I thought I was well-prepared to handle interacting with people online; I am pretty savvy, know how to avoid the trolls, not to click on suspicious links, and generally fly under the radar and try to be nice to people. But browsing Twitter for less than 5 minutes on Tuesday night left me horribly shaken, scared, and sick to my stomach. Those five minutes left me afraid to voice my opinion, made me want to quit a hobby I’ve enjoyed for years, and made me want to pack up and become a hermit in the woods, because damn, people are even worse than I thought.
What shocked me was the sudden realization that, even in America, where many voices are praised and generally accepted, where we’re supposed to know better than to oppress different ideas with violence, someone thought it was ok–acceptable, reasonable, even!–to threaten to murder an auditorium full of people who were going to listen to someone speak… just because they disagreed with the speaker.
Even more sickening, though, was that was not an isolated incident. It’s a repeating pattern of awful, horrible, wretched behavior, and not from one person, but from many people who feel safe under the cloak of internet anonymity.
All I did was click on the Twitter hashtag #GamerGate.
If you aren’t familiar with what’s going on, Vox had this pretty solid breakdown.
The short of it is: a lot of people (men) are upset that someone (several women) have offered critiques of the video game industry as not doing enough to be inclusive of women. These upset men then decide that the appropriate response to the criticism should range from mild internet dissent to–much more prominently–repeated, specific, violent threats of rape, murder, personal attacks, and damage to property.
To repeat: because someone said something they didn’t like about a hobby they enjoy, people are threatening to assault, harm, and KILL.
When I happened to look at it, I stumbled onto the most recent happening: because Anita Sarkeesian was going to do speak about her critiques of video games, someone decided to threaten “the worst school massacre in U.S. history” if she was allowed to speak. You can find the details in this CNN article and elsewhere.
And because Utah is an open-carry state, school officials couldn’t do anything about people bringing guns to the speech. So Sarkeesian had to cancel.
It isn’t an isolated incident. In literally just five minutes of browsing about 100 comments on Twitter, I stumbled on people supporting Sarkeesian, yes, some expressing disagreement with her views but distaste with the threats, and–this is what left me shaking with anxiety and horror–repeated threats of more violence.
I’m not going to dignify the tweeter by linking to his actual post, but I read one tweet that said, “My last tweet led some to believe #GamerGate may be pro-rape. Let me be 100% clear: #GamerGate IS pro-rape.”
This whole nonsense–and let’s be honest, the inciting incident IS nonsense–made me scared to write up this piece, for fear of catching even a fraction of the grief that Sarkeesian and others have had to tolerate from the horde of online assholes. Because I am a woman who writes things online, who has opinions and plays video games, so maybe I’ll be swept up and readied for the firing line by these types.
But it didn’t feel right that reasonable conversation should be suppressed by the whims of terroristic asshole children who don’t understand it’s ok for someone not to like what you like. Or even, more appropriately in this case, to like what you like but suggest that there could be more and different kinds of it.
There is no reason–no reason at all–for these women to be attacked for having opinions. And any possible goodwill or reasonable debate those who agree with the “GamerGate”ers has been utterly obliterated by the vocal minority (majority? Hard to tell) who are so afraid of admitting girls to their club (girls who have actually been there, quietly, all along!) that they feel it is acceptable to threaten violence and expose people’s private information so that others can commit violence.
Our current laws haven’t quite kept up with the changing technologies. It’s unclear when a comment on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere on the internet is grounds for an arrest. I’m not one to advocate for the tightening of laws against expression, but you know what the First Amendment doesn’t actually give you the right to do: Openly FUCKING threaten to harm someone.
This is ridiculous. And tragic. And sickening. And, if you’re at all involved in the gaming community in any way, it’s highly likely that someone you know–likely that someone I know–thinks it’s not a big deal to threaten these women in this way. But of course it is a big deal. A huge, terrifying big deal.
I don’t know how to fix it. I wish I did. But don’t be assholes to each other. And call out those who are. That’s a good place to start.