PIXEL BURN – Bomb Threat Scuppers GamerGate Debate

In which Matt stares transfixed at footage of a drone, launched after a bomb threat prematurely ends a public discussion about ethics in videogame journalism.
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Hello my name’s Matt and this is Pixel Burn, where I usually take a sarcastic look at the week’s gaming news. But then I watched a hotel get evacuated on a livestream due to a bomb threat made at a discussion about videogame journalism.

On Saturday August 15th the Florida chapters of the Society of Professional Journalism hosted a one-day conference at the Koubek Centre in sweltering Miami. Called “SPJ Airplay” and billing itself as “the first live and live-streamed GamerGate debate”, the conference was organised and moderated by American journalist Michael Koretzky and divided into two separate panels.

The morning panel started with an attempt to clarify what GamerGate is or isn’t, before moving on to the main subject of “Ethics in Games Journalism.” Which depending on your perspective is either GamerGate’s raison d’etre, a smokescreen for evil, or something that would be quite nice but nobody really expects much of.

The afternoon panel meanwhile was to discuss how the mainstream media in particular should cover online controversies such as GamerGate, as well as the challenges reporters face when trying to interview an “online leaderless movement”, and what editors should know before approving a story for publication.

It was an event that many people who identify as part of the GamerGate movement were either welcoming or dreading, depending on who you spoke to. The latter, jaded by what they perceived as biased coverage of GamerGate by the media, weren’t holding out much hope of getting a fair shake. The former meanwhile were excited for the opportunity to express their arguments to a wider audience.

And GamerGate were certainly well-represented at the event, with six of the nine panellists identifying as pro-GamerGate in some capacity. These were Mark Ceb of YouTube channel “Action Points”, Asche Schow of The Washington Examiner, Allum Bokhari of Breitbart.com, Milo Yianoppolous – also from Breitbart.com, Christina Hoff-Summers of centre-right think-tank The American Enterprise Institute, and self-identified conservative/libertarian journalist Cathy Young.

All chosen directly by GamerGate itself to represent it. Or at least, as directly as any leaderless movement can make something approaching a vaguely unanimous decision.

The comparatively smaller non-GamerGate contingent were Lynn Walsh, secretary-treasurer of the SPJ and ethics expert, and Ren LaForme of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, representing all of journalism. Joining them as a neutral party was game developer Derek Smart. Conspicuous by their absence was anyone publicly identifying as “Anti-GamerGate”, or “AGG” for short. According to SPJ Airplay, GamerGate critics had boycotted the event claiming it would serve to only support a “hate movement” that has only a passing interest in journalism.

Sorry for the whopping great info-dump there by the way. It’s a bit difficult to slip jokes into something that ends in a bomb threat.

Speaking of which, that all kicked off about an hour and twenty-two minutes into the afternoon panel. One minute Cathy Young was talking about being misquoted by a journalist, and the next:

Now when I watched it live I didn’t catch the evacuation order, so I was very confused as to what was going on. I first thought the auditorium had either been invaded by angry protestors, or someone said something about Koretzky’s mum and he stopped the show.

All I knew for certain is that the event had been brought to an abrupt halt and everyone was leaving.

Whereupon it was Derek Smart to the rescue!

Now there’s something I never expected to ever say. I’d better cross that off my list.

Once everyone had been evacuated Derek began streaming the whole kerfuffle on Periscope from his phone. Whereupon we quickly learnt it was the Miami Dade Police who had ordered the building evacuated, on account of a “credible bomb threat.” I say “credible” because this was not the first such threat to have been made that day. According to Milo Yiannopoulos the threat that triggered the exodus had been the tenth such one that day, whereas according to Michael Koretzky it was only the sixth. Either way, it’s still six to ten bomb threats too many.

The threat deemed “credible” enough to evacuate the building was made to both the Miami PD – probably to this number – and The Miami Herald, and claimed a bomb would go off in the Koubek Centre at 2:45PM Eastern Time.

Over the course of about half an hour Derek’s stream was the main source for what was happening on the ground there, and his viewers were treated to such sights as:

A drone being launched by the SPJ. The fact I’m even saying a drone was launched just boggles my mind.

Journalists interviewing people live at the scene. Not surprising given this event was, after all, organised by a society of them.

