Monday, September 28, 2015

The Censor, Anita Sarkeesian

I recently had cause to discuss whether Anita Sarkeesian's "Feminist Frequency" videos amounted to censorship or not. By a strict definition, no they are not, because she had not at that point demanded state action, i.e. prior restraint on video game publishers. Criticism, of course, is not the same thing as censorship, but with Sarkeesian, there have been a number of "tells" that she has a strong itch in that direction, the principle one being that she demands the right to direct the course of video game production — of which she is not, by her own admission, much of a customer. It would be one thing to play video games and want something better. (For a parallel example in the related world of comics, see my brief remarks about Barbara Randall Kesel.) It's quite another to see content she is only peripherally interested in (or worse, demands others pay for) and then expects producers thereof will hew to her cloistered thinking. She has also been unwilling to take the stage with any opponent (most notably the firebrand journalist Milo Yiannopoulos) to debate her ideas; she appears to want a megaphone, not exchange, which again suggests she has a totalitarian's indifference to anyone else's opinion.

But charitably, the question remained at least until recently an open one, when she somehow got a report published through the United Nations on "cyber violence". (The full report can be found here (PDF), because the link from the title page appears to be broken.) This includes
Cyber VAWG includes hate speech (publishing a blasphemous libel), hacking (intercepting private communications), identity theft, online stalking (criminal harassment) and uttering threats.
 Sarkeesian expanded on those goals considerably:
According to feminist culture critic Anita Sarkeesian, who spoke at the event, online “harassment” doesn’t simply consist of what is “legal and illegal,” but “also the day-to-day grind of ‘you’re a liar’ and ‘you suck,’ including all of these hate videos that attack us on a regular basis.”

Unable to prove that they are the victims of a wave of “misogynistic hate” – no bomb threat against a feminist critic of video games has ever been deemed credible and there are serious doubts about threats supposedly levelled at transsexual activist Brianna Wu – feminists are trying to redefine violence and harassment to include disobliging tweets and criticisms of their work.

In other words: someone said “you suck” to Anita Sarkeesian and now we have to censor the internet. Who could have predicted such a thing? It’s worth noting, by the way, that if Sarkeesian’s definition is correct, Donald Trump is the world’s greatest victim of “cyber-violence.” Someone should let him know.
As a bonus points follow-on, Yiannopoulos found a Redditor willing to slog through all 120 of the report's footnotes, concluding that 30% are broken, blank, duplicated, or nonexistent in some other way, with another 15% self-referentially linking back to UN documents. (Also, yikes, for Popehat phoning it in, though at least he recognized it at the time.) The benefit of the doubt no longer applies; schoolyard taunts provide sufficient cause for Sarkeesian to demand governments silence others, and that the mechanisms for doing this be built into the technical infrastructure of the Internet. Sarkeesian is nothing more than a schoolmarm with an overgrown ego.

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