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Social Autopsy founder Candace Owens channels GamerGate in bizarre attack on Zoe Quinn

It's always Zoe Quinn's fault, apparently
It’s always Zoe Quinn’s fault, apparently

So this Social Autopsy debacle is one of the saddest, most surreal spectacles I’ve seen in a long time.

Social Autopsy is, as you may have heard, a spectacularly wrongheaded attempt to fight cyberbullying by posting the personal information of alleged bullies online — that is, in internet lingo, by doxxing them, thus exposing them to the sort of vigilante “justice” that the Internet handles so very, very badly. Social Autopsy planned to assemble a database of 150,000 alleged bullies; how they were to be selected wasn’t altogether clear.

After Social Autopsy launched its Kickstarter campaign last week, it aroused opposition not just from GamerGater types who saw it as a Social Justice Warrior plot to destroy their free speech, but also from some of the main targets of Gamergate-style harassment, who knew all too well how such a platform could be abused by bullies, thus exacerbating the bullying that Social Autopsy is intended to stamp out.

Thankfully, Kickstarter suspended Social Autopsy’s campaign, presumably for violating the fundraising platform’s rules against projects that are “invasive of another person’s privacy.”

But that was not the end of it. No, this was, rather, where things started to get weird — and when Social Autopsy’s founder Candace Owens started spewing bizarrely GamerGatesque conspiracy theories about Zoe Quinn.

Before Kickstarter pulled the plug on the campaign. you see, GamerGate-target-turned-anti-harassment-activist Quinn approached Owens in an attempt to convey just what a bad idea her plan was and talk her out of it.

It turned out that Owens, despite herself being a past victim of cyberbullying, knew shockingly little about the problem her startup was ostensibly founded to solve. Not only had she not heard of Quinn; she hadn’t even heard of Gamergate, which is a bit like being an astronomer who hasn’t heard of the moon.

Instead of listening to Quinn, Owens declared war on her, spewing forth dozens of angry and accusatory tweets, charging that Quinn and fellow anti-harassment activist Randi Harper (who had posted a scathing, and not terribly polite, critique of Owens and her plan) were somehow the puppetmasters behind a barrage of abusive, threatening, and often blatantly racist anonymous messages that Owens (who is black) started getting not long after news of Owens’ plans hit Reddit and 4chan.

Owens quickly began to sound like every other internet crackpot who sees conspiracies in every Twitter mention.

https://twitter.com/socialcoroner/status/721732175368851456

https://twitter.com/socialcoroner/status/721457425082105856

https://twitter.com/socialcoroner/status/721540094713282560

https://twitter.com/socialcoroner/status/721534893390487552

https://twitter.com/socialcoroner/status/721542060415827968

https://twitter.com/socialcoroner/status/721739057911336960

https://twitter.com/socialcoroner/status/721739160898240513

So the online harassment expert who had never heard of GamerGate is apparently also an expert on the publishing industry who’s never heard of Amazon.com — which is already taking preorders for Quinn’s upcoming book, which (incidentally) will be published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

Owens also gave an interview to The Ralph Retort, a sleazy anti-“SJW” internet tabloid, rin which she threatened to release alleged information on Quinn and Harper that would cost them “everything.” She made similarly threatening allusions on Twitter, suggesting she was on the verge of launching what she called a #gamergatesequel against the two.

The first shot in GamerGate 2: The Sequeling took the the form of a sprawling blog post in which Owens, bizarrely, accused Quinn of being in cahoots with GamerGate. That’s right. She accused Quinn of working hand in glove with the movement that literally began with an ex-boyfriend’s attempt to smear her.

“I felt I was under attack by [GamerGate], and knew Zoe had tipped them off,” Owens wrote.

I was trying desperately to get people to understand that my company wasn’t bad, these people were; Zoe for intiating it, and Gamergate for fighting the battle for her with full force.

Later on, when the nasty emails stopped, Owens blamed this on Quinn as well.