Derek Smart’s fashion minute.

Police moving people away from the building and clearing the streets.

Michael Koretzky confirming details about the bomb threat.

Impromptu vox-pops about the panel itself.

More police arriving.

The area being cordoned off.

People complaining about the oppressive Florida humidity. And you say us Brits always moan about the weather. Although if that’s normal Florida humidity then I am never going to Florida.

And eventually, the entire neighbourhood being evacuated.

Eventually Derek’s phone battery arrived at the verge of death, and since his charger was inside his car: which was itself inside a police cordon, the stream had to come to an end. SPJ Airplay itself meanwhile continued, in a fashion, with an impromptu open-air panel held on the porch of a condemned house in full view of the police.

At the time of this recording it is still not known who called in the bomb threat or for what purpose. Unless you count this anonymous claim made on 8chan. A small element of both GamerGate and Anti-GamerGate are also, naturally blaming each other for it.

And yet the majority on each side also agree that whoever called in the threat is a colossal arsehole, or words to that effect. So there’s at least some common ground to build on there.

This is also not the first time GamerGate have had bomb threats called in at their events. A GamerGate meetup at a restaurant in Washington DC, back in May of this year, was similarly disrupted when police evacuated the premises in response to a telephone call and this tweet.

As for the conference, while it had its cringeworthy moments it did also result in some interesting discussion, particularly on the morning panel. Among the topics raised were the gulf between games journalists and their audience, whether potential aspiring games journalists might be put off by this new climate of intense scrutiny the games press are now under, conflicts of interest, how Triple A publishers are able to pressure the games press, and the ethical ramifications of reviewing versus reporting. It was intense at times, sure, but also generally civil and good-natured.

The afternoon panel was…somewhat less focused, although still raised interesting points about things like journalistic “beats”, or areas of expertise, how journalists can best approach leaderless movements like GamerGate or Occupy Wallstreet, and the challenges faced by journalism in general in the internet age. It also featured some…shall we say “vigorous” audience participation, and yet was also still, overall, a civil and generally good natured discussion. Even after the evacuation order was given.

Because at the end of a humid Florida day, that’s all this was. A discussion. Not a Klan Rally, nor some gathering of fearless revolutionaries for truth – delete as applicable. Just people engaged in dialogue with each other.

And while the SPJ Airplay panel certainly wasn’t perfect, and wouldn’t be even if there had not been a bomb threat called in, it was a significant step towards encouraging more such dialogue.

Whether the motive was to deny certain people a platform on which to speak, to create a false flag situation that can later be capitalised on, or – the most likely reason – for simple shits and giggles, there was no justification for calling in a bomb threat on people who were just talking. Especially one that forced an entire neighbourhood of people that had bugger-all to do with any of this, to evacuate their homes.

Although I did get to see a drone launch on livestream, which was rather cool.

One thing that remains clear is that a year after it bubbled up into the wider public consciousness, GamerGate remains a complicated and divisive issue that isn’t going away anytime soon. How critics, journalists, neutral parties and others choose to engage with it will set the tone going forward. Because however misguided you think they may be, a sizeable number of people who support GamerGate are A) still people, not Monsters from the Id, and B) more than willing to talk. Hell, you can’t get them to shut up half the bloody time.

GamerGate also has plenty of arseholes of course, but the same can be said for any movement, personal belief or ideology. Including yours.

Don’t take my interpretation of all this at face value however, because I can only tell you how I see it. Do as much of your own research as you can, try to read and listen to what each side says, and then draw your own conclusions. It’s time consuming, sure, but it’s not rocket surgery.

Finally all credit to Michael Koretzky and the SPJ for organising this event in the first place, and I sincerely hope they’re able to do more in the future. Ideally with a broader selection of panellists, including some from the Anti-GamerGate side of the debate as well as more moderate and neutral voices.

Oh, and less bomb threats too. That would be nice.

That’s all for this one-note episode of Pixel Burn. If you liked it then please do let me know by clicking the requisite button down below, and let your friends, family and the Department of Homeland Security know as well. At the very least I hope you found it tolerable. Until next time, as always, stay safe and be excellent to each other.


About Matt

Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind bitscreed.com and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.