17 Dec 2014 18:35
An open letter to #brands about Gamergate
If you want people to not view your company as craven and soulless, read on
If it's Gamergate, just click "delete."
If it's Gamergate, just click "delete." (Illustration by Sarah Eberspacher | Photos courtesy iStock)

Dear Corporate PR Departments,

You've probably heard of this thing called Gamergate. (In case you haven't, this will get you up to speed.) Chances are, if your company is even remotely connected with tech or media, you've already been inundated with emails and tweets demanding that somebody be fired, or some ad campaign pulled, or some publication burned to the ground. If you haven't yet, your time is probably coming.

That's scary, I know. You don't want trouble. You don't want to be seen as supporting or associating with bad people and bad ideas. Above all, you don't want controversy. It's the kiss of death for brands. You just want to email your pitches and tweet some edgy-but-not-too-edgy memes from 2011.

So let's be real: I know that when you get hundreds of coordinated emails purportedly in favor of "ethics" and against "bullying," your first instinct will be to give in immediately. Intel, Adobe, and Mercedes-Benz all folded before Gamergate, because it carries the hallmarks of a genuine consumer rights movement.

There are three problems here from your perspective.

The first is that Gamergate is utterly duplicitous. They could not care less about bullying, or journalistic ethics, or whatever issue they're frothing about today. Their only concrete achievements are harassing several women out of their homes, and hazing the advertisers of publications that dare to criticize them. They have no other coherent agenda or manifesto whatsoever. Due to the incomprehensible complexity of the movement's history, it may take you some time to convince yourself of this (see here, here, here, and here for starters), but God strike me dead if it's not the truth. Head on over to their organizing forums at 8chan or Reddit, they're quite open about their objectives and methods.

The second is that there aren't that many committed Gamergaters, a few hundred at most. They openly boast of using sock-puppet accounts and bots to give the illusion of strength. They are not going to hurt the sales of the kinds of high-end products put out by Mercedes, Intel, and Adobe.

The third is that the Gamergate #brand is morally toxic. Just check out mainstream coverage in The New York Times and The Washington Post. To fold in the face of their demands is to lend credence to a movement widely regarded as despicable, and you will be attacked in the strongest terms by numerous writers, including this one, who work at outlets with far more influence over brand perception than Gamergate. It's not influence that will result in 40 bazillion enraged emails, but it exists, and carries far more credibility — especially among people who have the money to buy your products.

So, what to do? Luckily, this part is easy: just ignore Gamergate. If you suddenly get a whole bunch of people complaining about "ethics," do some digging and figure out if it's a Gamergate issue at root. If so, then just pretend nothing is happening. They've got no power other than what you give them, and to capitulate to their demands is to risk far greater damage to your carefully constructed brand image.



Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at His work has appeared in the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.


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