In the ongoing battle for control of the GamerGate narrative, a certain tool has been developed and deployed earlier this month by participants on one side of the controversy. Known in the jargon of the continuing events as “anti-GamerGate,” they represent the perspective that their ideological opposition is composed largely of misogynists and harassers, and that the core issue of the conflict is the treatment of women. The tool referred to is an amateurish script known as “GGautoblocker,” designed simply to prevent communication between those on a poorly compiled list and those using the actual script. It appears to be the intellectual property of Randi Harper.
Although several articles regarding these events have already been written by other publications such as Tech Raptor, it was the opinion of this author that the subject merited further clarification. The intent of this article is twofold; to continue the effort to inform the public as well as possible, and to compile and safeguard a store of knowledge. A major portion of the reasoning to pursue this endeavor is the egregious nature of the creation of a blacklist, and the importance of moral opposition to the persecution that has historically accompanied such actions. An archived version of a Github.com page for the script shows that the list was requested to have its name changed from “blacklist.txt” to “sourcelist.txt.”
Also of particular concern was an incautious, casual assertion, likely incidental and lacking informed understanding of the implications which it bore, made by the International Game Developers Association (IDGA). The particular claim being referred to came in the form of the dressing for a text link, found listed on IDGA’s website in a section called “harassment resources.” The text of the link read “A Twitter tool to block some of the worst offenders in the recent wave of harassment” and linked to GGautoblocker on Randi Harper’s Github.com page. There is also some question as to whether IDGA was involved in the creation or conception of the script. Attorney Mike Cernovich, himself compiled by GGautoblocker, shares his thoughts in regards to the legal ramifications of IDGA’s blunder in an article on his site, Crimeandfederalism.com.
In an early case of it having serious unintended consequences, the method through which GGautoblocker compiles its list of “some of the worst harassers” caused it to sweep up the Twitter account of Roberto Rosario, a man who actually chairs the Peurto Rico chapter of IDGA. Rosario threatened to resign his position in outrage over his inclusion on the list. IDGA Executive Director Kate Edwards eventually announced the decision to remove GGautoblocker from the website completely, but not before the public embarrassment of having used the script which listed Kentucky Fried Chicken as an online harasser of women. In the interest of disclosure, the author of this article is on the same list.
Inclusion on the “blacklist” only appears to require following any combination of two out of eight “primary offender” twitter accounts. Originally made up of ten, Christina Hoff Sommers and Adam Baldwin, a book author and an actor, respectively, were removed from that list apparently because their number of followers made the script run unstably. A “to do” list in the Github.com logs for GGautoblocker shows a future intent to expand the way it compiles “offenders” to also figure in the age of an account its ratio of followers to those it follows. More technical discussion regarding the script can be found in an article by xdustinx on Medium.com.
While there is yet to be found any evidence of a serious attempt to use the blacklist as a resource to screen employment, the idea has been discussed publicly by supporters of GGautoblocker. In a string of tweets that include Randi Harper herself and an engineer working for Blizzard Entertainment, creators of blockbusters such as the Diablo series and World of Warcraft, the pros and cons of discriminating by indiscriminate, flawed association are debated. Another problematic issue is that by all appearances, the process to appeal inclusion on the list is arbitrary and relies on the good will (without an objective standard that includes a definition of “harassment”) of a panel which requires the appellant’s personal information to be submitted and made accessible to a person with a criminal record, Ms. Harper. While topically it appears that the whitelisting process for GGautoblocker is designed to be transparent, the practical effect is that a concerned party must “doxx” themselves, or reveal personal identifying information, for the process to occur. Meanwhile, those on the “review board” are at liberty to remain private. That can be troubling in an environment where people on both sides of the issue have been threatened.
Harper generally does not appear to be a person with great reserves of self-restraint, and proffering onto the public an “anti-harassment” tool that in no way screens for harassment tends to portray her as short-sighted and overeager, perhaps narcissistic. The effect is deepened when examined along with her frequently ill-advised social media venting and public blog posts. She often appears to defensively over-react, and has, in one startling instance, publicly outed communication with a journalistic entity that made a good-faith request for it to remain private. She then published to her personal blog the entire email chain, refusing another request to redact the personal email addresses of staff members who were cc’d. All the while she continued to meet reasonable communication with borderline paranoid accusations and hostility, criticizing an editor by insinuating that she knew more about journalism style guides than him.
It is undoubtedly uncomfortable to be a target of journalistic criticism, as Harper often has been, along with the outrage of the approximately 10,000 people offhandedly smeared through the application of GGautoblocker. At times, the scorn Harper is subjected to very likely approaches the experience of harassment. However, Harper has not done herself any favors by chilling relations with journalists covering the issues. In the comments at the bottom of the most recently cited post, Harper repeatedly attacks mildly worded comments with McCarthyist rhetoric, as though she could smell GamerGate sympathy on the typing of anyone who tried to remind her that she could not blacklist the entire news media for covering both sides.
GGautoblocker has so far offered little more than a way to reinforce an echo chamber. In its single major instance of broad exposure, where it was promoted by IGDA, it backfired because of its indiscriminate nature and poor conception. Those intoxicated by the acquisition of a new weapon of inflicting shame and stigma nearly immediately brought its use to the brink of actionable libel. If there is a lesson in all of this, let it be to remember that people are people, and the only thing that ultimately divides them are beliefs. GGautoblocker primarily came into existence to reinforce that division, as its functionality could only possibly be associated to preventing harassment through flagrant abuse of the “guilt by association” fallacy, and would not be accomplished to any practical standard. An apology is in order, and the block list needs to be dropped to allow good faith communication across lines.
Opinion by Brian Whittemore
Randi.io, Archived page
Github.com, Archived page
IDGA, Archived page (Reference to GGautoblocker has since been scrubbed)
Github.com, Archived page
Twitter, Archived page
Randi.io, Archived page
Header Photo by Marian Beck – flickr license