Defining Digital Ethics

Sara Perry, an anthropologist at York University specializing in prehistoric and visual archeology, talked at the Center for Digital Ethics Fourth Annual International Symposium on Digital Ethics about the relationship between gender and digital culture. She has had personal experience with online harassment, especially sexual online harassment, and discussed her research on harassment in the professional academic sector. Many times people associate online harassment as being anonymous, where online strangers contact victims and act behind a digital mask. Perry’s experience, and her research on online harassment in the academic sector, contradicted this generalization. Stereotypical faceless perpetrators were replaced by coworkers and colleagues, people Perry saw every day and interacted with frequently. Worse yet, Perry and other victims were at a loss on how to solve these problems due to a lack of tools in stopping/preventing the harassment from continuing as well as absent or aloof institutional support/intervention. Perry’s situation, and the situations of so many others, is extremely relevant due to the increased participation of professional academics in using new media, as encouraged by their respective institutions. This “exposure of their professional identity”, as Perry describes it, leads to greater risks.

The utopian ideal of new media continues to be broken down by cases such as Perry’s. The Internet is an “unruly and wild” place, Perry quoted. This can take away from the element of productivity the Internet has, as much as it encourages it. Where this becomes the most evident to me is in the lack of action taken to stop online harassment, by the victims and by institutions. Perry resolved her online harassment problem by ignoring it, but is this a truly resolved solution for this situation? The world of new media is complex and not completely explored. We are all still learning the ropes, navigating the waters of digital spaces with blind instincts. While we are sailing around, the waters are only expanding. This unbalanced-ness leads organizations to respond to problems, such as online harassment, with an aloofness that can be misinterpreted as apathy. Just as Susan Etlinger, an Industry Analyst with Altimeter Group, recommended to do with big data and Burcu S. Bakioglu, a postdoctorate fellow in New Media at Lawrence University, recommended to do with virtual worlds, a code of ethics needs to be drawn out and defined. Institutions need to make a decision on how to respond to these types of situations rather than drown in their complications. For as much as they encourage the use of new media, institutions need to be responsible and regulate their employees’ misuse.

As much as new media gives power to strangers and the faceless, it also gives power to the familiar and those in close proximity. I used to think the Internet was dangerous because of the walls between the communicators and the under-exposure a user can have. After Perry’s talk, though, I realized the Internet is a dangerous place because of the hyper-exposure it gives users. New media requires a certain amount of trust among users, as you publically post your identity into a digital space accessible to many. This trust can be broken just as easily as it can in the non-virtual world.


Dara Byrne, an associate professor in the Department of Communication and Theater Arts at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, discussed her research on digital vigilantism. Specifically she discussed the Nigerian email, 419 scam, and the 419 Eater‘s response to such Internet scams. Byrne relates this community to other digilante communities like Anonymous and Perverted Justice. Born from the online fraud that scammed millions of dollars from its victims and rallied together by the lack of swift legal action from the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IC3) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the 419 Eaters created a website promoting the ideas of punishment and justice against Internet scammers. Inside of this community, Byrne found “The Trophy Room”. Designed to display the scammers in positions of punishment, the Trophy Room was littered with compromising photos. The 419 Eaters validated their work as “scamming the scammer”, using the body as a vessel for justice and punishment. Within this community, Byrne also found a social element. Community members can earn points based on the trophies they receive, measured by the level of punishment inflicted on the scammer. Byrne described this as the 419 Eaters taking control over the definition of what is right and wrong in pursuing criminals.

Tapping into the ideas of surveillance and control, the idea of a digilante is a controversial one. The federal government has its own deficiencies in responding quickly and delivering swift justice to criminals, but when is it okay for a third party to step in? For something like the 419 Eaters, their response came from a legitimate need by the victims of the Nigerian email scams. Their message of justice, though, conflicts with a true idea of retribution and melds more along the lines of revenge.

