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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No economy is an island: why Britain's finances now depend on Europe

Weak growth in Europe turned Britain into a safety deposit box, but that may soon change.

If you believe Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, the Brexit vote has plunged Britain into chaos. The UK, he concluded a few days after the referendum, “has collapsed politically, ­monetarily, constitutionally and economically”. In terms of politics or the constitution, he may well be correct. But monetarily and economically, this view is wrong (or at least incomplete) in one crucial respect. It fails to see that no country’s economic fate is determined unilaterally. What happens next elsewhere – and in the eurozone especially – will be just as important as what happens in the UK.

Money and people have flowed to Britain from continental Europe over the past half-decade. The most cursory glance at the employment roster of any hospital in the country, or at a graph of London house prices, will show you that. The tabloids love lurid stories about Russian oligarchs and Chinese princelings waging bidding wars for Knightsbridge penthouses. Yet the truth is that Spaniards, Italians and Greeks have almost certainly been a much larger and more influential constituency.

This reminds us of something important about the UK’s post-financial-crisis boom and its status as a location for investment and a safe haven for savings – and, in particular, about London’s coronation as the first city of Europe. It is not Britain’s uniquely sound economic policy framework or its stellar growth rate that has sucked in Europe’s best and brightest and hoovered up a lot of European capital. In the UK, relative to economic history, recent growth has been quite weak. Rather, Britain’s post-crisis attractions have owed much to the way that the eurozone has been stuck in a near-depression.

In international finance, everything is relative. So although it is true that one of the crucial factors determining our economic future will be whether the next government can safeguard the UK’s reputation as a sound place to live, to litigate and to invest, another is what the competition will have to offer. And, given the eurozone’s lacklustre performance over the past few years, it is possible – perhaps inevitable – that the competition is about to get a lot tougher.

That may sound like a brave statement, given the consensus that the Brexit vote has pitched the EU into an existential crisis. It is true that the three most important eurozone countries face a succession of tough trials over the next 18 months. The first and most dangerous is the Italian constitutional referendum, to be held no later than 6 November.
The details of the issue at stake – whether to concentrate more power in Italy’s lower house of parliament – are, in a sense, not that important. Given the rising popularity of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, the vote will, in effect, be on a motion of no confidence in the government.

Unfortunately, confidence is not running high. Italy’s performance since the crisis has been dismal, with GDP still roughly 8 per cent lower than at its peak. A tentative recovery began in 2015, only for the bad debts heaped up since 2008 to overwhelm the country’s banks again this year. The government has tried to intervene but Brussels has nixed the idea. It is hardly the ideal backdrop to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s referendum campaign; in such circumstances, there is much potential for a protest vote. The Five Star Movement, an unknown quantity in terms of national government, appears well positioned to carry the popular vote in a subsequent general election.

The next important staging post for the eurozone will be the French presidential election in spring. Marine Le Pen, the anti-EU and anti-euro leader of the Front ­National, is a close second in the polls. The Brexit vote has given her party’s platform some credibility: what previously seemed to be little more than the fantasy of cranks has become a reality across the Channel.

Finally, there are the German federal ­elections in September or October 2017. German politics has so far proved more hostile to anti-euro parties – understandably, for the country that has benefited most from the single currency. Nevertheless, even in Germany, the Eurosceptic ­Alternative für Deutschland party is notching up double digits in opinion polls. Only a definitive pro-euro mandate will secure the eurozone’s future.

It all adds up to a year and a half of living dangerously for the eurozone. Renzi may lose his referendum; Le Pen may triumph in France; even in Germany, support for the euro may ebb. If so, the drama of Brexit will come to look like small beer. The UK may retain its attractiveness as a safety deposit box for southern Europe. But the gravitational pull of a eurozone in crisis will be a far more powerful and negative force.

Yet those whose fortunes have waxed with the UK economy over the past half-decade should also think carefully about other possibilities. What if Italy does devise a way to cure its banks and Renzi wins his vote? What if Le Pen, like her father before her, falls at the final hurdle? What if Germany’s adaptable electoral system once again proves capable of accommodating and co-opting the more extreme views from the ends of the spectrum?

Then the wheel of fortune may turn. The UK will be past the peak of its housing and business cycles; the eurozone will at last be on the up. Eurozone investors who snapped up UK property in 2011 will revisit the valuation of real estate across the continent and ask themselves why they shouldn’t sell their flat in London and buy two in Rome instead. The tide of capital will reverse – and the tide of people, too.

The UK faces a changed environment after the Brexit vote yet it is how the cards fall in the eurozone, not in the UK, which will probably make the biggest difference. However things turn out, it is likely to be the end of Britain’s post-crisis economic model. That might be no bad thing. 

Macroeconomist, bond trader and author of Money

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt