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Zoe Quinn, Crash Override – XOXO Festival (2015)

Zoe Quinn, Crash Override – XOXO Festival (2015)


>>Huge, round of applause, please, for Zoe
Quinn. [Applause and cheers]>>That’s a lot to follow. [laughs] Hi! So
I’m taking kind of a big risk here. I heard that XOXO is a good place to give something
pretty personal. So I’m going to drop the ways I’ve been talking harassment pretty much
constantly—it’s been like, I’m going to give you a lot of data, because at my heart
I’m an engineer, that’s how I think. So I’m going to get a little bit personal and
a little bit vulnerable with you guys and I hope that’s okay. I’m going to talk
about some dark stuff. If you don’t want to deal with that, by all means, I won’t
be offended. I can’t see anything anyway. [laughs] If you leave, I won’t even know.
So bear with me, the takeaway should be hopeful. If you live or work online, this is very much
about the internet and the future of the internet and where it’s going so hopefully I’m not
just talking about myself at you a lot. So yeah, that’s me. As Andy said, I am Zoe Quinn, an independent
game developer, artist, and most recently cofounder of Crash Override Network. We are,
as far as I know, the only organization that works directly with people who are dealing
with online abuse and harassment to sort of unfuck their situation, help them talk to
people, and ideally advocate so that there’s less of people like me in the future. Unfortunately, you’re probably less familiar
with that and more familiar with what happened to lead me to cofound Crash Override. This
is mostly from August of this year. This is not all of it, just some of it. So yeah, again
bad things, don’t worry about it too much. This is just the stuff I can show you too.
I can’t show you all of the things because I don’t think that’s legal. In August 2014, my vengeful ex-boyfriend harnessed
the ugly sexist background radiation of the web, united them under a single banner against
me in particular, and made me patient zero of what would later be called Gamergate. What
followed was devastating. Every account that I ever had, even ones I hadn’t accessed in
years was inundated with hatred, and then they were hacked, sometimes to gain more information
to throw at me, sometimes to find the home addresses of myself and my family members
and people that maybe were nice to me once and threatened them to murder them with police
through this fun thing called swatting. Sometimes it was to send this poor women named
Zoe Quinn in Massachusetts that just has the same name as me a bunch of pizzas. If you’re
watching this, I’m really sorry! I don’t know how to get in touch with you! Right wing conspiracy sites and pundits started
publishing long thinkpieces on my supposed sex life and how I was controlling the indie
games sphere with a menacing network of kissing conspirators, drafting me into a culture war
that had been raging long before I’d ever became a game developer. Even celebrities
got in on it. The crappiest Baldwin and basically the human personification of a racist e-mail
forward from your uncle that you never wanted gave it a name. And it became this huge viral
thing so heinous and so obvious that I was treated to watching a simulacrum of me and
people I love mushed together into a single woman get gang raped by people saying the
same things that people had said to me, on primetime television on an episode of SVU. This sort of thing has become the background
radiation of my life. Threats of death, graphic details of plans of raping me, really weird
things about me possibly being Jewish and hiding out in Europe on RICO charges? So you’ll
notice again that this is almost entirely from August of this year. None of this has
abated. Once things get big and hot enough with all of the people that Gamergate has
spread to, because I am one of the more visible ones, but I am by far not the worst. It’s
not just feminists, it’s people of color, anybody progressive, their friends and familiar. One of them got picked up on terrorism charges
earlier today. Not against me or any of us. This stuff tends to spread, so they made a
bomb threat now they’re going to jail. But that’s a year later, right? And this might
lead you to the obvious question, which is really the thing that I want to talk about
now that you’re sort of briefed and this is like the TL of the D-est R that I could possibly
do to this situation. So it might lead you to the obvious question and that’s the part
want to talk about today. [Laughter] I actually have a good idea of why. Not just
from being targeted. Not just the year of Gamergate, but even before that. Not because
I’ve dealt with hundreds of cases of other people’s harassment. Again, I’m a game developer,
I’m a systems-based thinker. I see the lines where people keep having the same things happen
over and over. But from kind of a weird source that you might not expect. This is me. This is teen me. You may have
known someone like me in high school. I was the funny-looking one who wore a trenchcoat
and played hacky sack outside of the cafeteria with the other greasy kids. I was the girl
a cool kid had to ask on a date once because he lost a bet. I was nerdy and awkward and
I didn’t know how to talk to people except online. The internet was my world and it’s
the place where I say I’m from and it’s always been true. It was the only place I had any
kind of friends or any control over my life. No one knew I looked funny, nobody knew I
was poor. I was just able to play the game and talk shit with the best of them, and you
know, earn that sort of social status in these weird kind of nerd circles that I ran in.
