Brianna Wu, a developer who received a death threat on Twitter last week, approached me on Sunday, suggesting that we talk to bridge the divide between pro-GamerGate and anti-GamerGate supporters. Though I am a reporter and not a member of the movement, I felt well placed to do this, so I said yes.
Wu originally told me that she had made the same request to Adam Baldwin, but that he had “declined.” This turned out not to be quite true: in fact, he had offered to meet with her the next time she was in Los Angeles.
I suggested to Wu that we record a segment for my internet radio show, RADIO NERO. I told her that I was prepared to prerecord the interview and discuss edits before broadcast, as I had done for a previous interviewee, Damion Schubert, who was very satisfied with the result and the time we took to re-record answers he wasn’t happy with.
I also told her we would need to record within the next two days.
Wu agreed to these terms enthusiastically. “I would love to do your radio show,” she wrote, “As I think it would be great to help calm things down. Please send me some questions ahead of time. I think you’ll find in regards to journalistic ethics, we agree on practically everything.”
So I wiped the schedule for the show clean, cancelling and postponing other segments. We then asked Wu four, perhaps five times to get a slot in the diary. Wu did not respond to these emails, but I did not think anything untoward was up at the time. She was at a conference, and dealing with the fallout from her unpleasant evening.
Meanwhile, I sent over indicative questions for the interview, which I said were on the harsh side, but fairly reflected what I wanted to talk about. I did not want to be accused of springing any “gotcha” questions on her. Wu marked which items she was happy to answer, and which she wasn’t. There were around 30 questions; she had concerns about seven of them.
I agreed to every request she made, even though I knew listeners would be disappointed that she would not be challenged about what appeared on the face of it to be hypocritical behaviour on her behalf. I also postponed the release date of the episode by 24 hours, to give Wu more time to prepare, and to get her personal circumstances in order after a traumatic evening.
As I write this, Wu has postponed talking, or simply not replied to our emails, for the third–it might be fourth–time. I do not now believe she ever had any intention of fulfilling the commitment she made to us. I am left with no option but to cancel this week’s show, since there is no longer time to book guests, record, produce and release an episode this week.
This is a horrible shame, because this episode was a chance for me, a reporter sympathetic to the objectives of GamerGate, to have a detailed, honest conversation with a critic and a victim of online harassment.
My hope was that this could be a moment of convergence and understanding that would lead to a new, calmer chapter in the relations between prominent female developers, some of whom have received disgusting threats on the internet, and GamerGate supporters, who have been blamed for those threats, often in the absence of any evidence that they were responsible for them.
Putting together a weekly show of 90 minutes takes a huge amount of preparation. It’s also not free. I will have to pay $250 in production and technical staff time despite there being no show this week. We will also lose $250 in booked advertising revenue for this show.
Plus, I invested time myself in preparing for the interview. My time is at a premium at the moment, while I write my first book, fulfil daily column commitments and record a documentary for one of the larger British television channels.
Truthfully, the time and money are neither here nor there: I’m simply furious, really furious, that I was taken for a ride, and my team was messed around, as so many people warned us we would be. I should have listened to them and known that the constant promises–“we will do this”–were going to amount to nothing.
I’ll finish with a little tableau from my conversations with Wu I found revealing. It’s from a private email, but given Wu’s slipperiness and how angry we all feel about the way we have been fobbed off, I feel released from any obligation to keep our correspondence confidential. In any case, the emails were not marked as off the record.
In the course of discussing her appearance on the show, Wu wrote the following:
This is what I would also like to do, and I hope you’ll be up for it. I would like you and I to pick a location, perhaps San Francisco, and I’d like to open a crowdfunded event where people of ALL SIDES OF THIS can donate to pay for our flights and hotels. And I’d like you and I to simply have dinner together. Maybe we could also bring along other people with the movement on both sides that would also like to see this deescalated – I was thinking Maddy Myers for me.
My response, predictably enough, was: “I’d love to have dinner together to talk–I think it would be enormously constructive–but I’m not comfortable with asking people for money to make this happen. Can we not sort it between us?”
There has been no communication about this idea from Wu since.
Here are the questions I was planning to put to Brianna Wu on the show.
– You were recently doxxed and threatened online. The act was reprehensible, and whoever is responsible for it needs to be charged and punished. Can you tell us briefly what happened?
– Have you experienced any other hostile online activity? I noticed a tweet in which you suggested some financial data might be at risk.
