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It's a great day on the internet; a day in which online harassment has been put in its place by the brand, spanking new Crash Override Network. All one has to do to get their support is sell out logically, intellectually, ideologically, and philosophically to a select few of the internet's most underhanded characters.
To garner the attention of Crash Override, first one must be a victim of online harassment. Fortunately for the logically deficient or willfully ignorant, there's a ready made tool to turn absolutely anyone into a victim. The tool for the average person to call anything they don't like harassment is called “death of the author”.
“Death of the author” is nonsensical fop in which it is asserted that the context surrounding a piece of writing as well as the background of the author is irrelevant when weighed against how a piece of writing is interpreted by the reader. In the hands of the anti-free-speech crowd, it’s the BFG 9000: any text, song, video, video game, or spoken word that violates the fragile little psychological construct of the reader (usually Special Snowflake Syndrome) is automatically labeled harassment or “problematic”. "Death of the author" is a key philosophical component to the Crash Override Network.
I Was Zero CoolWhen I first saw the phrase Crash Override show up on Twitter a few days ago, I thought it was an attempt to make a sequel to 1995s fantasy computer nerd movie Hackers where the only returning actor was Johnny Lee Miller. Eagerly anticipating the posters for Crash Override: The Search for More Money, I started investigating, and boy was I wrong.
Only to a point, though. The internet version of Crash Override is a search for lots of money. Sadly, it has nothing to do with Hackers. As advertised, Crash Override Network is a “support network and assistance group for victims of online harassment, composed entirely of experienced survivors”. According to them, they “assist and support victims of online harassment” both in the moment and in an ongoing fashion (the money is in the medicine), and they “seek to prevent victims from ever needing us in the first place”. Taken at face value, Crash Override looks like it should be a great thing to help those who are suffering from the onslaught of harassment. The devil, as they say, is in the details.
Who Gets Help?Gaming Editor at Badass Digest Andrew Todd had his personal information posted on 8Chan. He wrote about it on January 17, 2015. For the time being, leave all the intuitive leaps attempting to tie an anonymous message board with a Twitter hashtag out of the discussion. I’m happy Crash Override Network was there to provide Mr. Todd the advice and support he needed when he needed it. To be perfectly blunt, all political slap fighting aside, no one deserves that kind of treatment. I, for one, wish Andrew Todd all the best in the days to come, and I sincerely hope he can recover from the incident to return to normal life ASAP.
Sadly, application of the “death of the author” fallacy means those last words will most likely ring hollow, but for what it’s worth, I mean every word.
The Andrew Todd case is a great one for the public at large, as interested observers can get some insight as to what kind of harassment and how much attracts the attention of Crash Override. I know an online personality who has suffered online harassment consistently not for days or weeks or months, but for years. If a single incident of personal information being posted to an anonymous message board triggers Crash Override to swing into action, surely a person suffering ongoing harassment for years would be a candidate for the network’s support.
As I’ve mentioned before in disclaimers on TechRaptor, Total Biscuit and I were colleagues at shoutcasting website WoW Radio from October 2006, through February, 2010. WoW Radio closed in February, 2010, and TB went on to found Cynical Brit, and focus his efforts on e-sports. TB has received harassment of nearly every variety since I’ve known him. In an email conversation with me, he characterized the harassment he’s received recently:
Over the past year we have received death threats in the triple figures and that's just by email. Not a day goes by when someone isn’t trying to attack us for something, in fact the harassment seems to have increased since the cancer diagnosis, though that could be a correlation fallacy.Online death threats numbering in the triple figures aimed at person diagnosed with cancer sounds exactly like the type of person Crash Override would want to at least contact to provide support to. I asked TB if he’d been contacted by Crash Override Network:
No they have made no effort to contact me.A strange turn of events, don’t you think? I can’t imagine the leadership at Crash Override are trying to send a message that one person’s harassment is more serious or more debilitating than another’s, especially when one is recovering from a potential life threatening medical condition. According to Alex Lifschitz, the Crash Override leadership is picking and choosing which cases they take:
We will be assisting people in being able to take care of themselves while putting active priority on very particular cases of relentless and dangerous harassment that we have pre-vetted, while continuing to alert and assist new targets. We’re remaining as adaptable as the situations we encounter.I sent an email to Crash Override asking for details about the pre-vetting process Alex Lifschitz mentioned above, and as of the time of posting, I have not received a response. Total Biscuit's case seems like it would more than qualify, but somehow, it hasn't.