It was the only place I ever felt like I fit in. I never sent threats or anything like that,
but I did think it was funny when I’d hear someone freaking out about one because it’s
just the internet, who cares? And a lot of those people are women, but I was in such
a hurry to tell everybody in high school that I wasn’t like other girls. I was a cool girl! What that means is I essentially bought into
the carefully packaged concept of what I thought being a woman meant. Being flighty, frivolous,
over-emotional, and anti-intellectual. I demonized all things girly to my friends in the chatrooms
where I got most of my socialization in, partially because that behavior was rewarded and reinforced
by my nerdy compatriots who agreed I was totally not like those “other” girls. I used the
phrase “attention whore” the way telegrams say “stop” and took pride in my ability
to take the mocking disrespectful “tits or GTFO” of my male friends and turn it
back around them. Usually using awful homophobic slurs, because I was dealing with the fact
that I was queer, couldn’t tell anybody and didn’t understand that about myself. But
I would just hit back harder, because I wasn’t like those other girls. I was a cool girl
and cool girls don’t show weakness. Weakness is for other girls. And if I just told myself
that enough, I was hoping it’d be true someday. I’m pretty sure there’s a word for that.
[Laughter] Anyway, the reason I’m telling you this is
that because if Gamergate happened several years ago and to somebody else, I would have
been on that side. I wouldn’t have been the ones making the threats, engaging in weird
culture wars, or making weird MS Paint conspiracy threads about who made out with who once.
But I fully believe that most online mobs are made up of enough useful jerks like I
was that hear their internet buddies saying someone sucks and fully believe them and join
in on it. I was the same sort of person you see make
up the bulk of online hate mobs and these dogpiles, and there’s some important things
to know from that perspective. Because how often we talk about these issues, it doesn’t
really get into the structure of online harassment or the systems of how it perpetuates. And
again, game designer, systems, patterns, kind of my home turf. I might be one of the people
who best understands and can shed some light on the useful idiots of Gamergate and all
the other hate mobs. Or, at least can tell you some things you might not have heard before,
and you know, GI Joe, knowing is half the battle. From there, maybe we can gain some
understanding of why this happens and more importantly how to reduce the harm it causes.
Can we stop using the word trolling? I will say this on every stage you give me until
we stop doing it. Trolling is what I did back in the day. It’s the stuff that if you pulled
on your friends you would still be friends with them. It’s not essentially terrorizing
people and I guess now, as of today, I can say literally terrorizing people. Beyond that,
can we stop referring to a problem we have to fight to get recognized and take seriously
by the name of a fictional mythological creature? Like, how backwards is that? Modern trolling
sounds the same as the shit people who follow through on it actually mean. So when targets
have to deal with that, you sort of play this game of Schrodinger’s murderer every time
you get one of those threats. Are we playing with an edgy teen Hot Topic lord, or it Dylann
Roof? Because they post in the same places. Another thing is, and this is the thing that
I think a lot of people don’t understand, is that most people participating in online
harassment think they’re the good guys. Don’t get me wrong, you do get the chaotic neutrals.
But most people participating in Gamergate or other mob abuse think they’re totally doing
the right thing, like some kind of crappy internet Batman.
