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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Brexit negotiations: What happens if we don't get access to the single market?

Nearly half of British exports go to the EU. 

The Finsbury Park branch of Lidl, in north London, is crammed with shoppers buying cheap French cheese, Spanish wine and German sausages. Four miles south, the City of London’s bankers meet with clients from across the continent. The chandeliers glittering above their heads may be powered by French energy company EDF, or Germany’s E.ON. Underpinning all of this is access to the European Union’s single market, which could soon disappear. 

The single market is based on the principle of free trade - specifically, removing barriers like tariffs and allowing the free movement of goods, capital, services and labour across borders.

The vote for Brexit has been mostly read as a protest against the last category. But immigration aside, the majority of British politicians would agree that access to the rest of the common market should be preserved as far as possible. This view is common among economists too.  A report by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in May 2016 predicted four varying economic outcomes. The main difference between the scenarios was the trade deal Britain had with the EU.

This reflects the wider liberal economic consensus of the nineties and early noughties. Back in the 1970s, Eurosceptics tended to be on the left and motivated by suspicion of free trade (in the first European referendum of 1975, a young left-wing activist named Jeremy Corbyn voted No). But others observed that European economies seemed to be thriving while British growth remained sluggish. Two-thirds of the public voted to become permanent members of the EU's forerunner, the European Economic Community. 

For younger voters, it can be hard to imagine an economy outside the single market. That is not least because there isn’t one opposite model. Instead, depending on what governments do, the consequences can be felt in multiple ways. 

Freed of free trade, governments can protect domestic companies. In 2009, the left-wing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina revived a high import tax on electronics. This created the tech boom town among the penguins and sea lions of Tierra del Fuego.  In Britain, campaigners to save the steel industry have argued for some minor protectionist policies to shield it from a slump in demand. 

But protectionism tends to keep prices high. Argentina's tax made iPhones and tablets an unattainable luxury for most Argentinian consumers. Frivolous, perhaps, until you consider how many tech entrepreneurs were once kids mucking around with a computer.

In Britain, the 19th century Corn Laws whacked tariffs on imported grain, which benefited farmers, but forced hungry factory workers to pay more for their grain. After widespread protest and a famine in Ireland, the laws were repealed. 

Making up the rules also works both ways. Nearly half of British exports go to the EU. In a gloomy scenario, the EU could decide to impose tariffs that made it hard for British companies to compete on the continent.

Even without trade wars, Britain’s companies could be shut out for regulatory reasons, just like the US has banned French cheeses on health and safety grounds. Up till now, the EU and Britain have shared roughly the same quality controls. But if practices diverge, this could change. Except with Britain, the biggest risk isn’t to the cheddar industry, but to the financial services sector, which could find itself facing unfamiliar regulations and lose the right to operate from a London base outside the UK.

For those who oppose free trade of any sort, Brexit brings a chance to rethink the economy. But most Brexit negotiators are signed-up economic liberals. David Davis, the Brexit minister, said in July that “the first order of business” is to agree more free trade deals, not just with the EU but the rest of the world. 

Can Davis really persuade other countries to sign up? Britain’s most successful stint as a sole free trader was in the 19th century, when it could flood the rest of the world with the kind of cheap goods China does today. This time, it is the rest of the world setting the agenda.