will Trolls Always Have a Home?

This past month may have been one of the internet's ugliest and most idiotic.
September 5, 2014, 9:00am

This past month may have been one of the internet's ugliest and most idiotic. Hate campaigns, people hacked and humiliated, personal information and private images strewn out in the open like celebratory confetti.

In some cases people have been driven from their homes after online abuse, and in the overwhelming majority of cases the victim is a woman. It doesn't need to be said anymore who have found themselves attacked by the web, you've likely heard, and those names likely popped into your head when you started reading this article.


Despite this, there are roaming storms of people who feel that it's not the individuals under fire that are being harassed, as much as the virtual communities being pinned for the attacks. Well, tough.

Those who wear 'Gamer' as earnest identities have been on an intense defensive the past week, as major games sites are citing recent fiascos involving sexism and a host of other tiffs as the "end of gamers." Meanwhile, unrelated but very parallel incidents got web basins like 4Chan and Reddit labeled as ground zero for gross Internet behavior.

Related: Gaming's Feminist Illuminati Is a Real Thing

Reddit, the massive sprawling forum, and 4Chan, the most influential anime image board of all time, are, admittedly, huge sites that cater to a lot of the web, while gamer is a title that plenty of nice people apply to themselves.

But for any of those groups to simply deflect the criticism that there is indeed rot in those digital subcultures is well beyond naive.

There's a lot of obvious, perhaps intentional confusion. A petition put together by gamers first calls for support for diversity in gaming, but ends by asking "The Gaming Industry" to stop calling gamers "neckbearded, misogynistic, hatefueled, ignorant, homophobic, idiots." Instead of asking the trolls at large to cut the shit, the petition would rather the industry at large pretend they don't exist at all, which is rhetoric that's pervaded the discussion.


The gaming world has been hit with an avalanche of offensive Twitter and social media postings by self-proclaimed gamers—a problem so bad the people who make games were forced to pen an open letter demanding the online gamer community smarten up.

While you can see the anger far and wide (and I anticipate the comment section of this article), it's particularly outspoken on Twitter. It's illustrated in the incredibly vague and goalpost-moving #GamerGate, where mud is just lobbed at any visible target.

Those social media campaigns have already made some talented gaming voices call it quits. This bears repeating: The same people who complain about their rights being trampled on when their behavior is criticized have literally harassed people until they've given up their career. That is positively mind-boggling, especially in the sense that taking such a position is still considered by many to be just one side of the "debate."

The hypocrisy doesn't end there. The more recent #NotYourShield, which requests women and minorities to decry people trying to end the harassment, is particularly ironic as it is literally trying to use people as shields. Is this how gamers want to be identified? Most likely don't, but as long as this type of behavior is tolerated within the community's midst, it will continue to taint its reputation.

Media types have been saying the identity of gamers has been outdated for a while. Hell, I said it myself last year. Games have transcended a niche, but it's still like magical stars aligning for critics when new studies reveal adult women, the exact opposite of a gamer stereotype, are now gaming's biggest demographic. Considering the community has more interest and potential than it ever has, it's hard to see any argument for keeping trolls, however dedicated, within the ranks.


Internet harassment has always, depressingly, been accepted and validated as something as natural as the tides, but given the scale of recent compromises, inside of gaming and in the world at large, a paradigm shift has begun.

Twitter promised to change its policies after trolls harassed Zelda Williams, CBR went nuclear on its message board earlier this year (remember, there's shittiness in comics too), and Gawker Media, which owns Kotaku, changed its commenting system after Jezebel was bombarded with shock posts. Even 4Chan, the known bastion of free-range web posting, has announced more vigilant regulations in the face of mounting criticism.


Yet there have also been major complaints about posts vanishing and getting deleted within Reddit and 4Chan in relation to alleged gamer scandals, which some decry as something between censorship or part of some tin-foil hat conspiracy. Not that moderators are, you know, just moderating, and perhaps their instinct to try to temper the situation is foreshadowing of changing attitudes among those in charge.

Gamers feeling disrespected—which is understandable if one's focus is simply to, you know, play games—will have to do more to vivisect those embarrassing themselves within their peer group, rather than simply going on additional assaults, which does nothing but reinforce the point. They are being turned into pawns, rabble-rousing a crisis at the same time they buy into arguments that the "debate" isn't about harassment, but about ethics or culture. But let's face it, that's just a smokescreen while harassment occurs.

Claiming not all gamers, Redditors, or Channers are responsible for despicable behavior is as deflective, tone deaf, and self-centered as the now lampooned 'not all men' response. It's obviously 'not all,' but it's still far too many. Gamers are being played, and not by journalists.

If people want to save these communities they'll have to do better than throwing their hands up and saying "it wasn't us!" when the world breaks into their speakeasies. Smoke them out and band up these silent majorities you speak of. As with anyone, you have to earn the respect you think you deserve.

In the end, those trolls populating the narrow recesses of the internet, those finding an outlet on 4Chan and Reddit, may not give a shit. But when a small group can have find such impact in vitriol that people are being chased out of their homes and jobs, it's time for everyone else to take a step back and ask if that's what they really want.