The Streisand Effect – Super Eurogamer Edition EX+@.

Yup, another stupid little blog and EG long-time poster trying desperately to make sense of an otherwise impossible situation. Except I don’t particularly want to talk about the article or the fallout, but rather point out that once again, The Streisand Effect is an impossible force to ignore these days…

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We all make mistakes.

Myself more than most, it must be said. I’ve lost count of the times I have recklessly locked horns with others online and offline, standing my ground without realising the shaky foundations on which I stand. Sometimes, being a wordy wordsmith kind of person, I can talk a good game and get myself out of it but there are still many occasions where this doesn’t work. My ignorance and lack of experience is exposed, opening me up for a devastating counter-attack the likes of which will consume three quarters of my health bar. You can’t really stop it sometimes. That is how discussions and debates go.

However, I do at least feel a need to relive my mistakes sometimes, if only because it is something to learn from. It is often good to have reference points – I don’t live in the past, as it were, because who I was then is not who I am now (with Bipolar Disorder, it can be a coin-toss who I am some days!), but revisiting the site of a defeat can make things clearer than if you ignored it, and pushed on. There is a case to be made from educating yourself from mistakes, and leaving the remains there to stand is often a far more fitting testament to your growth and the passages of time than any memorial you can make to mark it. And it’s more intelligent than doing everything you can to clean up the remains and pretend it never happened at all.

This is the Streisand Effect; where trying to cover information or your tracks in a legal minefield, or with legal action, can often bring that information to a much wider audience. I spoke about this when I discussed art games – the idea that they scream for us to not look at something only serves to ensure that we do look at it. We may not have known or cared that much if they had focused on holding our attention with something, but instead we are drawn like moths to a flame closer to the truth, the very thing that they seek to hide in their tangled web of legal threads. Remember the Ryan Giggs thing? A British footballer who at the time had a Superinjunction, a legal order that ensured that no-one could print his name after having an illicit affair with Imogen Thomas. She could be named and from behind his veil, accusations were made about her. She was dragged through the mud whilst he, and his millions, ensured that his position was safe.

Except it was the arrogance of having it and taking advantage of it that spelled his downfall. The press couldn’t NOT report on it, and yet they couldn’t give his name. Which led to a guessing game and an FA Premiership Edition of Guess Who?, as one by one subtle hints and information came forward and one by one footballers denied it was them. One by one we knocked them down, until we were left with only a handful of real possibilities. Ryan Giggs was the Golden Boy, so most never assumed it was him, until it became impossible to ignore that it was him. They had singled everyone out, and by the time it came to it, we all knew who it was. But they still couldn’t publish his name in the UK press. Which made him stand out even more. We knew who it was. And we knew we weren’t supposed to know about the affair.

This week we have seen individuals in the gaming industry attack Eurogamer for having the balls to publish a fantastic article by Robert ‘Rab’ Florence. It criticised the hypocrisy of individuals freelancing as journalists whilst also taking freelance work paid for by games companies, for pointing our an individual who seemed thoroughly ashamed in an image that he had sold out his journalistic integrity to sit betwixt a table of branded corn chips and a neon-coloured soft drink and an image of Halo 4. It was calling fellow journalists out on their behaviour, asking whether it was really in their best interests or whether it as adversely affecting relations with the users of their websites by not making such commercial bias known in advance.

The result? One person ‘requested’ their name be removed, whilst another immediately threw out a legal challenge. When the pressure came back from the public on this person, they locked their Twitter account from the public. Making it all the more noticable that they had themselves been caught out between keeping an unbiased integrity as a journalist whilst at the same time getting paid by a massive publishing house to publicise their next big hitter. The two are not natural bedfellows, and by trying to cover their tracks, we are all the more drawn to them. Likewise, Eurogamer found itself having to edit the article to remove the offending material – it is still a powerful piece, not least that the image is so incredible and evocative, but it is the very nature of calling people out on their professional conflict of interest that had been removed. Which also in turn leads to attacks on Eurogamer, who couldn’t really win in this situation either.

And whilst everyone tries to dampen it down, all that happens is we see them putting out the flames and trying to conceal what happened, which as is typical of the Streisand Effect, only leads to us asking the obvious question; “What happened here?” Eventually we will find out – this is the Internet and your sins are eternally marked in this strange and fascinating universe. All your mistakes are cached and recorded, screenshots are made to commemorate your exceptional fail, and you can’t run from the truth. It will catch you out eventually. You will be forced to confront the issue at hand.

Seeing as this is such a well-documented phenomenon, you’d think that Public Relations people and training would do their absolute best to avoid getting caught out in this, be straight but not specific. Be calm, not confrontational. But the very nature of us as a species is that we can be wildly unpredictable, and react in strange ways when confronted with the truth. Because the truth does hurt. It’s supposed to, as pain is how we learn something is wrong. If it hurts, we must learn from it and ensure we can change and make certain that it can never happen again. You can’t really just napalm the whole area around you – a scorched, smelly area devoid of life amidst a scene of greenery is not normal and it just brings attention to yourself. The act of trying to cover your own tracks can often just make us notice those tracks even more clearly and follow you right back to the issue at hand.

Gaming journalism is not easy. I know that much. Straddling the line between independence and commercialism is one of those strange things that requires both sides to if not learn to love each other, at least learn to co-exist with each other. To not conflict with each other – when the two need to be seen together, they can be all smiles but when at home doing the basic day to day things, they can lead separate lives. The danger is making sure that you don’t go too far each way – otherwise you end up with either (a) a situation where you are forever judged by the product you plugged or (b) a small name in a sea of names, trying to say something and not being heard by anyone. It’s a delicate balancing act. It isn’t easy.

But we must learn from this. Why would anyone want to go professional right now? All because that word has come up – compromise. And I couldn’t do that. I did that for so long and I lost who I was, I tried to fit in and then I tried to rebel. Neither worked. And neither works at all. You have to be taken as is, as who you are. Robert Florence did not intend to hurt anyone – not in the way he has, I suppose. He exists in their bubble, their kitsch little world of tours and release events and trade shows and all. He obviously wants standards to improve. He wanted to point out that such things in a modern, cynical age are going to do more harm than good. That we are all judged, we put ourselves out there – whether you are getting paid or not, writing articles freelance or an enthusiastic blogger, we are all being judged. And we have to be aware of any impropriety, we have to be aware that we can’t be seen having a conflict of interest. Robert simply pointed out that the whole medium we use is in a state of conflict between serving our users fair and unbiased opinions, and having those opinions swayed by corporate money trying to get people to say nice things about their product.

And he was right. Except it also cost him his job. That can’t be right, and it is that which sticks out most of all. Someone was honest about it and levelled with us. He said this wasn’t a good thing and we agreed. And he is paying the price for that honesty. There are always prices to be paid… but Robert Florence is a higher one than most. And most notably, it’s from the side we want to root for. Our side. The evil shadowy other side is closing ranks and looks as strong as ever. They say that people shouldn’t see corruption where it doesn’t exist. They want us to believe there is no conspiracy.

The ultimate irony is what they have done… that’s all a lot of people will see. When they could simply have sat down and discussed it and written their case.

You know. Like journalists.

Edited 27/10/2012 – Robert Florence made a good case for himself over at botherer.org and it’s well worth reading. And hi to those who come here from there! *waves frantically*

(Note; 27/10/2012 – This piece has been added too. Nothing has been taken away.)

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