No matter what has been done to you, you’re really the one on trial when you’re fighting for your right to not live under constant threats and harassment. You’ve gained a superpower without even realizing it – you’ve become un-abusable. It’s impossible to these people that anything real could ever happen to you, because they’re coming from a starting point of flat-out ignoring or denying anything that could challenge that view, so every bit of privacy of yours that they inject themselves into is only there to continue pushing that notion. You could save a box of kittens from a burning building and the scandal the next day would be that you must hate dogs. Even if you keep your head down, even if you try to be “the perfect victim” and never instigate things, never fight back outside of legal channels, never let your humanity peek through and react with justifiable anger or hurt, it doesn’t matter. Everything you say can and will be used against you, period. End of story.
It’s important to know that I am not special here – it’s a fate I share with every other woman that is a high-profile target of online harassment. This is not a fluke or just a story of some shitty things happening to someone: this is how things work. This is a system so clearly defined it is predictive – the equation is essentially this. Feed into this machine an outspoken marginalized person with some degree of success or visibility, along with someone with a vendetta against that person, and what you get out is years of abuse and harassment directed at the marginalized individual along with galvanization & growth of communities who participate in that harassment and abuse. Some might see despair in this systematic abuse, but I see hope and opportunity. Systems are known quantities, systems can be disrupted, the variables can be tweaked and changed until they break down, if we have a decent map and try hard enough to understand how those mechanisms work.
Silence is a big part of it. Possibly the biggest.
I originally talked about this back in August, when I started to be fed into this particular woodchipper. The prevailing wisdom of staying silent and hoping for it to go away is false – it’s not going anywhere. These are not “internet trolls” just trying to be fed, and the notion of treating the internet as some sort of alternate dimension that can be tuned out is not an option when you live and work in that space. I post these updates and talk about the specific gears of this machine that I’m caught in, in the hope that it spreads. In the hope that we can talk about this and raise awareness of this system’s existence, and finally do something about it. In the hopes that if the machinations of online abuse on this scale are laid bare, and actually TALKED ABOUT, the problem can get in front of enough eyes and brains to figure out what gears to stick monkey wrenches in, to finally cause it to grind to a halt instead of grinding down the people targeted by it. I’m tired of the only people talking about these things being the ones perpetuating it in the first place. I’m tired of longtime abusers being the only ones willing to talk about it because the people that would stand against this sort of thing are worried about making things worse to the point that the ultimate outcome is that good people do nothing. I want to use the power of online community and awareness raising to help crowdsource solutions to the mechanisms of online abuse.
I want people to start talking about how and why these things work, instead of simply looking at the outcome and feeling bad.
This isn’t written in the hopes that people who have built names on abusing others will suddenly grow an empathy gland and stop. It’s my hope to appeal to those of you who don’t know this goes on, or those who know but don’t know what to do. I know it’s 5 months in and anyone with a lick of sense is weary and tired of GamerGate, but it’s important to keep in mind that the people targeted do not have the luxury of disengaging. It’s important to realize that GamerGate did not happen in a vacuum, and that it’s far from the first mob to form around ruining someone’s life – there’s even a wiki about it.
I have been contacted by so many people who have been targeted in ways that I have, and all of our stories are strikingly similar. Soulcrushingly similar. If we don’t start to address the systems that allow months-long campaigns of terrorizing people to thrive and escalate, I will continue to fear for the next girl with an unstable ex, that they will be sitting where I am right now.
When GG started back in August, I was crashing in an old elevator shaft, converted with makeshift floors and a bunk bed. I spent the whole first week there, unable to sleep because the nightmares were so bad and so instantaneous that I would dart awake, hyperventilating, unable to get back to sleep. The setting was so appropriately claustrophobic and suffocating. It’s been 5 months and the nightmares haven’t gone away, the accusations keep flying, the threats continue and my family continues to be targeted. The same wheels of abuse are still turning, 5 months later. I’ve been coming to terms that this is a part of my life now, trying to figure out what to do about it, and how to move forward with so many people trying to wrap themselves around my ankles. It’s been hard to accept that my old life is gone and that I can never get back to it. But I’ve found purpose in the trauma, in trying to stop it from happening again, to use my experience to show how these things are allowed to happen, and to further a dialog on how to actually stop it.
If I can’t go home, maybe I can at least get out of this elevator shaft.
Maybe I can help end August. Maybe you can, too.
Over the last year I lightly touched the face of dreams I had been chasing for years, started really changing some shit I didn’t like about myself, started getting my shit together and really going somewhere with my life. As soon as I had touched my dreams, they turned into mist in my fingers and became permanently unattainable. I’d wanted to make weird small projects for just enough money to get by while helping people who thought they couldn’t make stuff learn how, all in relative peace and obscurity. That’s impossible now – I’ve joined Anita and Kathy Sierra and who knows how many others in a shitty clubhouse where a conspiracy theory or harassment thread springs up in the gutters of the internet any time we do so much as fart. I feel like I pissed off some ancient lovecraftian god with a million eyes and bent on driving people insane through exposure and lack of privacy or peace of mind. Putting my family in danger wasn’t what I signed up for when I started programming, but here we are all the same. When I decided to put Depression Quest on steam, I didn’t see it ending with couch surfing away from a ridiculous California lawyer’s PI. But this is life now. This is the new normal for me, and it’s difficult to wrap my head around to say the least.