Let Baldwin speak: #Gamergate chalks up another victory

On US campuses, disinvitations are all the rage. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), calls to disinvite allegedly controversial speakers have increased fourfold since 2000 - a sad reflection of the intolerance of our times. Little wonder, then, that some young zealots are trying to extend their mania for censoring views they dislike beyond the realm of universities.

The most recent target of this was Adam Baldwin, the sci-fi and action star, who is due to appear at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo in Sydney and Perth this summer. An online petition calling on the organisers to revoke Baldwin’s invitation hit the news in Australia last month after it gained over 5,000 signatures.

The petitioners had plenty of reasons to dislike Baldwin. He is famous, not only for his acting roles, but also for his disdain for the professionally offended, a group he likes to call the ‘insects of the hour’. Most infuriating to his opponents, however, is the fact that he coined the term #Gamergate, a Twitter hashtag which has become the rallying point for one of the most effective fightbacks against cultural authoritarianism in recent memory. Gamers, united by the hashtag, have chalked up a string of anti-censorship victories over the past few months, beating back boycott attempts, reversing bans on ultra-violent games and ensuring blacklisted titles met their fundraising goals.

Now, it seems #Gamergaters can chalk up another victory. In response to the call to disinvite Baldwin, they created a counter-petition urging Supanova not to cave in to the professionally offended - and it worked. Writing on the Supanova Facebook page, event director Daniel Zachariou stated categorically that ‘excluding someone for their views, even if we don’t share them, goes completely against the spirit of the expo that we’ve presented all these years’. The post also acknowledged the importance of the rebel gamers, noting that, as well as the original petition, there was a ‘second group call[ing] just as loudly to make sure [Baldwin] remained our guest’. In a subtle swipe at the intolerance of political bigots, Zachariou added that ‘inclusiveness is at our very heart’.

Naturally, the bigots took to social media, creating the #SupaNoThankYou hashtag to voice their displeasure. But Twitter is no longer the sole property of the professionally offended, and gamers quickly took over the hashtag. It only took a few hours for the gamers to change the tone from stern outrage to nonsensical mirth-making.

It’s a shame that Supanova had to feel the pressure of a counter-petition before making its final decision. Political tolerance should always be the default option, and should not be overridden by the whims of vocal minorities. That said, the organisers should be applauded for their strong statement against political bigotry - it is an important message that will now serve as a healthy precedent.

And we must also, of course, applaud the gamers - that digital anti-censorship army that continues to impress. Who would have thought that hashtags and online petitions, the chief weapons of the new authoritarians, could be so easily co-opted?

Allum Bokhari is a writer and researcher. Follow him on Twitter: @LibertarianBlue

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