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Board Game Designer Eric Lang On Reclaiming Social Spaces From Harassers

8 Minute Read
Jul 14 2020
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After being banned from Twitter (and reinstated) designer Eric M. Lang is calling for people to reclaim social spaces from trolls and harassers

Eric M. Lang is a board game designer who has worked on many of your favorite games–including Quarriors, Chaos in the Old World, Blood Rage, Bloodborne: the Card Game, Bloodborne the Board Game, Arcane Academy, Rising Sun, and many more. He’s worked for big names like Fantasy Flight Games and CMON and Steve Jackson Games on a variety of styles, properties, and more. He’s a big deal, is what we’re getting at.

Over the last few weeks, Eric Lang was first restricted, then later suspended from Twitter following an extended harassment campaign that he suspects originates from fans of “a scumbag serial harasser (to whom I refuse to give free publicity).” In a statement released on Facebook last Thursday, Lang detailed his account:

For the sake of completeness, we’ve included the full text of his statement below:

The Twitter thing, Part I

So there are two posts here, the one I feel like I “have to” write, and the one I want to write. This is the former.

A couple of weeks ago, my Twitter account was locked (“restricted” is the term) shortly after I blocked thousands of followers of a scumbag serial harasser (to whom I refuse to give free publicity).

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I used a chain blocker app (the same one that several people I know have used without issue), because there were a lot of followers to block, and I made a tactical error: I tweeted about the blocking action in advance to give my followers time to unfollow if they didn’t want to be blocked.

I appealed the restriction several times over the course of the last two weeks, getting zero response from Twitter. And two days ago was suddenly suspended without notice.

Question One: Why did I chain block the harasser’s followers?

The account in question is notorious for harassing and dogpiling left-leaning public figures on Twitter – particularly women and POC (people of colour). They know how to exploit weaknesses in social media, and can claim plausible deniability if confronted – but in several well documented cases, when that account targets a personality, that personality is dogpiled by endless trolls quoting south park and other edgelord trash.

Recently, the scumbag targeted John Boyega (the black stormtrooper from Star Wars and loud activist), and the dogpiling was a tragic sight to behold. I noticed then that I had started collecting some of scumbag’s followers, and immediately recognized the pattern. I decided quickly, mostly for the sake of denying these assholes access to my friends and followers, that I would simply chain block the entire account.

Question Two: Why was my account locked?

Your guess is as good as mine. Twitter has given me zero communication about the reasons for blocking. I know exactly what the public does, no more. Furthermore, I found out about my subsequent suspension from a friend who tried to view my account.

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Of course I have opinions about why, and I’ve seen enough abusive reporting in the past to recognize the pattern. Can it be proven? Nope. Does it matter? I don’t think so. This is not about trolls, really. It’s not about scumbag serial harassers, it’s about an easily exploitable system that encourages abusive behaviour by omission of vigilant oversight.

Now, Lang, an outspoken advocate for social issues in the board game community, pointed out that the real story isn’t that he was banned. It’s not about a popular designer or a serial harasser. But rather, his story illustrates the very real power imbalance in social spaces and on social media that marginalized folk endure every day. As Lang continued in the post he “wanted to write” a day later:

Once again, for completeness, we’ve included the full text below.

So with the details of what happened on Twitter out of the way, this is the post I want to write.

I’d like to attempt to reshape a narrative, if you’ll allow. This “story” is not about me; it’s not about some stupid drama between an ultra privileged game designer and a scumbag serial harasser on social media.

It’s about power imbalance in social media and social spaces, the people it harms, and a bug in the system we currently lack the tools to overcome.

The shit that happened to me on Twitter, yeah okay it sucks. I promise you it sucks _a lot more_ for women and minority creators. They don’t get to “just have an account” on any social media platform, unless they’re vapid, pleasant and cheerful 100% of the time. If they speak up even a little about justice issues, if they have any following of size, they are attacked. Doxxed. Threatened. Made to feel _unsafe_.

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Their very existence on social media is “political” – not by their choice, by the endless waves of trolls and bots who use their infinite resources and time to making their lives a living hell. Every day. Without exception. And most women and minority content creators don’t have thousands of followers galvanized to help them when they are harassed out of their own social space.

Trolls. Fucking trolls. These people are the bug in the system. Trolls exploit the mechanics of social media platforms, which apply social justice largely through algorithms that they (trolls) know how to skirt and weaponize against people they don’t like. They exploit the mechanics of our better nature (to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and apply legal standards to our personal interactions), using that as cover to relentlessly attack, exhaust and harm less powerful people … all without meaningful repercussion.

(I’m going to write a full on “troll survival guide” in the future post; that’s a robust topic worthy of its own post).

So What Can We Do? (Tm)

Over the last few days I’ve been asked many times, by well-meaning friends “how can I support you?” Thank you for asking. I thought about it, and here’s how:

Don’t make it about me. Make it about us. Stand up and reclaim our social spaces.

