5 Things I Learned as the Internet's Most Hated Person
Editor's Note: A few weeks ago our message board and general inbox were bombarded with demands we address something called the "GamerGate Scandal", posts written with the urgency and rage one would associate with, say, discovering that Chipotle burritos are made entirely from the meat of human babies. It's apparently a big deal in some circles, so we followed the links and read the piles of data presented, and had to stop and take a deep breath just to grasp it all. "Gentlemen," we said amid the stunned silence, "do you realize that if what they're saying is true, then this is still the most pointless fucking bullshit anyone has ever forced us to read?"
The "scandal" turned out to be an excuse for an Internet harassment campaign against a random indie game developer who, like many such targets, was a female and a feminist.
It was all sparked by a single forum post from a jilted ex-boyfriend, but the ensuing outrage was so fierce and relentless that the story made it all the way to The New Yorker. This kind of spontaneous shitstorm is depressingly common these days, so we reached out to Zoe Quinn to see what it's like to be the Internet's Most Hated Person (well, for a couple of weeks, anyway). Here's what she told us ...
Hi. My name is Zoe, and I make weird video games with some degree of success (and make them playable for free, if you're so inclined). My life is generally pretty uncomplicated, I guess, aside from the fact that a month ago the Internet decided to make me the center of a supposed global conspiracy. I made the mistake of dating a guy who would later go on to write a several-act manifesto about my alleged sex life and post it to every forum he could create a handle for. Normally, this would blow over with little more than a "whoa, check out THAT guy," but since I work in an industry that has very strong feelings about women, it quickly mutated from a jilted ex's revenge-porn to one of the most intense scandals in recent gaming history.
Long story short, the Internet spent the last month spreading my personal information around, sending me threats, hacking anyone suspected of being friends with me, calling my dad and telling him I'm a whore, sending nude photos of me to colleagues, and basically giving me the "burn the witch" treatment. During all of this, I found that ...
This Can Happen to Anybody (but It Helps if You're Female)
This sort of thing is hardly new -- forums like 4chan organize campaigns every month or so to try to stick it to feminists or just women in general. Just a few months ago, they organized a fake campaign to end Father's Day and harass black feminists. In January, a hoax was created to make women feel crappy about their bodies, and in February they went on the warpath against feminists by creating a hoax about tampons. Or, the target may be a specific woman -- like the time they found a feminist on YouTube criticizing video games and unleashed a tsunami of death threats.
Each time they'll do it under the guise of fighting for some kind of justice (or rather, correcting the injustice feminists have perpetrated against males and/or video games). For instance, they figure the aforementioned game critic deserved the death threats because she incorrectly described a level from one of the Hitman games. Of course.
"You know, the organ that pumps the bile and shit through my veins."
In my case, I was at a bar with friends when I first caught a whiff of the impending shitstorm. We were having birthday drinks when someone reached out to tell me that my ex had written a screed about our relationship that had been posted to a forum I belong to. Slowly, horrifically, we discovered that he had posted it to several other popular forums (that had immediately nuked it) and created a Wordpress blog that was literally nothing but his 10,000-word rant about our failed relationship. Shortly after that, we found Wikipedia edits on my page that had altered my date of death to coincide with planned public appearances (or, in one case, simply "soon").
We soon found threads about it on 4chan (apparently the only site willing to host a revenge-porn diatribe) and watched in horror as they dug into my past, desperate to scrape up any humiliating information that might potentially exist:
They talk like they're exposing the Watergate scandal -- but instead of the president, it's just a woman they've never heard of supposedly doin' it with some other people they've also never heard of.
I watched every avenue of social media suddenly blow up with messages of abject hatred from thousands of strangers. For the first five days, I couldn't sleep. Every time I would start to doze off, I'd be shocked awake from half-asleep nightmares about everyone I love buying into the mob's bullshit and abandoning me. The ceaseless barrage of random people sending you disgusting shit is initially impossible to drown out -- it was constant, loud, and it became my life. Of course I know that this is just a small minority of the angry and disenfranchised, but I felt like it was the entire world. That's how it works -- they use sheer volume and repetition to make their numbers seem overwhelming.
This, however, was just the beginning ...
Internet Personalities Start Jumping on the Bandwagon
There is a whole network out there of anti-feminists -- bloggers, YouTube personalities, subreddits, etc. -- who live for this shit. Once they got wind of the post from my ex, they rushed to milk the story for all of the traffic they could, knowing that any "evil feminist caught in the wrong" story is instant traffic from their already frothing fanbases. It quickly went viral -- the most popular YouTube video about the "scandal" has over 850,000 views, as of the writing of this article. The "Quinnspiracy" has its own KnowYourMeme page, and there's even an entire subreddit about me, which is full of exactly the kind of misogynist bullshit you'd expect.
... wait, what?
Just to reiterate -- I was not terribly famous before all this. This post from my ex wasn't like the world finding out the president participated in a Hollywood orgy and wound up giving the nuclear launch codes to Gary Busey due to an accidental pants switch. These people had never heard of me before. But they became obsessed with the tale, and in order to get more people involved they embellished the story into a bizarre wide-ranging conspiracy in which I use sex to control the entire gaming industry behind the scenes.
"She also destroyed Dreamcast, made Superman 64, and scrapped Half-Life 3."
At least one of these guys created a video with the coaching of my ex, and no I'm not linking to that one because fuck those guys. Others dug up every ridiculous baseless accusation they could find, down to offhand jokes on Twitter, and compiled it into rambling infographics covered in messy arrows and diagrams as they mapped out what they claimed was a secret game-industry sex mafia.
Not a joke.
