Gamergate Protests E3 Expo Leak Even as It Stands to Gain the Most from It
Lack of journalistic rigor puts everyone at great peril.
The confidential data of more than 2,000 journalists had reportedly been publicly accessible through the E3 expo site for quite some time, with the ESA only acting very late to remove it. This major data breach was first spotted by Sophia Narwitz — a clandestine video game reporter of sorts on YouTube — but what the circumstances of this discovery largely overlook, is the problematic dimensions of who unveiled them in the first place, as well as a lesson to journalists on how to deal with sensitive information and prioritizing individuals’ safety before clicks and engagement ratings.
Narwitz dropped her video very recently describing the circumstances under which the discovery of this data was made. Apparently, if you went to the relevant section on E3’s website, there was a way to download a spreadsheet including information provided by journalists going to E3 upon entry. The only way the existence of such a link could be justified, is if it were made to the benefit of ESA employees–basically as a beacon for everyone to quickly reference information and not have to sift through an endless pile of data just to pull out information when needed. However, and as should be obvious, this data should’ve never been publicly accessible in the first place. It would’ve been one thing if this file was encrypted or sealed off with a password, but it’s another to basically provide harassment ammo to an insurgent movement of serial harassers who’ll now wield information as leverage to coerce journalists into fitting their narrative, lest they want to foot the expensive bill of changing locale.
For a great deal of them it doesn’t quite matter since professional addresses usually point to the domain of public knowledge, but for some, it was a potentially dangerous way to send over harmful packages–or worse yet, make good on a threat of violence by a crowd of an ever conflict-lustful Gamergate.
To give credit where credit is due, without Narwitz blowing the lid on the story, there would’ve been next to no chance of the larger public getting ahold of this information, therefore applying public pressure on the ESA to quickly react. Nonetheless, mistakes have been made, and Narwitz’s handling of this information was sub-par to say the least. Under the illusion that her story would be propel her to Edward Snowden-like status, it instead relegated her to Julian Assange territory. Publicizing the availability of private information publicly should at least come with the absolute certainty that it could not be further propagated, but Narwitz failed whistle-blowing 101 by establishing many lines of information cut-off where the narrative could’ve very easily gone out of hand. The ill-advised publicization of this story is only one facet of it, but the other is just how easily this could’ve been avoided altogether.
The problem starts with Sophia Narwitz being a patron of Gamergate ideals . After struggling with engagement due to low turn-out on game reviews and a recent content purge, the channel was revitalized through the usual slate of content modern Gamergate has accustomed us to —some of which is inspired by Narwitz’s own writing — by picking on the press’ alleged left-wing bias, and appealing to conspiracy theories. Following said purge, the content decidedly became fairly sparse, but what little of it exists bodes very badly for the optics of Narwitz uncovering a story about journalists getting doxxed when only three days prior, she made ruckus over game journos’ objection over Modern Warfare’s controversial use of white phosphorous as a reward for good multiplayer performance. That incentive structure invites tips of the malicious kind–basically, there is a very low chance that whomever got hold of this information and tipped Narwitz off, was doing it in good faith. Whether Narwitz’s misuse of this information was a consideration is a large unknown, but the fact a clandestine reporter of the Gamergate-sympathizing kind got ahold of it first before anyone else in traditional press media sure raises an eyebrow.
Furthermore, when Narwitz contacted the traditional press about the information, a reporter who spoke anonymously to Kotaku said they’d cautioned the YouTuber against publishing any information about the breach until it was properly remedied. Still, as evidenced by the video’s existence, that advice was clearly not taken to heart. If the responsibility for the ESA’s lax security measures in walling off confidential information from the public eye was solely theirs, the story’s rapid spread was partly aided by a grave miscalculation on Narwitz’s part that the discovery of this information would revert the damage done by the ESA, and maybe dominate the discourse with awareness over the natural propensity to just take that information with whomever has a camera, a microphone, and yells endlessly about so-called SJWs’ monopoly over game journalism.
Worsening the tally even more, is Sophia Narwitz’s professional record which does not exactly speak kindly to her credentials as a journalist. For one, she works as a primary writer for Colin Moriarty’s slate of game-related content. What does Colin promote exactly? His primary mission is pushing for a right-wing skewed read of video games. That in and of itself wouldn’t have been all that bad on its own, but Colin’s channels make a repeated point to use far-right dog whistles to garner sympathy for his views. And what are those views exactly? They range from apologetics for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, calling Colin Kaepernick’s protest of police brutality “disrespectful”, well through a favorable view on civil gun ownership which many in the political sphere are putting under heavy scrutiny as innocent lives continue being shed. That compounds with a regular presence of alt-right trolls such as Chris Ray Gun on his videos, further putting that distinguished goal of looking to sanitize fringe political voices in the gaming sphere into sharp focus.
After Kotaku’s news editor Jason Schreier brought the issue of Narwitz’s problematic affiliations up, many were quick to reach right back into the toxic well of Gamergate’s false assertions about journalists. The question that should’ve been immediately asked, is how someone who has established themselves a firm history of despising media, suddenly has a conscience and wants to protect said media? Short of being conspiratorial, the issue of chief importance remains the mishandling of this information by Narwitz. Not only because making a video about it in the first place would’ve expectedly made droves of harassers race to retrieve that information even if it’d been reportedly taken down, but also because the ongoing narrative is something Narwitz could’ve very easily predicted; and yet, she’d expressed little regret.
It didn’t take that long for Gamergate’s new incarnates to pick up on the story and paint traditional game journalism as the enemy. TheQuartering — who’d been unceremoniously involved in the harassment of GameSpot’s Kallie Plagge and many other reporters in the past — spun the story as Kotaku wanting to hoard coverage of video games to itself, completely disregarding their landscape-changing work on game crunch and their commitment to put people before story. LegacyKillaHD — another popular gaming provocateur — on the other hand was even more frivolously irresponsible by insinuating that the doxing of journalists was partly the responsibility of major publishers, overlooking that they have radically different IT infrastructures and the ESA, if anything, acts as a hub of trade investment rather than a true collaborative technological effort. If past patterns of Gamergate are anything to judge by, this story will be even further spread, and worst of all, be hailed as a victory of a movement that never took the safety of journalists from attempts of censorship and verbal/physical violence quite to heart.
I’ve personally weathered an onslaught of harassment for my views on modern Gamergate. It often was prompted by people who’d uncritically donned the slogan of “Ethics in video game journalism” without examining its toxic roots. If the integrity of game journalists was truly at the heart of Gamergate’s concerns, they wouldn’t have gone and accelerated the information’s spread more than it already has. But the simple fact of the matter is, Gamergate took this as a victory, even though they’ve done null to earn it. To care about journalists’ well-being after being their sole bane of existence is quite frankly hypocritical, and the question of the ESA’s screw-up becomes only secondary to what malicious actors would intend to use this information for. Sadly enough, it looks like the same group criticizing the ESA, is the one who’d strategically benefit from this leak, and that to say the least, is the most unideal of outcomes.
Updated to clarify that Narwitz’ channel had undergone a content purge very recently.