There are good radicals and bad radicals. Saul Alinsky wrote a handbook for the “good” radicals titled “Rules for Radicals.” Unfortunately, sometimes the wrong kind of radicals use Alinsky’s methods. Something should be done about those bad radicals. Maybe we should round them up and put them in camps where they can concentrate on becoming good radicals.
But first, we need to identify them.
Ruberg, a UC Irvine assistant professor in the department of informatics, was teaching “Games & Society.” It was November 2017, and the course was a required class taught to 260 students, the majority of which are typically male freshmen. Ruberg kept a strict no-screens policy in their classes — an easy enough ask to keep students from texting or scrolling through Instagram when they should be paying attention. But this was different: a dozen or so people holding up their phones, recording their lecture on gender without even the effort of hiding it. The class felt strangely fuller. Ruberg paused, reminded students of the policy, and assumed they would put them away. They kept their cameras trained on Ruberg.
On a hunch, Ruberg asked their TAs for a head count. The final number? Eleven extra bodies. The intruders had made that part easy, at least. They took the day’s pop quiz under fake names along with everyone else. Ruberg’s experience was unnerving for many reasons, but above all, one thing was clear: this was a coordinated effort.
In the five years following Gamergate, sites like YouTube, Reddit, and Twitter shifted the power dynamics between student and teacher. The harassment-campaign-turned-online-culture-war paved the way for how abusers coordinate and systematically target victims. Online harassment has moved from the web and into real life. Marginalized figures have always known harassment existed in digital spaces, but Gamergate honed these tactics and pushed them into mainstream awareness. New York Times writer Charlie Warzel sums it up succinctly: “Gamergate’s DNA is everywhere on the internet … its most powerful legacy is as proof of concept of how to wage a post-truth information war.”
If you never heard of GamerGate or if you heard of it but don’t know what it is, here is an excellent article by Ian Miles Cheong, who was on one side (SJWs) when it started but is now on the side of the gamers:
Back to The Verge:
Now educators face new challenges: teaching responsibly, while also safeguarding themselves from the very kids they hope to help. “You develop this self-preservation intuition,” Ruberg tells The Verge. “You have to know what’s happening so that you know how to protect yourself.” As misinformation and hate continues to radicalize young people online, teachers are also grappling with helping their students unlearn incorrect, dangerous information. “It has made a lot of us teachers more cautious,” they say. “We want to challenge our students to explore new ways of thinking, to see the cultural meaning and power of video games, but we’re understandably anxious and even scared about the possible results.”
Ruberg’s teaching focuses largely on the intersection of technology and society with an eye on games. Part of the pushback, Ruberg believes, is because game dev students are resistant to the idea that cultural issues should have an impact on what some consider a very technical job. For some of the most problematic kids, however, the root cause is far worse. “These students have been radicalized,” they say.
After the gender lecture, Ruberg and their three TAs spent the next few days patrolling local campus Reddit communities for the material. To Ruberg and their TAs’ collective relief, nothing ever appeared — in their opinion, because there was nothing salacious: women in games have a hard time, and masculinity is constructed through gaming. But the experience left a mark on Ruberg, who says they’ve become more hesitant to include material about gender, sexuality, and race on their syllabuses. They’ve become wary, in some ways, of their students.
“I’m watching out for potential problems,” Ruberg says. “It makes me sad to say that, because I truly love teaching undergraduates, but it’s [hard] to tell when you’re teaching a student who is open to new perspectives and when you’re teaching someone who has the potential to do harm.”
The internet as a whole opens up impressionable kids to toxic beliefs, whether it’s forum culture or online multiplayer. Radicalization is an ongoing problem on platforms like YouTube, where viewers can easily tumble down rabbit holes of far-right content thanks to the platform’s algorithm. If there were any lessons to be learned from Gamergate — from how to recognize bad faith actors or steps on how to protect yourself, to failings in law enforcement or therapy focused on the internet — the education system doesn’t seem to have fully grasped these concepts.
Are there no far-left rabbit holes? I’m pretty sure there are far-left radicals. I guess only far-right beliefs are toxic, and no far-left radical has ever done any harm.
Deradicalization is the common question on educators’ minds, but some say steps need to be taken preemptively. It’s easier to circumvent poisonous thinking rather than scramble to find an antidote after the fact. “The issue is that they have a preconceived way of interpreting information, which then shapes how they interpret that data,” says Wilcox. You can’t just combat bigotry with stats or hard facts; you have to address the larger social and cultural factors that make them an issue in the first place. “If we started teaching students the basics of feminism at a very young age,” Wilcox says, “they would have a far better appreciation for how different perspectives will lead to different outcomes, and how the distribution of power and privilege in society can influence who gets to speak in the first place.”
So we need to start the ideological programming of children before they get exposed to bad ideas. What sounds better, preschool or preborn? Should we require pregnant women who have chosen to forego their right to an abortion to read The Communist Manifesto to their preborn children? Do we dare wait until the kids are toilet trained?
Or maybe we need to crack down on “gateway” ideologies that lead to bad thoughts and ideas.