I: IS GAMERGATE A CHILD SAFETY DEVICE? I AM NOT GOOD WITH INTERNET
For the past 3 months, a rampaging hatemob by the name of “GamerGate” has been waging an online war of attrition. It has been a concentrated assault of bigotry through harassment, doxxing, personal death threats, and even going so far as to promising another "Montreal Massacre" if Anita Sarkeesian of Tropes vs. Women fame was to speak at a Utah State University event. Now, going off of a elementary school textbook definition here, (gamergaters love written definitions) GamerGate has proven themselves to be a terrorist group - which is an organization that seeks to achieve a political goal (silencing opposition) through violence and fear.
Now, GamerGate’s stated political goal is apparently to defeat corruption in games journalism. Which is a weirdly mild yet somewhat worthy goal - the massive billion dollar entertainment industry is primarily controlled by billion dollar megacorporate publishers that use games journalists as public relations tool to drive up sales - creating an unhealthy, and arguably abusive relationship to ensure the maximum return on multi-million dollar investments in developing entertainment products. To demand a better environment for honest journalism and a less manipulative relationship between publishers and enthusiast press so consumers can have a more honest experience in deciding which videogames to purchase and support is a noble goal.
However I just pulled all of that out of my ass.
As we all already know, GamerGate is concerned solely with creating an environment of fear to silence women from speaking their opinion. Just today, Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a speech at Utah State University after a shooting threat was called in, and the University informed her that concealed weapons would still be allowed in the building. It is good to know that violent threats against a woman are less important than defending the antiquated, and frankly dangerous Second Amendment.
There is a lot more to this, and many people have covered this timeline of events far better than I will. From the New York Times, to the Metro, to the Washington Post, to Jezebel, to the Guardian, have done fantastic articles covering this nightmare that has loomed over the games community for months now. It’s horrific, and its end couldn’t come sooner.
This ideal that nerdlords have somehow exposed a “scandal” in the sex life of a female game developer through heresay and nonsensical conspiracy theories is somehow at all on the level of Woodward, Bernstein, and Felt’s exposure of the Watergate corruption is a goddamn insult to journalistic integrity and the overall intellect of online activism around the digital sphere. It’s a fucking criminal onslaught of abuses and violence that in a just society would land numerous individuals in a hard labor prison, kept far the hell away from society until they can learn to behave themselves like civilized adults.
I have stayed somewhat quiet on this issue, beyond the occasional retweet or so since its inception, partially out of fear, partially because I haven’t felt like I’ve had anything of value to contribute, partially because something has been bothering me. A sort of pattern if you will, considering the rapid pace of the Internet and how fast news breaks - something that has been stuck in my mind buzzing like a fly trying to gain the attention of the demonic flesh titans that inhabit the world around him so that he may request a swift death under their monstorous paw. Look, I’m a borderline alcoholic ad-man, so I clearly don’t know everything. Very little, actually. I mean, I grew up on a goddamn cattle farm in the middle of the woods. However, I have come to realize a great terror that haunts this sphere of discourse on digital freedom, and while GamerGate is not the first indication of this deficit of activism, it is one of the most apparent indicators that we have failed as digital denizens to address the larger flaws at work here.
While we posess organized, even branded movements to combat initiatives such as SOFA and PIPA, to fight for Net Neutrality, to leak documents of government atrocities online without consequence in the name of a “Free internet,” we have failed to accurate define what this ideal of a “free” Internet might be. However, there are multiple billion dollar corporations who are happy to tell you what that is. Netflix wants the freedom for you to spend a monthly subscription free to consume endless amounts of their curated content, from Gilmore Girls to House of Cards. Google wants internet freedom so that it may more freely amass your personal information for profit. Facebook wants a global, free Internet so that it may rapidly amass personal information and sell it to marketers.
Some of us want an Internet free from government surveillance. Some of us want an Internet that can be accessed freely without bandwidth throttling. Some of us want an Internet with the free flowing of information so that they may profit off of the personal information of others. However, where is the organized activism for an Internet that refuses to partake in or enable the violent harassment of women, people of color, or those who dare to support their voices? In an age that seems to fetishize digital “debate,” the lack of understanding of what that term actually means and how it is ever so constantly used to cover for criminal acts of harassment and abuse have shown a complete failure in ethical practices, from private individuals to governments to the billion dollar corporations that facilitate these massive “social” “media” platforms.
