On October 1, the computing giant Intel pulled its ads from Gamasutra, a trade website for game developers, over an essay called "'Gamers' don't have to be your audience. 'Gamers' are over" by a journalist named Leigh Alexander. Intel had been successfully harassed by a small, contemptible crusade called "Gamergate"—a campaign of dedicated anti-feminist internet trolls using an ill-informed mob of alienated and resentful video game-playing teenagers and young men to harass and intimidate female activists, journalists, and critics.
Unable to run Alexander out of game writing, as they had with the writer Jenn Frank, or force her from her home, as they did to the developer Brianna Wu, or threaten her from public engagements, as they did the following week to the critic and activist Anita Sarkeesian, Gamergate went after her publisher. And, in an unbelievable and embarrassing act of ignorance and cowardice, Intel capitulated. The company's laughable "apology," released late on that Friday afternoon, didn't cover up the fact of Gamergate's victory: Intel was not replacing its ads.
Failing to adequately cover this act of spinelessness was the first big fuck-up we at Gawker committed. Intel surrendered to the worst kind of dishonesty, and we allowed it to do so without ever calling it out. So let's say it now: Intel is run by craven idiots. It employs pusillanimous morons. It lacks integrity. It folded to misogynists and bigots who objected to a woman who had done nothing more than write a piece claiming a place in the world of video games. And even when confronted with its own thoughtlessness and irresponsibility, it could not properly right its wrongs.
Last week, a Gawker writer tweeted "bring back bullying." He, and later I, made the tactical mistake of publicly treating Gamergate with the contempt and flippancy that it deserves. As a consequence, our advertisers were quickly inundated with the same kinds of emails that spooked Intel. Gamergaters were passing around a sample letter ("DO NOT COPY AND PASTE") and list of advertiser contacts to coordinate the campaign; the Washington Post's Caitlin Dewey wrote an excellent breakdown of the efficient mechanism by which the relatively small group of Gamergaters was able to make itself immediately annoying to advertisers:
Step 4: Plug all of your choices into one of the many form e-mails that leaders of Disrespectful Nod have helpfully written already. [...]
Step 5: Keep it up, even when you get no response, and be — to quote the operation's guide! — "an annoying little s—." A representative for a high-profile communications company that advertises on Polygon confirmed that he'd received "dozens" of e-mails from Gamergate supporters over a period of several weeks.
Operation Disrespectful Nod also encourages Gamergaters to reach out to the bosses and managers of journalists who have written "negative" stories, demanding the reporter in question be fired or asked to resign. Topping their most-wanted list, at present, is Gawker Media's Biddle, who tweeted a string of jokes about Gamergate on Thursday. In context, at least, the jokes were an obvious — if tongue-in-cheek — commentary on the movement's well-documented, often hateful, idiocy. Critics construed them as an endorsement for bullying. (Biddle later apologized for the tweets.)
Transparent and documented though it was, the obsessive campaign worked. Mercedes-Benz—listed on the site as a former partner, and therefore a target—briefly paused its ads on a network that serves ads to Gawker. I've been told that we've lost thousands of dollars already, and could potentially lose thousands more, if not millions. Consequently, the editorial director of Gawker Media, Joel Johnson, took to the front page of Gawker to clarify that Sam Biddle does not want to bully anyone, and that Gawker Media as a company and institution is not pro-bullying. (Let's note here that the admitted goal of our Gamergate trolls is not to eke an apology out of Sam, or the company, but to literally put us out of business entirely.)
If this seems bizarre to you, you're not alone. I feel like I went to sleep in the regular world and woke up in an insane new one where "bullying" is something that it's possible to be seriously and sincerely "for." Yesterday, Adobe wrote to one Gamergater on Twitter that it had asked Gawker to remove its logo from the advertising site because it did not support bullying; a few confused hours later, Adobe was forced to clarify to the world:
We are vehemently opposed to bullying of any kind and would never support any group that bullies.
— Adobe (@Adobe) October 22, 2014
Brands like Adobe and Intel, willing to distance themselves from independent publishers over the spurious claims of a limited but dedicated group of misogynists and trolls, share an important core value with Gamergate: Misogyny. Kidding! Kidding. The value that defines both Gamergate and brand response is cynicism. A brand that honestly believes it needs to clarify that it is "vehemently opposed to bullying of any kind"—as though there are or have ever been genuine corporate supporters of bullying, and as though anyone was ever in danger of thinking the makers of Photoshop might be among their number—passes on to its adult customers the same corroding cynicism that the opportunistic reactionaries running Gamergate imbue in their maladjusted teenage followers. Releasing into the world a statement as vacuous as Adobe's tweet, or as inane as Intel's "apology," demonstrates not that those brands stand against something (how else can anyone possibly feel about bullying?) but that they stand for nothing.
Maybe that's too much to expect from a brand. But it seems like the bare minimum to expect from ourselves. Gawker is rarely perfect, but it strives to be honest and fearless. For us to have apologized for a joke—to have even clarified—in the face of such breathtaking cynicism and dishonesty, from both "ad partners" and the enemies who leverage those brands' fearfulness to silence opposing voices, feels like an utter abdication of those responsibilities. Frankly, that sucks. If anyone is owed an apology, it's our readers. So: Sorry.