Clinton’s Emails, GamerGate and How the Word “Corruption” Became Meaningless

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By now everyone is aware that the FBI has decided not to pursue criminal charges against Hillary Clinton over using a private email server during her time as Secretary of State, something slightly less predictable than the results of Bring Your Rabid Badger to Work Day. If you were crossing your fingers and praying for a different result, I want to play poker with you at your earliest convenience. Clinton has literally walked away from conspiracy theories involving murder. “Grandma can’t use email” was never a winning hand.

Politics aside, I want to talk about corruption. Actually, I want to talk about “corruption.” The Internet and social media have done their damnedest to rob the word corruption of all meaning over the past several years. Corruption is a word that has been intrinsically tied to Clinton since she decided to run for president the second time, and nearly every use of the word in conjunction with her is grossly and hysterically inaccurate.

The acknowledged key to the FBI’s statement about Clinton is intent. The agency can rebuke her for possibly unsafe practices, it can chide her for negligence, but in the end it cannot prove that she ever intentionally did anything wrong. That matters. The unacknowledged key is effect. There’s literally no evidence that anything Clinton did, wrong or not, had any noticeable, harmful effect.

Let me put this in simple terms. Say I get really drunk and kill someone driving a car. I will never be indicted for first degree murder because it’s impossible (and ridiculous) to assume I purposely got drunk and intended to kill someone via Volkswagen. Likewise, if I got pulled over for drunk driving, but didn’t get into that accident, it would be equally ridiculous to convict me of the manslaughter I might have committed, but actually didn’t.

When people say, “Hillary Clinton is corrupt,” what they are really saying is, “I have a suspicious feeling about her.” And there’s nothing wrong with that on its face, but the problem comes in when you have to show the reason you feel that way and all you end up with is a bunch of unproven garbage.

I bring up GamerGate here because to me, GamerGate is an unparalleled sample group when it comes to examining online behavior as it has changed in the past several years. Gaters tend to represent the concept of organized opposition in the online space, and the online space has intense repercussions in how language and thought evolve.

Now, GamerGate started its life as an organized attempt to ruin a game developer’s life based on a novella-long blog post about Eron Gjoni’s ex-girlfriend and why he hated her. In that blog post, he claimed that she cheated on him with a video game journalist for a positive review of her game Depression Quest. That such a review never actually existed was irrelevant.

What was important was that the smokescreen of “ethics in video game journalism” could be maintained to legitimize the hate movement as something nobler. In fact, when you look at what the group claimed was “corruption,” you end up with a big pile of nothing.

They tried to prove an email list involving game journalists was collusion, and all they proved was that writers in a niche industry sometimes talk to each other. They tried to prove people were pushing certain games in print because of financial stake, and all they proved is that gamers who write about gaming sometimes contribute to gaming Kickstarters. They tried to prove collusion between PC Gamer and Ubisoft, and all they proved was that sometimes people in the same industry start dating. My point being that for all the chest-beating regarding ethics and corruption, GamerGate never was able to prove that anyone was actually doing corrupt things. Merely that they were doing things that, if you were hell-bent on seeing something as corrupt, might look, in the right light, corrupt.

That bothers me as a journalist. It bothers me a lot. Take local director Joshua Allan Vargas, for example. This is a man I am friends with on Facebook, and I have given very positive coverage to his films over the years I’ve known him. I have also, when it looked like he might be evicted and his son might not have a Christmas, helped share around his plea for financial aid. I also once sent his son my copy of the Hyrule Historia because I thought he’d like it.

I give Vargas good coverage because I am honestly convinced he is the best director in Houston, and his two films only solidify my opinion in that regard. For all that I sometimes want to strangle the libertarian bastard with his own hair, he is my friend. Question: Am I corrupt, or am I a person who reports on a very small community that has learned to care for a very gifted member of it? You can see it the first way if you have a vested interest in doing so, but you can’t ever prove it.

Which brings us back to Clinton. People lost their ever-loving minds when Bill Clinton met Attorney General Loretta Lynch on a tarmac so the former president could gush about his grandkid. Bill was the president who appointed Lynch to be a United States attorney, and his wife has indicated she would like Lynch to stay on the job if elected. This is a close, niche relationship that most of us will never understand.

To us, it looks corrupt. Oligarchy, as the dank memes say. In reality, it’s very powerful people doing incredibly hard things with the few folks they can trust.

Nowhere in the $7.2 million investigation into Clinton’s email servers did anyone find evidence of intent, nor evidence of actual harm done. At best, they managed to come up with a few things that might have sort of done harm if other people had maybe sort of hacked them. That is not corruption. That’s life.

We have got to stop pretending corruption means imperfect and with potential to harm. It doesn’t. Corruption requires intent and results. The legal word is "malfeasance." It’s clear to me that the Internet is more interested in a puritanical jubilee instead of a thoughtful examination of what people do and why they do it. TL:DR, what we want is to be better than others without the burden of having to walk a mile in their shoes.

Jef’s collection of stories about vampires and drive-thru churches, The Rook Circle, is available now. He is also on Patreon, Twitter and Facebook

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