Anita Sarkeesian's new video explores "dark and edgy" abuse of women, gets pulled from YouTube

The Men Who Get Unbelievably Angry At A Woman Critically Analysing Videogames just will not let up.

Anita Sarkeesian, the videogame critic whose Kickstarter project to analyse the role of women in games was responded to with an online hate campaign including a game about beating her up (as Helen says, "I like writing it like that, to emphasise the madness of it"), has released the second video in her "Tropes vs Women" series.

The video, part two of three examining the idea of the damsel in distress, delves deeper into the expression that trope has when combined with the "grim and gritty" aesthetic used in modern games. She explores ideas like comics author Gail Simone's concept of "women in refrigerators", which refers to the frequency with which a female character will be "killed, maimed or depowered", nearly always to provide a motivation to a male character rather than as part of her own character arc. She also explores related tropes, again usually gendered in their application, like the "mercy killing" and the gleeful depiction of violence against women. Through the magic of the internet, the whole thing is embedded below. If you want to watch part one, it can be found here.

Of course, where there's a woman with an opinion, there are hateful people trying to silence her. The first video in the series rapidly saw its YouTube comments become a cesspool – more than usual, I mean – such that Sarkeesian had to turn them off, saying "If you'd like to comment constructively on this video, please share on your own social networks." This time, with the comments off by default, the men who get unbelievably angry at a woman critically analysing videogames (MWGUAAAWCAV, for short) resorted to "flagging" the video on YouTube, which marks it as having content inappropriate for the site – usually reserved for explicit sex or violence, not clips of AAA video games.

Enough of them flagged the video for it to get temporarily pulled for review. Then, somewhat concerningly, YouTube's (human) review team confirmed that it violated "community guidelines", removed the video, and put a strike on Sarkeesian's account. The video was reinstated after an appeal 45 minutes later, but it raises the question of what, exactly, YouTube's review team are doing if they can't tell the difference between clearly malicious flagging and actually obscene content.

Still, it's back up, and Sarkeesian has a lot more videos in her - the extraordinary success of the original Kickstarter means that rather than the five planned, she'll now be making 13. Regardless of what the MWGUAAAWCAV seem to believe, that can only be good for videogames in general: the bizarre crossover between people who demand that games be viewed as art and people who say "they're only games" when problematic elements are pointed out cannot last for long. The medium is only made stronger by everyone like Anita Sarkeesian. And Tropes v Women is damn good watching, to boot.

Anita Sarkeesian thanking her Kickstarter backers.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Social media tome #Republic questions the wisdom of crowds

Cass R Sunstein explores how insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Cass Sunstein, one of the leading public intellectuals in the United States and a former Obama administration official, has worried and written for more than 15 years about the effects of the internet and digital communications on democracy. This book, his third on the subject, tackles social media.

The heart of his argument lies in the cumulative, collective effect of what individuals do online. Networking, shopping, dating and activism are all transformed by the engine of opportunity that is the internet. But those new links and choices produce a malign side effect: “filter bubbles”, inside which like-minded people shut themselves off from opinions that might challenge their assumptions. Insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Sunstein’s organising principle is the ­difference between consumer and political sovereignty. The former promotes individual choice despite its possible consequences; the latter takes into account the needs of society as a whole. His inspiration is Jane Jacobs, the historian of US cities who celebrated, in poetic language, the benign and enriching effect on democracy of random encounters between citizens on pavements and in parks. How do we now reverse or dilute the polarisation driven by Facebook and Twitter?

The solutions Sunstein proposes for this very difficult problem are oddly tentative: websites stocked with challenging ideas and deliberative debates, voluntary self-regulation and “serendipity buttons”. He rightly stresses transparency: we know far too little about the algorithms that sift news for our attention on the networks. Facebook has talked about trying to show news that is “engaging” and “interesting”, without ever engaging in detailed public discussion of what these words mean. The disclosure requirements for social networks “require consideration”, Sunstein writes, without saying whether Facebook might have to be required legally to explain precisely how it routes news to almost two billion users.

Sunstein’s most interesting arguments are myth-busters. He questions the “wisdom of crowds”, while refraining from pointing out directly that the single strongest argument against this idea is the inequality of opinions. Not all opinions are equally valuable. He warily suggests what only a very few American voices have so far dared to say: that the First Amendment to the constitution, which guarantees a free press, should not be treated – as the courts have recently tended to do – as an equally strong protection for the freedom of all speech.

Sunstein is nostalgic for the media system and regulation of the past. I spent years working for a daily “general-interest” newspaper (the Times) and regret the decline of those outlets as much as he does, yet there is no reversing the technological and economic changes that have undermined them. It might have been a mistake to deregulate television in the United States, and killing the “fairness doctrine” might have had unforeseen effects, but that does not deal with the dilemmas thrown up by WhatsApp or Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

Users of these platforms face the problem of managing abundance. Writers such as Sunstein imply that people who lock themselves in filter bubbles are deplorably unable to break out of their informational isolation. But we all now live in bubbles that we design to make sense of the torrent of information flowing through our phones. Better-designed, heterogeneous bubbles include the unexpected and the challenging.

Yet the problem lies deeper than the quality of your bubble. Polarised societies can no longer agree on how to recognise the truth. Filter bubbles play a part, but so do a preference for emotion over reason, attacks on scientific fact from religion, decades of public emphasis on self-fulfilment, and a belief that political elites are stagnant and corrupt. Like many journalists, Sunstein treats the problem of a malfunctioning communications system as a supply-side matter: the information being generated and distributed ought to be better.

In the case of fake news, that is indisputable. But there is also a demand-side problem, one that hinges on the motives of those consuming information. If, inside their bubbles, people are not curious about alternative opinions, are indifferent to critical thinking and prefer stoking their dislike – of, say, Hillary Clinton – will they have even the slightest interest in venturing outside their comfort zone? Do we have a right to ignore the views of others, or an obligation to square up to them? Millions of Americans believe that one of the most important guarantees in their constitution is the right to be left alone – and that includes being left alone by the New York Times.

Sunstein does not venture far into this territory. He only hints that if we worry about what people know, we must also worry about what kinds of societies we build. Globalisation has reshaped communities, dismantling some and building others online, but the net effect has been to reduce deliberation and increase a tendency to press the “Like” button, or loathe opponents you can’t see or hear. The ability to debate civilly and well may depend on complex social chemistry and many ingredients – elite expertise, education, critical thinking, culture, law – but we need to be thinking about the best recipes. 

George Brock is the author of “Out of Print: Newspapers, Journalism and the Business of News in the Digital Age” (Kogan Page)

#Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media
Cass R Sunstein
Princeton University Press, 328pp, £24.95​

George Brock is a former managing editor of The Times who is now head of journalism at City University in London.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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