eHealth , , ,

GamerGate: a case study of internet harassment


Photo Caption: Zoe Quinn, the original victim of GamerGate, is now an outspoken advocate for victims of internet harassment.

This post was written by Marjorie Margolis. Marjorie is Doctoral student in Health Behavior at the Gillings School of Global Public Health

****TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about sexual violence which may be triggering to survivors.****

On August 27, 2014, a feminist advocate for women in the tech industry received the following message via Twitter: “I’m going to go to your apartment at [redacted] and rape you.” This message was part of a larger controversy sweeping the gaming community. At the center of the controversy lay Zoe Quinn, a female game developer whose former boyfriend had explicitly blogged about his allegations of Ms. Quinn’s transgressions during their relationship. Over the next several months, Ms. Quinn and those who spoke in her defense were mercilessly bombarded with violent threats and insults. In a Washington Post article, Zoe Quinn describes how her accounts were hacked, her address and phone number posted online and death threats caused her to flee her house. This incident, dubbed “GamerGate” led to a heated debate about inclusion in the gaming community, internet safety, and freedom of speech.

Some assert that the central issue of GamerGate is an allegation that Ms. Quinn attempted to further her career through intimate relationships and that attempts to publicize these allegations were suppressed. Within social media discussions of GamerGate, arguments about ethics in journalism and whether and when to curtail free speech are interspersed with blatant insults branding Ms. Quinn as sexually promiscuous, manipulative, and lying. Some claim that while they do not condone threats toward Ms. Quinn, they feel that the more pressing issue is the ethics of how games are created and marketed.

This case illustrates a severe example of a disturbing trend on the Internet toward acceptance of violence. In youth, cyberbullying has been associated with increases in depression and suicidal ideation. As people increasingly rely on the internet to create and maintain social connections, understanding how to prevent and address violence that occurs in this channel is an imperative public health concern.

Further complicating the situation is the fact that many people gain valuable support and acceptance from online communities. An underlying thread in GamerGate discussions is the sense of companionship found in the gaming community. Given the strong ties within the gaming community, I find the dismissal of violence in favor of “more pressing issues” to be incredibly disappointing. By shifting the conversation away from the violence occurring in their community, they allow it to perpetuate. Compromising the safety of one member of a community threatens not only that person but the entire group. By turning a blind eye to threats and viscous insults, members of the gaming community not only fail to protect Zoe Quinn but fail to protect themselves.

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