Okay, Terrorists Might Have Used Games Consoles To Communicate… But Please Calm Down About It

Quite a breathless little moral panic is starting over reports that ISIS terrorists may have used PS4 consoles to communicate while planning the attacks. One of the raids in Brussels reportedly found a PS4 console.

The federal home affairs minister then compared it to WhatsApp, a popular communication app, saying it was even more difficult to keep track of. This has, of course, kicked off a bit of excitement in the tech and semi-tech press, over something that’s not even confirmed to have been their main vector of communication yet – but beyond 1) they had a console and 2) it might have been used, that’s all we actually know.

Well, we know terrorists are console plebs, I guess. That’s three things.

So instead of speculating, let’s talk about not speculating. About not being afraid of technology just because a bad person touched it, or misused it. About not being afraid in general, since that’s kinda what these stories end up doing – making us afraid of our technology – in particular things that spawn confusing subcultures like video games.

It’s no great surprise that everyone in the world hates gamers and is desperate to associate them with terrorists. But come on. We could all write a great big speculative thinkpiece breathlessly getting experts to guess all the ways someone might communicate during Call of Duty. Or we could very briefly report the brief facts we know, and then speculate on what the speculations and associations could do to communities in the long term and how we ought not write panic pieces about those communities just to generate clicks.

True fact: less people will read this than if I wrote “TERRORISTS ARE FUCKING COMING, MAN! THEY’RE ALREADY IN YOUR HOUSE! HIDE YO KIDS, HIDE YO WIFE!” Or, I dunno,”Allahu Akbar! Are your kids talking to terrorists?” Unfortunately, I’m going to lower my shares and talk seriously, instead of terrifying you about the cybermen who could be communicating via Little Big Planet levels at this very moment. (They’re not.)

Some bad people are going to use technology for bad things: Bitcoin, Tor, Dark Nets, drones, video games, firearms, you name it. The nature of technology is that it makes things easier. Crimes are things. But the panic can do as much damage as the thing, especially in the case of largely benign technology like video games consoles.

When we spend two years calling gamers terrorists, however, be aware you’ve primed the moral outrage engine. You did oil it up quite nicely with that Law and Order SVU episode on Gamergate, Brianna Wu saying “terrorists” when she means “shitposters” and Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian going to the UN to equate people telling them they’re wrong to actual violence with hashtag #Cyberviolence.

So for the media who will post similar stories to mine today, please take a moment to consider if you prepped a nutrient-rich environment for such a meme to take hold and consider the possible consequences. Because the minute we start banning things (that is, giving up our freedoms), we are quite literally doing exactly what the bad guys want us to.

So I’d urge you to put the brakes on this train before the exploding vans and “Gamers on Steroids” news segments start, but do remember some of you spent the last year throwing coal into the engine. I’d put a third metaphor here, but you get me.

That’s where we are. Terrorists may or may not have used a very popular piece of consumer electronics that’s in a million households in a way that it was not intended. They probably also traveled by car and used iPhone apps, but that doesn’t mean we should check all cars for terrorists and ban phones, does it? Stop treating games consoles differently.

Instead of writing the NSA a blank check to watch us play Disgaea and read our Netflix queues, codebreakers racing to figure out whether “up, up, down, down, left, right, left right, B, A START” is some sort of terrorist cell go signal, parents looking suspiciously at lil Johnny every time he fires up Call of Duty, all of that – it would be awesome if we could all cool our jets, slow down just a bit, and not set off yet another moral panic in gaming.

Remember that terrorists do what they do to make us do things differently, fear common situations, and feel ashamed for who we are. Admittedly, if you have a Playstation, you should already be ashamed for being a console peasant. But there’s no reason to compound that shame by associating Playstations and Xboxes with groups like ISIS.

Grow up.

Follow Will Ross on Twitter @SawmillLoris


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