NSFW: GamerGate, misogyny, and what to do from here

NSFW is a weekly op-ed column in which I talk about whatever's on my mind. Sometimes it'll have something to do with the technology we cover here on iMore; sometimes it'll be whatever pops into my head. Your questions, comments and observations are welcome.

Wow. There is some crazy stuff happening on the Internet this week, and I don't even know where to begin. A friend of mine was threatened with rape and murder on Friday night. That's probably where to start.

Brianna Wu is the founder of Giant Spacekat, the indie game developer that came to prominence in 2014 when it released Revolution 60, a cool game with a retro-future vibe.

Wu's public speaking circuit has included sessions to help educate men on what they can be doing differently to help foster a more level playing field for women in tech — not just in terms of opportunity, but in terms of how they talk to and act around women. She's a take-no-shit badass who's not afraid to shake up the status quo.

Bundle Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ for just $13/month

I've seen Wu talk and she's ready to confront men for bad behavior straight on — talking about the inherent, institutionalized sexism and misogyny that permeates the technology industry. But it's not about browbeating them — it's about raising consciousness.

Wu's comments get underscored when stuff like what happened on Friday happened. And it's not an isolated incident. It happens a lot.

If you can't make your point without resorting to violent, criminal threats, you probably don't have much of a point to make.

It's especially bad in gaming, where women are routinely objectified and commoditized by the business themselves, used as "eye candy" in games to appeal to adolescent males and adult male gamers with adolescent tastes. That objectification of women continues into male-dominated online gaming, where macho posturing and threats of physical and sexual violence are routine in online gaming sessions.

Wu's been an outspoken voice in the "GamerGate" controversy that's been bouncing around the last few months. I don't want to spend too much time writing about GamerGate here; if you do a quick Google search you can find plenty of other coverage.

To keep it on point, Wu attracted the crosshairs of fringe elements in the GamerGate crowd when she started to make fun of them in a series of memes she posted to her Twitter account. Predictably, Wu received obnoxious, threatening messages.

Things escalated out of control late last week. Wu was "doxed:" Her real-world address and contact information was revealed and posted to a board on an anonymous message board called 8chan. Then Wu received a series of frightening, violent messages from an anonymous Twitter user who threatened to rape and murder her.

Wu's no stranger to being threatened by anonymous cowards on the Internet, but the virulence of these particular messages, combined with the knowledge of her location, shook her. She and her husband left their home and contacted the local police and the FBI.

Look: If you can't make your point without resorting to violent, criminal threats, you probably don't have much of a point to make. The people who do this sort of thing discredit any movement that they purport to be a part of.

It also hasn't taken long for the wild-eyed conspiracy theorists that have attached themselves to the GamerGate movement to accuse Wu of starting a "false flag" operation to discredit them, either: They claim that she doxed herself and wrote the threatening messages, then called the police and the FBI.

Which is simply pathetic, paranoid lunacy.

The underlying concern of GamerGate is supposedly about ethics in game journalism — and there's actually a point to be made there.

But the problem is that from the start, GamerGate has been inextricably linked to a really vicious brand of misogyny, because it started after game developer Zoe Quinn's ex-boyfriend accused her of trading sex for good reviews and support of her game, Depression Quest.

If there's anything lesson to be learned about the subject of game journalism ethics at this point, it shouldn't be from anything to do with GamerGate. Because fringe elements in GamerGate have so thoroughly poisoned its overarching message that nothing is going to come of it. When your house is built on quicksand, don't be surprised if it collapses.

Ultimately, this isn't about GamerGate. It isn't even about games. It's about people who abuse technology to act viciously to each other. That's not a gamer problem. That's not a technology problem.

It's a societal problem.

This isn't unique to the online experience. Another friend of mine who lives in San Francisco was sexually assaulted in the street recently. She wrote about the experience, and talked about some of the routine garbage she has to put up with from men on a daily basis. This is everywhere.

When it comes to online abuse, I've written about this before: There's something called the "online disinhibition effect," which makes it easier for people with tendencies to be jerks to be major jerks online. Add to that some people who are just straight up mentally ill and in need of treatment.

When I talked to Wu last night, she was resolute: The concern over her and her husband's personal safety may have driven them from their home temporarily, but it's not going to change who she is or what she stands for. And the threats of abuse and violence haven't quieted other women with strong voices, either — people like Anita Sarkeesian or Leigh Alexander or Zoe Quinn.

What it does do is shine a spotlight on a very ugly undercurrent of behavior on the Internet that has to change. This isn't a women's issue any more than it's a men's issue. It's an issue of simply being human. And no one is undeserving of human dignity and respect.

If you're witness to this kind of abusive, vile behavior on the Internet, gaming, in the office, in a home or walking down the street, speak up. Let the perpetrator know it's unacceptable. Shine a light on it wherever and whenever you can. Because only by exposing the behavior and the people who engage in it will we be able to overcome it.

We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more.