You may have heard of Gamergate, the 2014 Internet … event that exposed much of the world to the sexism and abuse that are rampant in some corners of online culture. But what do you know about the woman who was at the center of it?

Game designer and programmer Zoë Quinn dealt with a barrage of hateful, violent trolling. And she survived. She tells the story in her new book, “Crash Override.”

And you can send us your questions about online harassment for the show here.

Guests

  • Zoë Quinn Author,"Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, And How We Can Win The Fight Against Online Hate"; Independent video game developer and programmer; @unburntwitch

Interview Highlights

“What happened to me was really a symptom of something that’s been going on for a very long time,” Quinn says of the harassment she faced during GamerGate. She says the world needs to “disavow this notion that the internet is somehow this alternate universe that doesn’t actually intersect with real life at all, and really start noticing that it’s kind of like Soylent Green.”

It’s made of people, and people who sort of behave in this sort of horrible way on-line don’t suddenly stop feeling that way off. And when you look back before me even there’s been tons of movements like this all targeted at marginalized people for the most part, so what happened is by no means special.

Why social media platforms don’t act more aggressively against abuse

Quinn says she began approaching social networks with the attitude of “Oh, if they’re just knew, then maybe things would be different.” She calls that “shockingly naive for me.”

I found out: No, they know — they just don’t care, and they have no real incentive to care because as bad as things are at the end of the day, the Internet thrives on the attention economy. The numbers from somebody engaging with something because they like it or because it’s high-quality looks the same as the numbers of people engaging with something to send death threats and spread disinformation and false information and that sort of thing.

The danger of online mobs

My biggest concern falls squarely on the fact that groups of people online are frequently inaccurate, and mobs of any sort are sort of bad with the whole self-control thing. Considering the fact that immediately after the person was rundown in Charlottesville, people were inaccurately identifying the driver and harassing him, when it was just like some kid in the Midwest at home listening music gives me pause, too, because frequently mobs are wrong.

What to do if you’re being harassed online, or if you see harassment online

Quinn says the first question to ask yourself is “What do you want to do?”

Do you want to try and report and bag and tag this and try to get these people removed from the services and take their power away to do that? Do you want to just make it stop? Are you worried about your reputation?

Figure out what you want out of this because it’s just as valid of a goal or concern to say, “I’m going to dig in my heels, and I’m not going anywhere, and I’m going to fight back. I’m going to push back.” As it is to say, you know, “This is not worth it. I’m out.”

It’s figuring out what you know which feels better to you.

How to protect yourself

“I would say best thing you can do is review your privacy settings on any social media platform,” Quinn says. “Even if you’re not being targeted on it yet because it’s easier to prevent it before it’s already happening.”

Quinn says one of the best security measures to take is enabling two-factor authentication. “You enter usually a phone number or some kind of device and when someone tries to log in, a code is sent to that [device].” This keeps anyone who may know your password from logging into your accounts without also having access to your phone or computer. If they do have that access? “If you’re worried that your hardware is compromised, like your phone or your computer, the best thing you can do is just do a complete wipe and reinstall,” Quinn says.

Recommendations for living a life online

I’ll say one of the biggest things you can do is just say skeptical. We had this down back in the ‘90s. I don’t know why it’s back, but don’t automatically believe everything you read online. A lot of the stuff comes from sources of misinformation.

Be aware of what you share. Don’t just automatically spread stuff. I know that there’s a constant influx of new information everywhere constantly forever. And we really have to be more skeptical of that than I think that we have been.

It’s the same thing we see with fake news. Stay curious, stay skeptical. If you’re going to engage with somebody online, offer a little bit more thought. Slow it down a little bit. Don’t just immediately rush to get caught up in something because it’s very easy to accidentally become a part of a mob just from the sort of instant gratification feedback loop of engaging in group behavior online.

So just be careful.

Read An Excerpt Of "Crash Override"

From “Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate” by Zoë Quinn. Published in September 2017 by PublicAffairs, an imprint of the Hachette Book Group.

The consequences of doxing are far-reaching and long-lasting. Prank calls have been around forever and are still in style—ordering pizzas to someone’s home or workplace has been streamlined to the point that you don’t even have to talk to another human being on the phone. Free samples of lube, escorts, magazines, and Jehovah’s Witness visits can all be ordered online and sent to anyone’s house. There were organized pushes to spam the IRS’s tip-line system with claims that I had committed tax fraud to try to get me flagged and audited.

