Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
The value of "proof" on the internet

In a recent discussion on this blog somebody argued that a certain person was bad, based on a screenshot of a tweet "that has since been deleted". That struck me as both wrong and somewhat fishy. First of all I wouldn't dismiss anybody's opinion just based on something he once said without confirming that he still held that opinion. And second the "screenshot of tweet that has been deleted" to me looked like something that could all too easily be faked.

So in my mind I pondered for a while how to fake a tweet, with an application like Photoshop. Then I started to do some research on the subject, and it turns out that I wouldn't have needed to bother with anything complicated like that. There is an actual website to create fake tweets. You just need the Twitter handle of anybody you dislike, then type any text you want to put into his mouth, and the site creates that fake tweet for you.

I found that mildly interesting, but not worth writing about up to now. But today I read that in the continued Gamergate mudslinging a screenshot of an Anita Sarkeesian tweet turned up as "proof" of her misdeeds. There was just one minor flaw with that "proof": The tweet had 218 characters, while real tweets are limited to 140 (or rather 137 plus ...). Oops!

I do not believe in the value of arguing over "he said, she said". The whole idea of somebody having a large published work expressing one set of opinions, and a secret history of hidden other opinions that somehow devalue the published opinions to me seems to be in the domain of weird conspiracy theorists and not worth serious consideration. We live in an age of political correctness, where you cannot say certain things about people who are different from you. But I am under no illusion that this actually improves human nature. There are serious scientific studies that explain why a mistrust of strangers is hard-wired into our brains, so you can't eliminate xenophobia simply by ostracizing people who make xenophobic remarks. But that also means that "he/she is a hidden xenophobe / racist / sexist / whatever" is not much of an argument. We probably all are to some extent. Some more openly than others. And sometimes the "proof" of those hidden opinions is just fake anyway.

I think the lesson of all this to mistrust "proof" of hidden misdeeds on the internet, because it is likely to be faked. If you can't find an argument against somebody's *published* opinions and have to resort to dubious "proof" of hidden opinions, then you haven't got much of a position anyway. I believe that some extreme feminist positions are wrong, and that it would be a good idea to discuss those positions. But if your only argument against some feminist is that she might have been unfaithful to her boyfriend, or that she might have said something not politically correct in a "deleted" tweet, you might as well pack your bag and go home.

It is common practise when dealing with social justice extremists (and other unsavoury people) to cap their material as they frequently go back and remove/edit statements. It's good practise when involved in forum debates with them. You can go back a year later and the thread will look completely different to how it did at the time.

I've had discussions with people on YouTube and they have gone back later and edited dozens of comments which actually made my unedited posts look bizarre/bad.

You are giving them free reign and a get out of jail free card for posting hate speech.

Just because "some proof got faked once" does not give racists a free pass to post offensive material, delete it and then use the defence that the caps (that were produced by multiple independent people) are obviously fake.

Naturally you do have to be wary of people faking posts as part of targeted harassment.

But were that the case in the instance you are referring to, I am sure the person concerned would have taken legal action and the site hosts would have provided the original logs which would result in the total discrediting of the perpetrators.
Tobold, I'm sure that someone will try to spin the obvious fakery of the "tweet" you mentioned into something that proves their viewpoint.

The rule of thumb that I had drilled into me in school was that you had to provide at least three independent and independently verifiable citations to back your point up. I'm still waiting for those from the Gamergate crowd.

As I said, I don't accept "person X made some stupid remark in the past elsewhere in a very different context" as argument for "person X's opinion on another subject is invalid".

And I certainly don't believe that if somebody distributes a 218-character tweet of Anita Sarkeesian it is then up to Anita to take expensive legal action to prove that this tweet was fake.

In how far removing previous statements is especially prevalent with what you call "social justice warriors", I honestly can't tell. In the whole Gamergate vs. SJW debate it is rather ridiculous for either side to claim that they are the good guys and that the other side is using dishonest methods. The mudslinging and dishonest tactics have clearly been used by both sides, and there are no innocents in this affair.
Redbeard - you are busted my friend.

You don't demand the same level evidence from Sarkeesian and co.

She claims to have received threats that have forced her to leave her house.

We haven't seen them, we don't know how many and we don't know WHO they are from.

Are they from ONE deranged gamer?

Are they from her boyfriends ex-wife who has a grudge?

Are they from the 20 million innocent gamers who were minding their own business?

Well hey guys!!! Its obviously the latter isn't it!

Who cares about three independent sources!!!!
Tobold you are absolutely wrong to say "there are no innocents".

I'd bet that 90% on BOTH sides are innocent.

There are lots of fine gaming journalists and fine gamers out there.

Fine journalists who are not corrupt but don't want to lose their jobs if their site loses ad revenue or views due to some bad eggs being corrupt.

Fine gamers who are concerned about corruption and don't want to be smeared by false sexism allegations due to the small corrupt minority on the opposing side exploiting the statements made by a small bunch of sick individuals who purport to support gamers.

