The Bizarre Lies Behind Political Gamers TV, the 'Movement' Banned from Facebook

Featured image: The Flag Insititute

On Monday the BBC reported that Facebook had removed three Britain First adverts, and the page responsible for disseminating them. Britain First is a fascist political party that Facebook had already banned from its platform last year, saying at the time that its representatives “repeatedly posted content designed to incite animosity and hatred against minority groups”.

A rather surprising aspect of this story, however, is the styling of the group that had been promoting Britain First: it's called "Political Gamers TV", and little about it adds up.

Describing itself as "a brand new network dedicated to gamers worldwide with a freedom of political speech", on the surface Political Gamers TV looks like just another nasty little splinter group. But even the most cursory examination shows PGTV isn't really like that, so much as a shell designed to promote associations between 'alt right' political content and Britain First.

Before being banned by Facebook, Britain First made hay from social media's capacity to spread inflammatory posts, images and videos. The group's productions aim for a meme-like quality, and the vaguely clever aspect of its tactics is alternating between simplistic nationalism (the 'Share to support our troops' kind of post) and its far-right and racist core.

The self-reinforcing nature of social media platforms in general has put some of its posts in front of a wide audience: not least when the US President Donald Trump retweeted one of its (misleading) videos to his 40 million followers. Even Trump had to admit that was a mistake.

Following the 2016 murder of the MP Jo Cox, some MPs called for Britain First to be proscribed as a terrorist organisation. According to witnesses, the murderer shouted "Britain first" twice during the attack. Britain First deny this is connected to them.

Last year Britain First's leaders, Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen, were jailed for anti-Muslim hate crimes.

I give this context to make clear that Britain First isn't a harmless collection of racist fruitcakes. It's an organisation that sees the internet as its most important recruiting tool, targets disaffected white people, mostly young men, and is linked to countless acts of harassment and violence.

Britain First also has nothing at all to do with video games. Which is why Political Gamers TV caught my eye, because this looks like a shoddily-disguised attempt to try and tap-in to various alt-right networks, and use this position to push Britain First's propaganda. PGTV told the BBC "it has no direct links with Britain First and just reports its activities."

Most tellingly, everything PGTV bar the Steam account is devoid of gaming activity. The Steam account shows the individual behind it is a big fan of Counter-Strike: GO and has just under 4,000 hours on Garry's Mod. This is clearly a personal account, adapted for the purpose, and he plays a lot of games. The outward-facing PGTV Twitter and YouTube accounts, on the other hand, are just lists of far-right political videos and memes.

Here's the YouTube uploads and, despite views ranging between 115 and 145,000, there's not a gaming-focused one among them.

Lovely: Now YouTube will be recommending 'watch Jordan Peterson OWN this feminist' videos to me for the rest of the year.

Then things get even weirder. PGTV's Steam page describes themselves as both a Russia Today UK journalist and a contributor to Britain First.

The RT link is also seen in the account's most recent post, which apparently advertises an upcoming show on RT and uses the Gamergate hashtag. Reverse image-search this 'advert' however, and the only two times it appears on the whole internet are on PGTV's Facebook and Steam page. Or to put it another way, it's a fake.

The primary and perhaps only individual behind the Political Gamers TV brand is Stevie Cowee. I asked whether he really worked for Russia Today and whether this show existed.

"I can make no comment on any plans with Russia Today at this moment, but we are very fond of Russia, Putin & the media in Russia."

I'm surprised he resisted the temptation to add 'kek' on the end. Clearly the RT connection is spurious.

I was able to view various information Cowie's made public over recent years about PGTV. There are further bizarre aspects to this, including what appears to be a Breitbart article penned by Milo Yiannopoulos, accompanied by a post about talking to his agent. Except... this article, dated January 2017, doesn't seem to have been published.

A closer look at the text, meanwhile, immediately throws up the kind of obvious errors that you wouldn't expect even from Breitbart. This too seems a clear fake.

The point is not to draw a conspiracy theory around PGTV; the point is that it is designed to look more connected than it is. The Breitbart mock-up is an attempt to associate with Yiannopoulos, the Gamergate ad an attempt to hook into that world, and the Russia Today stuff both appeals to a subset of right-wingers and sows confusion. I did ask Russia Today's press office about the claims of a link, but two days later it has yet to reply.

All of these links are fake. What matters is the one that's real.

You told the BBC you have 'no direct link' to Britain First, but your Steam account says 'Contributor for Britain First' — so which is it?

Steve Cowee: We are not directly involved with the movement, in regards to what is advertised on our Steam, this is simply stating we are covering Britain First events and publish media for them but this does not automatically mean we agree with the movement.

We had used Facebook ads for nearly all of our posts which included self created memes & random videos sourced from the internet daily, not just Britain First content. We used ads to reach a larger audience for Political Gamers TV not to benefit any other movement or person.

The story here is where the impetus to publish is coming from: note Cowee's phrasing that "we are covering Britain First events and publish media for them." That is how a front works. It is true that PGTV does not focus exclusively on Britain First content, but what it does focus on all falls under the alt-right umbrella.