You see, history has had many generations of angry mobs committing great acts of terror, deluded into believing they were carrying out a violent crusade for a greater justice which legitimized these terrible acts, as horrifying as they might be. From the Roughriders of Theodore Roosevelt’s imperialist crusade in the Phillipines to the Mongolian hordes of Genghis Khan who believed they alone were gifted the entire world by God himself to dominate and rule over, it is safe to say that there is a certain violent venom that is protected by sheer entitlement. One such tale dates back to a time of great chaos, great uncertainty. Ideals of discourse were challenged, by brave and courageous people and it sent shockwaves that would affect the world for hundreds of years in its wake. One of these shockwaves is a little known tale from German medieval history.
INTERMISSION: THE TALE OF THE MAD PROPHET OF MAD MEN
In the mid 1530s, in a small German town called Munster, there was once a baker named Jan Matthys. (pronounced John) Matthys was a leader of the Anabaptist movement, a religious movement whose membership surged in the wake of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, a damning critique of the Catholic Church. Matthys quickly rose to power in Munster, where thousands were plagued with St. Anthony’s Fire. This disease was caused by a fungus that made its way into the flour used to bake bread. This “fire” caused hallucinations, episodes of maniacal behavior, vomiting, and other horrible symptoms. Jan Matthys’ notoriety came from how he was able to play this ailment like a golden fiddle. He also was acting very strangely and bizarrely, yet was able to command a considerable legion of true believers in the Anabaptists. Under his command they went on to murder, pillage, torture and rule the town through fear. He played his people like a fiddle, and convinced them he alone posessed a direct line to God himself. The podcast “Hardcore History” posesses a fantastic overview of this series of events, and I would suggest you check it out here: http://www.dancarlin.com/product/hardcore-history-48-prophets-of-doom/
Some highlights on Jan Matthys’ infamous reign of terror over Munster include: exiling nonbelievers from their homes with nothing but the clothes on their back, forcing non-believers to convert to Anabaptism or be killed, locking up recent converts in a church and debating whether or not they should be killed with an imaginary friend, personally executing anyone who refused to accept his divine channel to God (poorly), creating a new elite ruling class over the impoverished after summoning thousands of Anabaptists from across Europe to form a New Jerusalem of pure equality among all, and in the end, riding out with 12 (some reports indicate 30) men singlehandedly against a siege army detachment of 500 - who brutally tore them apart to the horror of the Anabaptist believers watching from within the fortified walls of Munster.
It does not take a wise person to lead a horde of brutality, simply one who can weave a narrative of madness that preys upon the desires of the downtrodden, whether that defecit be real or imagined. To drive a dedicated fervor of souls to loot, murder, threaten, and otherwise terrorize those that fail to bend to their ideology, as seductive and as noble as they may profess it to be, can certainly be considered a powerful act. However, it is not a courageous nor a heroic one. In fact, it’s quite fucking pathetic.
II: KNIGHTS OF THE BROADBAND TABLE
Now, in our crusade for a free internet, we have found ourselves rallying around certain heroes. A few come to mind right off the bat: Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and the pitiful excuse for a man better known as “Weev.” Our society and our culture has held these white, male, angry faces up as heroes to rally behind, to look up to. American culture loves to clamor for those angry white male voices as they rally for causes of great justice. Kennedy, Churchill, Reagan - people romanticize the ideal of the 20th Century as a sort of “Age of Heroes,” a time of strong leaders who pulled us through some of the hardest trials humanity ever faced - two world wars, for starters. It is our love of fiction, our love to be a part of a heroic, conquering narrative that poisons our masculine culture, an addiction to dominance that has infected the souls of so many - so far as driving us to ignore or even defend the injustices of our memetically elected leaders.
Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks. White, male, Libertarian. Hiding out in a foreign embassy in London to avoid facing trial for sexual assault. The man is rotting away in what is technically Ecuador because this glorious crusader for freedom believes being put on trial for violating a woman is equal to being a woman in Saudi Arabia. Again, Assange is considered a hero.