One rather telling way to highlight this, in particular, is how often when I meet someone
who’s been targeted in a similar manner as I have, hey, do they have a weird conspiracy
theory about you secretly being rich? Every freaking time the answer is yes. This little
mental trick of assuming—because you can always find someone with the same last name
that traces back to whoever. It happened with Justine Sacco, it happened with every Gamergate
target pretty much. It’s this thought that if what they’re going after is so powerful
and so corrupt, they still get to be the underdog. They still get to be the good guys. I mean, look at what happened when Ashley
Madison just got hacked. If you’re unfamiliar with Ashley Madison, it’s a site for having
extramarital affairs which turned out to be mostly robots. [laughter] However, the same
people that were standing up and fighting for me saw that and were like, oh, good, this
is justice. Never mind the fact that a few days later at least two suicides had been
linked to that data leak and that hacking and that doxing, just two days later, people
were dying. There’s a lot of things to be found in a mob, but justice is not one of
them. The reality of it is there’s no such thing as good guys and bad guys. There’s just
people. Sometimes we do good stuff, sometimes we do bad stuff. We don’t get let off the
hook if we think we’re going after a good target by doing the same sort of thing. [Applause]
Thank you. I mean, when I was still kind of an internet ass when I was a teenager, every
single time I thought I was in the right, they deserved it because they had more than
me, or they deserved it because they were doing something that I wished I could, or
in the particular case of women, they lived up to a feminine ideal I never thought I could
because I was fat and sad and poor and I had like crappy ’90s jeans hand-me-down 20 times
and I could never be that, so of course that resentment, that sadness just got to me, so
it was like, oh, wow, they’re powerful, they have what I want, it’s fine to go after them. This feeling of self-righteousness becomes
even more true and pervasive when you’re surrounded by people who are telling you you’re in the
right. Which means that inverting this can also become one of our best tools for shutting
it down. This was underscored by the responses to the questions I asked about 300+ people
the first time I got targeted, years before Gamergate, I talked to about 300 former trolls.
“Trolls.” You know, what made you stop? What made you grow out of it? And almost every
single time, more often than not, they expressed that someone they were close to, respected,
or looked up to, said that wasn’t cool, that the social network supporting this kind of
feeding frenzy was no longer reinforced. That’s one thing that changed for me, too.
As I drifted away from the circle of people who shit on people for kicks and started taking
care of myself and got help for my depression that I needed, I started making friends that
were different, and they would be like hey, what the hell are you doing, kid? That sense
of shame disrupted this mechanism of a bad habit that had built up in myself and for
me to go oh, hey, what am I doing? Futhermore, for myself and a lot of other reformed internet
jerks that I’ve spoken with, another thing that got a lot of people to wake up and back
off of this harassing behavior was that same tiny humanizing of their targets. It stopped
being this theory of a person. And this was really exemplified when after I got doxed
and people started calling my phone en masse, I answered all the time. And they’d be like
“is this Zoe Quinn?” And I’d be like, do you not know who you called? And they’d
be like, “do you know your number is all over the internet?” And I’d be like yeah,
I’m aware. And they’re like, “oh.” I had this conversation at least ten times with
randos and they’d be like, “I’m sorry.” [Laughter] Anybody who didn’t double down on the garbage
immediately apologized because it didn’t go the way that they thought it would. I suddenly
had a voice. I wasn’t just words on a screen and when you’re in this sort of place, when
I was in this sort of place, it was like a game, you know? And that’s the thing, it’s not really about
the target. It’s a basic empathy failure. Drawing on the dehumanization, they’re just
symbols to people attacking them. They’re weird goals, like a performative thing, like
a game to see who can do the best burns. This is how things often quickly escalate, too.
And for me it was partially about belonging to something somewhere. I was part of the
chanology things back in the day, where everybody wore the dumb V for Vendetta mask and was
like “Scientology is bad!” And while I started because I did think everything I was
reading was messed up, I stayed because I made friends and I wasn’t alone and there’s
that weird sense of bonding and I’m not proud to admit it. Sure enough, they turned on me
as soon as they found out I was a girl but can’t say I didn’t deserve that. These people also tend to make artifacts and
in-jokes the same way any kind of community would. YouTube is especially bad for this.
I think any time I do anything related to a video—I’m sure in this video, if you
look over viewer at home, you’ll probably be see like 20 links, “SHE’S EVIL! BOOBS!”
on the side. [laughter] I’m paraphrasing. [laughter] But that’s the thing. They create
these things, and they pass it around and what I’ve been referring to as the treehouse,
like they found nudie mags in the woods. Because at it’s a community. At its core, these
harassment mobs are a community and sometimes, when it’s not about the target, it’s about
lashing out at a concept. Like I said, I shit on so many women when I was younger that represented
the ideals I was never able to meet. It had nothing to do with them and everything to
do with the fact that I was an insecure teenager. Which kind of brings me back to another point.
