Investigating Online Communities of Chronic Harassment


People often describe the internet as a type of cosmopolitan virtual metropolis. At the same time, there persists some awareness that “the internet” contains a large set of internal communities. Unbeknownst to many people, insular online communities can serve as an incredibly formative part of people’s identities. I can speak from experience that this has some validity in my own life, especially when it comes to the intersections of my LGBTQIA+ identities. Yet, simultaneously, I have intimate experience with fairly homogenous cultures surrounding games, which albeit formative, have definitely been less than pleasurable.

To describe how many people interact with these communities, I will show case studies of several relatively recent incidents.

“Gamergate” is a word that likely means little to many people at Bates. However, it marks one of the few incidents of where issues of equity were raised in national media attention. Though the controversy supposedly began over “ethics in gaming journalism,” the rampant series of doxing (publicizing of personal documents), death threats, and rape threats targeted at a small select group of women reached national media outlets. It is unnecessary to go through the convoluted series of accounts to come to the conclusion that there remains violent reactionary means taken towards many women who express themselves vocally online. This tendency is not unique to so-called gaming communities but is endemic of wider cultural problems. I also do not want to suggest this issue exists equally across all gaming platforms and mediums. For many, gaming subcultures serve as uniquely accepting places. The stigmatization of “nerd culture” as homogeneously regressive, white supremacist, and cishetero-patriarchal empowers resistance to any type of meaningful criticism. This feeds into narratives of social ostracization that serve to organize many online communities of self-described nerds.

The rise of the online “skeptic” community began around the time I entered high school. The community finds its ideological and organizational roots coming to a fruition in the 2007 meeting of the New Atheists’ prominent intellectuals, known as the “Four Horsemen,” Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. I find the appropriation of Abrahamic apocalyptic vernacular particularly perplexing given the trajectory of the movement. After several years of online Youtube personalities debating, debunking, and “pwning” (a reference to the video game Defense of the Ancients or “Dota”) creationists, the movement began to run out of organizational cohesion or any driving sense of purpose. As Youtube was becoming far easier to be monetized, online personalities were increasingly devoting serious amounts of time to pursuing Youtube video production as a financial means. Yet, aside from content about online video games, most Youtube channel populations rarely breached the number necessary to have a sustainable career. At about this time, around the beginning of “Gamergate,” content creators started making videos explaining how “feminism” had “poisoned” the new atheist movement. Quickly this expanded into videos with titles such as “Why ‘feminism’ poisons EVERYTHING” and “Feminism versus FACTS (RE Damsel in Distress).” Videos like these were wildly successful. Many people who formerly made most of their videos criticizing creationists began to transition into focusing almost exclusively on, self-described, anti-feminist content.

As it stands currently, there is massively more anti-feminist content on Youtube than feminist content. The dynamic is more pernicious than it might seem. By and large, anti-feminist, often self-labelled as “skeptic,” content on Youtube is entirely reactionary. Most anti-feminist content reacts post facto to specific Youtube feminist content it finds personally unappealing. The followers of anti-feminist Youtuber’s then proceed to troll and harass popular and unpopular feminist content creators such as Kat Blaque, Contrapoints, or Marinashutup. The content creators most aggressively criticize feminist ideas that describe systems of systemic racism within the United States and European countries. One of the largest themes that arose is that anti-feminist content creators support people of marginalized communities insofar as they agree with them. Even then it is a loose allegiance. Even as the Youtuber Blaire White, a white trans woman, complains about Black Lives Matter, she still has to regularly field questions about her genitalia. Similarly, Laci Green, a cis-white woman who had long been a target of anti-feminists online, took the “red-pill,” a reference to The Matrix which has since been co-opted by online anti-feminists, and has since been embraced by those who once regularly defamed, slandered, and harassed her.

I have found this type of tension, fairly constant in my experience navigating online platforms. I can be accepted in certain online communities similar to these in so far as I closet my identity and my politics. That said, complicity with cultures of harassment is unacceptable.

  • ThothMRM

    It must be so hard to be so wrong and so pompous about it at the same time. This is why so many people are starting to question the worth of today academia. Shallow, poor research, jump to conclusions, and ideology over truth. Zero respect is deserved for such an empty, vapid piece of agitprop.

  • Paul Cavanaugh

    I’ll will probably read 1000 (or maybe it’s 100,000) of these “harassment victim” articles before I see one single instance of the media questioning why now, in an era when many schools are awarding degrees to two female students for every one male student, we still have women studies and female only scholarships and faculty brainwashing to the effect that women are oppressed.

    Do you know why anti-feminism dominates the very democratic universe of YouTube? It’s because anti-feminists happen to be right. There is no wage gap. There is no systemic discrimination against women. There is no rape epidemic on Western college campuses. Feminists are irrational and their views hurt both men and women and anti-feminists can prove it. Furthermore and perhaps more important than all other factors, they ALMOST TO THE LAST MAN invite criticism and debate. They want a forum. Feminists want to destroy the forum and burn it to the ground.

    That’s why it’s called the Red Pill. One side is based in reality and one side is not. Feminists support a religious orthodoxy that cannot be defended against criticism. Therefore they don’t seek to defend it, they seek to destroy the criticism. They will label anyone who dares challenge their dogma as racist and sexist and usually will call them a Nazi for good measure. I’m reminded of a video on YouTube from a young man who audited a gender studies class. He raised his hand to ask a question. He was metaphorically burned as a witch. This is what happens. This is reality.

    The result of this gross injustice is rage. The rage manifests itself in written criticism and occasionally idle threats. However you don’t care about the gross injustice. You don’t even care about the rage. All you care about is that some feminist somewhere got her feelings hurt because a random internet troll called her names on twitter.

  • Robert Vegana

    So many people refer to “the rampant series of doxing (publicizing of personal documents), death
    threats, and rape threats targeted at a small select group of women” and yet nobody ever seems to be able to provide documentation or specific examples. On top of the lack of citations or reference links, this article seems to meander all over the place in message before hopping to the conclusion. It’s ironic that the author mentions his LGBTetc. identity, stating that he “can be accepted in certain online communities similar to these in so far as I closet my identity and my politics” when such conduct is pretty much mandatory for conservatives in academia nowadays thanks to the “cultures of harassment” propagated in no small part by so-called feminists.

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