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Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised 8: An Autopsy of the SocialAutopsy Situation

Part 1: An Introduction

Part 2: A History Lesson
Part 3: Born in Fire
Part 4: Factions Form
Part 5: The Curious Tale of David Pakman
Part 6: The SPJ Airplay Bomb Threat
Part 7: I Do Actually Stand With Mustafa

The survivors of the nuclear fire called the war Gamergate. They lived only to face a new nightmare: the war against their own hobby's press. The ideology which controlled the machines sent two agents to the forefront. Their mission: to draw the aggro and act as bait. But they picked the wrong drama to initiate, and may be failing.

Late last week, a Kickstarter campaign launched for a service called Social Autopsy, ostensibly an anti-bullying service, which aimed to collect information on harassing and/or offensive speech and tie it to a database that would identify a person by name, by image, and possibly even by employer. I, like many others both in the free speech camp as well as those against it, immediately saw the flaws and exploits in a system like this.* But something strange happened with Social Autopsy.

I mentioned Gamergate earlier because several individuals opposed to whatever-the-narrative-is-this-week stepped in. Zoe Quinn and Randi Harper, who run anti-bullying organizations themselves, got involved with Social Autopsy... but not in the way you'd expect people working in the same field would.

Less than a day after the Kickstarter launched, Social Autopsy's founder, Candace Owens, was contacted by Quinn to discuss the project. In Owens's own words, Owens provided Quinn with her personal e-mail address, and Quinn spoke with her both over e-mail and phone. But not words of support, as you'd expect, but to try and talk her out of it. Why would someone who was the victim of harassment herself allegedly fight so hard against a way of unmasking and identifying harassers?

Owens was suspicious, but rebutted each argument Quinn had and, again according to Owens, Quinn grew more frustrated, again giving her credentials and claiming to be representing various anti-bullying organizations that she declined to name. With red flags going up, Owens stood firm, refusing to back down, with Quinn eventually warning her that Gamergate would come after her.

And sure enough, that's what happened. The anti-bullying advocate was then harassed off the internet and into hiding by a boogeyman that was simultaneously a bunch of powerless whiners and also the unnameable threat stalking the tech blogs and gaming press of the last two years.

Nah, I'm kidding. Hours later, Owens began receiving nasty messages first on her Kickstarter campaign profile, and then emails on her personal e-mail account -- the one she'd given to Quinn -- with all manner of offensive language with a single common thread. “Men, Misogyny, and Gaming,” as she put it. All of the messages came from male names, using gendered language against her, and with video games somewhere in the address field. Keep in mind that Owens had been nowhere near gaming until now. She hadn't even heard of Gamergate, but now she was getting emails from addresses like “” Hours after that her Kickstarter was shut down, and Randi Harper (again, a noted anti-GG name and herself a... harassment expert) wrote a post on Medium where she blasted Candace Owens and Social Autopsy's Kickstarter before claiming responsibility for having it shut down.

There's two possibilities I'm seeing here for what happened next. Candace Owens is either incredibly smart (if misguided, considering how terrible an idea SocialAutopsy was) or so uninvolved with the tech blog drama world that she immediately saw a pattern and started putting things together, because she then spent the next several days blasting Quinn and Harper on Twitter, all but accusing them of being the entire harassment machine that Gamergate was accused to be themselves and writing an epic history of the situation on her own website (I strongly suggest you read it) that puts mine to shame. Candace Owens continues to make noise about more information she has.

Of course, there was retaliation from the usual suspects. Jesse Singal penned a hitpiece than ran on New York Magazine's website. Embarrassing human David Futrelle has smeared her. I'm waiting for more to drop. But what I'm really waiting for is for the gloves to come off and get really dirty, though. Candace Owens is a black woman. That's not important to me, but that means she's further up the progressive stack than Quinn or Harper, and that means her voice should carry more weight with those most involved in this narrative. I'm 100% sure there'll be some justification, though: being accused of "internalized misogyny", or called an Uncle Tom, or something equally heinous to discredit her and protect the narrative.

Now we can only sit back, wait, and make more popcorn and hope more evidence is presented, because this ride *still* hasn't ended.

*For one, I believe that unless someone's job is directly tied to the things they say online, don't go after her job. For another, how do you weed out fake profiles, anonymous names, and impersonations to make certain that the wrong person doesn't get shamed?

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