How the UN Screwed Up its Cyberviolence Report 

By Kate Knibbs on at

Billed as a “world-wide wakeup call”, the UN’s “Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls” report was quickly pulled down, after criticism about its sourcing and conclusions. It does the impossible: Gamergaters and Zoe Quinn think it sucks. What went wrong? The problem started with bad sourcing.

Many of the ideas the UN Broadband Commission’s report put forth were noble: promote digital inclusion for women, provide digital literacy training, push digital entrepreneurship for women.

And then, the report addresses online harassment by linking what it called “cyber VAWG” (VAWG= violence against women and girls) to violent video games. To do so, it cites a discredited 2000 report on the Columbine shooters called “Programmed to Kill” to make a general statement on how video games warp young minds. From page 48:

Recent research on how violent video games are turning children, mostly boys, into ‘killing zombies’ are also a part of mainstreaming violence.

“Programmed to Kill” also refers to Pokémon as a “killing game designed for toddlers beginning at 2 and 3 years old”. Dungeons and Dragons becomes “satanic” and Risk II (yes, Risk II, the online version of one of the most boring board games ever inflected upon mankind and this blogger!) is a “ruthless quest for world domination”. Breathless or what?

As the Electronic Software Association pointed out, the UN also cited another discredited report, “The Mark of the Beast: America’s Children Are in Mortal Danger.”

In addition to relying on “Programmed to Kill” to link real-world violence to video games, the UN report cited Wikipedia, the UN itself, or left footnotes blank. As Motherboard pointed out, one of the footnotes cited the author’s hard drive. It's the sort of sourcing that would get you raised eyebrows and a swift 'fail' from your uni tutor.

This is what you see if you try to access the report now:

How the UN Screwed Up Its Cyberviolence Report 

So what’s the fix? Motherboard talked to Sarah Parkes, the media and public information chief at United Nations International Telecommunication Union. While she apologised for the errors, she emphasised that the only problem was the citations of sources:

“Really, the big problem was footnoting which was not up to standard and we very much regret that,” said Parkes. “That is being revised very thoroughly. We are adamant that we will have these [footnotes] all corrected.”

Parkes called the error-riddled report “a product of the terrible scramble around the launch date”.

A revised report is expected within two weeks, Parkes said. (Which...sounds like yet another scramble to me.) But some critics would like to see a revamping that goes beyond just fixing sources.

“Our hope is that the new UN report will be factually based and provide an accurate view of video games and gamers,” ESA Vice President of Media Relations Dan Hewitt told Gizmodo.

Online harassment is a serious problem, so it's a real shame a report that could’ve started conversations is now more of an embarrassing footnote on how not to do footnotes. [Ars Technica | Motherboard]

Screenshots via UN