In the wake of another really horrifying social media attack on a few individuals – some I know, some I don’t – I find myself needing to process the way it works. The awfulness of what is done, and just how frighteningly proficient are the organised attackers.
In this particular story, an angry ex-boyfriend has made public a huge screed of personal information about his former girlfriend, along with a long list of accusations. These accusations crossed my path when they included claims that someone I employed had behaved inappropriately. There was no evidence provided for these claims, and indeed no examples of the suggested corruption have ever existed. I assume much else was untrue or twisted too, but it’s absolutely none of my business. What I was in a position to know about, I knew was entirely false.
Yesterday the woman involved had her Twitter and Tumblr hacked, her personal information including phone numbers, family phone numbers, street addresses and PayPal information made public. She has received unending abuse on all channels, including to her personal phone and address. People close to her have received similar abuse. People who have made it clear they are against the abuse have received small fractions of the abuse too. There is, without question, a huge amount of abuse to go around. The thing is, it’s not from a huge number of people – they’re just exceptionally good at making it look as though there are.
Whenever anything like this happens, in my experience, the vast majority of the abusive messages come from accounts that either were dormant for a long time previously, or have never tweeted/posted about anything other than the specific subject. They are classic ‘sockpuppet’ accounts, multiple accounts set up by very few people, to create the impression that the attacks are coming from all over. The same people post from forum communities, Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts, Tumblrs, Instagram, and on and on, again to create the impression of a vast army of the same mind. And then of course the hangers-on and the vultures swoop in to join in with a cause because it tangentially connects with something they’re hurt or upset or angry about. Invariably it’s rooted in misogyny.
That’s phase one, making it look as if it’s a vast, majority opinion. Phase two is repeating the same lie so many times that it becomes accepted by the followers of the event, becomes received information, passed on as fact, no one actually checking. And while that’s pathetic, to not check, it’s in a large part because of the extraordinary confidence and conviction of those who circulate the lie in the first place. In this instance, one of the lies is that my former colleague wrote a series of articles about a specific subject. He, in fact, wrote no articles about this subject whatsoever. The lie requires almost no effort to prove false, but is delivered so frequently, and so convincingly, that the ‘no smoke without fire’ bullshit theory takes hold. I have since encountered people telling me with absolute certainty that such articles must have been deleted since, because that’s the only explanation of their not being there now – rather than the wholly more realistic notion that they were never there in the first place. The lie is so strong that its being demonstrably untrue is rejected in favour of conspiracy.
Phase three is then to make anyone who is pointing out the falseness of the lie into part of that conspiracy. Anyone who denies it is part of a “cover-up”. And further to that, that the games press isn’t reporting the lie (most likely because they know it’s a lie) is proof that the cover-up is so widespread that the media is in on it too. The Man doesn’t want you to know! See, not one site is reporting this story, and therefore this story must be so so incendiary that they daren’t! WHAT ARE THEY TRYING TO HIDE?! And this is delicious for the followers, the hangers-on, the vultures – this is just the proof they needed that it’s not just this individual who’s corrupt, but it’s the whole system that’s corrupt!
Phase four is by far the nastiest part. With the previous phases in play, with the notion out there that there’s a cover-up taking place, that the corruption is endemic and that it’s all part of [whichever agenda], something hideously personal happens like a hack. So the person’s privacy is hacked, their personal details are exposed in public, such that those swept up into the tornado of abuse can release their rage on that person. But that’s not the key part of this phase. The crucial element is then instantly following this up with accusations that the individual involved leaked the information themselves, so they can get sympathy/prove they’re being victimised/pin the blame. This is so insidious, so damned horrendous. Within seconds of any such exposure of personal information, the same people will immediately throw their hands in the air and beg the victim of their attack not to fire. It’s like that moment in the film where the identical killer robot version of the human looks at the cops and cries, “I’M THE REAL HIM! KILL THE ROBOT, NOT ME!” Except in this case, it’s their actions that attempt to make the target look indistinguishable from them. “She’s the monster! She’s the one doing it all!”
The idiocy that someone would expose their own personal details is all part of the elaborate conspiracy. Exactly! She did it because it would make it look like it was something she’d never do! En masse they will begin tweeting and posting links to the hacked page, saying, “Look what she has done! She’s done this to make herself look like a victim!” It’s the ultimate twofer for them – they get the personal details out there, so that the abuse for the victim can become so much worse, and they make it part of, and proof of, the conspiracy they’d already begun.
It’s the same each time. And it’s gruesome each time.
What unnerves me most is the competence with which it’s organised, despite the utter inanity of the motivation, the haphazard and illogical nature of the delivery. It always comes down to the same ass-backward drivel about how “SJW”s and so on have hideously changed the gaming world, making it impossible for men who just want to be MEN to wank off to their favourite pair of bouncing tits. As if the industry isn’t buried alive in bouncing tits. In the dudebro shooters and action games that seem to be the only acceptable form of gaming for these troglodytes, AND THEY’RE GOING TO TAKE THEM AWAY. This fantastical delusion is that a feminist video maker, or blog article about how maybe some games could do some things differently maybe, is in some way irreparably harming their precariously balanced bone china reality. But I suppose, when you deal in invented conspiracies every day, surely they especially cannot be impervious to the insidiousness of it. That pathological process of falling for your own lies, and then living inside them.
So what can we do? React.
Even today, I’ve seen very few games journalists say anything. I think most people believe that keeping their head down, “not giving it the oxygen of publicity”, is the best plan. Which is not the case. Every voice added to the chorus singing back against this stuff makes a significant difference. The faked crowd feels smaller when a real crowd starts condemning them. And crucially, it is not up to men to defend women who are being attacked. It’s up to men to join the voices of those who condemn the attack itself, while celebrating the woman being targeted. (And to be clear, retweeting someone else’s saying it is not the same thing at all.)
Follow Leigh Alexander’s excellent guide for responding, too. Especially if you’re a man. (Don’t misinterpret the third “don’t” on that list, by the way. The first “do” clarifies.)
Yes, you will get idiots tweeting rubbish at you when you say something. But hey, guess what, doing the right thing isn’t always free. Make judicious use of the block button, and be smarter than me and don’t try to win them round – they’re trolls, they want you to try, it’s part of their game. It goes away very, very quickly.
This whole thing makes me so sad. I feel horrendously sad for the victim of it all. And for those around her. And I feel a more general sadness that this is normal, this is a thing that regularly happens. It’s awful.