Why using an interview with Totalbiscuit is a terrible idea when addressing harassment in Gaming Cultures UPDATE 17/08

Love him or loathe him it’s undeniable that John Bain, much better-known as TotalBiscuit, is a highly-influential video game personality with a huge and passionate fanbase. – The opening line to a Kotaku UK article that went online today

John Bain is a Youtuber, podcaster, and ‘Man With A Large Audience Within ‘The Gaming Community”. He’s been actively contributing to various gaming communities since 2005, meaning a good third of his life has revolved around games media, content creation (An umbrella term that basically means “makes stuff” often used to separate contemporary medias from traditional ones) and, most relevant to this piece, building and sustaining an audience/community. He currently has about three quarters of a million followers on Twitter and over two million subscribers on Youtube if you care for such metrics.

He’s also an absolute prick.

Today Kotaku UK, as part of a week long endeavour to write about harassment within gaming culture, released an interview with Bain where he details his experiences with harassment. As Bain has such an unfathomably large audience and has been acting within gaming communities for over a decade this may seem like a good thing. Other articles in the series thus far have focused on harassment streams and Twitch‘s (the largest streaming service for gaming and, more recently, creative content) lax moderation, so the intention of this interview was to provide another differing set of experiences with harassment. An admirable goal.

However, John Bain is still an absolute prick.

The current political climate is pretty inflammatory, particularly within my English speaking bubble of social medias. The rise of Fascism, Nazi’s and other horrendous ideologies has been on the horizon for a long time and doesn’t seem to be stopping. This extends far beyond the scope of ‘people making stuff about games’ and certainly has it’s roots in many different beds, most of which have been around long before I was born. This climate is, in part, what that series of articles is fighting against. It’s a series actively encouraging improvement from our social media companies and communities in order to fight bigotry, harassment, and hate-speech. Within various gaming culture’s, Bain has actively contributed to such harassment.

Bain actively supported GamerGate, a harassment campaign started by a man trying to ruin the life of his ex who happened to have made a game Bain thinks is bad. Despite suffering from harassment himself, as almost anyone suffering from such hyper visibility will – though moreso if you happen not to be a cis het white man – Bain’s contributions to harassment campaigns, and his lack of rectification, can not be ignored. To this day people fear to mention him by name on ‘public’ social media in-case his name-searching hordes find them and decide to target them. Multiple devs, games writers, or just random people have had to lock their twitter accounts (that is, make their tweets visible only to followers who are all individually checked by the account creator before being allowed to follow) due to things Bain has said about them, or their work. Bain’s support of GamerGate is not a small and insubstantial thing. That ‘event’ gave a name to many bigots who had been (and still are!) supported by gaming communities, and society in general for a long time. It also resulted in many different targets being ‘chosen’ by figureheads, such as Bain, to be threatened and harassed. Be that financially, through physical violence, or even just concerted emotional abuse through social medias.

The interview has nothing to say about his past actions, be they GamerGate aligned, or the many other times he’s made ‘mistakes’ and caused his audience to harass someone. The closest it gets is when Bain claims that:

There have been several incidents where I’ve blown up at people, and there have been a lot of drama incidents that are attached to my name — some of which completely rightly are my fault, some of which not really, or exaggerated — or in some cases completely made up. But I’m still in the business today.

Which ultimately says nothing. It, alongside the “like him or loathe him” statement create a narrative which undercuts the seriousness of his past, and perhaps present, actions. Bain isn’t alone in being framed by various media outlets in such a fashion. Milo Yiannopoulos, another figurehead within GamerGate, MRA and other fascist movements, is also often framed with such language. Which ultimately presents them as young innocent white boys who often delve into ‘subversive’ movements, rather than as adult bigots benefiting from structural oppression. This is unacceptable. Bigots, in many shapes and guises, plague our societies. Racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, classism, none of these things we have ‘moved past’. They effect countless people on a day to day basis. Both through the acts of individuals, and through the structures surrounding them.

When you interview someone, you are giving their views a platform. An audience. Reach. You legitimise them, at the very least, as someone worth listening to on certain topics. Even if you don’t agree with their views yourself your interview sends the message that they understand where they are coming from. If you are not making it clear in your interview that you disagree with the subjects views, if you do not challenge them in any respect, you are implicitly endorsing them. This Kotaku UK article very much does endorse Bain’s ideas and thoughts about harassment as being things we should take seriously, and his existence as a ‘Man with Large Audience’ is a view we ought to take into account. Whilst editing this post, this has been admitted explicitly by Kotaku UK’s editor.  Kotaku UK, as a platform, has stated that serial harasser John Bain an ex-figurehead of a hate-movement that took Gaming Media by storm is an appropriate source for advice on what to do about harassment. Kotaku UK has decided that Bain’s hatred and abuse are things that do not bother them.

