For anyone who’s familiar with the online movement known as GamerGate, it should come as no surprise that this week they combined their trademark misogyny with dog-hating.
When game designer Brianna Wu announced on Twitter that her dog, Crash, was ill and ultimately died from brain inflammation, Gamergate supporters harassed her about the dog’s death. At least one person even went so far as to create a Twitter account in Crash’s name (it’s now been suspended) and used it to make abusive comments to Wu as if they were coming from her dog in the afterlife. Wu also tweeted that she’s received photos of mutilated dogs in her corporate email account.
If any of this seems especially, unbelievably cruel, you probably haven’t been keeping track of the Gamergate saga.
Wu, along with several other women, has been under siege by Internet users identifying with the Gamergate movement since August. The controversy started when indie game designer Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend published a letter alleging that she had slept with Nathan Grayson, a video game journalist and reviewer for the website Kotaku.
Members of Gamergate claim that their intention is to push for higher standards of journalistic integrity, but their primary actions have been little more than abusive harassment of women who have become prominent in the video game community. They have especially targeted those who have been critical about sexism in the industry.
In October, Wu was forced to flee her home when someone using the handle “Death to Brianna” posted her home address on Twitter. “Your mutilated corpse will be on the front page of Jezebel tomorrow, and there isn’t jack s— you can do about it,” the person said in one tweet.
Most dog lovers can understand the grief of watching their dog die. Even by itself, when everything else in your life is going well, it can be a trauma that overwhelms. Imagine that, in addition, you have to deal with that knowing that there are people who have publicly sworn to kill you. That’s the situation that Wu was faced with on Sunday night. She tweeted about being in the veterinary emergency room, waiting to find out what would happen to Crash, and even then, friends warned her that Gamergate supporters were chatting online about how to find the address of her vet.
“As I’m trying to find an emergency vet, Gamergate is constantly tweeting me and harassing me,” Wu said on Twitter afterward. “I’m a bitch, I’m a liar, I’m this, I’m that. My dog, who would be dead in under 12 hours, is shivering and dying in my lap. Imagine how horrible that is. Now imagine, that on top of that, you’re getting warnings from friends that Gamergate is trying to locate and dox your vet’s location. I’ve had dozens of threats to my life. The public does not know all the details. Now I’m worried I will be killed as my dog is dying.”
At least one supporter on Twitter suggested that Wu might have actually poisoned her dog herself to gain “victim points” and publicity.
As sadistic and inhumane as this incident is, it’s hard to look at it and say, “Gamergate has gone too far”; they went too far a long, long time ago. The death threats and rape threats that became their stock in trade were already too much for any decent human being to stomach. It was too far when Anita Sarkeesian had to cancel a talk at Utah State University because some anonymous terrorist promised “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if she spoke.
But it is an index of how deep the cruelty and sadism of Gamergate’s supporters go. Most of us would have some kind of “stop” point, even with people we deeply despise. Most of us would stand away, at least for a moment, and let them have their grief. The Gamergate types won’t even let their targets have that one courtesy of being able to mourn undisturbed when a family member dies. There are politicians and public figures that I despise without qualification, but I would never intrude while they mourned the death of a child, a pet, or other loved one. I would certainly never imply that they had caused the death themselves as a tactic to get sympathy, not unless I was holding undeniable evidence in my hand.
One touching moment did come out of all this, one that anyone who’s lost a pet should be able to identify with. In response to Wu’s grief and her thoughts about getting a new dog, a friend of hers, Seth Mendelson, replied:
We pet lovers don’t replace pets. However, we have a hole in our hearts that needs to be filled. So, we keep our hearts open for the next great love.
If only responses like that were more common, the Internet would be a much safer place for us all.
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