Dear The Internet, This Is Why You Can't Have Anything Nice

Anita Sarkeesian's project to expose stereotypes in video games attracts a maelstrom of hate.

Something wonderful happened on the internet this week. And something horrible happened at the same time.

A Californian blogger, Anita Sarkeesian, launched a Kickstarter project to make a web video series about "tropes vs women in videogames". Following on from her similar series on films, it aimed to look at women as background decoration, Damsels in Distress, the Sexy Sidekick and so on. Her pitch is here:



Sarkeesian was after $6,000 to cover the cost of researching the topic, playing all kinds of awful games, and producing the videos. Seems reasonable, doesn't it? Even if you don't like the idea - or don't believe that women are poorly represented in games (in which case, you would be wrong) - then isn't it fine for other people to give money to something they believe in?

Except some kind of Bastard Klaxon went off somewhere in the dank, moist depths of the internet. An angry misogynist Bat Signal, if you will. (It looks like those charming chaps at 4Chan might have had something to do it.)

In Sarkeesian's own words:

The intimidation and harassment effort has included a torrent of misogyny and hate speech on my YouTube video, repeated vandalizing of the Wikipedia page about me, organized efforts to flag my YouTube videos as "terrorism", as well as many threatening messages sent through Twitter, Facebook, Kickstarter, email and my own website.  These messages and comments have included everything from the typical sandwich and kitchen "jokes" to threats of violence, death, sexual assault and rape.  All that plus an organized attempt to report this project to Kickstarter and get it banned or defunded.

Let's take a look at that Wikipedia page, shall we?

As the pixellated pinkness might suggest, that's what tabloids call a "sex act" happening in the top corner. There are also references to Sarkeesian being "of Jewish descent", an "entitled nigger" and having a "masters degree in Whining" (because why stick to one prejudice, when you can have them all?) More than a dozen IP addresses contributed to this vandalism before the page was locked.

Meanwhile, her YouTube video attracted more than 5,000 comments, the majority of them of a, shall we say, unsupportive nature. The c-word got a lot of exercise, as did comments about her personal appearance, and a liberal sprinkling of threats of violence. 

Sarkeesian archived a picture of the abuse, and you can find it here. I'm sorry to subject you to it, but I think it's important that you see the kind of stuff you can get called for the crime of Being A Woman On The Internet. Shall we play sexism bingo? Here goes:

Tits or GTFO

You're a bolshevik feminist Jewess

LESBIANS: THE GAME is all this bitch wants

Why do you put on make-up, if everything is sexism? ... You are a hypocrite fucking slut.

Would be better if she filmed this in the kitchen.

I'll donate $50 if you make me a sandwich

... and so it goes on. The only light relief is this one, because I don't think this is quite the threat this chap thinks it is:

Sarkeesian decided to leave the comments on her video, as proof that such sexism exists. I think it's important that she did, because too often the response to stories like this, "Come on, it can't be that bad". There are two reasons for this: first, that if you don't experience this kind of abuse, it's difficult to believe it exists (particularly if you're a man and this just isn't part of your daily experience). Secondly, because news reports don't print the bad words. We've got into a weird situation where you have to get a TV channel controller to sign off a comedian using the word "cunt" after 9pm, but on the internet, people spray it round like confetti. We read almost-daily reports of "trolls" being cautioned or even jailed, but often have no idea what they've said. 

This story should be shared for several reasons. The first is that a horrible thing happened to Anita Sarkeesian. She did nothing to deserve the torrent of abuse, and the concerted attempts to wreck her online presence. It's not the first time this happened: Bioware's Jennifer Hepler was similarly hounded out of town for expressing some fairly innocuous statements about videogames. Every time this happens, more women get the message: speak up, and we will come for you. We'll try to ruin your life, tear you apart, for having an opinion.

The second reason this story deserves wider attention is that in Britain, a law is being debated which will encourage service providers to identify internet trolls, without their victims having to resort to costly legal action. Until now, the perception has been that you can say anything you like on the internet, without any consequences. Recent cases, such as that of Liam Stacey (jailed for mocking footballer Fabrice Muamba) show that is getting less and less true.