Run by pleasure, the 419 Eaters encourage a selfish idea of justice. In a pornographic sense, the community members get back at scammers by using the same techniques the scammers used against the scam’s victims. They force the scammer to manipulate their physical body or pose in compromising position with photographic evidence of their legitimate identity. They spread fraud further through the online communities, only this time using it for their own personal benefits. Essentially, no one is gaining any ground in stopping the scams from happening. They continue the idea of a scam rather than eradicate it. It is as if they don’t see scamming as the problem, but the fact that they were the ones to get scammed as the issue. This does not prevent any other people from falling victim to the 419 scam or even decrease the spread of the 419 scam. Their intention for justice seems skewed if the ultimate result is not a prevention of the 419 scam. The fire fueling the 419 Eaters community will keep on burning and the trophies will keep stacking higher.


John Thomas, the director of editorial content at Groupon and former editor of, spoke on his experiences working as a journalist in the online community. Focusing on what it means to be an editor in the digital world, he discussed online correctional policies, or lack thereof, in major websites. He admitted to witnessing websites post articles without going through the required processes of vetting and fact checking as they would for print articles. He discovered major news sources did not have online correctional policies for their online posts, which reach international audiences. He recognized the access people have in being able to personally review products, whether it’s the latest beauty product or highly regarded literature. He summarizes this by commenting on the existence of a new standard in journalism, where the individual determines the guidelines of online ethics. He brought up the example of the Chicago Tribune’s special section of their website titled “Mugs in the News”, dedicated to posting all mug shots in the news, regardless of conviction status. The Tribune is given free access to these photos, meaning they are posting these shots on their website purely for the commercial reasons of gaining more traffic.

Since when did posting something online make it not worth as much as print? Some people get their news purely from online sources. Others spend a majority of their day flipping through articles in order to pass time. I am one of them, using major news apps like CNN in order to update myself on current events. Twitter feeds provide real time updates to news stories and I can take articles anywhere with me on my mobile device. People from around the world read online articles. The idea that the articles posted online are scrutinized less than print articles and deemed as purely commercial endeavors goes against the basic principle of journalism as a system of education for the masses. News already steers towards emotional responses when they can, favoring the heartstrings stories over factual updates. Something like the Tribune’s “Mugs in the News”, though, incites people to stereotype and maybe even take matters into their own hands like Dara Byrne’s digilantes. News no longer can be a source of trust. Without news, the world goes fairly blind.

The Internet has been there to give people a voice, but when does it start taking others’ away? From something as simple as a young elementary-schooler’s review of War and Peace on Amazon to the complicated mess of GamerGate, the Internet is one large forum and opinion sharer. A person has to weed through fact and opinion, because the Internet is full of both, but the line is often blurred. Opinions are heard more than fact, due to their sting or ridiculous content. Thomas draws attention to the shift of online information, once regarded as factual, towards a more emotion inducing, opinionated posts. The digital world is still a legitimate world and should be treated as such. As it seems with most of the talks given at the Symposium, online correctional policies should be defined, created, and enforced. New media cannot be ignored, but it can be improved.


Anita Sarkeesian: One Brave & Controversial Woman

The CDEP Symposium certainly was very interesting and quite informative. I came out liking and also gaining more knowledge on Anita Sarkeesian and what she goes through because of her “controversial” statements. Being a person that loves to play games, not a gamer, I came out with a different perspective on games that I played previously. I played them to have fun, not really paying any mind to the hidden controversies that they may hide. I also came out with a perspective of just how vulgar and disgusting some individuals can be on one woman who expresses her opinion and yet at the same time plays those very same games she talks about; she doesn’t judge or criticize the people that play but rather the game itself and how women are portrayed in them.

Anita started her talk by talking about a game that was in development, Dinosaur Planet, for the Nintendo 64 (one of my favorite consoles!). One of the main protagonists was a female, named Krystal- she was a strong hero that was capable of fighting even the strongest of foes. The game was in development, but unfortunately never got released on the market. The game designers joked about making Krystal a damsel in distress rather than a hero and soon enough the Star Fox game came along and Fox ended up being the hero and saving the would have been heroin. Fox had now gotten all of her attributes and even her own weapon while the only thing that Krystal was given was more provocative clothing.

Anita was able to shed some light on just how the female protagonist would have been given the lead but was canned and was made into a character that needed all the saving from the villains and the man would be there to help aid her in escaping. She was rather the prize for the male for being able to beat all of the enemies rather than being her own brave self. Back then, the white male was the main audience for game designers and they had to modify things that would be pleasing to that audience no matter what.

