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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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Kale
6 years ago

Owen’s letter goes straight from saying it was wrong to label the boys racist to saying shes gonna create the same situation for others thru doxxing. bizarrely illogical.

Freemage
Freemage
6 years ago

Okay, reading the Open Letter and the associated Connecticut Post article about her, I think we can set aside the idea that this is a ‘chan hoax or some other sort of prank. Speculation of that sort isn’t going to further things at this stage.

She’s just woefully, tragically ignorant. Her notion of ‘cyberbullying’ seems to be limited to people using cell phones to make harassing phone calls and the like.

I do strongly suspect her boyfriend has done a lot of active well-poisoning against Quinn and other GG targets. He may be deliberately trying to steer her into this mess.

Oh, and one of the CtPost’s editorial writers commented here, with a good bit of insight:

http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/John-Breunig-Trolling-the-trolls-or-adding-to-6885169.php

Victorious Parasol
Victorious Parasol
6 years ago

“Clueless,” then.

I know her background is finance rather than IT or social media, but “due diligence” applies no matter how you’re trying to make money, and part of due diligence is making sure you’re checking outside your usual sources.

Sinister Pigeon
Sinister Pigeon
6 years ago

Hello everyone, came out of lurking to comment on this case because it is truly one of the most baffling train-wrecks I have ever seen.

While I agree that insulting her cognitive strength is not the best way I think the word incompetent describes her perfectly. And I think assuming she should have heard of this is not a stretch of privilege as she has mentioned working on this project for months and also spending thousands on research. Assuming she is not lying, I do not know how one could do that and not at least find mention of all the things she was ignorant of.

That is like starting a company to increase prison security and then acting confused and surprised to find out that there is such a thing called “shanking”

Kale
6 years ago

If therea one thing the internet has taught me, its that most ppl have no fucking clue how to properly research and verify information.

Policy of Madness
Policy of Madness
6 years ago

I am super leery of the urge to say that this must be all her boyfriend’s doing and that he is leading her down the shit-brick road like an innocent lamb. She’s a grown-ass woman, not a child, and she isn’t her boyfriend’s sockpuppet. If he’s spinning lies for her, she’s choosing to believe him. There’s no indication that he was the one operating the @socialcoroner Twitter account. That was all her. The total logic fail of “I never heard the word dox before Zoe Quinn used it at me; therefore, everyone who uses this word must be her minion” seems to be entirely of her own devising. Google would have fixed all her problems instantly; I have no reason to think that her boyfriend physically prevented her from using it. That lack of initiative is all on her.

It’s a subtle form of misogyny to think that she’s her boyfriend’s pawn. Let’s not go down that path unless there is a solid reason to think that she is for some reason not responsible for her own actions here. Don’t deny her agency just because she’s using that agency for evil.

nparker
nparker
6 years ago

My goodness. This is odd. And really ignorant. She can’t truly be a real person, surely?

To enter into something she seems to have no knowledge of actually makes me a little angry, but mainly just sad. Id like to say I have sympathy, but I can’t muster even a tiny bit. She’s trying to fight bullying by being a bully.

That’s what she is displaying, by both trying to set up a doxing site and by raging creepily at Zoe, that she is a bully herself, and towards the very people she should be allying herself with as a victim of cybercrime. We need people to help fight this terrorism, but not someone like this.

Imaginary Petal
Imaginary Petal
6 years ago

@PoM

I agree.

Bbz
Bbz
6 years ago

Huh. My degree was in Classics. Then I worked in finance and later moved to tech. This Owens’ words are embarrassing to read. I earnestly hope that this is an elaborate performance. It probably is; no one can appear that stupid by mere accident. I hope.

DMC
DMC
6 years ago

And on what planet is a business plan that effectively includes libel if not extortion, a good idea? Ms. Owens refers to SA as a business but what is the product and who is the theoretical consumer? “You’ve been harrassed? Pay us and we’ll dox the hell out of your harrassers!” No? Cyberbegging? Getting a grant? They’ve been kicked off Kickstarter, so where’s the operating dough coming from? Perhaps they’re fishing to be picked by some reactionary talking shop like the Heritage Foundation or AEI.

chiiillin
chiiillin
6 years ago

Please keep us updated if there is ever any kind of an explanation, David.

Robjec
Robjec
6 years ago

@kale
If you going to start a foundation aimed at Internet harrasment you should have some knolahe or do some research in the feild, so it’s completely fair to call her out on that. :p

kale
kale
6 years ago

Robjec oh I agree. Just saying it isnt that wierd for people to be clueless. what is wierd about it is to be clueless but think youre an expert. Not to pathologize her, bc again you can be arrogant or whatever w/o being ill, but I sorta can relate to her error in judgement bc my actual diagnosed and now treated illness gave me grandiose thoughts of being an expert at shit I knew nothing about in my youth. but I didnt abuse anyone like she has, which reminds me of a line I often use in regards to ableism – its OK to be mentally ill, its not OK to be an asshole whether youre ill or not.

BreadAndCirce
BreadAndCirce
6 years ago

I just realized why Owens’ flip tone and seemingly feigned ignorance mixed with a hardheaded crusader’s spirit is so vexing and frustrating.

