By now you’ll have all heard about the tragic murder of Oregon mother Amber Lynn Coplin, a crime that has arguably attracted more attention than normal thanks to the fact that the murderer posted an account of the killing, along with photos of the strangled Coplin to 4chan – the online community already being under intense scrutiny thanks to its involvement in the creation of Gamergate. It’s a sobering occurrence, one which is a reminder that not everyone on the Internet is a troll or a blowhard; there are some seriously sick people out there, and as we have just had demonstrated in tragic fashion there occasionally lurks under the sea of usernames and avatars people we don’t know, with capabilities of which a few words on a screen often serve as poor evidence.
With breaches of personal privacy such as doxxing seemingly happening more than ever, this reminder is even more sober than ever. Now imagine if you have been the recipient of intense harassment online recently. Imagine if you had received messages from people claiming to want to kill you, or perhaps have even been doxxed yourself, your personal details and home address thrown out into cyberspace for anyone – ANYONE – to save and keep. Wouldn’t this news story have you, frankly, shitting your pants? And wouldn’t you want people to be aware of your concerns? That’s just what female developers (and Gamergate targets) Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn have done, taking to their Twitter accounts to state a link that should be easily spotted by anyone with the cognitive capacity to tie their own shoelaces:
And hey, some did recognize the need to worry and replied with messages of support. Predictably enough, however, some missed the point entirely and immediately took to the internet to register their shock and horror that these women would dare to link themselves to this tragedy for their own interests (Interests, presumably, like ‘not dying’). They went to reddit. They went to their little blogs. They hurled invective at Wu and Quinn directly via Twitter, or made little cut-and-paste projects like the one above. Maybe they were feeling sensitive after Wu taking the fight to her harassers over the last few days, offering a cash reward for information leading a prosecution of her harassers, and announcing a legal fund for women who find themselves similarly targeted.
And in a sense, they are right. These women are making this murder about themselves, in that it backs up exactly why the harassment and theft of their personal details in recent weeks is such a serious thing. It is about them. It’s also about poor Amber Lynn. It’s about any woman who comes out as an outspoken figure on the internet, or even humbler online pursuits like internet dating or engaging in any online community. It is, ultimately, about all of us. We’re all out in the online world behind masks of various degrees, and at the end of the day none of us know who a lot of the people we encounter really are. So if two people who have been receiving actual death threats want to speak out about their concerns, not only do they have every right to but we should all be listening.
It’s been cute, Gamergaters/pro-Gamergaters/affiliates/whatever the hell you want to call yourselves. We get you have these little conspiracy theories that you like to nurture, and we get that you don’t like these particular women nor seem to hold women in general in very high esteem. Some of you have tried to half-heartedly disassociate yourself with the doxxers and harassers, while using it as a platform to further beat people over the head with your little theories on the SJW Illuminati and/or these journalists whose ‘corruption’ you’ll rant and rave about for as long as the endorphins keep flowing, despite repeatedly failing to find hard evidence with which to back your claims. But at the heart of the matter is a deep-seated hatred of women coming from some corners of the internet that has nothing to do with shady writers or supposedly immoral game developers, and has everything to do with real people suffering real mistreatment, and being put under real threat.
The circumstances that lead to Amber Lynn Coplin’s murder may be unknown for now, and are likely to have nothing to do with gaming, but they have everything to do with the dark ways people use the online space and how the limits of what it empowers is only limited by individuals’ own boundaries. Right now there are people, women, in the gaming community – our community – who are enduring abusive and discriminatory treatment every day, and some of these women are living every day with the knowledge that some out there have claimed to want to kill them. When a murderer goes to 4chan to boast about the life he has just ended, ‘they’re probably full of shit’ ceases to ever be a satisfactory explanation (if it ever truly was). Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn didn’t need a murder to happen to bring attention to their plight, but they needed to speak out because that murder proved the seriousness of that plight. Just today alone, I’ve had several people admit that when they first saw the headlines about a 4chan-related murder, they half expected to find out that Wu, Quinn or Anita Sarkeesian was the victim. If that’s not telling, there really is nothing left to tell you.
There comes a point when political/philosophical disputes are overshadowed by a larger threat that not only affects particular members of the community, but the nature and future of the community itself. If we don’t get a tighter grip on our own territory, someone will eventually be crazy enough to turn the threats into reality and commit an act that will mark gaming forever. In the face of that, circular arguments about ‘ethics’ and semantics only serve to help obscure the undisputed evil that is happening in our community. Don’t defend Wu, Quinn, Sarkeesian or anyone else under fire in connection with these issues because you like them, or agree with who they are or their standpoint; defend them because bullying cannot be tolerated, threats cannot be tolerated, assault and murder cannot and will not be tolerated. Because if one of these bastards does follow through and kills someone, that will put a black mark on gaming that it may never shake – and your convictions about journalism or social justice or whether the victim was a nice person or not will mean nothing in the face of being part of the problem that caused it.
It’s not about shelving your opinions or convictions, or ‘giving in’ to the other side: it’s about something bigger. Let’s all have the guts to deal with the biggest problem first.