Nowadays, however, there has been a major shift in the gaming industry, but it has certainly been a slow shift. The concept of female characters still being portrayed just  like Krystal was is an issue and many women do voice there opinion on that. They voice out that the female character should not be subjected or portrayed liked that but rather with an equal role. Anita still plays video games and does not bash the players who play them but rather the games way of showing the female. Many of those gamers and those involved in Gamergate, though, see her as a threat- as she said they made me into a folk demon or rather “a Disney villain”. People attack her and threaten her by the things she says; they defame her by putting her face on porn pictures and by making fake accounts with her name to bring this negative light.

These people are relentless and do these harsh acts because of what she says. Rather than listen to what she has to say, they go in for the attack. Going back to the whole talk about Krystal and her portrayal, Anita does not say that the game is wrong and that all who play it think the same way about women but rather that women in video games seem to be belittles- they are given a certain role to fulfill. Those cowardly males that don’t bother to even acknowledge her voice simply think that the way to get rid of her is to frustrate her, give her a bad reputation, and to send negative information to everyone. Anita, however, does not let this get to her; yes it is brutal but she learns that even though this all goes on, she is still able to say what she would like about the gaming industry. She is not defaming the gamers or those who play video games, but rather critiquing the industry itself.


In class, we spoke about what if that person that is behind that computer screen was brought out to a street corner. Personally, what do you think they would do? Would they still rant and use vulgar language to talk about Anita?

What is your personal view on how women are portrayed within the gaming industry? If Krystal had stayed the main protagonist in that would-be game, would people have received her with open arms or with hostility?

The Battle for Virtual Rights and Equality


 This past weekend, I saw featured keynote speaker, Anita Saarkesian, speak at the annual Digital Ethics Symposium. Saarkesian runs a Youtube channel called Feminist Frequency that speaks out against sexism in the gaming industry. Because of this, she faces death threats on a daily bases from a group that started a hashtag trend called “gamergate”. This ‘gate’ keeps the gaming world exclusively male. It is a cyber mob that throws sexist temper tantrums in an attempt to keep up with the status quo, which is this notion that games are for boys; it is a domain for young men, hence Gameboy and not Gamegirl.

There is, however, a gaming spot where girls are welcomed. That spot is the causal and mobile games that are looked down upon by the intense gamers. Because those games are considered for women, they are marginalized. To be called a gamer one has to play masculine and testosterone infused games that develop very unhealthy mindset and perspective towards the female population. It also reinforces this myth that women are sexual objects and sexual playthings for male amusement. Women become disrespected and dehumanized. For women who do not identify themselves as gamers or who do not view the game beyond the story line, it can create an unhealthy mindset for them. It can lead to this idea that the stereotypical women is someone who wears skimpy outfits and is always the damsel in distress. They view the men as their savior, which not only enforces the patriarchal system but is also does not leave any room for independent thinking.

The woman does not always have to be the damsel in distress. She can save herself. However, this idea does not fit the patriarchal box. For example, The Legend of Krystal, was a Nintendo 64 game based around a female fictional fox character called Krystal who fights off demons on her and saves herself from any distress. The game developer, however, did not think the game would sell. He modified and altered the game into Star Fox Adventures. The protagonist becomes a male fox, Star, while Krystal trades her independence for the damsel in distress. In other words, if the game perpetuates misogyny and sexism, it receives the green light.

When women, like Sarkeesian, speak out against the misogyny and sexism, they are threatened. Because Sarkeesian holds a high profile and is one of the leading women to address this issue, she becomes the main target of gamergate. She is called a “feminazi” who steals money from hardworking men to buy shoes. In this case, she is “stealing” money from the hardworking gamers. As Marwick puts it, “when people with likeminded beliefs congregate together, they collectively move to a more extreme position”. There is an underlying fear among the gamergate community that women do not deserve an authoritative position in the same community. To me, it shows that these men are not only immature, but also very insecure about themselves. They work out their frustrations by hating on someone else.  We need to stop alienating women and believe what they say when they talk about their experiences. We need to stop shutting them down and speak against their defense. I would think that progressive games come with a progressive mentality. Therefore, games of any type should cater to both men and women and women should be allowed to speak up without feeling the repercussions. Women have the right to speak up and be heard in the gaming industry.

Not an Easy Battle, but Sarkeesian Won’t Stop

I should have known as I emptied my pockets, handed over my bag, and stepped through the buzzing metal detector, something wasn’t right.