One of the “proofs” Owens cited to back up her preposterous claims: Some of those who were sending her nasty messages used the term “dox,” a term that Owens had never heard of before she spoke to Quinn.

Oh, did I forget to mention this earlier? Owens, the alleged expert on online harassment, had never heard of doxxing. And so she concluded that everyone using the term was either a sockpuppet of Quinn and Harper, or in cahoots with them.

At one point in her post, after posting a screenshot of a threatening message she’d gotten from someone calling themselves dontdoxmexd, Owens added,

Interesting account name, no? Because there was that word that we had never heard before again: “dox”. And we began seeing it over and over again, rapidly.

Yeah, that’s kind of what happens when you try to start a doxxing site. People start using the word “dox” in their messages to you.

Even after learning of the existence of GamerGate, Owens professed to be shocked that pretty much all of the attacks on her seemed to be connected to the gaming community:

Less than 48 hours on Kickstarter, and for certain, we had somehow managed to go viral—but this was an odd instance of viral. We had gone viral within the very niche community of gaming, to which, we had no prior interest or connection to. That isn’t how viral works.

No, but that’s how GamerGate works — as Quinn had tried to explain to her.

Later in the post. Owens wondered, rhetorically,

Why did our kicksktarter campaign get so viciously attacked after 12 hours? Why had it gone viral within just one community? Why were we on reddit, blogs, 4chan, being tweeted every 3 seconds, receiving hate mail, threats, and spam from every direction? Why had someone taken the time to photoshop my face beside a swatsika?

Because that’s the sort of crap that GamerGate pulls all the time?

No, Owens insisted, this was all evidence that Quinn and Harper, working together, had launched what she called, somewhat peculiarly,

an effort of cyber-terrorism. When I began suspecting as much, I created a list of all of the twitter names we had seen tweeting at us aggressively from the start. They were all anonymous and they were all retweeting one another, to make it appear as though they had all agreed and that the conclusion was unanimous about Social Autopsy; they were trying to appear bigger than they actually were.

Yeah, that’s pretty much standard GamerGate procedure.

Later, Owens mused,

It’s interesting, and really something I had never considered. Just how much power you could yield if you devoted yourself to creating a cyber unit. Even if it was just you and 20 other people involved, each with multiple fake accounts.

Well, it was more than 20 people, but again Owens has described GamerGate to a T.

You could feign friends, feign your own support, and exaggerate your own presence and significance. Yes, if you were willing to spend full time dedicated to the web, you could begin to distort reality by presenting an assumed majority.

A false, assumed majority, that goes back and fourth on a 4chan thread. A false, assumed majority, that hits the internet writing as many awful things about Candace Owens and her technically not-yet-founded company SocialAutopsy, before they even get an opportunity to launch.

Replace “Candace Owens and her technically not-yet-founded company SocialAutopsy” with “Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu and Randi Harper and …” and once again, Owens has provided us with a perfect description of GamerGate.

Adding to the surrealiity, large chunks of Owens’ posts were devoted to fictionalized “imaginings” of Quinn’s reaction to the Kickstarter.

Maybe she was twirling her hair, maybe she was drinking a coffee—maybe she was sitting a top her bed in sweatpants; the relevant point here of course if that she was logged onto the Internet.

Perhaps she saw it right there on twitter, with the hashtag #cyberbullying affixed to it. Perhaps one of her of her 73.2k followers messaged it to her, or perhaps it landed right on her feed, having been circulated by the very anti-bullying organizations that she followed. The relevant point here of course, is that she saw it. …

Maybe she sit spit out her coffee, perhaps she froze with a strand of hair still wrapped around her finger; the point here of course is that whatever she was doing, she had now stopped to pay full attention.

Owens imagined an even more ludicrous scene taking place at Quinn’s after their awkward phone call came to an end:

I imagine she had collapsed onto the floor of her bedroom in hysterics, maybe even punching a pillow in frustration on the way down

These were not the only fictional sections in Owens’ post. Owens also repeated, as if true, some of the malicious fictions that GamerGate has spread about Quinn. “I read the multiple stories about how Randi and Zoe had made their money off of abuse from men,” she wrote, as if either woman had somehow brought all this abuse down on themselves in a convoluted plot to make big bucks.

