Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Sarkeesian and statistics

I have had a lot of training in statistics as part of my degrees. A tedious amount. It helped me to understand about when it is or is not valid to draw conclusions. This brings me to the subject of people like Anna Sarkeesian receiving threats of violence and death. Such threats are disgusting and must be terrifying, but what do they actually mean? What is the problem that these threats highlight? Unless some data is provided, it's just not possible to come to any general conclusions, bad though the situation is. It's not possible to say "women are hated on the internet", or "gamers are misogynistic bullies". These statements might be true, but you can't get to their truth from the receiving of threats unless some hard statistics are provided.

What the threats do show is that the Internet often allows instant access to anyone. There's no security barrier - cranks, nutjobs and bullies can walk right up to you on social media and email. But what does this mean? It means that visible people on-line get crazy and vicious people sending them crazy things. There is no doubt that this situation can make the on-line experience bad for some people, but the problem can't be said to be the nature of people on-line.
Unless you expect all of any group of a million people to be utterly sane and reasonable, then the nature of the Internet is that if you are visible you are going to come across frightening nutters. This may have no more meaning than the fact that nutters exist.

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