The interest in promoting Britain First is core to these various accounts, whereas the links to other outlets are an attempt to create right-wing 'cred' without the bother of any of it being real. It's important to note that this doesn't necessarily matter to the channel's goals. In a small way Steve Bannon would be proud of Cowee for the insight that, with the kind of audience this is going for, perception matters much more than facts.

Who paid for the ads?

Steve Cowee: The money for our ads is paid for using our own personal finances. We are daily advised by social media experts from other movements and activists on growing social media pages. These movements and activists currently have pages across the internet with a large following and have also previously run pages with a large following size.

Political Gamers TV is in and of itself small beer, but also a case study in how fringe movements continue to outflank social media platforms, and what looks like an example of far-right astroturfing. Britain First may be banned from Facebook, but its allies and supporters continue to push its message on the platform and, through a myriad of smaller accounts like this, associate the party's fascist ideology both with less extreme rightwing content and completely unrelated topics.

In this case the up-front association is with the 'gamer' identity and on occasion the 'gamergate' hashtag, reflecting the far-right's continuing practice of using 'politics in video games' as an inlet to young minds.

It brings home the challenge that educators, parents and all of these huge platform-holders have. While it may be easy to just dismiss an outfit like Britain First as thick-browed racists, it's harder to acknowledge that it is using the tools of the internet age to continue to target its hateful message at specific groups. PGTV is an interesting example because it's unsophisticated, it falls apart when you examine it, and in doing so provides an unusually bald look at the elements used in its construction.

Most obviously, this outlet isn't branded as being about video games because it wants to attract xenophobic pensioners; it wants their grandchildren. The associations its YouTube page tries to create are almost like a check-list: Jordan Peterson, Infowars, Milo, Katie Hopkins, Trump, 'angry SJWs'... and then a tonne of Britain First vids sandwiched in-between.

A depressing aspect of the BBC's original report on the removal of these ads is that, until the BBC had contacted Facebook about the Britain First posts, the initial complaint had not received a response. There's that sense that Facebook doesn't really have an effective way to monitor this stuff, or respond to user feedback, and mostly acts when the press department panics because an outlet like the Beeb got in touch.

Facebook and other social media companies will eventually have to grasp the nettle about hosting extremist content but, as has been clear for years now, the ideas and the execution are sorely lacking. Who knows how many Britain First videos are being watched on Facebook as you read this line, but the number's not going to be anywhere near zero.

None of this story is funny, apart from the fact that the Political Gamers TV twitter account was used on 2 Jan 2018 to complain to McDonalds about a 24-hour store being closed at 5:28am. The tweet has now sadly been deleted, but I enjoyed that glimpse of the master race in action.

2019 feels like it'll be a weird year for gaming. Here we are, barely begun, looking at how a young man's objectionable political viewpoints and online fantasy world morphed into a Facebook ban, a BBC report, and a bizarre circus ring of fake rightwing endorsements. PGTV is a low-sophistication example of how unpleasant groups target UK browsers, and you might think it couldn't fool anyone, but young kids especially aren't being taught the critical thinking skills to see through online propaganda like this.

Everyone's a gamer now, though thankfully only a vanishingly small number of us have any time for Britain First. Political Gamers TV is a little reminder no-one and nothing on the internet is what it seems. And a big reminder too: funny how those who scream loudest about politics in games, to a man, are always of such unpalatable leanings themselves.

You Can Now 3D Print Working Game Controllers

This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour from the British isles.


Comments

    Cool, I'm not gonna watch it at all. It's as easy as that.

    Excellent article.

      Not really

        Cool story.

        I would ask you to explain why you disagree and talk about it, but I'm not going to actually engage with someone who said the dismissive bullshit you said below. Oh and defending a white supremacist group. You did that. That's a thing you did.

    Wondering why this article is even on Kotaku. I know you guys get all frothy about racists and right-wing people and all, but when you say that the Political Gamers TV has nothing to do with video games, I struggle to see why you've done a substantial article on the subject.

      It still bears value that someone actually explains why the thing isn't actually associate with gaming, because general news media won't do it, and plenty of people take names at face value without the least bit of validity checking (eg. the D in DPRK).

      Because the group in question are deliberately exploiting the word 'gaming' to promote a political agenda, which makes its actions directly relevant to the gaming community and this site's mission to inform that community. You should be 'struggling' to see why' a bunch of racists would think that was a smart move in the first place, not why a gaming site reports on it.

      I wonder myself since politics should have nothing to do with gaming

        Why shouldn't it? Most of the best video game narratives are political in one form or another.

    Amazingly there’s even less about video games in this article than there is on the Political Gamers profile page.

    I definitely come to this website for politics and not video games.

      Weird how you clicked on the politics article, read it to the end, and commented on it then

        How can he know it isn't really related to games unless he reads it...? How do I know an articles contents without reading it?
        I think it's fair to say you'd expect it more video game related on a video game website.
        It'd be different if he's on theage.Com politics section

          its pretty clear within a paragraph or two where the article is heading. Hell even at the first mention of Britain First, thats a pretty big clue that if you dont like reading politics what follows might not interest the reader.

