Self-Defense in an Online War
The following is a soup of resources, links, and advice, so I apologize. Organizing it and providing more narrative structure would be a small novella, at least. Disclaimer: I am not a police officer, nor do I work officially for any government organization. This is not official SFWA information. Everything here is based on my personal knowledge, research, and experience. Use this as a starting point, but do your own research.
Last night, GamerGate released a whole new list of doxxing victims, mostly male journalists with Kotaku and related games review sites. So, yay, congratulations, you aren’t ‘just’ harassing women now, you’re endangering the families of a much larger group of industry professionals. So, basically, at this point, the strategy seems to simply be to make everyone so afraid of the industry that they leave it entirely? I’m not sure that they’ve actually thought that one through…
Additionally, with the adoption of one of SF’s ‘favorite’ little slimebags, the group is starting to prowl toward SF, putting a whole new group of potential targets in their sights.
We’ve hoped that they’d come to reason, or at least understand that, when you’re actually on terrorist watchlists, your ‘ethics’ movement may have gone a bit off the rails, but since the leaders seem to have taken a look at the facts and doubled down into their trenches, it’s long past time to move this to a new playing field across the board.
Sarkeesian and the other women affected have been working with law enforcement and the FBI to prosecute their harassers, but this is something that every victim needs to be doing. Additionally, it’s a good idea for everyone to take a look at their online and offline security, and take a few preventative measures.
A couple of years ago, I was living in Santa Clara when my mailman started stalking me. It started innocently enough, and escalated to the point that he would pursue me along the street in his truck when I was out walking, if I wouldn’t respond to his yells. Finally, he tried my door handle one night, and I called the police before getting out of town to spend a week somewhere safe and get a grip. (I spent the entire week pretty much coming apart. Stalking is one of those things that wears at you so subtly that you don’t know how bad it is until you’re safe.)
The officer I talked to sympathetically told me that they couldn’t take any steps unless he’d physically assaulted me, but gave me some tips on protecting myself.
I’ve also volunteered for the local police department for some years, and the Sargent who did our initial training gave us a lot of tips on personal safety. Some of it is obvious stuff that most women learn at an early age, but some of it is more obscure.
And last, but not least, I have dated several mil/sec guys, and count many military, security, and police personnel among my friends…and I ran my own security team for a major event for some time. Pattern-recognition and hypervigilance are part of my every day life.
So this post is an overview of some definitions of what you may be dealing with, some potential legal resources you may have, and tips on both online and offline safety. Please remember that laws differ everywhere, so you need to research the specifics in your state and county. For instance, in NC, I can open carry a gun without a permit*, but there are still specifics about how that has to be handled. Do your research, and if possible, talk to your local law enforcement about the specifics. Most of them are happy to help you make their job easier.
And, as always, use common sense.
From personal experience, tightening down on your personal safety is exhausting and time-consuming, so plan to take a few hours out of your day to do this, and then go do something nice afterwards. Trust me, it will help.
If you aren’t familiar with what’s going on, here’s what I’ve written over the last couple of weeks.
In North Carolina, threatening anyone with specific violence is a Class 1 Misdemeanor. The punishment can range from fines and community service to jail time. The information below is specifically for NC, but you can use it to educate yourself about your state’s requirements.
The NC definition of a Class 1 Misdemeanor: § 14-277.1. Communicating threats.
(a) A person is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor if without lawful authority:
(1) He willfully threatens to physically injure the person or that person’s child, sibling, spouse, or dependent or willfully threatens to damage the property of another;
(2) The threat is communicated to the other person, orally, in writing, or by any other means;
(3) The threat is made in a manner and under circumstances which would cause a reasonable person to believe that the threat is likely to be carried out; and
(4) The person threatened believes that the threat will be carried out.
(b) A violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor. (1973, c. 1286, s. 11; 1993, c. 539, s. 172; 1994, Ex. Sess., c. 24, s. 14
If you’ve been getting threats online, make an appointment to have an officer come by so you can get some support. At the very least, it’s a good idea for them to know what’s going on, because…
“SWATting is when a rabblerouser, equipped with your home address, calls your local jurisdiction, tells them there’s a bomb threat or meth lab at your home, and encourages militarized police, guns and all, to kick your door in. (A lot of dogs and babies have been shot in this way.)”
More information on what it is, and how to handle it, from one of the journalists at risk: SWATting
The FBI’s definition of domestic terrorism might give you an idea of how far this whole thing has gone.
“Domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:
Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.
For more information or to submit a tip, go to their site. As a reminder, submitting baseless accusations is also illegal. This is for victims only, and make sure you’re backing up your information.
Spokeo is a particularly nasty information aggregator. Most infuriating, they block take-down attempts after a while, so when you start on your info, start with most recent listings first, and move IPs if possible, if you’re being blocked and still have info up.
If you have a WordPress Site: WordPress Security
2-step authentication is a pain to set up, but it will give you a LOT of protection: 2-Step Authentication for Smart Phones
2-Step Authentication Assistance
Facebook security (a couple of people have had their accounts taken over): FB Privacy Tips
Cutting down on online tracking: Stop Tracking Me!
And as a reminder: screenshot everything. Archive nasty emails, but download them, too, with as much identifying information as possible. Have backups offline–backup drives or flash drives–and if you’re really at risk, make sure someone else has a copy of it, too. Paranoid? Maybe, but right now, it’s a good idea to dot every i and cross every t.
If you’re filing a report with the police, take print-outs of the nastiest stuff with you. Let them know that you’re gathering information and will provide any assistance you can.
I wish to god this wasn’t necessary, but. Even if GG isn’t personally organizing attacks, if you get doxxed, your information is now available to *everyone*. Especially if you have kids, you need to be a little extra careful.
Recording phone calls is one of those gray areas that you really should check with your local police about. Explain the situation to them carefully, and ask what you can do to protect yourself on both sides.
Federal law states that, for recording to be legal, one participating party must be aware of the recording, meaning that you can record the conversation, but it cannot legally be recorded by a third party. Again, check with your local authorities to check local laws.
Tips and software to record calls across a range of devices.
Having a recording app on your phone is also a good idea if you’re worried about being harassed at conventions or in public.
Make sure that you aren’t leaving bills or identifying information visible in your car. Nothing with your address on it.
If you’ve already been doxxed, talk to your employer (if you feel safe doing so) and warn them about what is going on. Make sure they hear it from you first, if possible.
If you have kids, talk to their teachers/caretakers, but talk to your kids and family, too. A lot of the more nasty harassers are going after family members rather than main targets.
In short, be aware of your surroundings, and get a little overzealous with archiving the data. It’s tempting to delete something awful and walk away, but this isn’t going away. Our best bet is to minimize actual engagement as much as possible and start making sure that the authorities realize how wide-spread this is.
And, lastly, if you work for a geek company that’s worried about the safety of their employees, or about potential boycotts/bad PR, A.) point them at this post, but B.) feel free to have them email me at jaym gates pr at gmail. Until this goes away, I’m offering my time to help people and companies get through this with as little damage as possible.
Geek culture is becoming a juggernaut, and we’ll get through this, I promise. Oh, and one more thing–if you’re being targeted, take time offline. Go out to dinner with your phone off, or have someone keep an eye on your notifications for you so that you can work/rest without a constant flood of hatred.
If you have more resources, please post them below.
**Edited** A friend pointed out this excellent advice on passwords and protection from hacking.
*Our current handler at the PD was running through information for new folks, and mentioned her regular practice and military history. A couple of the guys pulled the “haha, we could school you”, and she laughed in their faces and pretty much shut them up on the spot. It was a heartwarming moment.