I had read specific examples regarding other women they had harassed and taken down, and about how they themselves had been accused of doxxing. Former victims contacted me (with their real names), and provided me with examples of their DNA: racism, misogyny, gamergate, troll accounts: a cocktail for success.

Later on she repeated the standard GamerGate claim that

trolling and harassment is not only an unfortunate societal issue, but that it is a business that affects the bottomline of many people. That there are .orgs established because of it, that books deal are stricken regarding it, and that individuals are being propelled to fame as spokespersons on the exact same issue that they would never want to see nipped in the bud. Because they feed it.

It is, ironically, true that internet abuse is a business. Not to Quinn or Sarkeesian, who never asked for any of the abuse they’ve gotten, but for those who’ve made a sometimes handsome living targeting people like Quinn and Sarkeesian — ranging from YouTube blabbers like Thunderf00t and Sargon of Akkad to the odd (and now broken up) couple behind The Sarkeesian Effect to, well, Ethan Ralph of the Ralph Retort, who built his site by pandering to the GamerGate troll army.

While not a GamerGater herself, Owens has indeed “descended into Gamergate Trutherism,” as New York magazine’s Jesse Singal so aptly put it.

Owens ended her post promising to further investigate what she calls the “cyber-industry” of, I guess, getting trolled and harassed by armies of dickheads, which she posits must be “a business that has profit margins that would ripple our economy if it came crashing down.” She pledged to start her investigations with “Ms. Zoe Quinn and Randi Lee Harper.”

Doxxing is a terrible way to fight harassment, but even if it were a noble endeavor, Owens is one of the last people on planet earth who should ever be put in charge of defining just who is and who isn’t a bully.

CORRECTIONS: In the original post I described Ethan Ralph of the Ralph report as a former Gamergater who described himself as a “proud neo-troll.” Despite declaring “I’m Done With GamerGate Politics” last November, he still considers himself part of Gamergate. The “neo-Troll” label belongs to another Ralph Retort contributor, not Ralph himself. I regret the errors, and I’ve corrected the post.

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Ethan1994
Ethan1994
6 years ago

comment image

Dr. NicolaLuna, Epic Slut
Dr. NicolaLuna, Epic Slut
6 years ago

So this expert has never heard of doxxing, gamergate, Zoe Quinn, and doesn’t recognise the similarities between how trolls and her plans to dox them.

Fuck it, if she can call herself an expert in Internet harassment, I’m now an expert ninja pirate superhero.

shinobi42
shinobi42
6 years ago

So to sum up:

“Person who doesn’t really know very much about X tries to start X based endeavor, when it inevitably fails their total lack of knowledge about X means they have no understanding of why. But they know it was not because their idea was bad, and they didn’t know enough about X, it must have been something else.”

This is like every time I proved my someone wrong ever, except with slightly more twitter harassment.

Ben
Ben
6 years ago

Proof that having suffered through something doesn’t necessarily make you an expert on it, and that having the desire to make things better doesn’t necessarily mean that what you do will. I have such intense feelings of sympathetic embarrassment for Owens: rather than acknowledge her own ignorance and naivete, she submerged herself in conspiracy theories. Who knows if she’ll ever find her way out?

The Thousand Cock Stare
The Thousand Cock Stare
6 years ago

Wow…

This degree of ignorance is kinda scary. How can someone who’s been on the receiving end of internet harassment be so completely clueless about it?

Edit:

I mean, I know the answer is that conspiracies are more comforting to her than the truth, but still.

Antisocial Max
6 years ago

Yeah, I knew the crazy was strong when she starting making accusation that Zoe was controlling Gamergate and they were doing her bidding.

But what blows my mind, is how you can supposedly work in the IT field, like Owens claimed she does, and not know what “doxxing” is?

