Video game developer Zoë Quinn became used to the anonymous death and rape threats appearing in her inbox.
“It barely even registers when it happens anymore because I’m used to it now,” says Quinn, whose life was “nearly destroyed” when a massive online mob launched a cyber-bullying campaign against her that became known as #GamerGate.
Quinn, a 30-year-old critically acclaimed indie game developer, distilled what she learned from the experience into her new book Crash Override, which details what she endured and how she now helps fight and protect others against online hate.
“The plan was basically to isolate me from anybody who would ever care about me, or stand up for me and get me to kill myself if they didn’t kill or rape me first,” she says about the campaign that started in August 2014 after an ex-boyfriend unleashed an angry, rambling blog post about her.
In the days, weeks and months that followed, Quinn—along with her friends and family—became the target of a coordinated, massive crusade of online harassment. Her personal accounts were hacked; nude photos, stored on her computer, were stolen; and she received an endless stream of emails from her tormenters, threatening murder and rape.
“Before long, they found my home address and people would park out in front, waiting for me, sending me threats with pictures of my apartment attached,” recalls Quinn, who eventually became too fearful to return home after efforts to enlist the help of law enforcement and the courts failed to fully curb the harassment.
But in the midst of sleeping on friends’ couches and watching helplessly as her world got turned upside down, Quinn began to realize that she wasn’t alone. When the story of her plight hit the media, she began hearing from others who were enduring much of the same harassment—ranging from revenge porn to hacking and stalking—that she was.
“People would reach out to me and say, ‘I feel like you’re the only person who can understand what’s happening to me,’ ” she says. “They’d tell me their stories and it’d be remarkably similar to my own. It became apparent to me very quickly that this was a systemic problem and not just a personal one.”
Instead of disappearing, in 2015 Quinn decided to fight back by starting the Crash Override Network, a crisis hotline and advocacy group aimed at combatting online harassment. She testified about online abuse at the United Nations and began working with some of the biggest names in tech, law, media and online security in an effort to try and make the Internet safer.
The legal system, she’s come to understand through her time spent as both an activist and a victim, currently lacks the teeth to stop online harassment. And, she adds, the social media platform companies she’s worked with don’t ultimately seem interested “in fixing the situation.”
She says that she lost track of the number cases she’s worked on after her first year when the number rose to over a thousand.
“I can’t really turn anyone away because I’m in a position where I can help people,” she says. “Ultimately, what some of these people [her harassers] wanted was for me to go away. But I’m not interested in doing that.”