Thursday, August 13, 2015

Analysis: Brad Glasgow's "Interview" of #GamerGate [Updated]

Update: Brad Glasgow took the time to respond to my article on reddit. He made a number of fair criticisms and provided more technical detail behind how he performs his work. I've edited the original article to remove items that aren't fair to Brad and I should not have included in the first place were I committed to quality and ethical writing. I've apologized to Brad for this.

I left most of the original article intact as a record, but it should be understood that I no longer find merit in the key points nor am I satisfied with how I wrote the article.

Is it possible to conduct a survey?

What an obvious question! Of course it is. Over at Game Politics, Brad Glasgow's recent article on interviewing the GamerGate hashtag seeks to answer that question.

The article asks whether you can learn more about an online movement from the people within it. Glasgow accomplishes this by asking a series of questions on the subreddit KotakuInAction. KiA describes itself as "the hub for GamerGate discussion." It would be reasonable to assume that KiA redditors are GamerGate sympathizers.

Anyone was capable of submitting responses and voting on others, with the top voted responses published by Glasgow in his article. Glasgow stresses "though I have included a sampling of responses from KiA commenters, their inclusion is not a validation of any of the claims made." Like Glasgow, my purpose isn't to examine the answers of the survey.

According to Google's dictionary, an interview is "a conversation between a journalist or radio or television presenter and a person of public interest, used as the basis of a broadcast or publication." Brad Glasgow fits the definition of a journalist and gathered information for publication. However, an interview is typically conducted with a single person. Glasgow suggests that a hashtag is a person that can be interviewed. A hashtag is not a person.

A survey is "an investigation of the opinions or experience of a group of people, based on a series of questions." Glasgow conducted his experiment by publishing a series of questions to gather responses from the group of people who frequent the KiA subreddit.

Why does it matter to distinguish an interview from a survey? Because of the effect of being on the receiving end of each. An interview lends a sense of importance to its subject. The subject interfaces with an interviewer. The answers are unique and are often used to promote the subject. A survey makes each respondent one of many participants in a group. While participants enjoy having their voice heard, each participant is given no special attention by an individual. They interface with the survey. Individual identity and importance aren't present because the collective response is the emphasis.

(The voting system makes this survey an exception to others, but I will address that later.)

After Brad's article, KiA sought to implement a system where journalists can engage with their group. They appear flattered by Glasgow's attention. He even states in his article that "GamerGate supporters seem desperate for media attention." Glasgow then hosted an AMA in the KiA subreddit.

KiA redditors participated in a survey initiated by Glasgow, while Glasgow took part in a self-initiated interview with KiA redditors as the interrogators. Can you see the difference?

I asked Glasgow about the distinction between calling his experiment an interview versus a survey and received a less than satisfying response. He has a background in survey research and knows the difference between an interview and a survey. Glasgow states that he did not choose the article title that advertises its content, nor would he say who did. That established, Glasgow repeatedly refers to his experiment as an interview in his AMA.

I want to briefly address one of several flaws in Glasgow's survey: the answers were not private. This time-saving method was done to allow the most popular answers to rise to the top. However, this method contaminates the answer pool by letting respondents influence other participants without requiring the participants to think and speak for themselves.

Glasgow placed the onus on the respondents, not on him, to measure what was the most popular answer. Is what Glasgow did a good journalistic practice, let alone a research one?

In conclusion, Glasgow's article was about whether the survey COULD be done and not HOW BEST to do it, and in this he was successful. Update: Brad's article comes at a time when a newsworthy event is on the horizon. It is only natural that, as a journalist, he would find something to write about that brings attention to the event and the bigger picture surrounding it.

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