No, the British Government Isn’t Treating GamerGate Like a Terror Group

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Update: Milo Yiannopoulos, the author of the Breitbart piece discussed in this article, responds below, as does the school in question.

It’s not unusual for Breitbart News to publish thinly sourced GamerGate-bait or, as it shall henceforth be known, GamerBait. In fact, it’s safe to assume that part of the reason the site recently gave British commentator on gender Milo Yiannopoulos a tech vertical is because he and the site’s token-“liberal”-but-c’mon-let’s-be-real-here Allum Bokhari are so expert at hitting those GamerGate high notes — articles that sound the alarm over the extent to which “traditional” gamers and techies are under attack at the hands of social-justice warriors who have wormed their way into the tech world, hauling with them their unsavory feminist and identitarian baggage. If you want a vision of the future, Breitbart Tech tells its readers daily, imagine a lesbian stamping on your anime collectibles — forever.

Consistently painting a world in which straight white gamers and tech bros are under meaningful, sustained attack requires a slight rejiggering of mainstream evidentiary standards. Luckily, Breitbart’s proudly yellow institutional approach to concepts like “sourcing” and “facts” is a natural fit. Most sites wouldn’t publish an anonymously sourced, bizarre rumor about a women-in-tech organization allegedly setting up honey traps to seduce innocent tech guys and then accuse them of rape, for example, but Breitbart Tech found it irresistible.

Even by these standards, though, the article Yiannopoulos ran a few days ago was genuinely weird. Headlined “British Schools Are Branding GamerGate ‘Illegal’ And ‘Extremist’ Following Government Advice,” it started as follows:

Students at a school in England are being handed material advising them to avoid GamerGate, the consumer ethics movement. The handouts compare GamerGate to ISIS and the English Defence League, calling all three “illegal” and “extremist” activity.

According to the headmaster, says one student, the handouts were drafted on the basis of information originating with the Home Office, a branch of the British Government.

There’s also a screenshot of the handout in question, and it mirrors the one in this tweet from November 9:

Obviously, if the U.K.’s Home Office were lumping together GamerGate with ISIL and the EDL, that would be a crazy story. Say what you want about GamerGate, but it isn’t chopping off anyone’s head or trying to drive dark-skinned people out of the U.K.

But there are red flags in the wording here: “According to the headmaster, says one student … ” seems to imply Yiannopoulos didn’t check with the school itself to try to get an explanation. Then: “Breitbart is not naming the college to protect the student who shared his identity with us, and because the headmaster of the school has promised to review the material.” Promised to the student, or promised to Yiannopoulos? And why would naming the school put the student in jeopardy? Nowhere in the short article does Yiannopoulos explicitly state he reached out to the school for a comment on this weird incident.

So I checked it out, and the answer is, no, there’s no evidence based on this incident that the U.K.’s Home Office has lumped in GamerGate with terrorist and hate groups.

I was pointed in the right direction by some GamerGaters in the comments section of a link to the article on the KotakuInAction subreddit, an unofficial GamerGate HQ of sorts. There was — credit where it’s due — a fair amount of widespread skepticism about the article among the GamerGaters there (though it did reach the front page of KiA with a red UNVERIFIED sticker next to it). Some folks mentioned having seen the pamphlet on Twitter almost a month earlier, and one of them mentioned that the author of the original tweet, Son_of_Cad, had corresponded with a GamerGate-friendly writer who might know what school this had taken place at. I DM’d that writer to ask and was told the name of the school. (The writer attempted to retroactively take our conversation off the record, but I’m not going to name the school anyway.)

Then I had a quick DM chat with Son_Of_A_Cad, to whom Yiannopoulos had reached out after his initial posting of the handout. I asked him to recount what had happened, and nothing about his retelling immediately jumped out as fishy or scammy — he said that he was pissed off about the flyer and had brought it to the school’s attention, and that the school had told him the GamerGate-terrorists connection had come from the Home Office.

