The Verge PC Build: The Aftermath of a Harassment Campaign

A harassment campaign against a Vox Media reporter is again in full effect.

Some topics to abord on YouTube are naturally more volatile than others. In the case of PC hardware, there are far too many know-it-alls and online vigilantes that chomp at the bits to set the record straight if and when the slightest deviation from the script is sighted. This is what happened to Verge journalist Stefan Etienne when he tried to build a PC on camera, and it’s a probable cause for why he now no longer works there anymore.

To get a good sense of why that matters, one has to look at the grander PC hardware landscape on YouTube–namely, that it is dominated by straight white dudes. LinusTechTips, JayZTwoCents, Hardware Unboxed, Paul’s Hardware–you get the idea. The straight white dude variety has become synonymous with the PC space, and this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since the average income of a white family household is a far cry from most other minorities in America — where most of these channels happen to spring up from — allowing them to populate this segment more prominently just by sheer possession of more argent de poche. So when a black man waltzes in to participate in a white man’s ordeal, things are bound to get dirty, and dirty did they get.

The opener to the second season of Verge’s Workflow series was this PC build helmed by Stefan Etienne, and it has been the subject of much controversy among the PC enthusiast community because of how many misconceptions managed to make it into the video. Being a PC hardware fanatic myself, I couldn’t get myself bothered to watch the video because of how many dozens of builds I’ve watched — and done when I worked at a hardware shop — in the past, but once the video vanished from the Verge’s YouTube channel, it soon started to click that something went terribly awry in the process.

Things took a particular turn to the ugly when a Twitch stream of Etienne was stalked and got clipped for a jab at the video’s dissenters, voicing what is an understandable concern given the amount of sludge thrown at his doorway since. One drawback to social media amplifying our deepest contempt for our would-be enemies is that it is quite easy to exploit easy access to personalities online and use that as a conduit to harass them. It was five months after the Stefan Etienne-hosted video was originally hosted, and dissenters are still coming uninvited to his Twitter mentions, talking about the hypothetical damage done to someone’s PC build. The problem is, however, we’ve had no such testimony of the sort, and for how many flaws the Verge’s PC build has, there’s still no concrete proof that it caused the much-loathsome grief everyone and their dog keeps yapping about to no end.

It may have looked rosy on Etienne’s critics end that he got nabbed a job he never should have been entrusted to do in the first place — according to them at least — but his role at the Verge wasn’t to strictly do video. Unlike what many would think, Etienne was more involved in Verge’s print portion, where he did — among other things — reviews of smartphones, gaming laptops, and was supplementing a large chunk of the Verge’s content blindspot on the PC hardware side. Vox Media’s subsidiary decided they no longer wanted the hassle and have since let go of Etienne.

It’s not hard to see why the criticism would be dismissed as that of “angry nerds” because it is precisely the characteristic that it dons. I found the PC build Etienne did just as problematic, but I didn’t take it as justification to go parade my butthurtedness at his Twitter feed unprovoked. This is what unfortunately many have gone on to do since, and there’s little to no indication that it will stop anytime soon.

The greatest tragedy of the PC build aren’t the words misspoken, the thermal paste misapplied, or accessories being misreferred to–it’s that every YouTuber who’s ever outside of the PC space — especially if they happen to be a person of color — will now have to comb every word in their script to make sure an error doesn’t slip. If it does, it looks like it will be a recipe for much harassment that continues to persist long after the spoiled produce has been buried.

Updated to reflect Stefan Etienne’s current employment status.