I wish that #GamerGate hadn’t, for
better or worse, defined my time as Gaming Editor at BAD. I wish it hadn’t so far dominated Zoe Quinn’s entire 27th year on Earth, and five months of the lives of many others. I wish it hadn’t sucked an entire industry into its septic slurry of shit. I wish it hadn’t existed, frankly. But it does, so here we are. Month five, and the harassment and terrorism continues - and it stands to threaten more than just its targets.
If you’ve only been cursorily following the #GamerGate saga, through mainstream media or whatever, you could be forgiven for thinking it was over. And indeed, there have been some major wins for decent folk. Anita Sarkeesian told her story in the New York Times and on The Colbert Report. Zoe Quinn told hers on the BBC. Numerous websites, papers, and celebrities took a stand against misogyny and harassment. Most recently, Intel pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to improving diversity as a direct reaction to the Hashtag That Shall Not Be Tagged.
Despite all that, five months on, #GamerGate is somehow still with us, an infection that just keeps bouncing back. But it’s different now. The useful idiots - those well-meaning gamers who bought the “ethics in game journalism” party line and got unwittingly swept up into a harassment campaign - have mostly departed. What’s left is the rotten core; the hate movement. Per capita, #GamerGate has worsened, its seedy underbelly revealed as the foot soldiers have sidled away embarrassed. It’s not about ethics in game journalism anymore (if it ever was (it wasn’t)). It’s not even about games at all. The ‘Gaters left over are those that represent what #GamerGate was always about. These ‘Gaters are the ones feverishly devoted to rooting out the “Social Justice Warriors” and “feminazis” who are supposedly ruining the world for antisocial straight white guys. #GamerGate has always been about ideology, and the stripping-back that has taken place over the past month or two has made that even clearer.
Inevitably, now that the movement’s withered heart has been exposed to the world, it’s lashing out in worrisome and dangerous ways. To give some context as to how, we have to go to the toxic source of #GamerGate: chan culture.
For the uninformed: think of all the bad things about the Internet. Online harassment. Child pornography. Racism. Sexism. Homophobia. Hackers. Spammers. Chan culture is the nexus of all of those things. Channers themselves - the people who frequent the anonymous, lackadaisically-moderated image-board sites whence the culture draws its name - are the rat-king personification of all of those things. All of those things take place, with the full knowledge and consent of the webmasters, on sites like 8chan - a site under heavy scrutiny of late for a variety of sound reasons, among the soundest of which is the actual terrorism being organised and conducted on its boards.
It’s true that 8chan has been put under the microscope thanks to being the de facto home of #GamerGate, conversations about which were banned on fellow image-board site 4chan soon after its bullshit began. That 4chan, itself notorious for playing host to awfulness like last year’s “Fappening” nude leaks, would ban #GamerGate, is a testament to just how nasty the movement is. 8chan’s 20-year-old owner Fredrick Brennan presents the site as a home for conversation on any topic, free of censorship. That’s a nice ideal, but what Brennan has created is a haven for neo-Nazis, pedophiles, and online terrorists.
As owner, Brennan is perhaps the most disingenuous of all of 8chan’s denizens, constantly diving into legal loopholes and shifting blame to avoid culpability. He hides behind his mantra of free speech even as he knowingly provides a place for child abusers to post sexualised images of children and discuss their exploits with others. He says it’s not up to him to police what users post, a convenient and weird abdication of responsibility. Even while making these excuses, he publishes critics’ personal information in the full knowledge that the mob behind him will go on the attack. That mob hero-worships Brennan in the same way they do other prominent #GamerGate figures like reactionary blogger Milo Yiannopolous, semen-obsessed lawyer-slash-juice-salesman Mike Cernovich, and conservative actor/douche-dick Adam Baldwin. They turn a blind eye to the fascism, child porn and terrorism because it’s their fascism, child porn and terrorism.
The site’s content is also characterised by skirting the edge of the law, occupying grey areas so as to plausibly deny any wrongdoing. Chanting “it’s technically legal!” - as if that somehow also grants moral high ground - betrays the fact that the site’s users know what they’re doing is wrong. Ultimately, when you associate yourself with someone - by allowing pedophiles to post sexualised images of children on your site, or to pick another example, publishing a pro-eugenics article on neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer, you have to accept the consequences. That Brennan refuses to do so is symptomatic of the insincerity of chan culture. And it gets worse.
Because while this is all really horrible, criminally actionable stuff, and would be the focus in any other article, it serves as mere context to the main attraction. Enter the /baphomet/ board.
/baphomet/ is an 8chan board explicitly devoted to doxing (leaking of private personal information), swatting (calling in armed police raids on unsuspecting targets), spam bombing (having loads of useless shit sent to targets’ houses), gaslighting (making targets doubt their own sanity), and raiding (a generic term that encompasses all of the above and then some). There are discussions on this board about who should be targeted. There are discussions about targets’ personal information. About hitmen. About bombmaking. The wiki linked in the site’s rules page features guides on how to find people’s personal information, how to call in police raids, and how to bomb targets with high volumes of junk mail or fraudulently sign them up for memberships in dubious organisations. There’s a section called “Ruin Life Tactics”. It’s not ambiguous.