Why in the world does a woman speaking on a college campus about video games need this much security? Every other on-campus talk I had attended had the security risk of zero: filled with professors, students furiously jotting notes for desperate extra credit, and others taking a nap in the back chairs.

This was different. The room was buzzing as campus safety officers patrolled the perimeters of the room.

So why the security? Because she is a woman. Talking about video games.

It sounds ridiculous, and most certainly is, but #gamergate has spiraled quickly from a frank and honest discussion about women’s (as well as LGBT and POC’s) sexualized, inferior, and/or nonexistent roles in the gaming industry, to a violent storm of “trolls” sending death threats. All of this is happening in the name of protecting a traditional “space” these usually white, heterosexual males have held dearly for so long.

As Anita Sarkeesian took the stage, I had no clue what she would talk about. Would she focus on the topics of her videos? Would she talk about #GamerGate? Or, gasp, would she address her threats and harrassment?

I’m pleased to say all three were addressed at least a little. She began the presentation with a short snippet of one of her videos on game tropes for women, and how most video games with strong female protagonists don’t make it to store shelves. One in particular was re-written so the female lead became a feeble princess who needed to be rescued by the male character, now going on all of her adventures.

Sarkeesian didn’t spend too much time on her videos however, mostly for what I assume is time reasons. It’s hard to explain everything wrong with how women are treated in the gaming industry in an hour.

What the bulk of her presentation focused on was her personal experience with her harassers.

She showed the disturbing tweets, photoshopped images, doxxing, and what looked to be like ridiculously large pizza orders used to harass and intimidate her in every way.

The fact that she was unafraid to stand up and speak about this, and even able to laugh about certain ridiculous conspiracies, was pretty astounding to me.

As the talk continued, like any good journalist given the opportunity, I made sure to livetweet some of her more interesting quotes (one of which @femfreq liked!):

I didn’t think I was important enough to feel the wrath of the gamergate trolls. I was wrong. Quickly my feed filled with the likes and retweets, but also comments. Many were positive, others were not. I was so surprised how quickly these “activists” started to reply. Honestly, they must follow the #gamergate tag all day.

To the tweet about how we must listen to all women, I received this reply:

This #NotYourShield movement is defined by

As noted on KnowYourMeme, #NotYourShield was a collective movement of minorities of all ages and types, stating that they were not oppressed by a straight, white male patriarchy; that they had their own voice and that they were not a shield to be silently used in order for gaming media – and those that gaming media represents – to push an agenda.

To me, it sounds like another #WomenAgainstFeminism twitter movement. In other words, people wishing to disassociate themselves from an issue they believe does not involve them, via misinformation usually. In my opinion, these women should be heard, and just like #WomenAgainstFeminism has been a force that only seems to strengthen feminist thought and prove important misconceptions in society

I also recieved a tweet saying that gamergate was nothing but a conspiracy meant to make money, namely for Google and Amazon.

While what I experienced was little, it felt exhausting. I did not want to get in an argument with these tweeters. I couldn’t imagine how Sarkeesian felt. I’m sure its depressing to talk in circles with those who don’t want to listen, only defend their point of view.

I think my favorite part of the presentation was how she tried to provide concrete ways to prevent harassment like she has suffered. One quote really stuck out to me:

She’s right. While the web is essentially “the wild west,” in terms of legal protection law enforcement needs to start finding out how consequences can be enforced for those who abuse the web.

Overall, I enjoyed the talk and hope it opened some eyes to the true issues pervading this community, as well as exposed simple (and not so simple) solutions to this problem.

Here’s to hoping that soon, she will not need security like this again.

Ms. Anita

Seeing Anita Sarkeesian speak at the symposium on Friday was everything I thought it would be, and more. I grew up in household with two younger boys who played PlayStation and XBOX religiously. I really enjoyed playing racing games, and I still do to this day, but whenever I wanted to play with the boys, I was always told no. AL my older guy cousins were allowed to be addicted to the games and spend their free time playing them. I remember one Christmas; I got a TV plug-in game called “Dream Life Superstar”. I was really confused at the time because I had shown no interest in the game and I was enjoying playing my Mario Kart and Formula 1 games on the PlayStation. Looking back, of course I realize that my parents noticed that I liked to play the games that the boys had, and assumed I only played them because they were the only ones available to me, so they decided to get me games they assumed I’d enjoy. I cannot say I didn’t enjoy playing the TV plug-in, because I most definitely did, but I did always hate the fact that everyone didn’t understand why I wanted to play the PlayStation or the XBOX. Why does gender define gaming preference?

