Beware the Distraction of the Twitter Mob Campaign

If any were a timely reminder of the dangers of viral social media activism, the sad saga of bayonet Voice actress Hellena Taylor certainly is. In what appeared to be record time, it turned out how good it is to wait amid controversy for all the facts to emerge, and how social media thoroughly short-circuits this prudent impulse. It also reveals the profound dangers of mob summoning on social media.

Earlier this month, Japanese gaming studio Platinum Games announced that the forthcoming third entry in its smash hit bayonet franchise would not feature Taylor as the voice of the titular character as was the case in the previous two games. On Oct. 15, Taylor posted a video to her Twitter account in which she made a explosive claim and an equally explosive request to her followers: She claimed that she was only offered $4,000 for the role and that people were watching the game should boycott. Fans were in an uproar, and it appeared to be the latest consequence of the games industry’s exploitative attitude towards voice actors, sparking a year-long strike by the SAG-AFTRA union between 2016 and 2017.

Taylor seemed to be the embodiment of that exploitation, as a woman whose voice helped make the franchise a worldwide hit was not only denied residual payments, but was paid less than a living wage. Except, according to Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier and his sources at Platinum Games, Taylor grossly misrepresented her proposed compensation; Instead, she was offered $4,000 per recording session, with the number of meetings being a minimum of $15,000 in compensation above union rates. This was confirmed by Andy Robinson of VGC News.

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Taylor’s torch-and-pitchfork reputation was heeded by many disgruntled players and fans, who saw a clear case of injustice unfold before them. But there were warning signs that indicated caution was needed. Legendary voice actress Jennifer Hale has been tapped to play Bayonetta in the upcoming title, and Taylor, in a subsequent Twitter video from the same threadShe said of Hale: “I wish her all the happiness in the world, I wish her all the jobs, but she has no right to say that she is the voice of Bayonetta. I created this voice. She has no right to sign merchandise as a Bayonetta.” This strangely possessive remark was not widely noticed by the mob Taylor had summoned — perhaps it was politely ignored. Or maybe it was heard only too well, because as has been widely reported, Jennifer Hale has been taking a huge toll on angry and harassing comments on social media in response to Taylor’s allegations.

In many ways, this was the inevitable result of a social media campaign. Such things almost always lead to harassment as the mob looks for culprits, for a single villain to scapegoat. Apparently, some of Taylor’s supporters have found one in Hale, who is certainly under a non-disclosure agreement and has not been able to speak publicly about the affair, as some have been demanding. (She has since dropped out a very sober statement.) It didn’t have to be this way, but it’s just the latest in a long line of episodes in which people who want to do the right thing are armed for far less noble purposes.

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A driving Twitter video preceded the important story of which it was only a part. In a social media atmosphere that demands timeliness from all of its participants and forces all of us (including people like me who are tacked to the mast of their economies) to their conceit of instant communication, there is tremendous pressure to voice an opinion or to react immediately, and many of us give up too easily.