Chat Logs Expose Crash Override Network as Online Bullies

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By Ian Miles Cheong | 1:09 pm, August 26, 2016

Harassment is rife on social media. Users are allegedly targeted for no reason other than their gender or the color of their skin and the only response by these platforms is to ban users who violate their code of conduct. More often than not, users simply engage in online arguments with each other based on their political views.

In the months after the GamerGate movement arose, Zoe Quinn founded Crash Override Network, or CON. Her alleged infidelity was the catalyst for the now infamous hashtag. The organization was set up to fight online abuse—purporting to deal with the harassment of women and minorities in the game industry on social media. In case you’re wondering, the name was inspired by the cult ‘90s movie Hackers.

In response to criticism of its platform, Twitter established a “Trust and Safety Council” to make the platform a less hostile place for users. The council is supposed to prevent abuse, harassment, and bullying. Among the select organizations to become a part of the council, Feminist Frequency was listed as an inaugural member. It’s no secret that Feminist Frequency now sponsors Crash Override Network.

If you ask any of CON’s members (assuming they choose to speak), they’ll tell you they joined the group to fight what they saw as the abuse of vulnerable individuals on social media. This is only partially factual. In truth, CON started as a Skype chat and morphed into a Slack channel where members gossiped about people they disliked on Twitter and targeted supporters of the Gamergate movement. I would know, because I was one of them.

Chat logs originating from a Skype group chat prior to the creation of the secure channel were recently leaked by YouTube personality BroTeamPill in a livestream and reveal much of what actually went on behind the scenes. I’m inclined to write about what transpired if only to set the record straight and give context to CON as an organization.

Among the topics itemized under “online abuse” on the official Crash Override Network site, doxing—or the circulation of private information—is listed. Yet the leaked chat logs clearly show members expressing their disapproval of how Randi Harper, who was also a member of CON, was doxing people on Facebook. A week later, members of the organization cheered her on and discussed plans for how to destroy their targets’ careers. A few moments later, two members talked about filing police reports on an individual accused of doxing a member of the group.

To save face and to protect the integrity of the flock, Harper informed the group that another member intended to publicly denounce her “so we don’t all get painted with the same doxxer brush.” It should be noted that Harper, the creator of the “GGAutoblocker,” maintains a personal Twitter blocklist for supposed harassers —many of whom are simply on the list for simply disagreeing with her. The blocklist is endorsed and used by thousands of users—including celebrities and journalists—who are mislead into thinking that it helps them avoid abuse. Harper has been criticized by self-described “social justice warriors” for including many transgender persons on the list.

Katherine Cross, the secretary of Feminist Frequency and columnist at games industry website Gamasutra, praised Harper’s actions.

“I really don’t have much sympathy for GG here. The Facebook rooms were public. Although I might’ve opposed this still if I didn’t know Randi’s deeper motives here– sometimes the only way to confront the storm is to redirect it,” she wrote.

Beyond doxing and expecting the mob to publicly shame outed individuals, the group went a step further and discussed contacting employers to get people fired. This included silencing a member of the armed forces and Purple Heart recipient for his views supporting Gamergate by contacting his superior officer. The group also targeted Google employee Justine Tunney, who was both a vocal supporter of Occupy Wall Street and GamerGate. There was no shortage of threats to sue anyone who supported GamerGate into financial oblivion.

The group as a whole often served as a hammer wielded by its participants and engaged in petty disputes with individuals on social media. It made a concerted effort to attack and defame game developer Brad Wardell because of a personal beef Zoe Quinn had with him. There was much discussion surrounding prominent consumer advocate and YouTube personality John “TotalBiscuit” Bain, with unkind remarks about his health and chemotherapy treatment. Both individuals had expressed support for GamerGate.

Other YouTubers like the popular atheist commentators Sargon of Akkad and Thunderf00t and media critic MundaneMatt, also were subjects of discussion because of CON member Rob Marmolejo’s personal beef with them. Marmolejo was recently exposed as a sex pest after it was revealed that the organization may have enabled his sexual harassment of women online. According to public statements by Israel Galvez, another CON member, over 20 women have come forward with allegations about Marmolejo.

The group believed that it carried more clout than other Twitter users because of its “SJW powers,” and members requested that Randi Harper escalate reports they’d made about GamerGate supporters to hasten suspensions. It went well beyond simply getting people banned from Twitter—the group made an active effort to hurt their opponents’ wallets, and they usually did so by going after their Patreon accounts. Individuals like 8chan site owner Fredrick Brennan and lawyer/blogger Mike Cernovich were on the receiving end of their actions. Additionally, members of CON conspired to sabotage the charity stream of feminist charity The Fine Young Capitalists, which needed funds to develop an independent video game. The Toronto-based organization had past history with Zoe Quinn. For its part, TFYC has since released their first game, Afterlife Empire, on Steam in 2015.

Intent on painting GamerGate as a “hate movement,” members of CON looked for every opportunity to pin the blame on GamerGate for anything that might make its supporters look bad. The group discussed highlighting transphobes within GamerGate to blame them for the suicides of transgender women. Despite a lack of evidence that the suicides had anything to do with GamerGate, CON members rationalized that trolls who participated in “Operation Trans Genocide” from 4chan’s /pol/ board were undoubtedly affiliated to the movement. A CON member wrote a Tumblr post on the matter, blaming GamerGate for everything awful under the sun, and countless tweets made during that time attempted to tie both subjects together.

Interestingly, members of CON can be seen admitting that some of the harassment, trolling and death threats attributed to GamerGate are not even from the movement’s supporters. After the 2015 Paris terror attack, and long after I was no longer a member, GamerGate was blamed for portraying CON member Veerender Jubbal as a wanted terrorist with a photoshopped image.

GamerGate supporters have long suspected that collusion between the press and individuals opposed to the movement was at play. It may sound like a tinfoil hat conspiracy at first glance, but the chat logs reveal that Crash Override Network had ties to games journalist websites like Polygon. Despite the group’s relationship with the media, Zoe Quinn expressed disdain for a Boston Magazine reporter who asked her difficult questions, and attempted to suppress the publication of his story.

In light of the leaked chat logs, people are right to be skeptical about “anti-harassment” groups like Crash Override Network and ask what business Feminist Frequency has financially supporting an organization that actively partakes in doxing, hacking, and trolling. With zero accountability, its members, like Rob Marmolejo and Randi Harper, may never face the consequences of their actions.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken game critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.