On November 20th, the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) added harassment resources to their site, which are intended to help persons in the video games industry cope with online harassment. Among those resources was a link to a block list, to which one could subscribe in order to avoid what were claimed to be online harassers.
The block list, dubbed “GG auto blocker” by its creator, Randi Harper, has as its criteria a list (named “sourcelist”, and previously “blacklist”) of Twitter users which must be followed in order to be included on the block list by an algorithm. This sourcelist consists of tech journalist Milo Yiannopoulos, lawyer Mike Cernovich, video games developer Slade Villena, and Twitter users @TheRalphRetort, @RealVivianJames, and @CHOBITCOIN. It had previously included @_icze4r, actor Adam Baldwin, and scholar Christina Hoff Sommers; @_icze4r was mistakenly added to the sourcelist, and Baldwin and Sommers appear to have been removed simply because the script would otherwise “take a really long time to run”. It’s unclear what the criteria are for being included on the sourcelist. The creator of the blocklist states only that the Twitter accounts belong to “the supposed ringleaders of GG”.
Various journalist, tech and video games industry Twitter accounts have been scooped up by the bot, including those belonging to video games developer Simon Bates, TechCrunch writer Alex Wilhelm, journalist David Pakman, Postal developers Running With Scissors, recent video games startup Mothership Entertainment, Dave Rubin of the Tough Young Turks, and Die Presse journalist Nikolaus Jilch. The bot’s ambit is so broad it even included such Twitter accounts as those belonging to publisher Penguin Books UK, actor Taye Diggs, Australian activist Asher Wolf, and fast food restaurant chain KFC. Niche Gamer‘s own Twitter account appears on the block list.
Roberto Rosario, Chairman of IGDA Puerto Rico, was upset to find himself on the list. “The list appeared in the official IGDA website [which would] lead people to assume that membership on the list was warranted and that the list was somehow authoritative. I don’t have a problem being in a block list, I do have a problem being in a harassers list.” He believes the list itself will encourage harassment of those on it, and also characterizes it as coercive, in that it forces people to alter their association or be “added to a public registry of harassers”.
There has been concern that such a list could hurt the reputations and relationships of those in the video games industry who are on it. There are even worries that the list could be used as an informal blacklist by Gamergate detractors in the industry.
There is past precedent for this worry, says Rosario, pointing to Brendan Eich’s resignation as CEO of Mozilla as one example. In 2014, Eich resigned over donations he had made to a political cause in 2008, long before accepting the position. “Once he was a CEO, his past actions [reflected on] the corporation’s policy.” Taking a side on Gamergate “is becoming a big deal,” said Rosario. (An Xbox developer Niche Gamer has interviewed confirms as much.) “The repercussions of an industry-wide blacklist are easy to foresee. The legality of such an industry-wide blacklist are (sic) questionable.”
An industry-wide blacklist would run afoul of United States anti-trust laws. Even individual hiring decisions based on persons’ Gamergate leanings can be considered tortious interference, if a third party induces an employer to make an unfair employment decision through the use of wrongful and egregious information, such as claiming that someone is a harasser. Whether a block list would fall under tortious interference would have to be decided by a court, as it is a novel situation.
Twitter user @Rischerion, who claims to work for Blizzard Entertainment, wrote on Twitter, “I wonder if we can somehow turn the #ggautoblocker list into an employment blacklist, like a credit report or criminal background check”, but backtracked when he was informed that it would be illegal. The creator of the block list, Randi Harper, endorsed such action, replying that people on the list “should be blackballed for being in a hate group.” Jonathan Blow of Braid fame has insinuated supporters of Gamergate would be automatically disqualified from employment: “I wonder what percentage of #gamergate people hope to get a job in the industry someday? (sic) Do they know how bad their participation in GG will look to any employer who does the research?”
This is despite the absence of evidence that Gamergate supporters as a group are intent on harassment or exclusion. Although harassment has occurred during the controversy, it has affected detractors, supporters, and neutrals, and is suspected to largely be the work of trolls, online agitators with no real investment in the matter. The repeated claim from Gamergate supporters is that they seek to ensure and encourage ethics in the video game industry, and do not support harassment or exclusion of individuals from the industry.