It’s Sarah Palin. Palin acts this way, with varying levels of success at getting what she wants. Doubling down on things she doesn’t understand with a level of narcissism that is troubling, as if smacking something with a big rock will, in the end, resemble some kind of carefully crafted win.

Urp.

numerobis
numerobis
6 years ago

kale: “clueless but think youre an expert” is *exactly* Dunning-Kruger.

kale
kale
6 years ago

numb. – didnt know; that is very interesting. its something you commonly observe in four year olds and teenagers. You see it in men who think theyre experts on wimmens… and you see the corralaries of “this thing Ive done forever is easy!” & also the reverse of knowng something so well youre sorta self doubting sbout how much you know…really really interesting… I couldnt tell you how much of my issue was “normal” D-K affect vs classic grandiose delusional thinking or if its the same or had nothing to do with my MI or what… really fascinating… thanks.

katz
6 years ago

There is a particularly bizarre point in her Twitter feed yesterday where she addresses her complete ignorance of Gamergate. She says that at the time it was going on she “was busy thinking about the children that were dying in Syria.” So that settles that.

Then maybe she should have founded a startup to help children in Syria? That being something she, you know, had actually thought about?

Cthulhu's Intern
6 years ago

Is there any inkling of truth in the idea I had that Social Autopsy is a *chan op or is Owens just a huge idiot who has no idea how anything works?

Cadence
Cadence
6 years ago

@DMC
I thought about the whole money angle, too – how was she going to fund this? Was it supposed to make money? I don’t know much of anything about kickstarting charitable organizations or how they’d be set up. It tilts it back to the whole “it’s just a troll” side that there’s no in depth info on their kickstarter about how this database is going to succeed/be financially viable. Just, “give us money and we’ll pay some interns.”

dslucia
dslucia
6 years ago

@whatalineup:

In fairness, using “females” as a noun isn’t exclusive to the manosphere or adjacent communities; my SO doesn’t really hold up the banner of feminism but she’s pretty staunchly anti-anything related to Redpillians and their ilk, and she tends to say “female” when “woman” would fit better. Sometimes society just ingrains negative habits in people.

ryeash
ryeash
6 years ago

Anyone else read her blog post about Kesha? It starts off with an incredibly snarky analysis of her music (because that apparently has everything to do with what happened to her), goes through the typical victim-blaming bulletpoints, then you get to this lovely tidbit:

“I’ve been dating a guy a few months now and we, like the rest of America, were discussing this very predicament last night. He said something that terrified me, and that every woman in the world needs to hear. He said;

“It’s difficult not to be sexist toward women when 9 times out of 10, when situations like this arise, they ‘PMS’. – I’m kidding with that term, but what I mean to say is that they simply fulfill the notion that they aren’t capable of thinking rationally, which is exactly what top-level management, at high corporations are supposed to do. For some reason, women struggle with it”

I want every women who felt angry as they read those words to take a second, and think rationally. Lay down your pitchforks, and really think about the implications of that statement, upon which I could quite possibly pen a novel.

Because he’s right.”

Apparently, writing angry screeds about something she doesn’t understand at all is just her modus operandi. But hey, we should totally take that-guy-she’s-been-seeing-for-a-little-while’s opinion about feminism and women being too emotional. Totally sound source of knowledge! Screw you and your little boyfriend too, you dizzy dipshit.

Also, for the sake of all that’s grammatical, GET AN EDITOR. Her writing is straight painful to slog through.

Brony, Social Justice Cenobite

This is a very unfortunate situation that to me simply underscores the need to take harassment seriously. It seems that Canace Owen was the victim of a harassment campaign that involved the son of a governor. Not only do I believe that she is legitimately trying to do good, but her behavior is consistent with hypervigilance of a kind that victims of abuse can develop. This is a sad situation and frankly I’ll be thinking about how abusers would try to take advantage of it.

weirwoodtreehugger
6 years ago

Ryeash,

So, she’s a FeMRA basically? I’m not surprised at all. It’s just really hard for me to imagine an MRA type being at all capable of running an anti bullying/harassment group. Considering how much of online harassment is sexist men attacking women for being feminist or just perceived as feminist.

Paradoxical Intention - Resident Cheeseburger Slut

Policy of Madness | April 20, 2016 at 6:20 pm
It’s a subtle form of misogyny to think that she’s her boyfriend’s pawn. Let’s not go down that path unless there is a solid reason to think that she is for some reason not responsible for her own actions here. Don’t deny her agency just because she’s using that agency for evil.

I can’t speak for everyone who did mention it, but I personally never implied that he’s doing all the puppeteering, just that he might have had something to do with her going on The Ralph Retort and that he may know more about GG than she obviously does.

She is undoubtedly responsible for what she’s doing now, and no where would I ever suggest otherwise. She could have easily cured her ignorance with a five-minute Google search, and that’s on her, not him, even if she did swallow some bullshit he may or may not have fed her, because she obviously didn’t bother to verify anything he may have said.

However, I could be wrong. It’s happened before and will happen again. And if I am wrong, I’ll fully retract what I said earlier.

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