Moggie
Moggie
6 years ago

http://e.lvme.me/3risbcx.jpg

And why does she describe Zoe Quinn as if she’s a teenager?

dreemr
dreemr
6 years ago

What gets me is how Zoe has been victimized all over again by this. Reading the article yesterday, that she teared up on the phone with Owens – it sounds like, being confronted with Owens’ blithely ignorant arrogance, she knew it was going to go to crap.

As for Owens, I don’t even know what to say or think. I’m kind of baffled by the perfect storm of ignorant, arrogant, doubling-down, conspiracy-mongering witlessness. Can she really be for real? I suppose, if her only real experience online is Facebook/Instagram? Maybe? It just doesn’t even seem possible that someone trying to launch this PARTICULAR kind of anti-bullying initiative on this PARTICULAR medium and be completely unfamiliar with one of the MOST notorious examples of online bullying….

ETA – good job calling out those creepy fictionalized parts of Owens’ little manifesto. When I read them I kept thinking, is this person for real? WHAT?? Descriptions of Quinn playing with her hair, sitting on her bed – WHY is that there? Are you TRYING to sound like a creepy stalker?

I just hope this all comes out all right for Ms. Quinn and she can live her life with some peace.

I just, wow. I’m glad David picked up this story because I’ve been wanting to see some discussion/find out more.

Nobody Special
Nobody Special
6 years ago

I stopped being surprised by storis like this the day British ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair became a U.N. peace envoy to the Middle-East.

Michael P
Michael P
6 years ago

Paging Dr. Dunning, Dr. Kruger…

magnesium
6 years ago

When I first heard about this, I figured it was the beginning of a business that tries to crowdsource money from Social Justice types, and when that doesn’t work they picked an SJ target, make up a bunch of shit, and collect a ton of cash from GamerGate rubes to make something bland and forgettable. Basically, The Fine Young Capitalists 2: Electric Boogaloo. But upon further inspection, I don’t think this Owens woman is up to anything that clever, I think she just stepped into a situation she knows nothing about and is responding… weirdly.

A wolverine
A wolverine
6 years ago

I’m still not convinced this whole thing isnt a particularly strange chan op.

The whole “has apparently been living under a rock” stuff is really hard to believe

Punning Pundit
Punning Pundit
6 years ago

I admit to being confused about why GooberGort seems to be opposed to Social Autopsy, rather than being its biggest cheerleader.

JustLurking!
JustLurking!
6 years ago

Additionally, that guy on twitter (igxylx?) did a great timeline showing how early it hit kia, and kiwi farms has explicitly taken credit for some the harassment:

http://archive.is/CFmc5

scroll down and you’ll see the screenshot of the original harassing email, (maybe fake) and the email server is a phishing site from kiwi farms.

It’s so weird and frustrating and harmful that she hates Zoe Quinn so much and wants to blame her so badly.

Thank you so much for doing an article on this. It’s heartbreaking to see all the fresh abuse aimed at ZQ and Randi from this.

Pandapool -- The Species that Endangers YOU (aka Jackie; currently using they/their, he/his pronouns)
Pandapool -- The Species that Endangers YOU (aka Jackie; currently using they/their, he/his pronouns)
6 years ago

This CAN’T be for real but it seems like a lot of work for a parody or trolling.

Ktoryx
Ktoryx
6 years ago

Oh God this is painful. It’s like a tech startup company that has been founded by a time traveller from the year 1817.

“What is this “doxing” you speak of? It seems to have been invented by some sort of monstrous coven of witches called “GamerGate” headed by a one Zoe Quinn, on what these future people call, “the internet.”

The whole section where she discovers the concept of sock puppets and dogpiling, like she’s Sherlock Holmes and we are all Watson, fascinated by her deductive powers, it would be funny if it weren’t fucked up that she’s targetting poor Zoe Quinn AGAIN.