Rosario advises the video games industry not to make employment decisions based on prospective employees’ Gamergate leanings, but says that “sadly corporations are allowed to discriminate against anybody if the element of judgment is said to be related to the work the person will do.” How a desire for improved ethics in the video games industry is contrary to working in the industry is unclear.
Mr. Rosario is currently seeking legal advice about the situation in which he finds himself. “Freedom of speech is one thing, labeling someone as a harasser, in writing, on a public forum, based on what they choose to read, is not a right, and crosses many lines.” Who or what he subscribed to was not a reflection on his person, Rosario said. “We don’t label literature students who read the communist manifesto as communists. The first step to criticize something is to understand it (even a bit) first.”
While a whitelisting process exists for removing oneself from the list, Rosario will not be making use of it. “I don’t support this list and won’t endorse it by using its procedures,” he told Niche Gamer. Those who have attempted to make use of these procedures have reported problems. The venue is said to be difficult to find, there are complaints that adjudication is arbitrary, and there have been concerns that petitioners’ personal information will be revealed, as the creator of the list has recently published the details of those with whom she has corresponded via email. There is no mechanism in place to inform those who may be unaware of the block list that they are on it.
Rosario believes it was inappropriate for an organization such as the IDGA to be party to the situation. Åsk Wäppling of Adland, an advertising trade publication, which had previously been on the block list, agrees. “Either they (IGDA) promoted something they didn’t understand how it worked (sic), or they promoted it knowing exactly how it worked—neither reflects well on their professionalism.”
The IGDA has since removed the link from their website. Executive Director, Kate Edwards, wrote on Twitter, “Read the disclaimer: *not* the @IGDA’s tool or list. But like people, tools are imperfect; we’ve removed it for now”, implying that it could be reinstated.
This has not mollified independent developer Slade Villena, one of the individuals on the sourcelist. His current video game project, FleetCOMM, was added to the block list because it was following him on Twitter. “That Twitter account and the project itself have nothing to do with Gamergate. As usual, anti-Gamergate keep trying to drag my project into this. The IGDA curated FleetCOMM when we were in our funding phase on Kickstarter. FleetCOMM is going to petition to be removed from IGDA involvement. It’s obscene. They use my work when it suits them, and denounce me when it suits them.”
Rosario says that the disclaimer on the IGDA’s website is “poorly worded” and that such umbrella clauses are “irresponsible and insufficient”. That aside, he continued, the organization had vicarious liability for tools they provided on their website. “Who was authorized and actually placed the disclaimer? The link to the tool? I would love to see the corporate resolution authorizing these actions. What is the documented process to determine what tools or resources get added to the pages? It seems IGDA did not properly research these topics before going ahead and adding a third party tool to their official website”.
An industry lawyer believes that the IGDA is not at risk of legal action unless it claims the people on the block list are engaged in harassment. Although the organization had initially linked to the block list with the description, “A Twitter tool to block some of the worst offenders in the recent wave of harassment”, it later amended this to “A third-party Twitter tool developed to quickly mass block some of the worst offenders in the recent wave of harassment and also accounts that follow those offenders.” There is no reason to interpret the IDGA’s actions as improper, the industry lawyer believes, since the organization appears simply to have sought to protect their members from aggressors; the lawyer claimed the individuals in the sourcelist are documented harassers, and that criticism of their behavior as harassment would therefore be valid. However, since Twitter users have previously been removed from the sourcelist, it seems reasonable to doubt the veracity of this claim.
Neither the IGDA nor the creator of the block list have replied to Niche Gamer‘s queries.
[Editor’s note: the article has been updated. Initially, it was stated that no explanation had been given for Twitter user @_icze4r’s removal from the sourcelist; this has been corrected. A quote from Slade Villena has been added. The whitelisting procedures for the list have been addressed, also.]