The FBI has released documents detailing its inconclusive investigation into threats made by online gamers against several women that started in 2014, particularly media critic Anita Sarkeesian and game developer Brianna Wu.
The incident, known as Gamergate – a reference to the Twitter hashtag used by some of the women's harassers – continued into 2015. But it's difficult to declare an end to an ongoing problem: the legal, technical, political, and social conditions that permit anonymous trolling with minimal risk remain.
In August 2014, some gamers targeted game developer Zoë Quinn, along with Wu and Sarkeesian, with threats and harassment through chat and social media channels.
In October 2014, following threats of violence, Sarkeesian cancelled a planned speech at Utah State University because, she said at the time, the security measures were inadequate. Under state law, campus police could not prevent people with concealed weapons from attending the event.
Various forms of harassment and threats continued for the next year or so in a culture war that has been widely documented – and can still be seen in the results of the 2016 president election – as a populist response by those aggrieved by "political correctness."
The documents include an email message that threatens a "Montreal Massacre style attack" on attendees of a Utah State University event, presumably Sarkeesian's, because "Feminists ruined my life and I will have my revenge..."
But there's very little of substance in the 179 pages, as is typical with redacted documents. An Indiana State Police report describes an interview with a juvenile who admitted to making 40 or 50 threats.
"He sometimes just harasses her and tries to get on her nerves," the officer's report says, noting that the juvenile said he would stop doing so and apologized.
The FBI sought information about those making online threats from Google and Microsoft, and used Palantir's platform to analyze the results of subpoenaed Twitter account information. The FBI investigation produced no arrests, though some of those involved have been arrested for involvement in other incidents.
As a result, Wu is running for Congress in the 8th District of Massachusetts in 2018.
In a phone interview and other correspondence with The Register, Wu expressed frustration that only a fraction of the Gamergate information provided to law enforcement agencies was ever investigated.
Wu said for a time she had to step back from following the investigation because she was getting so many death threats and rape threats on a daily basis.
But now, Wu wants to address privacy and cybersecurity issues in a political context.
"The reason I am running for Congress is because ... we did everything right and the system still failed," she said. "Asking people to do the right thing is not working. So we need to step up and run for office ourselves." ®