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First there was #GamerGate and then there was #NAFO

I have written here about the #GamerGate phenomenon before, which was a series of rolling online flash mobs, events and activist commentary mostly doing its thing circa 2014-16. This was kicked off by something specific but quickly evolved into a far wider reaching grassroots pushback against rampant corruption, collusion and ever more woke politicisation in games ‘journalism’ and indeed games themselves.

Naturally the gaming press harrumphed with indignation, howling that GamerGater was an unconscionable harassment campaign; its largely nameless supporters all racist/sexist/homophobic. And much to their shock it didn’t work. GamerGaters ridiculed their evolving official narratives. And to the PR wonks working for MSM publications and their assorted vassals, none of it made any sense, which is why they still make sure the preposterous Wikipedia entry conforms to the official narratives (i.e. very little relation to reality). Too bad guys, you can’t bomb a hashtag.

GamerGate was something that drove (and still drives) many people insane, living rent free in their heads for years. Even now, the mere sight of GamerGate mascot Vivian James (video games, geddit?) can cause hilarity and rage in certain people.

Vivian James

Fast forward to 2022 and behold #NAFO: the North Atlantic Fellas Organisation.

And who are ‘the fellas’? A large and growing online pack of attack dogs countering, dare I say smothering, official Russian troll factory output, as well as other pro-Kremlin talking heads online. And their mascots are daft cartoon dogs (variations of a Shiba Inu to be precise). If journalistic collusion was a constant target of #GamerGate, the Russian troll farms are the modern analogy to that, constantly targeted and smothered by NAFO posting either pro-Ukrainian counter-narratives or just ridiculing or flagging up pro-Russian ones.

Many people, particularly those operating within institutions, don’t understand #NAFO for same reason PR departments of various video games companies & press outlets didn’t (and still don’t) understand #GamerGate.

Is #NAFO engaged in ‘information warfare‘? Absolutely. They even get a shout out from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence. But they are not managed out of an office in Langley, Virginia nor by some adjunct of the Ukrainian intelligence services. #NAFO is a hashtag, a phenomena, it isn’t “run” by anyone, because it doesn’t need to be. Like GamerGate, NAFO is a confluence of the motivated willing in every timezone on the planet.

And just as GamerGate had a single original trigger, which was then largely forgotten as the ‘movement’ grew and started attacking larger more juicy prey, NAFO started as a fund raising effort for the Georgian Legion (a now battalion sized unit of about 600 within the Ukrainian army made up mostly of Georgian volunteers). At blinding speed, NAFO rapidly morphed into a wider distributed online effort supporting Ukraine in the “information space”.

NAFO… daft, puerile, bonkers, pervasive. But it works.

24 comments to First there was #GamerGate and then there was #NAFO

  • Paul Marks

    The Ukrainians have fought well and are fighting to protect the independence of their country.

    Mr Putin has shown himself to be totally useless – when his original plan (to take out the Ukrainian government with a strike on the Ukrainian capital) failed, he was exposed as a confused person, unable to think on his feet.

    Mr Putin must go, and chance there was for union (official or de facto) between Russia and the Ukraine has been destroyed by his bloody handed invasion. There must be entirely new government in Russia – containing none of Mr Putin’s cronies of the last 20 years.

    “You just hate Russia and Russians” – NO, I am emotionally PRO Russian in terms of culture. An unpopular thing to admit to – but it is the truth. I have always been deeply moved by Russia and the Russian people.

  • Steven R

    If I had a time machine and a gun I wouldn’t clip Marx or Hitler or Stalin or even the guys that came up with New Coke. Nope, I’d go straight up Terminator on those who invented Social Media. It’s just been THE plague of the 21st century.

  • Steve B

    On the back of only a couple of “look at this point Twitter” moments from me, my school age son asked for #NAFO items on his birthday list (Already sorted) and is au fait with “booking vatniks”. I considering this peak parenting on my part!