Anita talked a great deal about her childhood experiences with gaming. She even inserted a picture in her PowerPoint of her with a controller in hand when she was really young. It was really comforting for me to hear her talk and to be able to relate to her frustration and to see how she dealt with it. It made me realize that there’s no reason I should have been feeling guilty about my desire to want to play the same games that the guys were into.

Of all the slides on her PowerPoint, the one that I really liked the one concerning Cyber Civil Rights. She talked about how states need to update their stalking laws to include harassment and threatening online and civil rights laws need to update to criminalize threats motivated by gender bias, not just racial bias. I really like that she’s bringing attention to these issues because I feel like it’s often overlooked because it is happening in a virtual world and not in a physical world. I think people seldom forget that if someone is invading your life in a harassing way, whether it is online or real life, it still should not be permissible. I think it’s incredibly hard to regulate and track people down but if there were more laws that regulated just how viral the harassment online is, it would possess more people to be cautious. Would there be less issues if there were laws? I think yes.

There was a huge line of people waiting to talk to Ms. Sarkeesian so I mostly just commended her on her work and thanked her for taking in account the thoughts of just about any feminist and going viral in doing so. I think what she is doing for the community of feminists is beyond inspiring and I really felt honored to meet her and listen to her express her feelings.

Anita Sarkeesian (third from left) posing with me (first from left) and my friends.

Anita Sarkeesian (third from left) posing with me (first from left) and my friends.

CDEP – Anita Sarkeesian

I managed to catch the second half of Anita Sarkeesian’s presentation during the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy. Right off the bat, she caught my attention and had me scrambling to take proper notes when she began to explain the view people have for themselves who stand against the improvement of female portrayal in video games and online in general. She stated that they don’t believe they are in the wrong or that they’re beliefs are outdated and disrespectful. Rather, this group of people who are fighting against the change in female video game portrayal see themselves as warriors. They consider their opposition as righteous because it’s standing up for the history of video games and the tradition that lies with it.

Although I am supportive of keeping tradition alive when it comes to holidays, school spirit, and family parties, I don’t think this form of “tradition” can be justified. At this point, using tradition as an excuse just seems like a reason this group of people needs in attempt to make their case stronger. Tradition is no longer relevant when groups such as Gamergate evolve and threaten others for standing up for their right as human beings and women. Tradition is no longer applicable if a balance cannot be found between that and modern day beliefs.

Sarkeesian also brought up the fact that there are those who believe women are “asking for it,” which I personally think is ludicrous. Why would anyone want to be portrayed as sexual objects, degraded to physical representations that exploit the human body? In addition, women clearly are not “asking for it” when people like Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn are consistently being attacked online and in the physical world. If you believe that they would risk their families, friends, professional lives, and safety all for the sake of getting attention or “asking for it” then – excuse my bluntness – you’re wrong. These women are putting their safety at risk for something much, much bigger than that and I think others are shallow for believing otherwise.

Another point of discussion that Sarkeesian touched on was ways to fight and end the hatred and harassment. It shocked me that she experienced times when she had to explain to law enforcement what Twitter is and how it works, so I definitely agree that legislators and law enforcement need to have a basic understanding of the various social media outlets. It would allocate their time toward finding a solution rather than attempting to understand the foundation of sites like Reddit and Twitter. Sarkeesian also brought up ways perpetrators are indirectly encouraged to continue their terrible actions. Due to the nature of being a victim of harassment people often don’t release their names in media like the news or even courtrooms in shame or simple rights to privacy. Because of this attackers are indirectly encouraged to see no wrong in their words or actions because consequences are few and far between.

With that said, Sarkeesian managed to wrap up her presentation nicely with an analogy to air pollution. Like she states, we may not all be contributors of these belittling deeds but we all need to work together in order to end the problem. It’s not only up to women and those who are victimized, but it is the responsibility of all genders. Sarkeesian declares, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”


Christine Chu