Edward Snowden, former NSA employee and noted whistleblower, now currently hiding out in Russia. A pretty great, progressive symbol of freedom. Unless you’re like, gay, or a political dissenter, or don’t think Putin is the perfect human being incapable of posessing flaws. Libertarian as well. Nothing terribly awful on his record, but uh, let’s be frank. Libertarians are, the vast majority of them, white and male. Mainly because their ideology supports a political system that would benefit them first and foremost, and they lack the empathy to even bother understanding societal oppressions they have the luxury of ignoring. However, his political ideology is not a crime, at the end of the day, as misguided as it may be.
And then there is Andrew Aurenheimer, infamously known as “weev” and recently released from prison. Hero of the popular “#FreeWeev” movement, many “radical” leftists in tech and related communities rallied to his banner. They tried to make an icon out of him, made art of his image, made him out to be some great champion of the free Internet. Of course, all of this conveniently ignoring the fact that not only is Andrew a outspoken Nazi who got a swastika tattooed on his chest and wrote a white supremacist manifesto after his release from prison. Notable feminist activists such as outspoken Occupy Wall Street ringleader Molly Crabapple made him out to be some sort of a hero as he continually made racist creeds from his public Twitter account. Molly even at one point painted him, making out to be some sort of heroic crusader for justice in this supposed war of “trolls” versus maniacal billion dollar corporations and the United States Government.
Of course, this is all leaving out the fact he was notorious for destroying a woman’s career and digital presence through leading a systemic campaign of siege warfare through harassment, death threats, the posting of personal information online, photoshopping her children into pornographic photos, and all sorts of other horrors. This was before Andrew went to prison, and it continued immediately after he was released - not days after and he was immediately, and publicly, calling women all sorts of awful, gendered slurs. Of course, he was also given appearances on television with CNBC, published on tech news websites such as TechCrunch, and is somehow still respected and given platforms to speak his hateful garbage without consequence.
This was not too soon before GamerGate, and it proved that our society simply does not care if you treat a woman’s life like a plaything to break. It a colossal failure of our culture on the grandest level that has only emboldened hate mobs such as Gamergate, to allow Andrew to be made out to be some sort of hero and attempt to bury his crimes under the rug.
III: CRACKS IN THE BINARY CEMENT
Andrew recently came out in support of GamerGate on his livejournal, (what a dweeb, get with the times) a movement that has nothing in common with his interests - except harassing and threatening women’s personal and professional lives. As a dude, this is admittedly not my lane, but what the fuck is any person doing calling themselves a feminist while rallying behind and propping up and painting a man out to be some sort of “hero” to get behind when their pastime is rolling around the Internet as a modern day Jan Matthys, raising mobs to assault and threaten any nonbeliever, no matter how rooted in reality they might be?
How can you possibly, as a supposedly decent human being, not see the horrendous hypocrisy in that? You wanna fight arguably unjust (and relatively minor) prison sentences, sure, go ahead, but frankly, prison’s ideal purpose in a civilized society is protect the common people from dangerous individuals who pose a threat to the civil order. And considering this outspoken Nazi’s continued partaking in hate campaigns such as the one against Kathy Sierra and the recent endorsement of GamerGate, maybe it is better for all of us that he sit in a prison cell until he learns that you can’t simply go around online terrorizing people, that the world doesn’t exist for your personal amassing of “lulz.”
We are rapidly learning more and more about the structural deficits of this ecosystem of discourse as the days go on in the eve of this “Web 2.0” era, as Silicon Valley and the tech startup industry rapidly spearheads its way to another crash much like the pop of the Dot-com bubble of the early 2000s. The very infrastructure of “social” media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, which are made up mostly of the same white males we make martyrs out of, give no regard for anyone who is using their platforms for anything but “interacting” with #brands and making personal information available to farm for profit.
Twitter, the most prominent of these platforms as of late, with nearly 300 million monthly active users, which fosters a great deal of GamerGate discourse - pays no mind to the abuse,constant slurs, violent threats, or any of the other crap that is enabled by the structure of their platform, an arguably toxic environment which enforces a competitive aspect to rack up the most “Favs” and “Retweets,” in a strangely gamified battle of discourse. However, Twitter will happily suspend women for posting screenshots of publicly available Tinder profiles, and other pathetically minor (and frankly non-TOS violating) offenses. Organized harassment and death threat campaigns however? A-Okay!
