What is Gamergate talking about when they say libel?

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As of late, I’ve participated in a Reddit debate group concerning the video game-based hashtag movement #Gamergate. It can be frustrating at times, with ideologues derailing conversations, trading insults and arguing in bad faith. But in a few discussions, I and users I disagree with were able to meet halfway and come to an amicable rest. As a journalist and PC game player (but not a games journalist, I don’t like mixing work and play) I am annoyed my spurious accusations by Gamergate about lack of journalistic ethics and political bias in the video game press, which is why I fall in the anti-#Gamergate camp. Here is one example often argued by pro-#Gamergate users that I try to clarify in discussions about media ethics with the group.

In 2010, Alexandra Miseta, former marketing manager of the video game company Stardock sued company CEO Brad Wardell, alleging sexual harassment. In 2012, Stardock and Wardell sued Miseta for allegedly breaking a non-disclosure agreement by destroying promotional materials and marketing data belonging to the company.

The order of the sexual harassment suit and the NDA-breaking suit lead video game news sites Kotaku and Game Politics to report that the second lawsuit was in retaliation for the first.

In 2013. both cases were dismissed with prejudice and the Alexandra Miseta was ordered to write a letter of apology to Wardell and Stardock. Brad Wardell later contacted reporters and blogger Damian Schubert with information that would show that the NDA lawsuit was being constructed before Miseta’s sexual harassment lawsuit.

Among the ideologues in Gamergate are anti-feminists, including Brietbart reporter Milo Yiannopoulos, who believe that Brad Wardell was unfairly targeted by biased, pro-feminist news media to elevate a female plaintiff of the sexual harassment suit at the expense of a male defendant.

Those that believe Milo Yiannopoulos’ reporting need to understand that publishing court allegations against a CEO of a game software company was in the public interest (and was relevant to the release of video game, therefore of interest to readers). Reporting the matters of an open court is fair game no matter whom the court later finds in favor of. Saying otherwise would mean imposing an unreasonable limit on freedom of the press. That some internet residents saw fit to harass Brad Wardell over the sexual harassment allegations is lamentable.

Some in favor of #Gamergate seem to think that publishing the allegations of sexual harassment is libel, but their use of the term libel is wrong. Here’s why. In America, where Brad Wardell and Stardock are based, you have to prove three things for a successful libel case:

  1. That a statement is false
  2. That the statement damaged the plaintiff’s reputation, and
  3. That the publisher acted in malice (without knowing, or with reckless disregard for, the truth) (this is specific to public figures, which Wardell is as a CEO of a software business).

It’s true Wardell was a defendant in a sexual harassment case, and again, reporting allegations on a court case is fair game.

Now where things get murky is the press reporting on the retaliation aspect. We now know that the statement “Stardock and Wardell sued in retaliation” was false. Kotaku has not apologized to Wardell for the mistake, like blogger Damion Schubert and Game Politics have. But the relevant parties reporting the story updated their articles to reflect the information Wardell provided, meaning they responded in accordance to the truth and without malice towards Wardell. It’s unfortunate that Wardell wasn’t able to clear the record in a timely manner because of litigation.

As an aside, in Michigan, the statute of limitations for a libel case is one year after the defamatory statement was published (this was likely enacted to protect journalists from spurious libel cases by powerful interests on stories no longer relevant to the public). Even if this case met all requirements for a successful libel case, which it doesn’t by my understanding, any potential legal action by Wardell or Stardock against the video game press is unlikely.

As for my opinion, based on excepts of emails revealed in the 2012 sexual harassment case, I believe Wardell is impertinent when dealing with his subordinates. One troubling message written by Wardell lead me to this belief:

However, my general obnoxiousness is not subject to change and I would terminate the corporation and all jobs within it if I felt my rights were being curtailed

That said, I can separate his brash attitude from the games Stardock makes and enjoy them on their own merits. I enjoy the games in the Galactic Civilizations series and Sins of a Solar Empire series and will continue to support them being made.

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