    It’s certainly nice to see a successful online movement that’s a genuinely positive force rather than the usual socialist rabble rousing that normally seems to gain traction.

  • Hazer

    I was an avid GG’er & a bit of a Milo fanboi until he vanished up his own arsehole.

    I don’t follow what’s happening the Ukraine very closely, but I pretty much live online, so was basically aware of #NAFO & yes, now that I think about it, you’re right, absolutely. These could scarcely be more different issues, utterly unrelated, different constituencies, different context, but looked at as a phenomenon, as an idea driven happening, NAFO is very much like Gamergate, just on steroids.

  • I have always been deeply moved by Russia and the Russian people.

    I on the other hand want to see the complete fragmentation of the Russian empire and to see Russia reduced to Muscovy 😉

  • bobby b

    I always wonder – back in GG and now – if anyone from the other tribe ever actually sees all of the efforts, or if it just works as intra-tribe cheerleading.

    Not that that would be valueless. Cheerleading keeps enthusiasm going, and reminds people of what they ought to be thinking. Just wonder if any views ever change away from the tribe’s views from social media efforts.

    Not sure I ever saw anyone switch sides in GG.

  • Snorri Godhi

    I am too squeamish for the 2nd last image (from Kremlin lie factory down to pro-Russian) but have to admit that it is a cogent allegory.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Incidentally, the Russians complaining most loudly against Putin right now seem to be the ultra-nationalists.

    That suggests that Putin might (hopefully) pivot from fighting Western “””nazis””” to suppressing Russian ultra-nationalists; sort-of like Arab regimes suppressing radical Islamists.

  • Chester Draws

    Not sure I ever saw anyone switch sides in GG.

    You campaign to win the middle, not the extremes.

    No Russian nationalist is going to ever say Russia was morally wrong to invade Ukraine.

    But at the mothers start learning of their dead sons, then some people are going to start thinking about things they didn’t want to think about before. Like “why?”. And you need your voice to be heard.

  • bobby b

    “You campaign to win the middle, not the extremes.”

    I understand the theory. It’s not actual argument with another viewpoint, it’s making sure inaccurate and misleading stuff doesn’t sit there unanswered that will wrongly sway the mass of Uncommitteds out there reading and trying to learn.

    I just question the existence of that “mass of Uncommitteds out there reading and trying to learn.”

    I’m sure there are instances where it works, but I also think that 98% take their tribe’s side no matter what.

    (I will admit that GG came closest to invalidating my theory, given who made up the GG side that would normally be thought of as conservatively-driven. But I’ve seen few other issues that unbalanced. Generally, woke stay woke forever.)

  • Patrick Crozier

    Thanks for the explanation. I had been wondering what it was all about. BTW, “inu” is Japanese for “dog”.

  • Not sure I ever saw anyone switch sides in GG.

    Indeed. But that is not the objective. Objective is to get reach the vaguely disaffected, the uncommitted, the people who ‘feel’ something is wrong but need to see it expressed, so they need to see a stone thrown and a window broken. It is to show people not already on the other side that there *is* a counter-narrative.

  • I must admit that although I thought I understood the original starting point of GamerGate (corruption of game reviews), I never really understood the wider implications.

    Is there a neutral summary somewhere (since Wikipedia is clearly biased?)

    As for #NAFO, these things tend to be pretty organic since there is no mechanism for centralised control, although many of the Doge memes are more forced than funny.

  • JG, for sure some memes work better than others, but as Stalin said, quantity has a quality of its own.

  • TMLutas

    Is NAFO a militia? If they wore uniforms and got a paycheck from Uncle Sam, I suspect that there’s a military specialty classification that fits their activity and that is enough in my book to characterize them as such.

  • A militia? In a sense I suppose so; an uniformed irregular militia engaging in information warfare within the context of an actual non-figurative war.

  • tfourier

    I’ve been one of the people active on twitter since Feb stomping RU trolls and their Western useful idiots. And the weapon of choice. Screen grabs from the Russian State TV war coverage.

