Investigating Online Communities of Chronic Harassment

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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.

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