Twitter is structurally compliant with a faux-political movement of hatred and bigotry, which even 4Chan, a collection of villainy and scum, excised GamerGate from their sphere of slurs and violent pornography. Twitter is now no better than 8Chan, a hellhole that endorses doxxing and “civilized debate” over whether or not to physically fucking murder a woman for daring to open her mouth about their precious videogames, both of these communication platforms are more than happy to profit off of legions of hatred organizing through their services. If a woman is at some point tragically murdered by one of these pathetic, rage-filled assholes, will Twitter CEO Dick Costolo be put on trial as an accessory to murder, for overseeing an organization which helped to enable this cruelty?
Well, of course not. Because he’s white, male, and a supposed “Captain of Industry.” You see, it’s the vastly overpaid, greatly overvalued CEOs who are truly the champions that hold the world upright on their backs. Much like angry, rebellious white male “trolls” are the true crusaders for justice while they continue to publicly and consistently lead gaggles of bigots to terrorize and threaten the lives of those unlucky enough to not be born white, male, and entitled to the world. As we fail to acknowledge this critical deficit of humanity in crusading for a false, corporatist definition of a “free” Internet, we carry on silently endorsing an environment that enables and supports oppressive violence.
In the long, hectic eight years since Twitter’s release, it has rapidly and almost violently eclipsed so much critical infrastructure in our society - from the corporate news media to online activism platforms, it has become an essential component of a progressive, forward thinking society. From #YesAllWomen to the essential coverage of the racist atrocities in Ferguson (and across the nation), we as a society have learned how to build Twitter into a tool for positive change - without the help of the Twitter offices, who have done nothing in the wake of violence that their platform has also enabled, and arguably tried to hinder critical political discussions our newly hyper-connected society needs to be having.
Twitter is not alone in this. Facebook has censored Ferguson in recent months. Hacker News just today has modded any discussion of the GamerGate threats against Anita’s life at the University of Utah off the front page. In the end, we are learning that this “Web 2.0” era was not an evolution in platforms of discourse than it was an evolution in profitability. Controversy in easily consumable narratives, the defense of corporate interests, the disregard for minority voices stifled by targeted harassment - the Internet we live in is a structurally unsafe, and frankly, dangerous collection of platforms that exist solely for private profit.
What our society requires is a new, organized political movement to redefine “Internet Freedom” activism. To take the focus away from being dictated by corporate interests, to demand a digital infrastructure that provides a zero tolerance policy in regards to systemic bigotry and violent threats. As a borderline alcoholic white guy who works in advertising, I’m not at all near the best person to dictate what that is exactly or what it might entail - but it has become a new necessity in our modern, digital society, to defend and empower minority voices and strike down siege campaigns of organized harassment with extreme prejudice. If Twitter nor Facebook nor Google will undertake this necessity out of fears it may interfere with profit margins, then perhaps (emphasis on perhaps here) it is time to start building the foundation for a legislative initiative to create such a platform of discourse free from corporate influence as a necessary component of civil infrastructure.
This is not a perfect solution I am proposing, but in the wake of the damage GamerGate has done, and the lack of response from those with the power to put a stop to these abuses, it is becoming more and more apparent that it is a necessary response to a corporate bourgeoisie that is more than happy to profit off of abuse, violence, and outright terror. It is a sick, and disgusting industry of communication manipulation that we have become complacent contributors to, inadvertently or not. When multiple women are being driven from their homes and cancelling public appearances in fear of consistent, specific, and targeted threats of rape and murder, and this is being organized and enabled through your platform - and you as a corporate owner (in a country where corporations are considered people, however are given more rights than actual people) fail to lift a finger to put a stop to it?
You have become an accessory to a criminal act. Twitter’s consistent failure to make effective tools to report and combat abuse available to its users, and failure to combat movements like GamerGate is a criminal act of negligence in service of pure, pathetic greed, and should be punished accordingly.
