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Criticism ≠ Harassment

Andrew Otton / October 8, 2014 at 9:00 AM / Gaming, Opinions

This is a weird distinction to have to make but it does seem that many people do not understand that there is a significant difference between criticism and harassment. Since the beginning of the GamerGate issue, many people on both sides have claimed that harassment was taking place when it actually was in the form of criticism. This has become much clearer as an issue considering a few tweets recently, particularly by a man who works for Dell. The “GamerGate harassment” claims are far more prominent than the actual harassment occurring.

To illustrate this I am going to use the relationship between Patricia Hernandez, a writer at Kotaku, and Anna Anthropy a game developer. You can see the nature of the relationship I am talking about here. But a quick summary: Patricia Herndandez used her position as a journalist at a large gaming site to promote the work of her close friend Anna Anthropy.

Obviously, Patricia Hernandez abused her position to help promote a friend. She breached journalistic ethics that she never should have come close to doing and denies that she ever did. Anyone looking at the image linked to above should know that Hernandez’s actions are deplorable for her position and she should be reprimanded accordingly. Maybe not so far as to lose her job, but at least be far more scrutinized in the future.

Exploitation and manipulation should never be in a game journalist’s repertoire, but instead should be exactly what they defend against and try to root out to inform the public. As I’ve said before, the game journalist is the first line of defense against exploitation. In other words, Hernandez committed one of the cardinal sins of game journalism.

Now, would you classify what I just said above as criticism or harassment?  Obviously it is criticism as I said nothing attacking her character or beliefs, focusing solely on her actions, and never once threatening her person. Arguing that she should be reprimanded accordingly is not the same as threatening someone.

Harassment can come in many forms but criticism is not one of them. Harassment would be threats, inappropriate language and discussion (e.g. sexual), bullying, racist comments, and everything else down that line. Nothing that was said above came anywhere close to that. And, I think much of what I said above is an accurate representation of what many in the GamerGate movement would argue regarding this particular instance. It can likely be broadened beyond that as well, with much of what I argued above containing many themes that the GamerGate movement agrees with.

For an example of harassment, look at the tweet above (screencap here). This is not a concrete example of harassment per se, but it is extremely close. In most cases harassment can’t be claimed with a single instance, but if George directed what he said above at one person, or group, and said similar things repeatedly, one would no doubt accept that as harassment. In this case, it is a stretch to call George’s comments harassment, but it serves as an example of the kinds of messages that can be grouped together to form harassment.

But that really isn’t the tweet people should be talking about, it is the one that followed the rightful outrage (screencap here):

What George said was not criticism. At best for George one could consider what he said in the first tweet as a false analogy, but it is probably closer to something like ad hominem. Nothing in what he says there is criticism. Comparing one thing to another, accurately, can be a valuable tool in criticism but even that is not enough. There has to be some context, but most importantly there has to be some evidence. Right now this is baseless “criticism” in the most minor sense of the word.

Saying things similar to what George said in that first tweet is a good example of the sort of things that we should all consider harassment – nothing close to what I said above about Patricia Hernandez. The case of George is an interesting one as it was his poor use of argument and criticism that created something that is very close to harassment (again, assuming in some sense he is talking about one person or a group directly).

I know now that some people may agree, they will then argue that the criticism has been, unfairly, leveled mostly at women. That may have been true 4-5 weeks ago, but is not the case any longer. And before moving on, just because many women at the beginning of this issue were criticized doesn’t mean it was unwarranted anyway.

Now though, especially after the release of the Game Journalism Professionals mailing list, the criticism is at least equally shared among men and women. The GameJournoPros mailing list revealed a lot of names, many of which I discuss specifically in articles I wrote.  Most of them are men, like Kyle Orland, Ben Kuchera, James Fudge, and so many more.

I only say that to reiterate again that this is not a gender issue, not one of misogyny nor misandry, but one of the gaming industry. A message I have had for six weeks now since the news broke. And not only a message I have had either, but many in the GamerGate movement.

Anyone can be criticized, and everyone should be criticized. Anyone who genuinely cares about what they write about will understand the importance of criticism. Just because someone takes issue with something I have written or said doesn’t mean I think they are doing it in a harmful way. Nothing is inherently malicious about criticism at all. Of course, criticism can be a veiled form of harassment and used as a tool by some to try and muddy their actions (not unlike what George did) but we should all be able to recognize the difference.

Also, it should be mentioned that I am not unaware of the harassment that is legitimately happening right along side the GamerGate issue. That, as said before, is deplorable but should not take the focus away from the issues at hand here like the state of game journalism at the moment. But, the “GamerGate harassment” is blown greatly out of proportion.

Criticism is extremely valuable and should be encouraged in all situations where it is warranted. To make criticism synonymous with harassment does nothing but harm for all parties involved. It will make people afraid to speak their minds, which will then lead to a lack of change in the industry now and in the future – something I think all can agree needs to happen.

Andrew Otton

Editor in Chief

Editor in Chief at TechRaptor. Lover of some things, a not so much lover of other things.