All I could do was watch as they created and passed around these videos and infographics like kids in a treehouse passing around their dad's nudie mags, trying to score points and impress each other, driving up their hit counters. They spammed celebrities, news sites, advertisers of news sites, and random people hoping that if they threw enough crap at the wall, some of it would stick.
It became a Kony2012-esque social-media campaign, complete with endless forum threads in which supporters gathered to discuss media strategies and talking points.
"And remember to say 'please' when asking people to kill themselves."
All of this was presumably done with the goal of getting me to agree to surrender the vast wealth and power I had accumulated over my years of single-handedly bending this $15 billion industry to my will.
Then It Spills Over Into Real Life
Recently, I had to have a very awkward phone conversation with my dad (who is recovering from a heart attack) about what 4chan is. My dad's an old-school biker dude who types with two fingers and has me fix the settings on his cellphone every time I see him -- I still don't think he quite understands what all this has been about. He just knows now to hang up when someone calls and screams "YOUR DAUGHTER'S A WHORE" into the receiver.
Go to therapy?
See, the angry mob engaged in a hacking spree, compromising a clutch of my friends' Skype accounts and, following that, the accounts of people they had in their contacts list, sending baiting and horrific messages to everyone they knew. The friend who supported me the loudest fell the hardest: they posted everything down to his social security numbers and bank statements on his then-compromised site. Any tactic was justified, in their minds -- after all, if somebody doesn't take down these female indie developers who make games about depression and give them away for free, who knows what will happen? There could be other women out there making games and having sex, right now, dammit!
And they are making progress -- multiple talented women in the industry have decided it's just not worth it, knowing that they're one pissed-off ex away from being in my situation. Another friend who watched all of this unfold declared he was "fucking out of this" and deleted all of his game projects. And that's not even getting into whatever young girls are out there watching -- if they were hoping to break into this overwhelmingly male industry, the message is loud and clear: "This is what happens to women who cross us. And also, literally anything counts as 'crossing us.'"
And, yes, it was about to get even weirder ...
... And Suddenly, It's National News
Somewhere along the line, for reasons that are utterly beyond me, TV's Adam Baldwin got involved. Do you know how weird it is to see an actor from a show you love repost conspiracy videos about how your sex life is somehow ruining video games? Pretty goddamned weird, it turns out. A friend suggested that ever since his stint as Jayne on Firefly, Baldwin is afraid of women named Zoe. That at least took the sting out of no longer being able to watch one of my favorite shows without scowling so hard I sprain my face.
Once it finally hit the "real" news, the "movement" was such a confusing mess that some people assumed it had to be about a real issue -- otherwise, how could it have gotten so big? This can't all be about just petty slut-shaming and vague accusations of conflicts of interest that were immediately debunked, can it? But it's not that strange if you're familiar with certain corners of gaming culture -- for example, when the developer of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 tweaked the weapons in multiplayer, some gamers bombarded an employee with death threats against him and his family. Let's just say that some people have trouble keeping things in perspective.
You can't post this and get to be the "heroes."
But strangest of all, their rage is always targeted at the most inconsequential bullshit (like, say, some relationship drama between relative nobodies) instead of the stuff that matters. There is a lot wrong with gaming and game journalism -- from industry workers' rights issues to the fact that outlets are being paid to review and feature games. The industry is undergoing huge changes that will affect the hobby we all love so much, but all of that stuff is boring and this story involves people having sex! Besides, that other stuff doesn't give you a chance to sit around and trade rape fantasies and long for the target of your hatred to commit suicide.
"Dammit! You forgot the 'please.'"
Then, Finally, It Passes (Until Next Time)
The saving grace of online harassment campaigns is that soon the trolls get bored and move on. The bad news is that often they move on to harass someone else (note that a few years ago, the target of their real-life harassment was an 11-year-old girl who said something mean about them). And if you don't go away, maybe they'll come back around -- this isn't the first time I've been the target of a harassment campaign. It won't be the last. I'm not going anywhere.
When you're at the center of something like this, it's easy to get overwhelmed by fear that your friends won't ever look at you the same way again. But then someone you love finds out and tells you, "Hey, jackass, I know you, and I'm not stupid enough to believe a meme-spouting Internet mob over my own personal experience." And then you think, "Oh." And you feel quite silly about ever worrying about that part in the first place.
In fact, I've come to realize that most sane people can see through a smear campaign -- groups who actually have a righteous cause are usually able to express it without using the word c**t hundreds of times. It's hard to dress up petty harassment as a crusade, and the people who refuse to see it for what it is would find a reason to hate me regardless. Let's face it -- if they found any part of the campaign convincing, they clearly didn't need much convincing in the first place. Keep all of that in mind if you ever find yourself at the wrong end of something like this.
Of course, that won't undo the damage to your personal life or make the crude Photoshops of you vanish. It won't stop the nightmares or the paranoia or the fear that someone will make good on those threats. But it (hopefully) won't be the end of the world for you. Eventually things will move forward, and you'll still have your friends to help you pick up the pieces. Hell, sometimes you even make new ones you wouldn't have expected.
While we're on the subject, here's 10 Creepy Comments That Only Women Get on the Internet, a guide to How to Talk to Women (According to the Internet), and 4 Things Learned from the Worst Online Dating Profile Ever.
Editor's Note: If you found this article from another message board and are about to leave a comment that boils down to, "I don't condone the harassment, but let me explain why she deserved it!" please just take a deep breath, step away from your computer, and call your mother. Tell her you love her. Call a friend and ask if they need anything. Go outside, gaze up into the sky, take a deep breath, and really appreciate the fact that you're alive and that you should make the most of it. Thank you.