IV. REDEFINING THE “FREE” INTERNET
This is all getting away, however, from the larger point to be made here, in creating an activist movement free from Jan Matthys wannabes and corporate greedhounds - that supports and empowers the voices of the systemically oppressed and brings their needs to the forefront in creating a truly “free” Internet. To demand that these for-profit social media platforms enforce better standards against harassment campaigns and to stop getting behind these delusional monsters that pass themselves off as heroes for liberty, recruiting true believers into their following of hatred and vitriol, shielded by those who willingly throw women under the bus for the sake of unknowingly fighting a corporate proxy battle for Google’s legal rights to farm data.
You see, this is a bit of a conspiracy theory that has rolled through my head in recent, and not one of much cloak-and-dagger melodrama, if you would be so kind as to bear with me. When Andrew was on trial, the “#FreeWeev” movement made him out as some sort of hero in a battle between the public and the government for digital freedom, as he supposedly accessed easily available public data. Of course, in the IRC logs before his arrest, he stated that much like his harassment campaign against Kathy Sierra, it was all “for the lulz,” which is in the end, what GamerGate and all this other horseshit is about - “lulz,” the shared laughter of “trolling,” which in reality is human cruelty wrapped up in a gamified system of abuse and violence. To elicit the most severe reaction to amass the most “lulz,” is to “win” and gain notoriety - no matter the cost. There was no regard for standing up to outdated government laws or address AT&T’s failures to protect its consumers. It was simply “lulz.”
Then as #FreeWeev began, Andrew was soon supported by the Electronic Freedom Foundation, an organization that has proudly defended the ideal that the corporations that make Twitter and Facebook as platforms possible shouldn’t be responsible for addressing constant threats and harassment inflicted upon its users. The EFF’s biggest sponsor is the big data firm Google, which seems to exist solely to amass as much personal information as possible, regardless of the means - the supposedly ramifications of a ruling against (again, we’re dealing with a literal Nazi here) Andrew could become a minor obstacle in Google’s mad crusade to obtain all the world’s information.
Completely unfounded here, admittedly, but it seems certainly plausible - in that Google through the EFF rallied tech activists under the banner of #FreeWeev in a proxy legal war to protect their corporate interests, enabling the cyberpunk fantasy of the ragtag bunch of activists (including Justine Tunney, technofascist Google employee who believes in giving the poor meal replacement shakes unironically named Soylent) fighting a battle against the evil, shady government that has trouble wrapping its head around a “lulz” campaign that took some web designer’s honest mistake and abused it to publicly publish and make available the personal information of thousands of people, without first informing AT&T of their employee’s error. What exactly does the private citizen have to lose in this war, again, that justifies rallying behind a goddamn Nazi and violent abuser of women? Without the melodramatic hyperbole, please. I was once Horatio in a high school production of Hamlet, I know what framing is.
The battles we are fighting to preserve a supposedly free Internet (for angry white guys like myself first and everyone else last) are ever so easily co-opted and manipulated by corporate greed that it has become increasingly more and more impossible to argue that movements like #StopSopa are benefiting the public trust instead of helping ensure the continued success of the Netflix brand. The battle lines are getting too muddy, the toxic relationship of power imbalance between Twitter and the people it has an obligation to protect from violent abusers using its platform has grown to be a near tangible leviathan of raw destructive power, just waiting for the right Matthys to take the reigns, as we have seen in GamerGate.
It’s time for a new activism, with a diverse range of heroes to rally behind. Just the other day, my dear friend and alleged mastermind of the Gaming Sikh Illuminati, Veerender Jubbal, created a hashtag that so many diverse faces from so many diverse backgrounds rallied behind in #StopGamerGate2014 - which is, strangely enough, the next installment of the counter-terrorist power fantasy Call of Duty - and it was a masterstroke of raw, unbridled strength in the wake of so much hatred, violence, and raw unfiltered madness - you see, Veerender was targeted by a hate campaign before because he dared to point out the racial insensitivity of the upcoming Far Cry 4 from Ubisoft, and a legion of corporate loyalists assaulted him on Twitter - Twitter did nothing to stop this, mind you - non-stop. It forced him to take some time-off away from Twitter for the sake of his own well being, and in the dawn of his recent return, we have had the joy of his single handed rallying cry take a dominant hold over the overall discourse.
