Gamers Against Bigotry is hacked... by gamers in favour of bigotry

A site which opposed racist, sexist language in online multiplayer is repeatedly taken down by hackers.

Today's instalment of "you can't have anything nice" comes courtesy of Texan comedian Sam Killermann. At the end of June, he set up a website with a simple aim: to allow the vast majority of decent, good human beings who enjoy videogames a forum in which to register their views.

The site was called Gamers Against Bigotry, and it asked readers to sign a simple pledge:

As a gamer, I realize I contribute to an incredibly diverse social network of gamers around the world, and that my actions have the ability to impact others. In effort to make a positive impact, and to create a community that is welcoming to all, I pledge to not use bigoted language while gaming, online and otherwise. Bigoted language includes, but is not limited to, slurs based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disability.

Killermann added in an interview with The Mary Sue:

At times, and depending on the game you’re playing, it can feel like you’re the only one who is put off by the bigoted speech that’s tossed around in game chat. Every additional pledge is another person speaking up, publicly, that bigoted language isn’t okay.

He clarified elsewhere on the GAB site that he wasn't against angry swearing, just angry swearing that targeted other gamers for their race, gender or sexuality: "The pledge doesn’t preclude you from making sailors blush, provided you’re making them blush with non-identity-specific four-letter words."

Or, as geek idol Wil Wheaton put it when he posted a link to the pledge on his Tumblr: "In other words, Don’t be a Dick."

Killermann backed up his pledge with an IndieGoGo project to raise funds for GAB, expressing his hope of funding attendance at PAX (the Penny Arcade Expo) and creating an app to allow gamers who prefer not to have a side order of rape jokes with their COD multiplayer to find each other.

You know what comes next, don't you?

The same small sub-group of gamers which tried to silence Anita Sarkeesian for wanting to make some videos exploring sexism was roused again. The stamp of their tiny, privileged feet echoed round the internet.

Within days of launch, Gamers Against Bigotry was subjected to repeated hacking and DDOSing. When I spoke to Killermann yesterday he told me that the big attacks all appeared to come from the IP address 69.69.69. Gamers might not be adolescent boys any more, but some of them like their jokes fairly adolescent.

On 22 July, the hackers took over the site, posting an image all over it (graphic screenshot here). I'll give you a hint about what that image might be with this delicious cupcake:

There was also some freestyling racism:

Even more dickishly, the hackers used a code exploit to wipe the database of the 1,500 pledges which had been collected.

At the time of writing, the problem still hasn't been solved. As Killermann told me: "They've gone through and cleared out the database at their own whim a few times these past 20 hours. We racked up 100 new pledges, wiped clean; 20 pledges, wiped clean; and so on. I can't figure out how they're doing it, but I'm trying to get some security specialists online to help."

Whoever was behind this also targeted all of Killermann's personal sites (his blog and portfolio) with DDOS attacks which overloaded the server.

It's bitterly inevitable that this has happened - after all, one of the incidents which pushed Killermann to set up Gamers Against Bigotry was the hounding of Anita Sarkeesian for wanting to explore sexism in gaming. But apparently, there are some people out there for whom even having these issues discussed poses an enormous threat. 

Happily, Killermann is continuing with the project, and is trying to get hosting for the site which will better stand up to these kind of attacks. He told me: "I really think that the culture has to shift. Right now, 'trolls' are celebrated. There are entire social networks dedicated to it. For culture to shift, behavior has to shift. That's where GAB, and other organizations that will likely follow in our footsteps, comes in."

Gamers Against Bigotry: the restored site.

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.

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.