Gamergate and Online Mob Violence Continues Today

A movement in 2014 attacking feminism in video games and female professionals in the game industry was the most public manifestation of longstanding viral campaigns aiming to silence women.

By Ruby Winter

The recent internet storm targeting actress Amber Heard during her trial against her former husband Johnny Depp was not the first time a vicious harassment campaign was organized to target women. While there have been female victims of organized online abuse before, it was during Gamergate in 2014 when this cyberbullying became a collective wave of vitriol targeting specific female leaders. The movement was in simple terms an attack against feminism and diversity in video games. 

Beginning in August, a wave of misogynistic hate speech was aimed at women in the gaming industry, coming mostly from right-wing gamers. They focused largely on three women – feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian and game developers Zoë Quinn and Brianna Wu, because they had brought to light concerns related to ethics in gaming and associated journalism. Online trolls doxxed them, hacked their online accounts, sent them rape and death threats and created conspiracy theories about them. Harassment of these targets was coordinated through online chats and spread on forums such as 4chan and Reddit.

The abuse against Quinn became so severe, she had to leave her house due to safety concerns. People who defended her or attacked her harassers had their personal information leaked and accounts hacked.

Sarkeesian’s video series which analyzed sexist portrayals of women in video games made her a target. When her private information was leaked, she too had to leave her home.

Dr. Emma Vossen, research communications officer at the University of Waterloo Games Institute, was a target of Gamergate from the very beginning. She says, “Gamergate is just one moment in the long history of sexism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia in games culture. It was/is a reactionary and inherently conservative movement, these actors are reacting to the fact that oppression in and around games is being discussed.” (Find the entire interview of Team TrollBusters with Dr. Vossen here.)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation did investigate threats relating to Gamergate, but failed to identify the perpetrators of some and didn’t prosecute the others. Wu was disappointed, she told The Verge, “As I remember, we had three meetings with the FBI, we had two meetings with Homeland Security, we had three meetings with federal prosecutors in Boston. Almost nothing we told them is in this report.” 

These online trolls were very powerful but Gamergate was not an organized movement, with no leaders or members or even a clear agenda – but there were some patterns. There was violence of an online nature against women who spoke out. This specific campaign happened years ago, but the organized online abuse of women has continued. Anonymous online mobs just find new targets. 

Ruby Winter is a research associate with TrollBusters. She can be reached at report(at)troll-busters(dot)com.

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