In fact, Veerender’s rallying cry was so powerful it has led GamerGate into a nightmarish clusterfuck of manufacturing a conspiracy theory to disprove the reality that surrounds them - that he somehow commands an army of highly advanced Twitter bots, compromised of many diverse faces and have histories dating back years, that are all bought and paid for through his massive war coffers that being the mastermind of the Gaming Sikh Illuminati affords him - their theorycrafting reads much like the climax of Metal Gear Solid 2 - an army of nanomachines waging a war of memetic misinformation decieving the public into believing a manufactured reality.
INTERMISSION: THE AFTERMATH OF MATTHYS’ MARTYRDOM
To take a step back to our fun little parable of the Munster Rebellion, you see, the Munster Rebellion didn’t end when Jan Matthys was brutally slaughtered by the establishment’s Prince Bishop Franz von Waldeck and his siege army. His supposed communication with God informed him that he would somehow summon raw, unbelievable power and strike down this monstorous siege army and their cannons, The Devil and His Mother, with the unfiltered wrath of God flowing through him. And everyone believed him. As they watched him be brutally torn apart by a cavalry charge of five hundred trained soldiers, a power vaccuum suddenly formed, and in stepped Jan van Leiden, who until the final moments of surrender dared to hold the line, even so far as leading the remaining Anabaptist believers in a successful defense of Munster from Waldeck’s attempted invasion of the city.
However, as the von Waldeck cut off the supply chain to Munster, it became harder and harder for the true believers to hold out, as starvation quickly set in. It wasn’t before long they were down to eating shoelaces as the ruling class van Leiden had appointed around him, dressed in elaborate outfits ordained with gold, and armed to the teeth continued to try to plot a way out of this mess. von Waldeck launched a barrage of arrows without arrowheads, with simply a message attached - that he wanted the leaders, and that the common people would be spared if they turned this cabal of oppressive dirtbags over and threw down the Anabaptist banner. van Leiden threatened execution upon anyone who read these messages, and tried to sneak out messengers past the siege army to summon a horde of scattered Anabaptist believers all over Europe, in the thousands, to come forth, and strike down vengenance upon these Catholic heretics.
The Prince Bishop’s army caught and executed (usually after extensive torture sessions) these messengers, and hope was lost for Jan van Leiden and his true believers. A final siege on June 24, 1935 by the Prince Bishop and his army crushed the Anabaptists, and led to the capture and public execution of Jan van Leiden and his co-conspirators - their corpses hung from cages overlooking Munster for a half century - the cages still remain. This story, with so many conflicting accounts, has been somewhat lost to history, yet it seems to repeat, time and time again, now more than even within the gaggals of GamerGate.
V. MOVING FORWARD FROM GAMERGATE
Much like the Anabaptist occupation of Munster, Gamergate is a plague that will be burned out and soon forgotten, in due time. This war of attrition is long from over, and it will take some time to crush this pathetic horde of bigotry as they realize that the minor victories they may have gained have created such a backblast that has rapidly begun to drive members out of the faux-political terror movement. Those of us who have stayed strong and emboldened one another are finally starting to see the fruits of this labor - the mainstream public sees GamerGate as nothing more than a violent hatemob based in nonsense, mainstream news platforms have run a series of pieces covering their crimes, and the vice is starting to tighten.
What is most important as we rapidly accelerate past this nightmare is understanding how we can lay the groundwork to ensure this goddamn crap doesn’t happen. Ever again. I’m just some indignant white guy, so again, I don’t have the right answers to this problem! If platforms such as Twitter willfully choose to fail supporting voices that are the targets of violent death and rape threats, how do we move forward from this?
The past 48 hours have been a fantastic turning point in moving forward.
However, it is ever so crucial we keep this momentum going forward, if only to ensure that we can build a healthier, more open environment of discourse going forward, without some fucking asshole screaming “educate yourself on knowyourmeme.com” with a straight fucking face.
God damnit. God fucking damnit! I was having such a nice day writing this damn thing, and then oh no, I had to stop and go look into the abyss, read that, and then I had to walk around my block twice, smoke three ciggarettes, and focus on my breathing just to process that someone actually said that literal sentence in the defense of a “movement” that threatened to murder women in cold blood for the crime of having an informed perspective and speaking openly about their experiences. God damnit!
Good lord, people.
This has been such a mess.