I recently spoke with a reporter about the legacy of Gamergate, a hate and harassment campaign directed at women and people of color in the gaming and tech industries. The offensive, which began in 2014 and lingered for years, was a nightmare for those targeted, sending some women fleeing from their homes out of fear for their physical safety. The threats weren’t just credible, they weren’t just terrifying; they were incessant, sometimes targeting family members as well. Gamergate continues to be a nightmare for many. Just talking about it can subject a person to new waves of abuse and harassment.
I explained this history to the reporter. Gamergate was far from an isolated, past-tense event, I said; it is an ongoing pattern and behavioral template. You can’t understand the rise of the reactionary far right since the 2016 election without understanding where and how those energies emerged. Nor can you separate the tactics used by Gamergate participants in 2014 from the tactics used by white supremacists in 2019. These include brigading (swarming a person with abuse) and doxing (publicizing private information to facilitate even more abuse), both of which remain common practices within far-right circles.
After I explained all this, there was a pause on the other end of the phone.
“Don’t you think,” the reporter asked, “that there’s a similar energy on the other side?”
I asked them to clarify.
“People on the other side,” the reporter continued. “Canceling people, attacking them for the things they say on Twitter? Calling their bosses, getting them fired? Wouldn’t you say it’s the same kind of thing?”
When I followed up again, the reporter specified even further: they weren’t just talking about attacks against everyday people. They were suggesting that the violence done during Gamergate was the same as pushback against the very kinds of people responsible for Gamergate.
Given the focus of our discussion, and all the horrors I’d just laid out, I was taken aback. But I can’t say I was terribly surprised; this wasn’t the first time a reporter had asked me this type of question. I’ve seen similar assertions made even more frequently in news articles, on cable television, and screamed across social media.
Sometimes the equivocation between bigots on the right and cancel or call-out culture on the left—which tends to align with anti-racist activism, intersectional feminism, and other social justice efforts—is explicit. People say, directly, that “both sides” are responsible for the chaos roaring through our politics. Other times, the equal sign is implicit. Yes, we have a problem with white supremacy or misogyny, this argument goes, and that’s a special kind of bad. But all the social justice warrioring happening on the left is out of control. Cancel culture, often cited as yet more evidence of “PC culture run amok,” is accused of undermining the progressive cause and, ultimately, benefiting racists by equating violence with poorly chosen words, providing “real” racists a convenient smokescreen.