            This is so loosely related to the site. I'm glad you found it 'riveting' but all I got was 'cringe'.

              That probably says more about you and the side of the fence you're on (the neckbeardy side) than the validity of the article. The article was well written, it is actually directly related to the gaming industry as the group is claiming to be about games and linking themselves to gamergate. Heck, I didn't even need to read the article to know it had heavy politcal content based on the title and image, so one does have to wonder how you managed to read it all before realising this and then add a comment. Either you are quite dense, or you have leanings similar to twits pushing this racist crap so felt you needed to comment negatively.

                Lol. Neckbeard and racist in one comment. Thank you guest user.

      I definitely come to this website for politics and not video games.

      Thats kinda of the point of the article, now just because you want to live a narrow focused life, that doesnt mean the rest of us do. Reading an indepth thing about Britain First wankers was not high on my list of things to do today, but I am always interesting in seeing how technology isnt being used not just in good ways but bad. As a gamer I found this read riveting and important.

      Every day, every single website in the world publishes a story that doesnt interest me, when they dont, I dont click, I move on to many others that do interest me, now you could have exercise that right and control here.

      First up, Kotaku has never been just about games; it's about the gaming community, Second, the site today, like any other day, has many articles on gaming, proving that it is part of that community. Third, the group addressed in that article has no real interest in gaming, and is only using that word in an attempt to exploit and deceive the community, which mans this site has a journalistic duty to expose that fact to the community. You act as if Kotaku is politicising gaming, when it is actually pointing out that a group that has no place in the community is trying to do exactly that. As it should.

    What a brilliant article.

    Lovely: Now YouTube will be recommending 'watch Jordan Peterson OWN this feminist' videos to me for the rest of the year.

    Yeah i had that with a few terribly misogynistic youtubers. I am not a person who is happy to just label things as vile and the like without watching them, to at least try and see where they are coming.

    For weeks after some of the stuff that keep coming up was truly deplorable, and I could not believe they are allowed to have a platform to stoke their hate.

      REEEEEEE!

        Oh look, someone who cant construct words and place them into sentences and have a grown up conversation, how um lame, or do I mean modern?

          I'm pretty certain it's a joke at your sensitivity. Youtube is a public platform.(at least it pretends to be), if they weren't they'd be liable for whatever content is put on there which leads to my next point. just because you find something deplorable does not mean you should decide what kind of content is allowed on such a platform. twitter tries to moderate and is a massively biased cesspit of hate and rage that isn't worth jumping on.

          I understand that you don't like what things people put on there. there's a lot I dislike on youtube as well. why can't they post it though? As long as they don't infringe on the law or violate the admittedly vague TOS then it's fine to be there.

          The whole REEEEEE! this is a response to the fact that you are complaining that people are doing something you don't like, apparently don't think they should be allowed to(your phrasing) and that many will go a step further(not necessarily yourself) and simply complain like a child until they get their way and people are banned.

          Hopefully this makes sense and you can understand why people are want to take the piss from you.

          EDIT: Well this was a wall of text...

          Last edited 15/01/19 11:23 pm

            What can I say pathetic misogyny and hate groups have no place in modern society, they most certainly dont deserve a platform for which to recruit and flourish.

            No just because you seemingly want to defend those type of groups and using a moronic meme attached to alt-right. Even though free-speech does not mean free of consequence. That is up to you but REEEEE! is almost as stupid as the youtuber misogynists especially in light of that new ad.

              I have no idea who exactly you're watching that's a bunch of hate groups but, I see pretty often that people shouting out that people are misogynists or nazi's are a bunch of morons. they bandy the term about for little things they don't like.

              at this point I no longer believe those terms hold any relevance. they are overused for minor 'problematic' views that really are simply different views that don't harm anyone. I won't defend people that are actually hateful and want to actually hurt people but, my experience is that most of the time the hate wagon is entirely undeserved.

              That said. I don't believe there's a point to arguing this any further as a viewpoints on the subject are apparently too far apart for it to be productive.

                Britain first is exactly what it says British first

                  A bunch of sad people who have no idea of 2500 years of their own history and the idea that they are 'British' and only they matter, is thoroughly laughable and flawed.

                  Last time i checked britian first was about murdering politicians.

            You don't have to be a genius to acknowledge these alt right groups incite violence and murder(example mentioned in the article) against minority groups based on demonstrable nonsense and baseless appeals to peoples fears, among other logical fallacies.

            Any reasonable person would consider this content unfit for mass consumption on any platform.

            It's so easy to dismantle alt right arguments factually, but these people are largely irrational, giving them a platform to reach a lot impressionable people is problematic. History speaks for itself in this respect.

    Nice deep dive. Thanks AU team for bringing this over. These longer form and investigative pieces are always worth the wait.

    Not at all surprised by the blustery finagling and dishonesty attempted by the bloke in this story. It's standard procedure now, developed over years of groups normalising antisocial sentiments.

    I get my politics elsewhere but it's cool to see this intersection here.

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