Both /baphomet/ and #GamerGate claim they’re unrelated to each other, yet somehow, most of /baphomet/’s targets happen to be outspoken #GamerGate critics, and both Brennan and /baphomet/ owner Benjamin Biddix have been noted #GamerGate supporters. This is the state of play now: if you publicly critique #GamerGate, you’ll either be threatened - vaguely or specifically - or you’ll be outright attacked. I’ve received a fair amount of the former, but have thankfully escaped the latter; the same cannot be said for a growing number of individuals, including the three GamerGate critics swatted by /baphomet/ in the past ten days. This is the movement’s goal now. They don’t want to change anyone’s minds; they only want to destroy their opponents. In a way, /baphomet/ is more honest than claiming it’s about ethics, which is more spurious than ever now. Sometimes they’ll say it’s all a bit of harmless internet fun - just for lulz. Why can’t you take a joke? But even if this were intended as a joke, the difficulty of distinguishing jokes that look like terrorist threats from actual terrorist threats kills that intent. All threats have to be treated seriously. And they know that - that’s why they call in police raids.
Again: let me stress that innocent people have had their lives ruined by these dicks. They’ve been driven from their homes and had their livelihoods broken. This is domestic terrorism, plain and simple, and anyone who can’t see or admit that is either duplicitous or wilfully ignorant. #GamerGate will cry - as before - that they’re “not terrorists!”, I assume because they don’t fit their own mental picture of one, but being a terrorist has nothing to do with looking like Osama Bin Laden and everything to do with committing acts of terror.
/baphomet/ is also a perfect illustration of chan culture at its worst. Channers live outside the real world, to a degree, their online chaos driven by a desire for “lulz”. The majority of these sites are completely anonymous, which contributes to the lack of empathy for actual human beings demonstrated by their users. To them, targets aren’t real people; they’re names on the internet, pawns to be toyed with to stave off boredom. There are no victory conditions for these people. They will never “win”. It’s a constant escalation, a cycle of threats and terror whose only goal is to fuck shit up. It’s appropriate that the board is called /baphomet/, as while it’s totally possible to spin certain parts of the Satanic Bible into positivity (which we even do here!), it’s ultimately an expression of revenge and eye-for-an-eye as a way of life.
Anonymity, of course, kicks the board’s foul practices up a few hundred notches. There’s no one taking responsibility, nobody being a grown-up. Even Benjamin Biddix, ostensibly in charge of the board, can often be found deadpanning that he’s not responsible for the actions of his users, all the while encouraging those actions on the board and making threats to critics. And through it all, he and his users continue to hide behind the legally dubious and morally unthinkable claim that “all this is technically legal under US law”.
But why should you, the uninvolved, care about #GamerGate, 8chan, or /baphomet - aside from basic human empathy? It’s not like you’re affected by it, right?
Let's get real here. 8chan and /baphomet/’s tactics are only "within the law" (in their bullshit words) because the law has not kept up with technology. Fredrick Brennan can bleat about “freedom of speech” all he wants (laughably, given his followers’ tendency to silence their critics through force). Benjamin Biddix can abdicate responsibility all he wants. But free speech is a right that has to be exercised responsibly. Freedom of speech laws are written to help the oppressed, not the oppressors, and it would be hard for anyone to convincingly claim #GamerGate aren’t oppressors at this point.
But the criminal activity happening in the name of “free speech” isn’t just terrible in its own right; it has the potential to curtail the very freedom of speech that makes it possible.
8chan was created as an alternative to perceived “censorship” on the part of 4chan, whose moderators (sometimes) ban users or delete threads that proved problematic. But here’s the thing about censorship: 4chan deleting threads is not it. That’s 4chan exercising their own freedom of speech. Actual censorship is something undertaken by the government, and it’s a hammer perilously close to falling upon the internet, as we’ve seen lately. Because of these smirking assholes at 8chan, when the law does catch up with the Internet, it’s going to be swift, punishing, and affecting to everyone. Sooner or later, somebody is going to get fucking killed by one of these raids - but it likely won’t even take that much to give legislators one more excuse for draconian internet-usage laws. Just as with 9/11 and the PATRIOT Act, there will be repercussions for this behaviour. Channers and Gaters are too blinded by lulz and chaos to see it, but they are the villains in their own story. For all they claim to be about freedom, people like Fredrick Brennan who hand-wave child abuse away as “simply the cost of free speech” are going to be the ones who end up destroying it. The free internet is a terrific sandbox and a boon to the world, but if we can’t be trusted to be grownups in it, our toys will get taken away.
#GamerGate, 8chan, and associated organisations can safely be labelled a domestic terrorist group at this point. Institutionalised harassment and terrorism runs straight to that group’s core. So report this shit to the police. Make sure they and others understand what is going on; that the internet is a real place and not some Cloud Cuckoo Land where nothing matters. The perpetrators will react disingenuously, claiming the attacks have nothing to do with them, or the targets somehow deserved it, or even that they never happened. They might react by threatening reprisals. But we do not negotiate with terrorists, nor should we be afraid of them. Something’s gotta be done, or we’re all going to suffer for it.
To #GamerGate and 8chan: stop.
To everyone else: stop them.