Sins of a Solar Spymaster #77: On Accountability

The Mittani addresses personal and media accountability following the EVE Fanfest Alliance Panel controversy in this week’s Sins of a Solar Spymaster.

(Disclaimer: The Mittani's views are his own and do not reflect those of the Ten Ton Hammer network, but his allegations have triggered a review of those who are consider to be objective and factual first tier news sources.)

At this year’s Fanfest Alliance Panel, I drank myself into a stupor and said something I deeply regret. After sobering up and discovering what I had said, I did my best to apologize to the player I insulted. I made a formal apology on the forums, resigned my position on the CSM, and sent all my isk to the character who I had mocked. While many have pointed out that I was so drunk that I could barely stand, I refuse to use alcohol as an excuse for my actions; I put myself into that position and should bear the responsibility for it. I own my mistakes; accountability is important to me.

Mittani

The circumstances of my error, apology, and resignation were covered by both the media of the EVE community itself - blogs, podcasts, and radio shows - and by the broader gaming media. The divide between the quality of coverage was stark; the unpaid community volunteers who write the blogs and host the radio shows were far more accurate and fact-oriented than the professional gaming media, who ranged on a continuum of error from lazy factual slipups and misstatements to deliberately sensationalizing the story with transparently false and inflammatory labels.

The intriguing thing about the community coverage is that many of the people writing the most nuanced pieces have vehemently criticized me in the past. Some are old foes from the Great War; some have disagreed with me repeatedly over my methods on the CSM. A sober analysis with logs and facts from one ancient enemy of mine is here; Jester - a long-time critic - provides context about the nature of the Alliance Panel (essentially a one-upmanship contest between the biggest jerks in EVE) and discusses the conflict of roles between an alliance leader and a CSM Chair. Freebooted, who has repeatedly taken me to the cleaners, accurately sees through my in-game persona and who I am out-of game. Even Evenews24, whose editor is a man who I defeated in the CSM elections and whose alliance I burned to the ground, published a blog which critiqued CCP’s handling of the incident in an alarmingly level-headed way.

Cyberbullying

It’s important to understand how this story broke and why some of the major gaming press could have erred so badly. An anonymous commentator began shopping the story by emailing the press under the pseudonym ‘Kestrel’ on Saturday,  after it was announced that I had been re-elected as Chairman in the CSM elections. This email misrepresented the incident - stating that I had given out a player’s real name, rather than simply naming an EVE character. With even the most cursory fact-checking, the suspect nature of the Kestrel email would have been immediately obvious.

Making matters worse, a columnist at Massively.com slapped the incendiary label ‘cyberbully’ on the incident, and the story promptly exploded. A number of sites then took this label and ran with it. The story rapidly mutated from “drunken jerk says something dumb about an in-game character and apologizes” into “CYBERBULLY ATTEMPTS TO DRIVE A REAL HUMAN TO SUICIDE IN ONLINE GAME”.

Cyberbullying is a grave issue. Our schools are in chaos; teenagers are driving each other to self-harm with persistent online harassment. It is unequivocally ridiculous to suggest that a stumbling idiot in a wizard hat mouthing off (again, I make no denials - what I said was completely over the line) about an ingame character is the equivalent of youths harassing one another over Facebook until one is driven to suicide. Slapping the label ‘Cyberbully’ - with its high media profile and controversial nature - on my remark was not only manifestly inappropriate but reckless and irresponsible.

Jita

The EVE community was unwilling to let the major gaming media get away with gutter journalism. Marc Scaurus was one of the first to call out Massively on their misuse of the ‘cyberbully’ label. The Nosy Gamer went deeper, systematically lambasting a series of factual errors across the multiple media stories in a post that hit like a hammer. The foremost host of Eve Radio, DJ Funkybacon, summoned an audience for a show which included a truly impressive tirade taking the gaming media to task for their myriad errors. Even Hilmar weighed in.

In the face of this uproar, there have been a slew of retractions and apologies from the gaming press. To his credit, the Massively journalist behind the initial ‘Cyberbully’ label has acknowledged the inappropriateness of his wording and edited his articles to remove the sensationalist language. Showing laudable maturity, he also apologized for his part in inflaming the hysteria; I was happy to accept his apology and truly appreciate his candor.

However, these are structural problems that go far beyond coverage of EVE; Arydanika - one of the very few female voices in the game - illustrated how this situation is just one example of a larger pattern of problematic gaming media behavior. Arydanika and I discussed the incident and its coverage at greater length on the Voices from the Void podcast.

Journalist Dan Rather

Unfortunately, the editor-in-chief of Massively has now backpedaled from his columnist’s apology, claiming that the EVE community holding Massively to account for its errors is itself somehow an act of cyberbullying. The idea of a major gaming website being ‘cyberbullied’ is, of course, laughable, but this sad dodge further illustrates my point. When I screwed up and crossed the line, the right thing to do was apologize - profusely and without qualification - to own it.  Massively erred in attaching ‘cyberbully’ to the story, and now - rather than own their error as their columnist had the maturity to do - their editor doubles down on the original offense and tries to use the same misapplied label to shirk accountability.  Again, the EVE community reacted, with Jester replying with a stinging rejoinder to Schuster’s rationalizations.

This is important and thus bears repeating: cyberbullying is a serious problem, and this obfuscatory behavior serves only to trivialize a significant real-world issue by using it to escape responsibility. The entire situation demonstrates the danger of gaming bloggers with no formal training proclaiming themselves ‘journalists’ and essentially roleplaying as reporters while negligently glossing over the shoe-leather basics of the job.

Yet what is noteworthy to the broader EVE community about this scandal - beyond the obvious caveat not to trust a ‘reporter’ who doesn’t play or understand our game - is the fact that a previously inchoate group of EVE bloggers, podcasters and radio shows hosts have, over the course of the Incarna Crisis, developed into a force significant enough to challenge first CCP and now even the broader gaming media. A year ago I dismissed the EVE bloggers as an ‘echo chamber’ - and at the time it was true. That was before Jester’s infamous ‘Curves’ blog rocked EVE to its core, the riots were reported on in real-time by EVE Radio, and the common player turned to the community media instead of the official forums to find out what the hell was going on. In the intervening months, what was once an echo chamber has matured into a capable and credible force that straight up beats the ‘professional’ gaming media at their own job - and holds them accountable for their failures.

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