There has to be something that separates TB and Andrew Todd. I think I know what the difference is. TB is a consumer advocate, and has spoken out against corrupt media; Andrew Todd is a “GamerGate = 8Chan and 8Chan = the devil thus GamerGate = the devil” false narrative peddling muppet.
Ah, So Crash Override is Just a WeaponSuddenly, the purpose of Crash Override makes sense. Andrew hates 8Chan; Zoe and Alex hate 8Chan; therefore, Andrew is “worthy” of getting support from Crash Override. TB supports gamers and consumers; therefore TB is not “worthy” of the network’s support. If one wants the support of the network, one will preach the orthodoxy; anything other than total subjugation to the "GamerGate = 8Chan = hate group" narrative and Crash Override Network is going to leave you out in the cold to fend for yourself. I have outlined a case study which demonstrates the network's ideological favoritism.
Fortunately, TB isn't necessarily looking for support. I asked him if he feels he is a "survivor" of online harassment, since he more than qualifies based on how Crash Override defines survivor:
I don't call myself a "survivor" because that's insulting to people who have actually survived things like wars, domestic abuse, rape, child abuse and more besides. I am a rich guy living in a first world country. Let's keep the term "survivor" for people that deserve it and should be receiving our help and not bandy the word around as if it's some sort of fashion accessory. Surviving mean tweets is not difficult. It sucks that it's happening and something should be done but attempting to create support groups on the internet or "policing" harassment is a completely ineffective way to go about it. We should be harnessing the ingenuity of technology to help deal with this issue and attempting to dispel online tribalism through our[sic] actions and promotion of positive industry endeavour.22 "news" outlets trumpeted nearly identical narratives about Crash Override Network, and since none of them had the presence of mind or the presence of spine to ask the important questions, I will. How long before the story of a victim of online harassment Crash Override has knowingly denied service to ends in tragedy? If someone denied service does the unthinkable, isn't Crash Override just as responsible for causing the tragedy by denying that person support as the harassers are? Are we really going to celebrate a "support network" wielded as a weapon to mug anyone ideologically different from the network's founders?
An Aptly Named ServiceCrash Override Network (CON) has an apt acronym, for it is an all mouth, no trousers con. The number of dupes is staggering: 20+ news outlets, 6400 followers on Twitter, and 850 Patreon supporters. At this rate, the race for who is the 21st century's P.T. Barnum will be up for grabs by the end of 2015. Potential customers will trumpet the narrative or be dumped at the side of the road, as dupe after dupe after dupe after dupe lines up to drink the kool-aid without seeing if the emperor and empress have no clothes. It's as if we're supposed to just trust wolves in sheep's clothing who burn books and make false DMCA claims at their word. Not me.
So Let's Solve the ProblemAll that said, there are some pretty major problems with the internet and how people interact with each other. People falsely advertise constantly: in their Twitter profile pic glamour shots, as game developers, in the mission of their "anti-harassment network", in "news" articles that are really paid commentary. People take advantage of the anonymity the internet provides to say things they'd never say in front of another person. Technology companies, governments, and law enforcement are slow to react to technology that's evolving at an ever increasing rate.
So how do we fix it? TB has some suggestions:
What I want are more tools to let me filter who gets access to me. Twitter is so ridiculously open and easy to abuse. Why can't I filter whose replies I see based on account age so that brand new egg accounts can't be used to troll me? Why can't I set a minimum number of tweets or whatever before I see someones @replies? Why can't I remove people from my reply feed? Even blocking someone allows the comment to show up for others and that gives a vector for trolls to antagonize my audience. Twitter is a massive vector for abuse and has done a piss-poor job using technology to help individuals handle it. All of its efforts have been ill-conceived, WAM being the latest example of giving super powers to a tiny group of agenda driven individuals which resulted inevitably in abuse and false flagging.I've long been a proponent of removing anonymity from most of the internet, though I do see the value in a person being judged solely on the strength of their argument, and not what socio-politico-economic group they belong to. I'm not sure I have a complete answer to any issue regarding internet harassment.
This I do know: putting a band-aid on the symptoms caused by a free and open internet solves nothing, and letting bitter, partisan people guide the discussion for fixing the problem threatens to remove the internet's greatest attribute: a place where free exchange of ideas happens. That, I'm afraid, I cannot abide.