    I watched Vremya almost daily on Channel 1 RU back in 1989 to 1991 as the best source of what the Kremlin thought was going on. And wanted the average Russian to believe was going on. And then read afterwards in the 1990’s books about the inside story of what was going at the time on as a calibration.

    Turned out watching Vremya as a propaganda performance gave an accurate indication of the political lay of the land in the Kremlin at any given time. On a day by day basis

    So I started watching Channel 1 RU again daily in January this year. In addition to following closely various OS intel feeds. The Belarus opposition ones were a goldmine. As were the Baltics and Scandinavian ones.

    Then in early March started taking screengrabs of RU TV to counter RU trolls. And soon discovered it was a kill shot. The daily RU TV “battlefield” reports were an inexhaustible supply of troll-killing ammunition. “The Russian are winning” lie was stomped by a months worth of RU TV maps showing no progress. etc. etc. Posting a few screenshots of the headlines on the RU TV news quickly shuts the useful idiots who are just repeating third hand RT talking points. Or a shot of the very glum look of the talking heads on the daily war coverage. They have been very glum looking this week for some reason.

    At least in the Anglophone part of the twitter world the blatant RU trolls pretty much disappeared around the time of Victory Day. So early May.

    This is quite separate from those who are just being contrarians due to the total lies told by the MSM over the last few years about so many subjects. Those guys, I give a bit of slack to. As I completely understand why they are that way.

    Its the weekend schedule on RU TV so pretty quiet. The big two hours weekly review “Vremya” tomorrow night is when next weeks official propaganda narrive will be established for all the other TV output for the coming week. So a must watch.

  • bobby b
    September 17, 2022 at 3:42 am

    “You campaign to win the middle, not the extremes.”

    I understand the theory. It’s not actual argument with another viewpoint, it’s making sure inaccurate and misleading stuff doesn’t sit there unanswered that will wrongly sway the mass of Uncommitteds out there reading and trying to learn.

    It’s the way Facebook does it. But “inaccurate and misleading” isn’t the same for all of us. Be careful starting an argument with people who buy ink by the barrel, or electrons by the Coulomb.

  • […] Samizdata, Perry de Havilland briefly recaps the story of #gamergate and the incomprehension of the “official” gaming […]

  • I am too squeamish for the 2nd last image (from Kremlin lie factory down to pro-Russian) but have to admit that it is a cogent allegory. (Snorri Godhi, September 16, 2022 at 11:33 pm)

    By temperament I share Snorri’s opinions (both of them), albeit noting that if I were in the Ukraine getting shelled and shot at by Russians still swallowing these absurdities, I would doubtless think such ‘squeamishness’ (‘good taste’ as I would call it) a bit of a luxury – and doubtless not the luxury I was most eager for at that moment. 🙂

    This is quite separate from those who are just being contrarians due to the total lies told by the MSM over the last few years about so many subjects. Those guys, I give a bit of slack to. As I completely understand why they are that way. (tfourier, September 17, 2022 at 12:36 pm)

    +1 There is obviously no point in debating with an actual Russian troll; one simply refutes them and moved on. By contrast, anyone with sense in the USA already knew that aid to the Ukraine was one of the many things Biden farmed, and when the invasion started some knew very little else about about the Ukraine. (An opinion, begun from rational suspicion and honest ignorance, can, of course, persist past the time when it should be corrected – we none of us enjoy acknowledging publicly that views we had stated publicly need tweaking, however understandable the initial misapprehension.)

  • While the analogy between #GamerGate and #NAFO has much point, there are a couple of areas of divergence.

    – In almost all ways, we don’t know we’re born compared to Ukrainians, so I merely note for completeness that, while NAFO doubtless have no more chance of editing a Russian website’s wild misinformation about the Ukraine than we have of correcting the wild misinformation on wikipedia’s GamerGate page, you can expect people who read a Russian-website page to know that Russia is at war with the Ukraine. Knowledge that wikipedia answers to censors at culture-war with GamerGate and etc. is not as universal. (As in my comment above, if I were in a trench being shelled, somewhere near the Sea of Azov, wikipedia censors would be a grief I’d be willing to endure instead.)

