Gamergate and Web Privacy

What is Gamergate?

Gamergate is an online controversy about various problems in the gaming industry. It began as a protest against the perceived falling standards of video game journalism. As Gamergate grew in popularity amongst online communities and mainstream media, issues such as sexism in gaming communities, and censorship, were associated with the movement.

Origins of Gamergate – The Quinnspiracy

Gamergate’s origins are linked to an indie video game developer, Zoe Quinn. Quinn is best known for her award-winning game; “Depression Quest”. In August 2014, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, blogged about, and posted on various forums accusations of Quinn cheating on him with various men in the gaming industry (the alleged acts were committed prior to their breakup). One of these men was Nathan Grayson, a part-time writer for the gaming news site, Kotaku.

Anonymous bodies (e.g. 4chan) interpreted the accusations as falling standards of video game journalism. The Quinnspiracy movement was born, containing speculations about how Quinn had slept with various persons in the gaming industry to manipulate reviews and distribution of awards to her favour. The Gamergate hashtag emerged when actor Adam Baldwin tweeted videos which criticised Quinn under Gamergate hashtag. Since then, Gamergate has been used to encapsulate all sorts of grievances online communities have with the video game industry (for a full list, visit: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/events/gamergate/).

Gamergate and Web Privacy

In the early days of Gamergate, Zoe Quinn was constantly harassed by Anonymous bodies. She had her personal information sprawled all over the net (doxxing), her personal accounts were hacked, and was constantly bombarded with death and rape threats.

Doxxing

Doxxing involves revealing and spreading the personal information of a person online. A local example would be how the errant retailer, Jover Chew, had his address, photos, and NRIC sprawled all over Facebook and alternative media sites (e.g. The Real Singapore).

In Gamergate, Quinn, and anyone suspected to be connected to her, had their addresses, phone numbers, and other personal information sprawled over the net. Anonymous users on forums, such as 4chan and 8chan, created threads sharing information on Quinn as well as tips on how to dig up more dirt on her. Anonymous combed through Quinn’s social media pages, looking for possible family and friends whom they could harass and any information they could dredge up. According to Quinn, her Tumblr account was hacked and personal information was stolen from it (a claim which some have refuted).

The ability for other online users to dox a person is dependent on the amount of information which he or she consciously and unconsciously leaves online. Setting one’s privacy settings to the maximum is a modest attempt, but only shields information from those not on our friends list. Friends (on Facebook) and mutual friends can easily access photos and posts. In addition, a person might have information online which he or she is unaware of. Data brokers, such as Spokeo, collate information from online and offline records. Anyone who is willing to pay a fee for the information can access it. Other sites, such as Whois.net, allow anyone to identify information used to sign up for domain names (addresses are easily found through such sites). Finally, a person might have signed up for sites which he or she has accessed only once. He or she might have left personal information on the account and forgotten all about it.

Have one’s personal information made public is bad enough, but there are other consequences to doxxing.

Prank Calls, Swatting, Threats, & Real Life

Doxxing tends to lead to other acts of harassment which have a profound impact on the target’s life. In Quinn’s case, she was constantly bombarded with death threats online and as a result, she did not dare to return home.

Quinn was not the only one to suffer from the fallout of Gamergate. Her father was bombarded with calls during the saga, informing him that his daughter was a whore. Friends and anyone who expressed support for her soon found themselves doxxed. For example, former indie game developer, Phil Fish, had his company’s website hacked and personal documents leaked online. Because of Gamergate, Fish was forced to wind up his company and leave the industry.

Doxxing can even lead to even more severe consequences, such as swatting. Swatting occurs when emergency services are dialed up and false reports are made to frame a target for being involved in an emergency. For example, Twitch streamer Joshua Peters’s home was stormed by SWAT members in February this year after his personal details had been posted online.

In a Nutshell

Unfortunately, Doxxing and hacking campaigns in Gamergate are not particularly rare. Online communities have launched campaigns in the past in the name of social justice. For example, in 2010, an 11-year-old Jessica Leonhardt and her family were doxxed, hacked, and harassed, and threatened after she had posted Youtube videos critical of 4chan.

Gamergate is an example of how a breach of privacy online can easily spill over into real life. The wealth of information Anonymous was capable of getting their hands on was partially due to Qinn’s the size of the digital footprint she left online (however this by no means justifies the attacks made on her). The lesson here is to be cautious about the information we divulge online. Such personal information could return and bite us in the behind.

References

Quinn, Z. (2014, September 16). 5 Things I Learned as the Internet’s Most Hated Person. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-things-i-learned-as-internets-most-hated-person/

Hathaway, J. (2014, October 10). What is Gamergate, and Why? An Explainer for Non-Geeks. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://gawker.com/what-is-gamergate-and-why-an-explainer-for-non-geeks-1642909080/

Preventing Doxxing. (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://crashoverridenetwork.tumblr.com/post/108387569412/preventing-doxing/

Gamergate. (2014, October). Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/events/gamergate/

Quinnspiracy. (2014, October). Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/events/gamergate/

Stuart, K. Zoe Quinn: ‘All Gamergate has done is ruin people’s lives’. (2014, December 3). Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/dec/03/zoe-quinn-gamergate-interview/

Hudson, L. Gamergate Target Zoe Quinn Launches Anti-Harassment Support Network. (2015, January 1). Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.wired.com/2015/01/gamergate-anti-harassment-network/

Takahasi, D. Zoe Quinn and other female game developers speak out against harassment. (2015, March 4). Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://venturebeat.com/2015/03/04/zoe-quinn-and-other-female-game-developers-speak-out-against-harassment/

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One thought on “Gamergate and Web Privacy

  1. Nicely done. IMO, I suspect that Quinn’s digital footprint is no larger or smaller than the average person using the internet. But unfortunately for her, the people who wanted to doxx her were (1)great in number and (2)particularly determined to do so.

    I think what’s interesting is how #gamergate could be seen as one of the flashpoints (amongst a few) that catalysed a new wave of feminism across not only gaming but media in general. (Of course not covered in our course, but interesting nonetheless).

    Like

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