Sunday, 4 December 2016

Gamer culture, the alt right and online sexism

That link above takes you to a vetted story by our national broadcaster about a PhD student's academically researched work on gamer culture.  If you can find an academically vetted refutation of these facts (not some dude's YouTube video) then I'm all ears.  I doubt such a thing exists.  Merely implying that this isn't true isn't an effective response either.

It's a salty but accurate explanation
of how the early internet evolved
toward what we have today.
This idea that online gaming culture may act a petri dish for alt-right thinking doesn't surprise me.  Every year I have grade 9 boys begin my program, find out I game, and immediately begin testing the waters with shockingly racist and sexist language to see if I speak the lingo.  I don't.  I come from an earlier internet where trolling and trash talk were used to instruct and support the kind of radical egalitarianism the early web was promising, not to protect the diminishing historical privilege of white males.  I used to think their offensive language was a function of living in a rural, conservative community but now I'm thinking that a pervasive, new online culture might be the cause.

The podcast above describes astonishingly sexist online situations and suggests that these aren't rare.  I've run into similar problems teaching computer technology. Trying to keep girls in these courses is an ongoing frustration.  Back in 2014 I called this poisonous environment "nerd machismo" and had a great deal of trouble redirecting how many tech focused boys treated these classes like their own private domain.  In retrospect, if they were immersed onlline in the kind of sexism shown in the podcast above, it's little wonder they were acting this way.  The odd girl who did appear in senior computer classes tended to drop out after a couple of days of listening to this bluster.  I could hardly blame them.

Girls are being chased out of ICT courses by an online culture that can
be best described as incredibly misogynistic.  In the process they are
missing a job sector with great prospects.
In managing my own online presence I've removed any online discussion functionality.  I'm happy to talk to people about what I write and thrilled if they share it but I'm not in the business of vetting comments and weeding out the increasing toxicity I was experiencing.  It became tedious and depressing trying to manage these idiots.  Online flaming has decreased in intelligence and increased in misdirected usage to the point where I don't read (especially anonymous) online comments any more.  By default now my blogs and other online media do not allow for comments.  I don't want to spend my time reading and erasing offensive material.  If people want to discuss it intelligently they can leverage their own social media presence to do it.  In some small way this mitigates the savage idiocy of the anonymous online flamer by assigning at least a minimal kind of ownership.  If I'm cutting and running from online engagement (a white, male, early adopter), I can't imagine what kind of negativity has chased out others.


Last month at the ECOO Conference Andrew Campbell did a great presentation on how computer science was stolen from the pioneering women who did much of the coding in the early days:

When you consider how misogyny has directed the field of computer science in the past forty years it's little wonder that the online culture arising from all that coding tends toward the same thinking.  The medium delivering the message is being made by the same special interests.  This is the worst kind of systemic sexism.

Between this podcast, my own experiences and Andrew's presentation I seem to be at a confluence of ideas all pointing to a kind of misogyny that I thought was going extinct.  It's 2016 but we seem to be wrestling with ideas that would look more comfortable in pre-suffragette days a century ago.

I'm a firm believer in developing technical prowess in everyone.  Democratizing technical know-how is the best defence we have against being manipulated by increasingly invasive digital systems continually being rolled out by billionaires.  Excluding half the population from technical literacy simply because of their gender plays right into their hands.  No wonder political movements like the alt-right find such a comfortable home online where the powers that be don't want you thinking about how it works.  In that place ignorance is power.  In the meantime I get to go to school and interact with children who think this is how you should talk to women:

Screen grabs of what women experience online.
In addition to experiencing harassment much more regularly, young women also experience a much wider
variety and intensity of harassment online.  If you experience this online how must you
look at the people you meet in real life?  I'd be constantly wondering what they really think.