GamerGate block list bad for business as game devs, journalists and fried chicken linked to online harassment

Ricky Morris, DIGITIMES, Taipei 1

The International Game Developers Association (IGDA), which claims to be the largest non-profit membership organization in the world serving all individuals who create games, has attempted to distance itself from a Twitter block tool it recently attempted to publicize, after its actions incorrectly branded thousands of consumers, games developers and journalist, as well as its own staff members and KFC as online harassers.

IGDA included a link to on script called ggautoblocker as part of a recently published resource page to help developers deal with online harassment. IGDA originally described the script as "A Twitter tool to block some of the worst offenders in the recent wave of harassment" but dialed back its endorsement 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" after some of the over 10 thousand Twitter accounts tagged by the tool objected to the unsubstantiated accusation implied by IGDA's statement.

All reference to the tool was eventually removed from the resource page shortly after the chairman of IGDA Puerto Rico discovered his account was on the block list and announced he would resign his position if the scandal was not rectified.

The ggautoblocker tool has been criticized for its crude algorithm which simply gathers the follower lists of certain "ringleader" accounts as determined by the developer, and adds anyone on at least two of these follower lists to a block list without any attempt to examine whether the accounts had actually engaged in harassment.

As a result, socialite accounts such as @kfc that automatically follow-back any Twitter account that follows them have been implicated and blocked by the tool as being part of the GamerGate movement. Meanwhile, the accounts of consumers, games developers and journalists following the so-called ringleader accounts are also listed for blocking, regardless of the motivations behind following these accounts.

This distinction is especially pertinent to journalists following GamerGate as it is a common part of modern news gathering to follow the social media accounts of companies and industry figures on a particular beat. In the case of GamerGate where there are no official channels of communication, following key Twitter accounts has emerged as one of the primary resources for staying on top of major events, even though there is no intention of ever interacting with these accounts. Because of this, IGDA's comments that all accounts marked by ggautoblocker are behind harassment is analogous to saying the "Channel 5 Eye-in-the-Sky News team" is responsible for high-speed car chases and armed robberies, because they listen in on local police radio channels.

The broad stokes approach to filtering which generates a high number of false positives also impacts those using the block list, in particular companies such as the Raspberry Pi Foundation, since the move effectively self-censors the company from an important news-gathering and PR channel intended to link it to journalists and consumers, while having no impact on reducing harassment. Raspberry Pi was invited to comment on its motives for subscribing to the block list, but no response was received by the time of publication.

However, the most significant impact is being felt in the games development community itself. Several developers have already come forward to express their concerns that being incorrectly branded for actions they have not committed could have long lasting, if not career ending, consequences.

And these fears could have merit. Even before IGDA lent its support to the block list, some developers had floated the idea that the list could be used to perform "background checks" on future job applicants. Also back in October, Ernest W Adams, the founder of IGDA notably tweeted, "If you're an indie developer and you are supporting #GamerGate, watch what you say. Your future business is at stake."

In more positive #GamerGate related news, over 3600 Twitter accounts recently took part in the "Give Voice to the Voiceless" Thunderclap, a crowdsource initiative to promote the latest video from the #NotYourShield Project. The video depicts various minority groups discussing why they support #GamerGate, and why they feel their side of the story is being ignored or marginalized by the gaming press.