The appearance of impropriety, a quickie

Okay, this is going to be a fast, short post because I’m busy today and really didn’t feel like writing about this at all, yet here I am. With the recent drama involving Mattie Brice making statements that are at the least impolitic, even if we accept statements made after the fact they were in jest, I would like to bring up an aspect of all this that doesn’t receive remotely enough attention in Gamergate.

That is the appearance of impropriety. It is, according to Wikipedia (a sufficient source for paraphrasing information and informally defining terms), a circumstance in which a layperson who is ignorant of circumstantial details and context, would question the ethics of a subject. Real impropriety is immaterial in this case, what is material is that improprieties reasonably appear to have occurred, or are present.

Generally, even the appearance of impropriety is to be avoided, and for one key reason: the importance of trust in the subject of inquisition (in this case, the gaming press). A circumstance with so much as the appearance of impropriety can, and does, shake trust, and a media that cannot be trusted is of little, if any, value to its audience save entertainment value.

For example, relevant to Gamergate, when Nathan Greyson and Zoe Quinn entered into an (undisclosed) sexual relationship, it had the appearance of impropriety. I’m willing to accept, for the sake of charity, Stephen Totilo’s remarks about the relationship are true and that no impropriety occurred; however, that does not erase the appearance of it. After all, how many of us really trust at this point Totilo’s remarks about Greyson and Quinn? I certainly don’t.

“But Eacaraxe,” you might say, “that link is about the legal profession and judicial ethics! What does that have to do with journalism”? The notion is present in journalism as well…nor is it new to journalism. Nor is it new, even, to gaming journalism.

What any of this has to do with IGF and Mattie Brice, is that she made statements that allude to her decisions as a judge being influenced by personal bias. In jest or not, that is a wildly inappropriate statement for one in her position to make on a good day, and on its own carries the appearance of impropriety. Unfortunately for Ms. Brice and the IGF, these statements were not made on a good day, but rather amid a major scandal involving the indie game scene and the gaming press, during which allegations of contest-rigging and fraud have come to light, that may or may not be under investigation by federal authorities. For a statement even the IGF acknowledges as inappropriate,

The impact of the statement, though — and what caused us concern — was that it raised suspicions that judgment would be made on games without due diligence. We also take seriously the impact of our judges making public statements about the process of on-going proceedings, including which games a particular judge is assigned, impressions on unreleased games in the festival, or how any of our judges intend to vote in the festival.

the timing could have certainly been better. Yet the IGF, acknowledging this appearance of impropriety and at first rescinding her seat as a judge, has since re-extended their invitation and issued a public apology to Ms. Brice…in response to pressure by others also implicated.

I don’t know about anyone else, but to me such willful disregard for the appearance of impropriety itself raises serious questions about the personal ethics, integrity, and trustworthiness of these people.