Then we have rentamob social justice extremists and rentamob right wing extremists jumping in and trying to hijack it.
I'd bet that 90% on BOTH sides are innocent. There are lots of fine gaming journalists and fine gamers out there.

I would totally agree that over 90% of gamers and journalists are innocent of the mudslinging mess of Gamergate for the simple reason that THEY DON'T PARTICIPATE. But from those who discuss the subject on Twitter and elsewhere, pretty much everybody uses extremely doubtful methods.

And I really can't understand your obsession with character assassination as a tool. It is so bloody inefficient! The line "Leigh Alexander is a racist" *only* works on somebody who is already a Gamergater. It is absolutely useless in persuading anybody else. I bet you that quite a lot of people who read that screenshot where Leigh Alexander complains that she isn't feeling safe to go out in her neighborhood because of all the "hoodies" don't think "what a racist". They think "you and me both, lady".

Anybody who sees those character assassination attempts will think that you have no intelligent rebuttal to Leigh Alexander's "Gamers are over" article, or that you want to distract from that article because you think it is true and are in denial.

Me, I would just post a rebuttal, point by point, against the "Gamers are over" article. That would be so easy, as it is sloppily researched and uses so many invalid stereotypes. So why can't you fight the ideas, instead of fighting the people?
"Me, I would just post a rebuttal, point by point, against the "Gamers are over" article."

You wouldn't because you would get banned and the thread locked!!!!

Well you could post it on your blog just as the GG people posted many a rebuttal on youtube.

Of course because the writer was a woman and you criticised her view, that would make you a misogynist like us in their eyes.

Gamasatura posted that article and got their ad revenue pulled following a campaign. That's all folks!

I've seen the screen caps of that woman's alleged racist posts and I believed them.

I believed them primarily because instead of her saying "they are fake", she actually said "look they doxxed me and pulled up 4 year old posts, this is evidence of misogyny".

Still it's just my personal opinion. It's not an unfounded allegation. It just isn't proven.

You are welcome to make your own mind up. I'd just urge you to be careful who you are supporting on your blog because I know for a fact that you wouldn't support some of those views that were allegedly expressed and some of the nasty bigoted man-hating behaviour you can see on her Twitter now.
You wouldn't because you would get banned and the thread locked!!!!

How would anybody possibly do that? I'd post the rebuttal on my blog, and as you have probably noticed yourself by now, it is pretty much impossible to shut me up there. You can't even use DMCA notices against text blogs!

I'd just urge you to be careful who you are supporting on your blog

That is EXACTLY the point you don't get: I don't support ANYBODY on my blog. I express my opinion AGAINST certain methods used by both sides. I'm not even excluding the possibility that both sides use fake tweets.

You don't have to SUPPORT feminists in order to find character assassination as a method of discussion disgusting. I don't support the "Gamers are over" article. I am just saying that your methods to attack the author instead of the message is wrong and not very effective. If Leigh Alexander calls gamers "obtuse shitslingers, these wailing hyper-consumers, these childish internet-arguers", it is a big mistake to argue in a manner that basically proves her right.

If you wanted to launch an effective counter-argument against Leigh Alexander, you wouldn't talk about old tweets that are totally unrelated to the point of contention. Even if people believed you that she is a racist, they could still read "Gamers are over" and believe that as well. You need to show how Leigh used incorrect stereotypes to describe gamers as "lonely basement kids". You need to show how completely inefficient feminist attacks were to reduce the amount of porn available, and how they can't possibly succeed to remove violence and images of pretty women from video games. *BECAUSE* gamers aren't lonely basement kids but educated consumers with a preference for that kind of content. And because that sort of content is constitutionally protected as free speech. There are lots and lots of arguments against the *message* that would be far better in stating your opposition than trying to smear the author's character.
somebody argued that a certain person was bad

Brief observation -- "somebody" also has four out of the first eight posts. Me thinks thou doth protest too much?
"If the *name removed* calls gamers "obtuse shitslingers, these wailing hyper-consumers, these childish internet-arguers", it is a big mistake to argue in a manner that basically proves her right."

What we actually did was say:

"Dear Intel,

Here is a link to an article that this journalist wrote about your customers and with your adverts displayed alongside it.

For further consideration here is a link to the journalists live Twitter feed where you can see their current remarks about your customers.

Here are some screen caps of some older tweets the journalist made previous but deleted when confronted.

Here is the journalists response to that confrontation where they don't deny that the images are genuine but rather accuse us of "doxxing" her and being misogynists for bringing it up.

Kind Regards

Your friendly customers"

I don't view that as a person attack, a misogynistic attack or a childish attack.

I'd say that is a mature response given that I as a perfectly decent diversity friendly person woke up one morning and found myself the victim of a vile and utterly reprehensible defamation.

I'd say that was pretty reserved.

Intel are a very professional company. They are handed that dossier and can dismiss it or do a bit of a research and make a business decision at the end of it.
I don't view that as a person attack, a misogynistic attack or a childish attack.