– First of all, let’s put the conspiracy theories to bed: you obviously didn’t send that stuff to yourself, did you.
– What’s happening with the police and FBI? Are they trying to track down the culprit? You’ll be pressing charges, I assume?
– How has this affected you and your family? Have you felt able to return home yet?
– In your tweets following the threat, you assumed a GamerGate supporter must have been responsible. What were the events that led up to that moment that led you to that conclusion?
– Wasn’t it a bit unfair to tarnish and entire movement based on the actions of what must surely be one or two fringe elements? Wasn’t that a bit hasty? On July 22, for example, you said you had a stalker with access to your personal information.
– On the show last week, Damion Schubert suggested that there are hackers and trolls out there targeting both sides of this debate. The sort of people who want to see the world burn. Do you think you might have been a victim of such an attack?
– You clarified on social media that it “seemed a logical induction” to assume you were doxxed and threated by GamerGate. But critics will say you did this on Twitter and only after the press ball was rolling, and the narrative had become established. Do you accept that you jumped to conclusions?
– Would you, as a sign of good faith, delete the tweet in which you blame GamerGate? It has been retweeted over 7,000 times, been responsible for a lot of abuse to GamerGate supporters and picked up widely by the media, despite the fact that there is no evidence for the claim, and most people seem to think it was a malicious third party.
– What should be done about the raft of stories that place the blame for this squarely at the feet of GamerGate supporters? Or do you you think the movement had it coming, for being associated so closely with threats and abuse to women in the games industry?
– In my experience, people in fear of their lives tend not to announce it on Twitter. And the police generally instruct threat targets not to announce their whereabouts. Why did you publicise the threats made against you? Do you understand why some people might consider it to have been opportunistic? You were, after all, hardly a neutral observer.
– If you’ve been in fear of your life, why did you tweet your exact location at ComicCon on Sunday, down to the stall number? Isn’t that asking for trouble? Do you see why people don’t take threats seriously when people are merrily tweeting their precise location to thousands of strangers 48 hours after death and rape threats? It tells me, as a journalist, that you didn’t take them seriously in the least bit. If I’m being honest.
– On 6 October, you tweeted: “#Gamergate is a madness that dreams it’s a revolution.” What did you mean by that?
– Numerous threats have been made against public figures, male and female, before the existence of GamerGate. So it stands to reason that they will continue after it’s gone. What, then, is the point of blaming GamerGate supporters, most of whom I’ve found to be polite, reasonable people? What will be accomplished? This behaviour will likely continue anyway, so why are so many people trying to silence a movement that is sincerely campaigning for what it sees as desperately needed reform in press ethics?
– Some people are unhappy with you because they say you created a meme about them that used an image of an autistic child. They say, in effect, “you started it.” Are you blameless in this situation, or did you stoke the fires on purpose?
– Why was it “harassment” when 8chan and GG members replied with their own versions of a meme you started about them? The way one person put it to me was: “It seems like Brianna joined a pillow-fight and was playing too rough… then someone hit her with a pillow full of bricks.”
– You mentioned that this 8chan thread was “60 pages” long. To people who don’t know about internet culture, that sounds like a gigantic torrent of unpleasant content. But any creative or meme thread on any board runs that long, doesn’t it? Wasn’t this just stirring the pot?
– You created a Twitter account by the name of Jake Harper or @brololz, which used the GamerGate hashtag to tweet jokes about Tomb Raider death scenes and erections. Do you understand why some observers might consider you a provocateur?
– Every movement on the internet has extremists at its fringes. Why do you think GamerGate is being held to such an impossibly high standard? Isn’t this like blaming all Muslims for the actions of ISIS?
– Do you believe GamerGate is full of misogynists, racists and homophobes?
– Why do you think the women on the pro-GamerGate side, some of whom have also been doxxed and threatened, have received no press coverage at all?
– Why do gamers object to feminist critiques of video games so much? Is it because they hate women? Or is it because they simply find the work of Anita Sarkeesian ridiculous?
– What, in your view, has gone wrong with video games journalism, and who are the main culprits? Do you agree with GamerGate that there is a problem in video games journalism?
– Do you have any suggestions about how the industry could move forward? Do you support Damion Schubert’s idea for a consumer body? Should there be some kind of press charter? What’s your view?
– Why do you think organisations such as GaymerX, a support organisation for LGBT gamers, are so reluctant to engage with people who don’t share their politics? What’s the point of a safe space if it’s only there for some people? Isn’t it more like an elitist club?