SPJ AirPlay; Well, That Was Entirely Expected… But Thank You!

Call me jaded after twenty years on the Internet, but you didn’t need a crystal ball to see what was going to happen! Still, I admire the effort that went into it.

I was working quietly on a piece – which may be delayed (a long-overdue follow-up to my complaint about the lack of werewolves in video games can wait another day or so) – but I had to cover the events that transpired during AirPlay.

For the uninitiated, AirPlay was an event set up by some people from the Society of Professional Journalists – yes, such an organisation exists – to, after a year of media narrative, address the topic of GamerGate. Those opposed to the event and GamerGate in general declined to participate, leaving the event open to discussing actual issues with ethical violations in journalism. People had long anticipated this event, and whatever my views on the organiser (Michael Koretzky) or the hashtag movement in general, I’d like to thank all who participated in the live debates today. I was watching and whilst I certainly had issues with its organisation, it was a thoroughly interesting watch, and you can watch the streams via YouTube.

So let’s talk about the bomb threats.

Actual numbers are still being nailed down, but between five and twelve individual bomb threats were made towards the SPJ AirPlay event. Now, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; bomb threats are counter-productive, initiating The Streisand Effect. Your attempt to silence or intimidate individuals for their personal or professional opinions on something only serves to draw attention to it, and at an event where you have professionals from the Society of Professional Journalism – well, that’s even more stupid, isn’t it? These aren’t your run of the mill Twitter activists or trolls. These people have a little more influence than that. After a year of GamerGate being called a hate movement full of terrorists (today was, I am told, the one-year anniversary of GamerGate), this was a spectacular vindication for the consumer revolt in the glare of people who actually care about ethical journalism. To be more specific, it destroyed the narrative that only one side of the discussion is “dangerous”.

The bomb threat which evacuated the building was said to be ‘credible’ – it described the venue and a time for the explosion (oddly specific but I don’t know how to make a bomb and frankly couldn’t care less about the specifics, it’s not information that I need to store in my head), leading to everyone being evacuated from the building whilst the Miami Police Department – who did a frankly lovely job by the sounds of it and were very professional (isn’t it nice to be able to say that?) – pushed everyone back a block and called in the sniffer dogs.

Whoever made these threats; you are a terrible person. I am not of the movement – I have never utilised the hashtag in anger, and I’ve been off Twitter since November – but I am a gamer, and a blogger, and someone with an actual interest in journalistic practices. Rather than listen to constant badgering of “the narrative”, I personally was looking forward to people discussing the issue like grown adults. Far too often the Internet reacts like a petulant teenager who refuses to grow up. And I aim this at both sides, I don’t think either is entirely blameless and there are those on both sides who latched onto this for personal and professional gain, of course they did. Human nature.

But what I loved hearing was even though the venue was a write-off (they were not allowed back in, the venue wasn’t very happy about all of this happening and that’s kind of understandable), everyone shifted to what was described as a ‘condemned building’ and continued the discussion. As a person who values freedom of speech, I am thrilled that such threats did not actually stop the debate.

However, whilst I was certainly interested in this event, it also reminds me that GamerGate is still a niche movement, a rejection of the similarly niche Social Justice movement. Despite the bomb threats, most mainstream media simply weren’t that interested in what happened. And for all the organisation, the afternoon panel felt poorly prepared – I am not entirely sure if this was because the questions were framed poorly, or because they prepared poorly, though I have yet to see what happened after the evacuation.

The real crime from the media, in my eyes, was that it relied itself of heavily-entrenched tropes of what a gamer is whilst condemning an industry for using similar things. To me, GamerGate is not simply about the ethics of journalism – that’s a wide-ranging problem that no event can just sort out in a day – but about a media that relies far too heavily on soundbites and stereotypes in order to boil down a complex problem to a simple sentence.

No other group would endure this kind of broad characterisation; but this has been happening to gamers for decades, and the media remains resolutely and defiantly incapable of moving on with the times. Gamers remain some kind of sub-species; even though the media itself would cry rivers of blood and bile if anyone dared use the same approach for literally any other group in the world. There’s a word for that – it’s HYPOCRISY, and the media has for far too long been nothing more or less than a bully because “nerds can’t fight back”.

The wider problem to address is that the media still even now maintains this stereotypical image of gamers, and it is this which needs correction. If anything is to be learned, it is that you should never so broadly generalise a multi-billion dollar industry. Many websites will feel that pinch for years to come. Some have already crumbled; some seem to be well on their way to extinction. To move on, we need to realise that dehumanising an entire demographic is never “ethical”; it is a dereliction of journalistic values.

Fortunately, on that, the SPJ Panel seemed to be acutely aware of the issue and agreed it was a serious failing.

Hopefully, the media has learned something too. Although I certainly won’t be holding my breath.

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