We recently shared news with our readers about one of the most extraordinary reports to come out of the UN in years: a document that compared “cyber violence” to physical violence, and advised national governments to censor the internet on the basis of the whining of privileged western feminists.
Closer examination of the report found the quality of its citations to be extraordinarily poor. No I mean like seriously, it was laugh out loud hilarious. Links to broken web pages, blank documents, and even a footnote linking to an author’s local hard drive. (I am not making this up.) Other sources included articles that accused major video game publishers of promoting “satanism.”
Is this the sort of ruthlessly factual approach to important global controversies that led the UN to put Saudi Arabia in charge of a human rights panel? Enquiring minds want to know, especially since the two feminists presenting this report, ferocious critics of gaming culture Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn, both have – how should I put it? – a complicated relationship with fact and context.
And it’s not as though the UN has an unblemished record when it comes to showstopping reports. Its IPCC climate change reports have been so mired in controversy that lead authors have asked to have their names removed from them.
ONE OF THE CITATIONS IN THE #CYBERVIOLENCE REPORT IS A C DRIVE LINK.
THIS IS AMAZING. . pic.twitter.com/dPj52HLwZq
— Allum Bokhari (@LibertarianBlue) September 26, 2015
We weren’t the only outlet to cover the UN “cyber violence” report, which has inspired widespread ridicule on the internet, and even a trending hashtag. TIME, The Mary Sue, and the influential legal blogger Ken White, also known as Popehat, also published articles about it. But none of the others managed to spot the glaring weaknesses in the report’s source material. Why? Unlike Breitbart, they didn’t bother to actually read it.
“I didn’t have time to read the report as thoroughly as I’d like,” writes Maddy Myers, an editor for The Mary Sue. “But from what I did read so far, it’s definitely worth your time, for the sheer volume of data alone.”
We’re constantly told there’s an explosion of ADHD among young men, but the evidence points to just as crippling an attention disorder among professional journalists, who these days seem incapable of reading past an executive summary.
Among the “sheer volume of data” Myers whinges about is an article from 2000 that accuses Nintendo of “manufacturing equipment for satanic video games” and calls Pokemon – wait for it – a “killing game designed for toddlers.” The report quotes directly from the article, repeating claims that violent video games turn “children, mostly boys, into ‘killing zombies’.” Other citations in the report link to 404’d web pages, and, in one case, to the local hard drive of one of the authors.
Given that The Mary Sue is a well-known outpost of partisan internet feminism, their decision to embrace the report’s conclusions without fully reading the document is all too predictable. It’s not my place to ask whether radical feminist publications might be particularly vulnerable to confirmation bias; readers will make up their own minds.
What was less predictable was that Ken White, a.k.a. Popehat – normally a stickler for detail – would fall into the same trap.
In his post, White even cautioned against “shrill and partisan summaries and characterizations”, and urges his readers to “actually read the report.” A case of “do as I say, not as I do” from a preening blogger famous for meandering boreathons about tedious minutiae? Say it ain’t so.
As the sheer insanity of some of the report’s source material became apparent, White had to do a u-turn. “Further information suggests I was far too benefit-of-the doubt here, which is what happens when you write fast and when you generally despise some of the people involved.”
TIME, a magazine with a large research budget, performed no better. Its coverage of the UN report was little more than a regurgitation of the document’s signature claims, with no mention of the ludicrous failings of its source material. Unlike White, TIME didn’t even own up to its lack of due diligence.
And all this is before we even get into the totally wrongheaded basis for the whole report.
Dear UN, There is no epidemic of misogynist threats on social media. Threats are a problem,but mainly for men. pic.twitter.com/GyvNNeECDK
— Christina Sommers (@CHSommers) September 25, 2015
As is increasingly common, a member of the public was able to do what the media and the establishment blogosphere could not. He analysed all 120 sources cited in the UN document, finding over 30 per cent of the links to be broken, blank, duplicated, or in some other way non-existent.
A further 15 per cent were links to the UN and its subdivisions. Now, look: no one enjoys referring to themselves as much as I do, but I expected better from the UN than a circlejerk of self-congratulatory references to its own words. That’s my thing!
None of these outlets could have possibly read the entire report and verified its citations by the time they went to press, or even really skimmed enough to give an authoritative opinion. In fact, many have admitted in their own articles and updates that they did not. But they passed you their baseless pontifications as thoughtful analysis. This author was a bit later because it took five of my twink minions to read and check the entire steaming pile of turds.
I say that, but the report isn’t even that long. You can read it in about the time it takes a Yazidi woman to strip and clean her AK-47, reload the magazine and empty it into marauding ISIS rapists. Though of course the UN would rather talk about how someone was nasty about Anita Sarkeesian’s heinous dress sense and why that means we should end free speech online.
I’m anxious to know what sort of Harry Potter-style time dilation TIME, The Mary Sue and Popehat used to get through the report so quickly, if it wasn’t skimming with a view to publishing what they already believed with a few cherry-picked quotes. Guys, please share! It will save me a fortune on research bills.
Media outlets are supposed to scrutinise powerful institutions. The UN is most certainly one of those, and, for all its protestations at being “marginalised,” so is western feminism. (To be fair, the Washington Post did an okay job on this one but it was a brief glimmer of sunlight in an otherwise terrible shower of goo: the author mistakenly called my Liberal Democrat activist colleague Allum Bokhari a “conservative” and refuses to correct it.)
So, it’s left to a sarcastic gay satirist and shitposter who spends most of his life cracking black dick jokes on Twitter to read reports and comment on what they actually say. Is it just me, or is the rest of the world literally just phoning it in?
Outlets such as Polygon and Kotaku, who ought to have been all over this story, have largely ignored it because even they realise the sheer bone-headedness of what their feminist heroes are now proposing and how much ridicule it would expose them to with their own readers.
Anita Sarkeesian complained to the UN, hilariously, that people on the internet were saying to her: “You suck.” Somehow this phrase contributes to her “harassment,” apparently. I can only speak for myself: normally when I’m on the receiving end of those words, they’re a precursor to a fun couple of hours with a throbbing African appendage. But even if her critics were being mean, I think women can take to Twitter with confidence if that’s really the worst example that gaming’s leading critic of “toxic masculinity” can produce.
Allegra Frank in Polygon offered up one supportive report that made all the same mistakes as the others. That’s the way it works, you see: when someone you’ve spent a year backing to the hilt turns out to be a total fruitloop, just go quiet and hope nobody notices. Or double down anyway. Oy vey.
I was called to task for being arrogant (if you can believe that) for saying, “Just do the work!” at a Society of Professional Journalists conference this year, but, frankly… I was right, wasn’t I? And this is what happens when you don’t. Makes you wonder what else the media has been wrong about this past year, doesn’t it?
When you become popular and you’re also witty, charming, handsome, have great hair and are really humble as well, people love to tear you down. For instance, people love to try to pick holes in my reporting, pretending to take jokes seriously to act all offended on Twitter and charging GamerGate with being in the thrall of an “unethical journalist.” To which I’d simply say: if an iota of what you say holds water and even I am showing you up on a daily basis, what does that say about you?
It’s amazing that on such an important topic as widespread censorship of the internet, both the mainstream media and bloggers, who used to boast about their superiority to “old” media, failed in that task. Luckily, the intrepid public – and Breitbart – were around to pick up the tab. Allow me a moment of Popehat-esque self-regard: you’re welcome.