    – Also, GamerGate was the actual coalescing of a group against the culture-warriors’ aggression. Ten acting together can make a hundred thousand tremble apart, or at least moan apart – as had many before GamerGate helped them discover each other. NAFO is the push-back against an invader’s accompanying propaganda (and a Ukrainian could observe that discovering how many echo a post you also like is a less mitigated joy than discovering many of your fellow countrymen share your feelings about your country’s having been invaded).

  • bobby b

    “I am too squeamish for the 2nd last image (from Kremlin lie factory down to pro-Russian) but have to admit that it is a cogent allegory.”

    Isn’t that image essentially a copy of an old English libelle – a pamphlet – from the 14th or 15th century, the meaning of which I’m too historically illiterate to recall? Someone doing that same yucky thing into someone else’s mouth representing someone eagerly accepting mistreatment for political purposes?

  • Paul Marks

    Perry – Muscovy stretches from the Baltic to the Pacific, and from the Artic to Persia.

    It is not going away, and it should not go away.

    “It is not going away” is something I would not dare say about the United States or the United Kingdom.

    In spite of the great outpouring of patriotic reverence over the death of the late Queen Elizabeth the Second, I rather doubt that either the United Kingdom or the United States will still exist in ten years.

    I am not happy about that, quite the contrary. But neither nation looks as if it has a long-term future – I hope, profoundly hope, that I am mistaken.

    Such cities Saint Petersburg, Moscow and Vladivostok are Russian cities – as they were Russian cities many years ago, indeed from their creation.

    What connection do modern New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have to the American cities of those names a century ago – or even 70 years ago? Any at all? In what sense, if any, are they American cities?

    The America school textbooks are filled with hatred for America – for its culture and history, and so is the media. The population that created the United States is depicted as utterly evil – even their removal from the cities that their ancestors built is depicted with no sympathy (no compassion) – indeed even their being forced out (Ethnic Cleansing) of the cities their ancestors built, is presented as some sort of crime, bigotry, that that are committing (not bigotry that has been committed against them). “White flight” spits Michelle Obama – as if it was a crime to run away from people who attack you, in a sense it is (but not in the way she means).

    Of course, new people can be assimilated into a nation, become part of it. But they have to want to become part of the nation (as Cubans wanted to become Americans in Florida – and so became Americans, without in any way giving up their own traditions and culture)- and there must be a strong national culture for them to be become part of.

    There is no genetic reason why black people cannot be part of the United States – the black community in such places as Philadelphia was deeply patriotic as recently as the 1950s (before the Marxists were successful in their “Woke” work). Today if a black person is pro American, they are a “coon” or “Uncle Tom” (the supposedly liberal media called Herman Cain these things, and worse, till the day he died – and afterwards). Or they are the “black face of white supremacy” Larry Elder (who 60% of voters in brain damaged California identified as a “white racist”).

    Only black people who hate America (such as the Frankfurt School Obamas) are “really black” – if a black person loves America “you ain’t black” according to that black person Joseph Biden (he does not look black – but one’s eyes are clearly “racist”). It is the same for Hispanic people – someone who does not hate America is not “really” Hispanic – the education system, the media, and the “Woke” Corporations, are very clear on this point.

    The United States of Theodore Roosevelt (in spite of his faults) could make new people Americans – the United States of Joseph Biden hates itself and does not wish to live.

    As for the United Kingdom – out of respect to the late Monarch it is not fitting to discuss the decline of Britain (of British society) further today. Let us hope for some great national revival – so that the United Kingdom again becomes the great society it was when my Russian-Jewish Great Grandfather arrived on this island so many years ago.

    “It is so small, but it has such a great heart!”.