By Jessy Nations
Our legal system was not designed with the internet in mind. The framers of the Constitution never thought that nude photos of themselves or anyone else would be published world-wide without their consent. They never even imagined being photographed. So when a mob of rabid misogynists harassed and threatened Zoe Quinn on social media, it should not be surprising that the legal system couldn’t protect her. If anything, seeking legal remedies for a relentless stream of graphic death and rape threats made matters worse for Ms. Quinn. Our legal system is much less about protection and more about punishment. Ms. Quinn is the target of the #Gamergate movement. This began after her ex-boyfriend used the internet (through platforms like reddit and 4chan) to allege that Ms. Quinn slept with a journalist in exchange for a positive review of her game entitled Depression Quest. Despite the fact that this review was never actually written, the response was swift, violent, and unrelenting. Because a game developer was accused of sleeping with a journalist for a positive review, people all over the world sent Ms. Quinn death threats, rape threats, published her personal information, and harassed her friends and family for two years; and this harassment is still ongoing.
To anyone who thinks this is “just the internet” and that Ms. Quinn was being too sensitive, you should know that the evidence for her harassment suit included a one foot tall stack of photos of her that anonymous people had printed out, ejaculated on and mailed to her family. Yes, they knew her family’s address. After two years of these threats, she decided to drop her lawsuit against her abuser.
In an attempt to stop this harassment, the Massachusetts trial court granted Ms. Quinn a restraining order to keep her abuser, Eron Gjoni, from posting “any further information about the [plaintiff] or her personal life online or to encourage “hate mobs.” But, the restraining order did not stop the online harassment from other individuals. The harassment only intensified. When Gjoni decided to appeal the order, Ms. Quinn had had enough. She requested that the order be vacated and she walked away from the case. Despite the fact that the issue is now moot, Gjoni insists on going through with the appeal. As of today, the case is still pending further argument.
As a law student and a gamer, I was distressed to find out that Ms. Quinn had dropped her case. Frankly, I don’t blame her. Every step she took to against her attackers made things worse for her, for her friends, and for her family. The harassment and the negative atmosphere of “victim blaming,” caused her further harm and all the court could say was: “How did this get in here? I’m not good at computers.”
I am not certain how the law could have helped her. Despite more states passing anti cyber-harassment statutes, the number of actors in cases like this makes it nearly impossible to provide plaintiffs with an adequate remedy. Until lawmakers, judges, and attorneys start taking online harassment seriously, these “hate mobs” will remain above the law.
Things may have gone differently had her case been handled better. While I’m not certain what the initial complaint was for, Ms. Quinn’s attorneys could have made a libel or “false light” case. Had they been able to find whoever leaked her personal information, she could have brought an invasion of privacy claim. But, this would have only gotten Ms. Quinn money damages. She did not want to punish Gjoni and she didn’t want his money. She merely wanted the harassment to stop, which the law is apparently unequipped for. Had the trial judge worded the restraining order differently then maybe she would have a strong enough case to push through the appeal.
“This is not a battle worth fighting,” Quinn has said. There are simply too many harassers, the plaintiff is exhausted, and top legal scholars like Eugene Volokh have filed amicus briefs against her. Couple that with the fact that the sheer number of harassers is simply “too much for the system to bear” and it makes perfect sense for Quinn to stop fighting this in court.
Image source: Seattle Times.