As June moved into July, it didn't seem like it was possible for 2020 to compound any further. Yet those of you working in the gaming industry and connected to any news site are aware of what's been happening: hundreds of brave people found, and are still finding, the courage to speak out with their stories of sexual abuse, harassment, manipulation, and pain. It is a heavy subject, and it's with a heavy heart that I read through.
It's hard to metabolize all of this, as I'm sorting through retellings of these painful stories. But when it comes to looking at these events as a company working in the community, scenarios like these are something that many brands weren't prepared for - including us. Questions arise of how to handle partners who have allegations brought up against them. Questions arise on how to conduct investigations. Honestly, so do questions of how to address the topic at all, in a way that gives an unbelievably heavy topic its due delicacy and respect.
Logging on in the morning to see a number of familiar names on a list of people called out for misconduct is something I never anticipated. One of the worst feelings in my role is having to drop a partner. It sucks. Crushes morale, especially for reasons of harassment. Then there's the investigation in and of itself, pouring through these sensitive stories, which takes its own toll. But it's absolutely necessary, and we are quickly reminded that it pales in comparison to the pain many go through in the industry in an attempt to progress or even when minding their own business.
So with a deep breath and some extra caffeine, the team leaders and myself settled in to work through the stories. As we processed, we came to the conclusion that we need a defining principle on which to base each case. Some cases were exceptionally clear examples of blatant sexual abuse, hate speech, etc.— yet others are muddied. Our goal was to ultimately create a Code of Conduct for our Partnership Program, and we needed to define some clear lines in an area where stakes are high, accusations can fly in both directions, and evidence can be scarce and delicate to obtain.
As we looked through the cases, nearly all of them involved accusations and counter accusations. It's a troubling line to attempt to draw, when one side claims the situation to be just a soured relationship, and the other side sees it as abuse. But as a company working with content creators facing these allegations, we can't just stand there, shrug, and say I don't know. We have a responsibility as people who have given these partners space on our platform, to ensure that voice is not used to bring harm to others.
So in that light, we must find a way to look at these painful situations and take action. When the subject is something as divisive and traumatic as this, we have to find a way to lay down criterion that enables us to take action in a way that is respectful, mindful, evidence-based, and allows for zero tolerance for abusers.
With that in mind, pulling back to the basics can help. For the most fundamental breakdown of harassment, we can lean on Webster a little.
a) to annoy persistently
b) to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal and physical conduct."
We checked ourselves against this definition when looking at allegations, and then aimed to determine whether there was an imbalance of power, conflicts of interest, quid pro quo, etc. We compared statements, tweets, and screenshots to form well-rounded perspectives on what actually occurred. And with the information in front of us, we made an attempt to discern a dividing line. What simple guideline can we use to determine whether or not to continue sponsoring a content creator, in the not-so-clear cases?
The answer we drew, very simply: intent.
While intent may not be easy to prove from a legal standpoint, it can pretty easily be inferred. Jon brought up an analogy saying, "If I were to walk up to a bartender and say, 'Hey you're cute; I'm the CEO of this successful company, and could I have a free drink?," it's clear the intention. In that hypothetical scenario, the intention would be to leverage his position for his own personal gain. And while not necessarily illegal in some scenarios (unless referring to quid pro quo - that's pretty clear), it's unethical and unprofessional at best.
It's easier to differentiate intentions when you view content creators as vendors and their audience as customers. Would you treat a vendor or customer the way this person is treating another person? If the answer is "no", then most likely something is amiss.
So. Pulling out of hypotheticals, what is actionable here? In an industry where casual interactions are the norm— Our content creators love a good oversized hoodie, drop f-bombs on stream, and talk to their audience like friends and peers— where do we stand as a professional company when supporting our partners in a casual environment?
It comes down to, "We want to partner with creators who uphold a professional brand amidst a casual environment." No, this doesn't mean we would drop a partner for cursing or making a crude joke here and there. But it absolutely means we are willing to part ways if someone is leveraging their position against someone else, or if those crude jokes become directed at someone maliciously. It's manipulation. It's not good business. And that's not what we want associated with our brand.
TL:DR Here's what we can objectively say: We draw the line at intentions. We as a brand must conduct ourselves in a professional manner, and our partners are an extension of our brand. Harassment of any form will not be tolerated in our Partner Program. The staff at Nodecraft strive to continually better ourselves, to treat others with utmost respect, and to produce innovative products that support our customers and partners. In doing so, we ask the creators we partner with to do the same. If anyone ever notices harassment from any of our partners, please don't hesitate to speak out. Hold us accountable.