A man who targeted Louise Mensch was yesterday given a suspended sentence, and banned from contacting a list of celebrities. Few papers reported Frank Zimmerman's full remarks, with the notable exception of The Guardian: they included a reference to the film Sophie's Choice, in which a mother is forced to choose which of her children dies, and the following: "We are Anonymous and we do not like rude cunts like you and your nouveau riche husband Peter Mensch...  So get off Twitter. We see you are still on Twitter. We have sent a camera crew to photograph you and your kids and we will post it over the net including Twitter, cuntface. You now have Sophie's Choice: which kid is to go. One will. Count on it cunt. Have a nice day."

We can argue all day about the sentence handed to Liam Stacey, but Frank Zimmerman made an unequivocal threat. He no more deserves anonymity than those who targeted Anita Sarkeesian with rape and death threats. But, of course, they will never be found out.

I said at the top of this blog post that something wonderful happened on the internet this week, at the same time as something awful. You'll be pleased to know that Anita Sarkeesian's Kickstarter project has gained 2,301 backers and a total of $55,671 at the time of writing. It's more than enough for her to make a whole series of shows about tropes and women in games, and luckily, she still plans to do so despite all the abuse

I am certainly not the first woman to suffer this kind of harassment and sadly, I won’t be the last. But I’d just like to reiterate that this is not a trivial issue. It can not and should not be brushed off by saying, “oh well that’s YouTube for you“, “trolls will be trolls” or “it’s to be expected on the internet”. These are serious threats of violence, harassment and slander across many online platforms meant to intimidate and silence. And its not okay. Again, don't worry, this harassment will never stop me from making my videos! Thank you for all your support!

Anita Sarkeesian in her Kickstarter video.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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14 Labour MPs defy Jeremy Corbyn and vote for Trident

Backbenchers oppose SNP motion backing disarmament while six vote in favour of it. 

In an attempt to exploit Labour's divisions over Trident, the SNP today tabled a motion opposing its renewal. Labour whips instructed MPs to abstain on the grounds that the vote was "a stunt", as John McDonnell told reporters outside last night's PLP meeting.

But in defiance of the leadership, 14 backed the renewal of the nuclear deterrent. Their justification was clear: it remains official party policy to support Trident after annual conference voted not to debate the issue (a point made at the PLP by Ben Bradshaw, Chris Leslie, Jamie Reed and John Woodcock). For them, Labour's credibility depends on it maintaining its backing for the programme. By contrast, six MPs voted against renewal, the cost of which was revealed by yesterday's Defence Review to have risen from £25bn to £31bn. 

The SNP is, unsurprisingly, delighted at having divided Labour. Defence spokesman Brendan O'Hara said: "For Labour, today was a sign of their moral bankruptcy in the Trident debate. Astonishingly for a party that say they want to govern, some of their members abstained, some voted with the SNP and some even voted to support the Tory nuclear folly. Labour’s solitary Scottish MP Ian Murray abstained – despite voicing his opposition to Trident renewal. His leader Jeremy Corbyn also abstained – although he previously supported an identical SNP motion in January this year. This is just the latest evidence that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t changing Labour – Labour is changing him." 

A potentially far greater division lies ahead when parliament votes on renewal. Many Trident supporters abstained today but would not do so on the official decision. With the majority of the shadow cabinet in favour of renewal (unlike their leader), most frontbenchers expect Corbyn to offer a free vote. Andy Burnham, the shadow home secretary, has pledged to resign if the party opposes Trident renewal and others would likely follow. Among the most committed supporters of the deterrent are the deputy leader, Tom Watson, the shadow culture secretary, Michael Dugher, and the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Vernon Coaker. But with Corbyn and his supporters arguing that he has a mandate to oppose renewal, and floating the idea of an online ballot of party members, today's split is but a hint of the divisions to come. 

The 14 Labour MPs who voted in favour of Trident 

Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Ben Bradshaw (Exeter)

Mary Creagh (Wakefield)

Chris Evans (Islwyn)

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse)

Liz Kendall (Leicester West)

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East)

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend)

Albert Owen (Ynys Mon)

Jamie Reed (Copeland)

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East)

Angela Smith (Sheffield Hillsborough)

Gisela Stuart (Birmingham Edgbaston)

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness)

The six Labour MPs who voted against Trident

Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)

Roger Godsiff (Birmingham Sparkbrook)

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North)

Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West)

Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton)

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.