March 21, 2024 - 6:30pm

At the end of last week, the Anti-Defamation League — an organisation once dedicated to fighting antisemitism which is now a node in the Democratic Party-aligned “censorship industrial complex” — posted the following on X:

The post links to an op-ed in The Hill calling on the US Government to regulate online video game platforms and fight “hate, harassment, and the perpetuation of extremist ideologies”. The article references the gargantuan size of the gaming industry ($200 billion in revenue), while noting with some trepidation that online gaming sites act as “social platforms that channel user communication and enable networking and community building” — beyond the prying eyes of the Government.

This article provides a window into a new censorship front in the US: the gaming industry, which is supposedly now a bastion of unregulated speech, or, in Government Newspeak, “misinformation”, “disinformation”, and “violent extremism”. The ADL, meanwhile, is an active partner in these efforts.

During a recent social media spat over wokeness in video games dubbed “Gamergate 2”, for instance, X users noted an oddly catastrophising blog post from a “mental health in gaming” nonprofit called Take This. The post warned that an alleged “harassment campaign” against employees of Sweet Baby, Inc. — a “narrative development” studio focused on improving minority and LGBTQI+ representation in video games — was fuelling (and being fuelled by) the 2024 US presidential election, and urged industry stakeholders to “clearly and unequivocally denounce” gamers who don’t want the equivalent of sensitivity readers for their video games.

It turns out, though, that Take This’s self-described mission to “normalize mental health challenges” and “honor intersectional experiences” in the gaming industry is funded by the US security state: the organisation was the co-recipient of a $700,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2022, dedicated to the monitoring of “extremist exploitation in gaming spaces”. Its partners in that project included Middlebury’s CTEC, an academic “counterterrorism” institute, and Logically, a British company which served on the UK Government’s Counter-Disinformation Unit, using AI tools to surveil “journalists, activists, and lawmakers who criticised pandemic policies,” according to a January investigation from Lee Fang.

In that role, Logically flagged as mis- or disinformation reports from experts questioning the utility of vaccine passports, social media posts suggesting that the Covid-19 virus escaped from a lab, and arguments against Nato expansion from British anti-war groups. Logically has since graduated to monitoring election-related “misinformation” for a subsidiary of the Center for Internet Security (CIS), a nonprofit managed by a branch of DHS.

Further, a recently released report from another US Government agency (GAO) stresses the need for DHS and the FBI to develop “strategies and goals for sharing threat information with social media and gaming companies”. The report claims, dubiously, that gaming “promotes domestic violent extremism and has influenced several high-profile attacks” — the “evidence” here being that the Buffalo shooter live-streamed his attack in the style of a first-person shooter game.

A quick look at the list of “experts” consulted for the report, however, gives the game away: in addition to three employees from the ADL and one from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the list is a Who’s Who of the central players in America’s pandemic-era censorship regime, including CTEC (the institute partnered with Logically and Take This on the DHS grant), CIS (the DHS-controlled nonprofit contracting with Logically), and the Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Research Lab — a member of the Election Integrity Partnership, which served as the US Government’s “deputized domestic disinformation flagger” during the 2020 election, in the words of journalist Michael Shellenberger.

A February 2021 “Disinformation Primer” from the USAID, released last week, similarly urged Government agencies to target “alternative media spaces”— including message boards and gaming sites — as sources of “problematic information”. The same primer recommends a number of sub rosa tactics — such as “prebunking” and “debunking and discrediting” (bureaucratese for coordinated character assassination against alleged misinformers) — in order to halt the spread of false information.

In other words, under the pretext of fighting “domestic terrorism” and “misinformation”, the US Government and its nongovernmental partners — including the ADL and explicitly partisan organisations such as the SPLC — are declaring a national security interest in surveilling and censoring the speech of American citizens while they play Call of Duty with their friends.

Park MacDougald is Deputy Literary Editor for Tablet