Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Apparently Something is Happening

Anita Sarkeesian released her newest video just days ago and the hatred has been spewing. I say that like it is obvious because it is obvious. Of course she is going to get death and rape threats. The fact that there were credible threats with her home address was certainly new, and it's terrible that she was forced out of her home, but even if it is terrible it is expected. This is what we expect from the world.

It's what we expect on the Blizzard forums, it's what we expect in chat channels. It's what we expect in the comments section of major national newspapers and on blogs that have more than a dozen regular readers. And if you make a video game someone really doesn't like then you might get a bomb threat called into the plane you are on. If you are winning a game if Call of Duty then someone might call a real life SWAT team to raid your house. If you say that games should be different somehow then someone might post your banking information in a public forum.

But in the last few days, I feel like the collective fed-up-ness with this state of affairs is building into something. A huge list of video game designers have signed a petition against harassing women online. It's easy to ridicule a petition as being a meaningless gesture, but it isn't. The list of names on the petition is like a starting point to attain a critical mass.

I don't know what that critical mass will do, but I'm not hopeless. This week someone hacked into iCloud and got a lot of naked pictures of famous people - along with, presumably, naked pictures of people who are not famous. The collective response I am seeing is, "Don't look at them, if you look you are part of the problem." I'm not sure I've seen something quite like that before.

When you walk down the street, it isn't the police that keep you from getting mugged or assaulted or killed. Police usually get involved after the fact. It is other people - a community that doesn't approve of those actions. Maybe the internet can become a place like that. I know that people vehemently disagree about a lot of things and that people tend to dislike other people because they dislike their views, but I think there may be some broad consensus on what constitutes really odious behaviour that shouldn't be tolerated. Or at least such a consensus might be possible even if it isn't there now.

Horrible people acting with impunity on the internet doesn't seem inevitable to me. I mean, to a small extent it is. It's probably harder to eradicate than murder or even littering. But it's not like the drug trade - it doesn't take in enough money to fund large organizations dedicated to supporting it. It's not necessarily something that just has to be tolerated, and I feel like maybe we are moving towards a turning point.

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