The instructions given to you on how to write that letter specifically stated that you should remain polite and refrain from that sort of attack. You and your friends haven't been that reserved here or on Twitter.

And how can you say that complaining about THAT SPECIFIC PERSON, using her "character" as argument wasn't a personal attack? You definitively called her a racist on this blog. That isn't a personal attack in your opinion?

By the way, Intel is now saying that they consider putting future advertising campaigns on Gamasutra again.
"You and your friends haven't been that reserved here or on Twitter."

Please post my Tweets to back up your claim. Also please name my "friends".

Or are you again trying to tar everyone with the same brush due to a few psychopaths being abusive?

What was your topic about again? "Proof"?

I have screen prints.

You have? Nothing.

"how can you say that complaining about THAT SPECIFIC PERSON, using her "character" as argument wasn't a personal attack? You definitively called her a racist on this blog. That isn't a personal attack in your opinion?"

The best way to think of that is to consider when an ad-hominem is not fallacious. Allow me to paste from Wiki:

"ad hominem reasoning is not always fallacious, for example, when it relates to the credibility of statements of fact or when used in certain kinds of moral and practical reasoning."

The person concerned, in her professional capacity, made some very serious criticisms and allegation of the character and nature of "gamers".

That makes her character on matters of diversity a legitimate talking point.

Think of a politician who happens to be gay.

If an opposing party hires a private detective, discovers that he is gay and then uses that to attack the politician then it is a "personal attack" and an ad hominem.

If however the politician stands up in parliament and says that "homosexuality is unholy, disgusting and that gay marriage should not be legalised", then it immediately becomes perfectly reasonable to investigate his sexuality and use it as a criticism to expose his hypocrisy.

So going back to the journalist...

If they publish an article in their professional capacity making strong statements against people on the grounds of their alleged bigotry on social media, it is not a "personal attack" or an "ad hominem" to search for and publicise any instances of that journalist making offensive and bigoted statements on those very same social media sites.

I am staggered that it is necessary to explain the difference between legitimate criticisms of an individual and illegitimate personal attacks.

When acting as an individual, especially in a public/professional capacity, you cannot play the "personal attack card" to prevent legitimate criticism of you as an individual in relation to your actions in that public/professional capacity even if the evidence can be found in your personal life.
Do you not consider yourself as a member of the Gamergate movement? The proof I have of the behavior of the Gamergaters is in them putting a #Gamergate hashtag on their tweets. How can they then complain about being "painted with the same brush"? They used that brush on themselves!

And there is no such thing as a "legitimate criticism of the individual". Criticism of the individual is the weapon of small mind that doesn't have the intellectual capacity of criticism of ideas and messages. And yes, many of those small minds work in politics. Which should be a red flag in itself: If you use the same tactics as a politician, you have sunk already pretty low.

And as I explained again and again, the personal attacks are perceived by all observers as tainting the accuser more than the accused. A 4 year old tweet using the term "hoodie" as proof of racism? How does that in any way disprove the notion that "gamers are over"? It just makes her look like a regular human being who in an unguarded moment years ago used an unwise phrase that can be spun into an attack. The very fact that you had to go back that many years to find any evidence of "racism" shows that it isn't a deeply held belief of hers.
Busted, my ass.

I don't care about her claims of harassment. I care about her work. And she's provided numerous examples to back her point up, gleaned from video games themselves.

If you want to provide a rebuttal of her work, by all means provide it. Don't link to someone else and say "what he said." I want you to articulate the weaknesses by providing specific examples from games and articulating a counter theory.

I don't want "feminism = waaah!" or crap like that. That's not a theory, that's hyperbole.

Tobold's previous post of the Shadows of Mordor people deliberately engaging in "free advance review copies only if you give us a good review" is far more relevant to Gamergate than who slept with who.

LOL, OK if critics of SJW can fake tweets etc what about the tweets that SJW cite as harrassment how many of them are faked and how many are created by sock puppets?

Also for your interest:
and best of all
This whole GamerGate thing and the culture war between gamers and the "social justice warriors" is like EVE. The only way to win is to stop playing.

FYI - I haven't looked that closely into Anita, but what I did see from her website didn't impress me much. If it weren't for her critics, she'd be nothing.
how many of them are faked and how many are created by sock puppets?

Exactly my point! Most of the "proof" provided by BOTH sides in this debate is fake. For example the YouTube videos you linked to don't contain any scientifically valid proof of anything, but are just opinion pieces and wild conjectures.

If it weren't for her critics, she'd be nothing.

Correct. And I am certain that many more people read the "Gamers are over" article now that it has been linked to by so many reputable news outlets in connection with the Intel boycott. And as Intel said they will be back, Gamasutra definitively made money from that boycott.
It's like nobody has heard of the Streisand Effect. (

The more you yell about something, the more attention you bring to that something. Both sides are happy when the other gets attacked, because it means they're still in the limelight.
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