At this point it should be clear that this interview should not exist in the state it does. So to finish this essay I am going to suggest somethings that could be done to help rectify the situation. But before then I ought to make this clear. This article being shitty does not mean you should @ the author, or Bain, on Twitter or elsewhere – privately or publicly – about it. That would certainly constitute harassment. Even if you think you’re polite or something you’re just going to be another voice hating on someone. There are correct ways to complain if you wish to do so. In this case that’d probably be emailing Kotaku UK’s editor, as he is responsible for what goes up on the site. Anyone else mentioned in this essay you probably ought not to contact. Unless of course, you’re a colleague or friend of them. In which case, please do.

Kotaku UK, if you wish to leave that interview up, it needs editing. There needs to be a disclaimer. You can’t platform a known harasser without making it clear that they are one. Explicitly clear. I question the article’s existence at all since I don’t see it as providing anything anyone ought to care about in it, but that’s neither here or there. Should the article be taken down, or even if it isn’t, an apology ought to be made. Publicly. Probably on your front page given where this interview is currently being advertised. Again, the important thing here is making it clear that harassment and abuse are not acceptable, which is at least part of your intentions on this series of articles to begin with. Bain’s parts in harassment campaigns needs to be made clear, and you need to separate yourselves from them.

After all, Bain is an absolute prick.

UPDATE 17/08/2017 15:17 BST

kotaku uk
The current front page of Kotaku UK

Kotaku UK, or more specifically their editor, has now posted a response to yesterday’s outcry. It’s on the front-page and has been advertised on their social media. A quick skim of the original article doesn’t immediately reveal any updates have been made to it. Though I now notice a disclosure at the bottom stating the author having been on podcasts with Bain before. These kinds of disclosures, though common-place nowadays, are often attributed to GamerGate due to their guise of being interested in ‘ethics in games journalism’. Ultimately a meaningless change, and though there’s no link to their response in the original essay it’s still front and centre. So what does this response say?

The editor admits to making a mistake. He defends the author of the original work, like he should given that a hyper visible minority being connected to this mess has brought out the worst people. Again. As always. I am glad Kotaku UK takes the safety of their writers seriously, even if their editor fucked up big time letting the original article reach their front page in the state it did, and continues to be in.

Unfortunately verbally stating you are against harassment and actively showing you are within your work is another thing entirely.

The editor apologises explicitly for the following:

  • For the headline “Totalbiscuit on dealing with the hate”
  • For the lack of context within the article detailing his involvments with hate groups and harassment, specifically he mentions GamerGate.
  • For the date that the article went up matching the anniversary of the ‘original post’ that spawned the ‘movement’.
  • For having some readers be offended.

To the first two points, as I have already argued, the language throughout the article is also responsible for undermining Bain as a grown adult who ought to be taken seriously as an abuser. An abuser, who still stands by attacking those he targeted in the past. Bain has not rectified fuck all from his abusive past, and still continues to this day to make those same ‘mistakes’ as he calls them in his interview. So whilst I accept, and am glad, the editor admits to the headline and lack of context being mistakes, that was only the tip of a large prominent iceberg within, not just gaming community, but UK – and many other countries- at large.

‘GamerGate’ as a faux-movement with a name does have a concrete undeniable ‘start point’. Harassment campaigns, bigotry, racism, sexism, and structural oppression as a whole has many. Many of which stem decades upon decades ago. So whilst the date of the article may have been suspect, the article itself would still be unacceptable on any other day of the year. You cannot platform and endorse abusers, specifically when it comes to efforts to minimise and counter abuse.

Frankly, there are other people you can platform. Other hypervisible people. Any of the prominent targets of GamerGate could have been interviewed*. Bain is not the end all be all of people who have been actively involved in abusive practises, but he is a pretty major one within gaming communities.

Furthermore, the editor does state something I agree with, that their shouldn’t be “no-gos” within Journalism. I do not believe I count, even in the slightest, as a journalist however I have actively written on Nazi propaganda for my degree, and even posted it on here. Undeniably terrible things and terrible people ought not to be no-gos. But platforming a serial abuser and using his ideas on how to deal with abuse are not things you should do. Especially in the manner that we are discussing. This isn’t me saying we should never talk about or talk to John Bain. This is me saying it is unacceptable to talk about or to John Bain about abuse, to leave his active harassing quiet and to endorse his analysis of what systems need to change for abuse to be countered. His views on how to stop abuse kinda stop being relevant the moment he contributes, and doesn’t stop contributing or attempt rectification, to abuse.

John Bain should not have his position within gaming communities supported. But since that isn’t changing, if you’re going to deal with him you must do so responsibly. And that has not happened here. Either within the article itself, nor the attempted apology that has been posted.

* Provided they had not also contributed in a major manner to abuse themselves. Which is certainly something that could be the case but not something I am going to get involved with.


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