So I checked, through a generic contact email, with the school itself, and received the below email from that same alias, with no name attached [sic throughout]:

Apologies,  it was a mistake to say advice was given by UK government. It was based on articles below.

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/aug/29/anita-sarkeesian-gamergate-interview-jessica-valenti

It got even harder once GamerGate happened. For the uninitiated, GamerGate is a Twitter hashtag, which became an online movement that purported to be about journalistic ethics, but which actually focuses on attacking and harassing women such as Sarkeesian.

She is frustrated by the way GamerGate has been covered in the media. “All the stories kept decentring the fact that it was domestic violence,” she says. Indeed, the movement was born when a 25-year-old software developer named Eron Gjoni posted a 10,000-word blog about his ex-girlfriend, video game designer Zoe Quinn. In the blog, he recounted the minutiae of their relationship and outlined her supposed wrongdoings and infidelities. Quinn has said, “It is domestic abuse that went viral, and it was designed to go viral.” (Gjoni linked to the blogpost in forums such as 4chan, well known for vicious online harassment.)

https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=gamergate&sourceid=ie7&rls=com.microsoft:en-GB:IE-Address&ie=&oe=&gfe_rd=cr&ei=prJeVpPqG-_H8gef1Qo&gws_rd=ssl Wikipedia

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/16/technology/gamergate-women-video-game-threats-anita-sarkeesian.html

New York Times

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-34698654

So, to be clear, this isn’t a case of the British government misunderstanding and over-hyping GamerGate — rather, it appears some teacher or school administrator screwed up and/or got a little overzealous. (“I’m glad my government hasn’t made the mistake I thought it had,” Son_Of_A_Cad told me via DM after I explained what had happened to him. “I’m happy the College is planning on revising the handout, but I find it strange that they gave such incorrect information the first time round (about the Home Office’s involvement).”) The story here is way less sexy than “The British government is oppressing GamerGaters!”

It was also a very easy story to check — the school got back to me almost immediately, factoring in the end-of-their-business-day timing of my email. Son_Of_A_Cad told me via DM that Yiannopoulos “phoned [the school] up and emailed them, but I believe they never replied.” I tweeted at Yiannopoulos to ask if he ever actually contacted the school and followed up with the school to ask the same, and I’ll update this post if either responds.

Note: After I reached out to Yiannopoulos and while this article was being copyedited, I noticed that he or someone else at Breitbart had begun altering the article. First, an alleged was sneaked into the headline to soften the claim about government involvement — I confirmed this by checking an archived version I had saved earlier using archive.is. Then an editor’s note materialized at the end: “Editor’s Note: since the publication of this story, conflicting information has arisen about the source of advice to the school that GamerGate was a hate movement. We have once again requested comment from the headmaster.” Make what you will of the “again requested comment” line, but there was nothing in the original article stating Yiannopoulos had reached out to the school.

Update, 12/2: In email correspondence, Yiannopoulos told me he spoke with an administrator at the school on November 13 and that that administrator told him the GamerGate terror warning had come from “the government.” “I phoned them three times on 13 November and spoke to a college administrator who was aware of the situation,” he wrote.

Update, 12/3: In an email, the school denies it ever spoke with Yiannopoulos:

To confirm.
No statement was given to Milo Yiannopoulos.
[Emphasis in the original.]

I forwarded the message to Yiannopoulos to see if he wanted to respond. In an email, he said: “I was told [that the source of the GamerGate-terrorism connection idea was the British government] by whoever answered the headmaster’s line. She said what I relayed to you over the phone. Nothing to add. Sorry you fucked up so badly!”

So, depending on whether you believe Yiannopoulos or the school in question to be telling the truth, one of two things happened: Either Yiannopoulos was dishonest when he emailed Following yesterday demanding a retraction and an apology because he had discussed the Home Office claim with a school administrator, or Yiannopoulos’s source for that claim — which was stated as a fact in the article’s original headline — was "whoever answered the headmaster’s line."