You can’t fix social media by yourself. I can’t either. Systemic issues require systemic solutions, and no single FB post can solve this. And frankly that’s not on us, the individual. But that’s not a reason to concede. Please stop using “Twitter is a cesspool” to end a conversation about how to improve our experience on the platform. That’s a table flip; it’s not a conversation. Yes, Twitter has a lot of work to do. And it’s systemically fucked. But we can play a part in making it better. Really, I promise you we can.

Stand up. Reclaim our social spaces.

Trolls have a math problem. They are so effective at what they do because they exploit social media systems to give them more power than an average, unconnected user. But there are WAY more of us than there are of them. Somebody baiting your friend in to an exhausting argument that questions their validity or humanity? Pile on the support! Butt in, bring your buds, support to your aggrieved friend in any way they want: argument, changing the topic, whatever. Stand between your friend and the troll. Don’t ignore the troll; show them your entire ass as you uplift your friend and pointedly steer the conversation from where the troll wants it. Sorry, disruptive shithead; we’re too busy supporting our friend here to give you the time of day.

Stand up. Reclaim our social spaces.

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Take 5 minutes to read Twitter’s Terms of Service (TOS). Yeah they’re not great, but they’re _something_. They’re a tool you can use at least as effectively as trolls. When you see incidents of harassment on Twitter: Report. The. Harasser. It takes less than a minute, but that 30 seconds of yours, multiplied over the thousands who read this, is the law of distributed labor in action. It gets easier for every new diligent social media citizen who does their part. Reporting works. Trust me.

Stand up. Reclaim our social spaces.

Lower your tolerance for harassment to zero. Block bad actors diligently. Cut off their oxygen. When you see a content creator you follow being harassed or dog piled, do not join in unless the creator specifically asks for it. You can support them by blocking and reporting the offending poster (especially if they are an “egg” account – few followers, not followed by anyone you know, etc). Your block alone doesn’t solve their problem, but distributed labour goes into effect. Every block denies bad actors access to you, your followers and those you interact with.

Stand up. Reclaim our social spaces.

Take some time to educate yourself on power imbalance in social settings (including social media). It will help you build some common sense like: don’t ‘tag in’ a known harasser to a minority content creator’s mentions, even if it is to admonish them (it’s like inviting a predator into your friend’s home to ‘give them a talking to”). It also helps avoid situations like “feeding trolls” in the middle of a harassment pile on by trying to “talk to sense to both sides.” In a social media situation where somebody is clearly being hated on by someone with a stronger following, equivocating between them helps the stronger bully, never the victim. Ever. Block, or even defend the weaker one if you have the energy.

Stand up. Reclaim our social spaces.

Twitter is a cesspool because negativity feeds itself. But positive virtuous cycles do exist, and they can be sustaining. Note I’m not asking for toxic positivity here (“chin up, don’t be sad, everything is okay”) … I’m asking for you to meaningfully and specifically support your friends and people you like. Follow a creator you enjoy? Retweet their work when you can. Compliment them and specifically their work in public. Drop a creator a DM telling them specifically and meaningfully how their work has had a positive impact on your life. It doesn’t seem like much, but oh my god creative people live for this stuff. And hey, that poor creative professional with 500 followers who keeps getting harassed? Financial support goes a long way too!

Stand up. Reclaim our social spaces.

If you have a platform, accept the responsibility and higher standard to which you are held. Use your influence to help clean up social spaces when you can. Take criticism when you screw up; learn from it; don’t hide it (and especially don’t edit your past social media posts like a coward, just to make yourself look better). Take some time to periodically clean up your followers list. Trolls love hate-following well known content creators, and having access to your other followers and people you interact with is gold to them. Cut them off. Treat them like the infectious disease they are; you don’t want to friends to catch it.

Stand up. Reclaim our social spaces.

And here’s the part nobody wants to hear: apply your social standards enemy and friend alike. No, I am absolutely not saying be friendly or even civil with bad actors, trolls and people using their platforms to say irresponsible/hateful things. Give them hell, relentlessly, powerfully.

But apply the golden rule: “Attack what they do, not who they are.” JK Rowling, in my opinion, deserves all the criticism and social backlash in the world for her continued transphobia and especially her continued doubling down. She does not deserve your misogyny, sexism, death threats or doxxing. Milo Yiannopoulos deserves all the social backlash and deplatforming for his alt right gateway tactics. He does not deserve your homophobia. Even the scumbag serial harasser in question; he deserves your criticism but not your fat shaming.

Stand up. Reclaim our social spaces.

It doesn’t magically solve all our problems at once, but it makes things a bit better for everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us.

And it’s the least we can do. So let’s just … do it.

This is not the first time Lang has spoken out about social issues facing the gaming community at large. If you’re interested in learning more, please follow Eric Lang.

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Powerful words worth considering in the wake of last week’s events

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