Know your audience: an unwritten, but necessary, online literacy

By | December 18, 2014

This is an interesting perspective on Gamergate: perhaps all the anger isn't about some gamers being digital idiots. Perhaps it is just about subcultures clashing and not understanding each other's rules and ettiquette, resulting in some rather nasty results.

While I would argue that Gamergate has crossed the lines in several respects, I do think that this perspective does have some validity: the digital world has brought together a mix of cultures, regions, languages, and opened up the door for misunderstanding to a larger extent than many of us are acquainted with. And this is something that we need to constantly keep in the back of our minds in every digital conversation.

Originally shared by +Kaj Sotala

This was an interesting essay on Gamergate as a clash of cultural discussion norms:

> The Man In Black points out that there is a certain sociology going on [in Chan culture]. Anonymity leads to rude, mob behaviour. But much of this is good-natured ribbing: since participants do not have stable personas nobody ever loses (unlike in fora where you have at least a pseudonymous identity whose reputation you might wish to protect). That is not to say there is no real sexism or malice there, just that it is mixed up with far more uses of its terminology where the actual meaning is different.

> There is also an identification with the mob and its chaotic, dynamic nature – consider the delight Anonymous took in being an inchoate, implacable enemy of whoever aroused its ire (“Because none of us are as cruel as all of us”). As the MIB says, “Chan culture considers personal reputation meaningless but collective identity sacrosanct”. Deliberately trying to stand out is in the eyes of this subculture and in the rules of its discourse uncouth. To claim that the consensus is wrong and that one’s personal experiences can refute a point breaks the rules of discourse. To have a mass of people respond with rude invective to any statement (including statements they actually agree with) is how you have an argument: if you do not want a wave of hostility, why did you invite it by making a claim?

> These rules of discourse are of course radically different from in other subcultures. And this nicely explains part of the gamergate explosion: when the Chan culture touches other cultures of discourse there will be fundamental misunderstandings about the very nature of what a discourse is supposed to be.

[…]

> …the Internet means that every culture of discourse can potentially encounter every other. Normally this does not happen since people network with people like themselves, and instead the properties of Internet communities lead to rapid evolution of local cultures of discourse. Sometimes they are borrowed: this blog, for example, tends to stick close to academic philosophical discourse styles much of the time (for example, people often responding with objections even though they are meant in a friendly way – the ideal is honest truth-seeking rather than status gams). However, occasionally a post here touches on a topic of interest to other communities and we get an infusion of commenters from elsewhere. Often this leads to a bit of friction since people don’t follow the assumed and unspoken rules. How can they know that when a philosopher suggests that mulching children could be good he does not actually promote baby-mulching, but trying to make a fine point about some metaethical issue? Normally when somebody says somethingb they mean it.

> Blowups seem to happen more and more often thanks to the nonlocal nature of the Internet. I write something that makes sense as bioethics, and find myself vilified (and subject to satirical poetry) by people who didn’t get the context. Somebody makes a joke that is innocuous in their home culture but vile blasphemy elsewhere. There is also a network effect: since messages are transmitted not from central hubs but as branching trees between participants, there is both potential for accumulating bias and misunderstanding, but also that comments on comments become relevant – and they also have blowup potential. As a blowup gets larger more people become involved, each with a certain probability of adding a secondary detonation through some comment or action (I bet that the eventual size distribution of such reactions has a power-law probability distribution). Conversely, when something causes interest thousands or million eyes can focus on a single individual, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Limiting the damage from cultures in collision | Practical Ethics
A Man in Black has a readable twitter essay about the role of chan culture in gamergate, and how the concepts of identity and debate inside a largish subculture

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