It’s not anonymity that is the enemy. [applause] And I see so many people say this. But one
of the reasons I was able to deal with being a queer teenager is that I could go online
while living in a scary rural town where they did not like gay people and talk about my
feelings with other people who shared that. I don’t know if you remember, I hope you
remember, there was a teenager named Leelah Alcorn who killed herself. Her suicide note
was out there and it was heartbreaking. But there was one line in there, one silver lining
that so many people missed, and that’s because of her online community, because she was able
to go there and talk about things, it kept her alive longer than she would have otherwise.
And that was very much the case as a depressed queer kid with no one to talk to, and I could
not have done that under my name. I was terrified. People ask me, why do you leave anonymous
messages on? Why don’t you just turn it off? It’s like, I made Depression Quest. Did you
know—and we confirmed this in our research—more people would rather tell their employer that
they have committed a misdemeanor and served jail time than that they had ever received
any kind of psychiatric care. The stigma against living with mental illness is that bad. I
keep my anonymous asks on because a lot of them that I get are people needing to talk
about something so stigmatized, but talking about it will keep you alive. It’s not anonymity that’s the problem. Anonymity
is so key. Beyond that, if you just ignore all those edge cases, my worst and most egregious
harassers use their legal names and make a living off of this. They have Patreons, they
get paid for YouTube clicks, there’s a number of people, you can probably think of at least
one of them—I won’t go into it because this video will be posted online—that have
made bank off of the backs of harassing people like me. And they use their names, they build
their brand so anonymity is not the issue. Anonymity is sometimes the only thing keeping
people safe. Another thing is, with all of this, you can
always assume that there’s going to be the sad kids, there’s going to be the me’s of
the world and you can focus more on the people making a profit off of this, but at the end
of the day, are you going to get mad at the toddler who crashed your car or the adult
who gave them the keys? We need tech platforms to step up here. Because beyond that, we’re
still looking backwards saying it’s free speech, court cases that will take 20 years
to make. We make tech, dammit, we can iterate fast, we should be looking forward, not looking
behind. Really need that to step up. There’s always going to be sad people like me as long
as there’s teenagers who have shitty feelings, or older people who have shitty feelings.
Shitty feelings are like a universal constant. We don’t have to let mobs form on our platforms.
And we don’t need to let their figureheads point the useful idiots like me where to go.
[cheers and applause] I’ve said a lot of incriminating things up
here today. I mean, you have a picture of me in a fedora now. M’lady! I’m doing
this partially because I want to ask something of all of you. The biggest thing, in all of
this, is that doing better starts at home. I’m hoping by admitting to my own previous
shittiness and I’m sure periodic shittiness as life goes on because I’m a human. Or cyborg,
close enough. We can start a conversation within ourselves. Even now it’s so easy to
want to send something snarky or shitty when somebody actually does fuck up. But things
escalate so quickly. If you can stop yourself from your hot take and consider if you’re
criticizing someone’s actions or if you’re shitting on them as a person. Consider if
you’re performatively bandwagoning on some issue of the day, and if your hot takes are
something you’re doing to high five your buddies on in the same way that the 4channers
do in their clubhouse with me. Or if you’re actually calling attention to and criticizing
a specific pattern of behavior. If it’s something bigger than you scoring points. Part of being
in a mob is that scoring points. Are you actually expressing yourself or are
you just playing the game? No single snowflake feels responsible for the avalanche that rains
down on somebody. And it’s hard sometimes, like especially if you have any kind of platform
or any kind of voice, even just doing things that you should be allowed to do, you know,
you do the thing and you find out later a lot of people who are watching you jumped
on it. We have to do better, first and foremost.
Don’t be a snowflake in someone else’s avalanche. Because what looks to you like this might
look to someone else like this. Try to be kinder. Thank you.
[Applause and cheers]>>>Zoe Quinn! Thank you so much.

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