I mean, jesus, I’m not a tech leader I’m just a marginally informed person with an interest in the topic of online harassment, and even I’m massively embarrassed watching her fumble through “discovering” these concepts. And she’s not smart or informed enough to know why she should be embarrassed. But you think she’d at least have the decency to not call herself “anti-bullying” while she’s piling on abuse to one of the most famous cyber terrorism victims in history.

Paradoxical Intention - Resident Cheeseburger Slut

I remember reading the GamerGhazi thread on this, and someone mentioned that they heard her say that she described her boyfriend as being “[politically] right”, and that he suggested The Ralph Retort as being somehow more reasonable than any of the other journalists that have been commenting on the situation. So, I kinda have a feeling that this boyfriend person might be more in the know than she is.

But that’s just speculation on my part, really.

Though, I’m really going to have to get a bigger filing cabinet for my “Things That Could Have Been Resolved With a Simple Google Search” cases.

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2098/1517274120_0d6340b9ce_o.jpg

dlouwe
6 years ago

@Antisocial Max

Yeah, I knew the crazy was strong when she starting making accusation that Zoe was controlling Gamergate and they were doing her bidding.

Please make sure to read the comments policy, particularly the part about “crazy talk”.

Scott Hamilton
Scott Hamilton
6 years ago

If you read the New York magazine article is sounds like Candace Owens was harassed, but it had nothing to do with social media or even the internet. People were leaving her voice mails. For her to make the jump to somehow cleaning up social media is a bit like me saying I have a plan to destroy government corruption in San Paolo because I once had a really bad meal at a Texas de Brazil.

Owens’ bizarre over-reaction towards Quinn et al. may have been foreshadowed by the fact that when she was pressing her original harassment suit she managed to get arrested for her own (apparently unrelated) harassment charge, according to the local paper.

Ohlmann
Ohlmann
6 years ago

That person seem denser than a neutron star.

I am pretty sure the black matter that physicist search is actually contained in the awful self-confidence of that kind of people.

Scildfreja
Scildfreja
6 years ago

Ms Owens,

Your decision network is overbiased. You need to expand your learning set significantly before you can start trusting your outputs enough to do anything meaningful with them. Take a deep breath, kill your darlings, and start over with a clean network.

(my goodness, talk about augering it into the ground)

Cadence
Cadence
6 years ago

An open letter from Owens that just blows my mind, after reading the things she’s written about Quinn. She’s taking about the bullying she received and how she felt like she was under a spotlight, with everyone making judgments about her without knowing her….

I really wish I could have sympathy for her, but right now I’m just mad about her ignorance.

This doesn’t have quite the same obviousness that most chan ops seem to have, at least to me.

ColeYote
ColeYote
6 years ago

I… am… speechless. Just… what?!

BreadandCirce
BreadandCirce
6 years ago

What a rich pile of secondhand embarrassment this thing is.

And unfortunately, she can’t get out of it. She HAS to double-down. Her blog’s comments section is filled to the brim with GG and GG-adjacent characters, and if she admits she may have been wrong, they will rend her limb from limb. The minute she admits that she got it wrong and that Zoe really IS “patient zero of #GamerGate,” they will leap on her, and they will not relent.

I’m actually kind of scared for her.

BreadandCirce
BreadandCirce
6 years ago

Also, somewhere in that screed is her admission that her “idol” is the often very wrong-headed John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods:

“I am a conscious capitalist. This was a term pegged by John Mackey (my idol) the founder of Whole Foods, and perpetuated by his old college roommate (Jeff Tindell) who just so happens to own the Container Store. Simply put it is the reimagination of capitalism as “a new system for doing business grounded in a more evolved ethical consciousness”. It’s an understanding that “making money” and “doing good”, need’nt exist as exclusives of one another. It is something I was ripe to partake in, most especially after having witnessed firsthand the innerworkings of the world of finance, (although to it, I owe the person that I am today).”

So, yeah. That.

Meanwhile, whatever people she has on her team that let her get to this point without knowing the terms of art should practically be sued for malpractice. (Not an actual suggestion. Just a turn of phrase.)

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