"Trust but verify" and the $64,000 question for Gamergate

For the sake of full disclose, my education is in political science (particularly, campaign finance) therefore I may be considerably more cynical than most. But, my education has drilled in me two mantras I apply to practically any political or social scenario, that have never done me wrong.

Those mantras are “follow the money” and “trust nobody whose financial interest is at stake”.

A whole lot of bandwidth and drive space have been dedicated to the topics of bullying, threats, and harassment during Gamergate, no small part of it in direct regards to certain individuals whose affiliation with the larger controversy is, at best, peripheral. Out of it has arisen another mantra, “trust but verify”, which speaks to a notion of optimistic skepticism wherein claims of bullying and harassment are to be taken at face value, but verified with proof in order to maintain credibility. Skepticism is good, but I personally feel “trust but verify” in this particular context disregards an elephant in the room which speaks to the sincerity, motives, and message of involved individuals, as well as strikes to the heart of gaming press involvement, journalistic ethics, and Gamergate at large.

It’s time to talk about that elephant, that involved individuals and the gaming press profits from harassment, threats, and bullying (to which I will collectively refer for the sake of brevity from this point forward as “abusive behavior” or simply “abuse”). Involved individuals leverage and even advertise their own abuse to generate donations and views of their own content (which may in and of itself generate revenue). The gaming press reports on abuse to generate page views and ad revenue, which is understandable in its own right (the press’ job is to report news), but publishes at length controversial editorial content (see, gamer-baiting) which serves as a driver for revenue generation as well. That is to say, their vested financial interest is in abuse.

You might have heard of this phenomenon by another,  more controversial and less tactful (but honest) term, “professional victimhood”. Whatever you call it, the $64,000 question is “why would anyone with a vested financial interest in abusive behavior ever want them to end?”…or, for that matter, “why would anyone with a vested financial interest in abuse want anything but for them to increase?”. The necessary, but hidden, premise of commodifying (monetizing) abuse is, simple enough, abuse becomes a resource to be exploited.

I could write in detail about the effects of this on real people — diverting attention away from voiceless or powerless victims of abuse, trivializing the issue of abuse through profiteering, perpetuating an abusive environment for the sake of profit setting up real victims for further abuse, or as we’ve seen in the last two months subjecting people to abuse simply for voicing their opinions — but I won’t. I’ll stick to the topic at hand; opining on abuse while profiting from it represents an inherent conflict of interest, and calls into question the biases, motives, and sincerity of those doing it.

Do we trust used car salesmen on car safety? How about — as I’ve alluded to on Twitter — the automobile industry on automotive safety? No, their financial interest is in selling vehicles.

Do we trust the tobacco industry, and the lobbyists and scientists in its employ, on the dangers of smoking? No, their financial interest is in selling cigarettes.

Did we trust the fossil fuel industry, and the lobbyists and scientists in its employ, on acid rain in the ’80s or the prevalence of lead and the hazards of lead exposure? Do we (rationally, with their track record) trust them on climate change or the environmental hazards of fracking? No, their financial interest is in selling fossil fuels.

In each of those cases, there is a clear financial interest at stake — the perpetuation (and maximization) of profit, personal or industry-wide. So, why should we trust abuse profiteers — and that’s exactly what these people are — on abuse? Their financial interest is in the perpetuation of abuse, not ending it contrary to their claims, which represents a clear and undeniable bias which renders them fundamentally untrustworthy.

Which is why I believe “trust but verify” to be fallacious. Trust nobody whose financial interest is at stake. Doubt, but verify, because at no point should we ever forget in what these people’s financial interest, and biases, lie.