Classified ads can be placed on sites like Craigslist, advertising free stuff or sex at your address. A man named Jebidiah Stipe did this to his ex-girlfriend in 2010, placing an ad in the site’s section for folks looking for sex, claiming to be his ex looking to fulfill a rape fantasy. He found an interested guy and gave him her real address. Following “her” instructions, Ty Oliver McDowell broke into her house, tied her up, and raped her at gunpoint.

Encyclopedia Dramatica, essentially a Wikipedia for 4chan users, has a “life ruination tactics” page that includes all of the usual crowdsourced harassment strategies as well as classifieds site-specific suggestions on how to “get creative” with your targets like this:

  • Epic Idea #1: Post that “you” are having a garage sale. You are moving and everything needs to go. You’ll have an HDTV there for $50, a stereo set for $100, and many other cheap-ass high-end things. Steal pictures off the internet of “your items” for lulz. Enter your victim’s address, and choose a date over the weekend. On those days your victim will have strangers constantly coming to his house asking for cheap stuff. Sometimes even the police get involved. Why? Police track down thefts. If your victim is selling a bunch of high-end merchandise, it’s likely the police will check it out.
  • Epic Idea #2: Post to Craigslist that you are selling “your” car. Make it cheap, something like a 1999 Ford F-250 for $2000 because it needs a new paintjob or something. Make sure to post “your” phone number! Be creative!
  • Epic Idea #3: Post a personal ad that conflicts with “your” sexual identity. Normally this is best done by posting in the men seeking men section. You need to write an ad that is both believable and hawt so people will reply to it. Steal some pictures of “yourself” and “your” dick because ads with dick pics get more replies. Post “your” phone number and make sure you say in your ad how urgently you need to get laid. Soon enough “you” will have half the leather daddies in town calling “you” up.

It’s terrifying enough to live under a constant avalanche of threats, hatred, and bile when it’s from strangers who hate you. It’s another thing entirely when they start getting cops to threaten you for them. SWATing is one of the most serious ways online abuse can endanger your physical safety.

Most of these SWATing incidents start the same way—someone is at home, going about their normal routine, when they’re suddenly interrupted by dozens of militarized police with automatic weapons drawn and aimed at them and their families. The cops scream at them, make them get on the floor, and then begin their search. The SWAT team searches the premises only to find nothing in the house that resembles whatever their anonymous tipster had called in: the hostages, bombs, drugs, or corpses are nowhere to be found. Further investigation of the tip will reveal it to be a farce, and trying to trace it back to its origins leads investigators only to a long trail of proxies and phone-number resellers.

Militarized police forces grew out of the social unrest of the 1960s, and through the one-two fear-mongering punches of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror, 80 percent of law enforcement agencies in towns with populations of 25,000 to 50,000 now have military-style units. It’s not uncommon for a twitchy, armed-for-literal-warfare police force on high alert to end up shooting totally innocent people. During a raid in 2010, when a SWAT team was searching for a murder suspect (in the wrong house), they somehow accidentally shot and killed seven-year-old Aiyana Jones in her sleep. In October 2014, a SWAT team was dispatched when a man called a suicide hotline for help—and the police ended up shooting and killing him when “negotiations” failed. When an unsuspecting victim is surprised by someone attempting to bust down his door, he might react like Iraq veteran Jose Guerena did: thinking he was being robbed, he picked up a gun to defend himself and his wife, Vanessa, who had previously lost two relatives to an unsolved home invasion. When the police entered his home, they saw the gun and shot him sixty times. Guerena had no criminal record, and the raid didn’t find a shred of evidence to support the suspicion that he had been helping his brother sell marijuana.

When you remember that marginalized people are disproportionately targeted for online abuse, this picture gets even more dangerous. Nonwhite Americans make up less than 38 percent

of America’s population but make up more than 50 percent of the people killed by police and, worse still, two-thirds of the unarmed people murdered by police. Make no mistake—regardless of whether the SWATer intends their target to die or is unaware of the possible consequences of their actions, sending a militarized police force to a target’s home is no less than attempted homicide.

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