The Fight to Escape “A World of Anonymous Abuse”

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In a conversation with media critic and Feminist Frequency founder Anita Sarkeesian at Marie Claire, indie game developer and anti-abuse activist Zoë Quinn had this to say about stopping online harassment: “A big barrier to people getting help with online harassment is the general attitude either that it’s not a real issue—that it’s ‘only’ online—or that it’s limited to someone saying they don’t like you, and all of that stems from a basic misunderstanding of what we mean when we say ‘online harassment.’ I constantly hear from people who, before hearing my story, say they had no idea it was so bad or could consume someone’s entire life and future.”

Quinn, who suffered and survived the full wrath of the GamerGate mob, is right: Somehow, the prefix “cyber” minimizes the perceived impact of abuse, which is utterly misleading. It’s obvious the harassment Courtney Allen and her family experienced was anything but isolated to the web. It may’ve spawned there, but it transitioned unquestionably to IRL. Perhaps most horrifying of all, it doesn’t seem like it’s over. At Wired, Brooke Jarvis reports.

Courtney decided to ease Zonis out of her life. Her messages to him became short, bland, and infrequent, but still she received long, aggressive responses. Finally she began demanding to be left alone, then stopped responding at all. But emails and calls continued, as many as 20 in a single day; even Courtney’s mother was getting calls. Zonis said later that he was calling the Allens to get an apology, something that he could show to his parents. One email from his personal account said that the sender had just been in the Allens’ city —“VERY nice place”—and promised a visit to the area again soon. (Zonis denies writing the message.) There were also voicemails: “I will burn myself to the ground to get him. I told you, you’re going to lose him one way or the other.”

Emails arrived from other accounts too: Courtneythe­whore­sblog­@blogspot.com, Courtney­CallMe69@aol.com, CourtneysGotNoPrinciples@LyingCunt.com, ItsHOWsmall@babydick.com, urtheproblem@outlook.com, Youareaselfishcocksucker@noone­willeverreallyloveyou.com. There were dozens of others.

Some messages to the Allens’ neighbors and coworkers came from what appeared to be Steven’s email. Courtney’s boss got emails from “Steven” with subject lines such as “My Slut wife Courtney” and “Courtney is not who she seems to be.” One night, as Courtney worked on a sudoku puzzle in bed, she received an email that looked as if it had come from her husband, who was next to her reading a book. The next night, Steven’s cell phone dinged on the nightstand with a new email. He picked it up and turned to Courtney. “Apparently you hate me,” he said.

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