Monday, October 20, 2014

A Different Sort of Terrorism

Last week, after months of logistics, we finally launched the Gaming's Feminist Illuminati shirt on Fangamer. Most of the delay in its release involved a long sampling process as we received and ordered a variety of different types of shirts that we've never carried before, but in the last few days leading up to the launch we spent some time shoring up our defenses. We had witnessed first-hand gaming's anti-feminist cabal attacking high-profile people for their support of women in gaming, and now we were potentially inviting that wrath upon ourselves.

We were all at least a bit worried, some of us more than others. Still, we braced for impact, set up two-layer verifications on most of our accounts, and hit the launch button.
Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as follows:
The systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.
Typically terrorism is specifically regarding acts of violence: bombings, shootings, mugging--whatever might make you fear for your life. Anti-feminists have certainly used threats of these sorts of acts in their crusade, most recently last week when someone threatened to start shooting up a university in Utah where Anita Sarkeesian was planned to give a speech. The speech was cancelled due to Utah's concealed carry laws, which the university upheld. Anita, feeling unsafe, walked away from the event, and in some way the terrorists won.

I mean no disrespect to Anita for that. In a very real way, the terrorist's plan backfired: yes, the people in that assembly were denied a speech from Anita, but the overwhelming support and goodwill for the feminist cause that came in the wake of that threat more than made up for it. And, if you need any proof that some of these anti-feminists are just crazy enough to actually shoot up a place, you need only look back at the UC Santa Barbara shooting a few months ago to realize just how serious we should take threats like this.

That's not the kind of terrorism I want to explore here, though. That kind of terrorism is well-documented and oft-discussed. It is, in short, already taken pretty seriously. Instead, I want to talk about online terrorism.

In the wake of the release of the GFI shirts, Fangamer turned out fine. We received no threats, and very few people showed anything less than enthusiasm for the shirts. In short, the people we were afraid might care didn't, and the people we wanted to care did. It was great.

However, the fact that we were scared at all makes me wonder about what qualifies as terrorism. Not long ago, Double Fine, one of our partners, had their site DDoS attacked--an event that would directly hurt our livelihood if it happened to us. Several of our employees set their Twitter accounts to private, especially our female employees, just in case they would become targets of harassment like another of our associates: Dina, of the Mighty No. 9 team (whose great crime was that she had the audacity to accept the position as M#9's community manager while also being a girl).

And then there was the possibility of having our various accounts hacked, like what happened to Phil Fish who, yeah, can be a prima donna sometimes, but certainly did not deserve to have his personal information (SSN, Paypal access, etc) spread around the Internet.

Does this fear of online repercussions constitute a form of terrorism? I'm not going to pretend it's as severe as what people are dealing with in, say, Baghdad right now, but I do feel it fits the definition. We are experiencing fear, and it's affecting our actions. We're not always letting it succeed at its goal, but we are preparing ourselves for the backlash anytime we vocalize our support for feminism.

In this country, where most any act of violence will be met with immediate, efficient, violent repercussions (unless those actions are committed by the police themselves), violent acts are fairly rare. As it turns out, most angry anti-feminists don't actually want to be killed or thrown in jail for life, so people with that agenda have had to resort to different methods of terror; methods that "don't actually hurt anyone," and which many public officials simply don't understand yet. I mean, it's just the Internet, right? What harm is a little bullying?

It's that lack of understanding that I want to see rectified in the future. We need politicians, judges, and presidents who are familiar with the Internet and its communities. We need people who have some familiarity with a programming language and can hold a conversation about today's massive, online environment. We need leaders who can recognize this new form of terrorism as something that can actually damage, not just people's reputations, but their very livelihood, their digital property, and their sense of safety. People are being run out of their homes by online threats, and we need to figure out how to combat that behavior and find the people responsible.

We're in a new era, and it's coming faster than our government can keep up with it.

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