It’s popular to think of the internet as a place of free expression, where we can air and discuss our opinions without being subjected to a witch hunt. 

However, the internet is not as free as you think. When a critic goes against group consensus they can find themselves subject to an unending stream of personal attacks and accusations from all sides, even about something as inconsequential as a video game.

These 3 recent examples show what happens when your critical opinion rubs a horde of raving fans the wrong way:

James Rolfe’s Ghostbusters Non-Review

This month, internet celebrity James Rolfe – who you might remember as the Angry Video Game Nerd – committed a most heinous crime. He told his fans he didn’t want to watch the new Ghostbusters. Check out the rant that’s been described as “hateful” and “rage-filled” below:

Were you disappointed too? Of all the Ghostbusters criticisms that have been levelled at the film, this has to be one of the more level-headed ones. That didn’t stop Twitter users from going on the offensive though, including American comedian Patton Oswalt:

 

In the world of content journalism, wesbites such as The Atlantic and Birth Movies Death found incredibly novel ways to accuse him of subconscious, unrevealed misogyny:

“His reasoning dances around the simple fact that has set this innocuous-seeming movie apart from its fellow blockbusters this summer—that it’s a tentpole genre film starring women.” – The Atlantic

“[…]but there’s a weird sense that something is being unsaid. Or maybe it’s just not being consciously considered but rather is bubbling just under the surface. Casual, unthinking sexism.” – Birth Movies Death

Instead of engaging directly with Rolfe’s criticism or just not getting mad about his personal choice, these writers have instead tried applying the misogynist label to one of the few critics not to mention the cast’s gender as a downside, discarding his opinion regardless of content.

The whole of Rotten Tomatoes: Batman v Superman

When Batman v Superman hit cinemas, most critics agreed that the film wasn’t that great. Reviews ranged from middling to negative, with everybody agreeing that Ben Affleck was the best bit. If any other film got as low an overall score from critics as BvS did on Rotten Tomatoes, most of us would think the reviewers just didn’t like it.

bvs free speech
Hello darkness my old friend

Not so with some of Snyder’s defenders. Instead, they’ve decided to accuse naysayers of “not getting it”, or of being paid by Disney to give false reviews:

 

One fan even went so far as to put together a poorly written Change.org petition asking Rotten Tomatoes to “Stop Disney from influencing critics on Marvel bias”.

“First they bashed Batman V Superman.They cleared BvS out of the way, gave Civil War (which wasn’t a perfect film) to be seen as perfect., now they’re going to work on moving Apocalypse out the way…” – Change.org petition

No big deal, right? Wrong. A few nerds getting bent out of shape is nothing new, but when a stupid idea like this gets so much traction it shows that its supporters can’t deal with reality. Much like the Ghostbusters argument above, they’ve decided to slap a label on and discard anybody that doesn’t agree with them.

This is the same reasoning that politicians use to dehumanise their opposition, calling them “radicals” or accusing them of a liberal conspiracy instead of engaging with the discussion.

The Washington Post’s Uncharted 4 review

All these injustices pale in comparison to the transgressions of Metacritic and the Washington Post’s Michael Thomsen. The offence? Daring to write a review of Uncharted 4 that wasn’t unqualified praise.

uncharted free speech
“Only a mere 93? PREORDER CANCELED”

Although the review didn’t end with a score, review aggregate site Metacritic decided to interpret it as a 40/100, which doesn’t seem too bad for something that leads with “This four-part series should have ended after Part One”. This brought the game’s overall score crashing down from 94/100 to the low low score of…93/100.

This enraged one fan so much that he…yep, it’s Change.org again, and the description is a gem:

“Im sorry but when having too much detail became a bad thing , this reviewer is out of his mind. I believe U4 is one of the greatest games ever created and it is my personal favorite for sure , although i can justify some reviewers giving it a 9 or an 8. But this is an utter disgrace.”

The world of geekdom is full of hypocrites it seems. When Batman v Superman gets a negative consensus, it’s a Disney conspiracy. But when game reviewers (some of whom actually do get perks or access for positive reviews) share that same positive opinion, it’s the naysayer who’s ruining things. This wasn’t confined to a few angry fans either. Voice of Sam Drake Troy Baker retweeted the petition:

Since the backlash began, some have pointed out that many games studios give out bonuses based on metacritic scores, and thus Thomsen’s “troll” review is costing the developers their livelihoods. Yet it’s not his fault that this practice is part of the industry. The issue isn’t whether the review’s criticisms are valid or justified – a journalist’s opinion shouldn’t be discarded because it upsets whatever balance the fanboys were happy with.

We tend to think of the war on free speech being waged by authoritarian governments or the stereotypical overzealous social justice activist. Make no mistake, though: it’s fandoms that are leading the charge against freedom of expression.

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