Coordinated Online Terrorist Attackson February 2nd, 2015
This is one person’s account of a large scale internet attack and the current state of online terrorism in the industry. Trigger warnings for abuse, stalking, violence, rape, misogyny, trauma. This does not reflect the experiences or views of all people who have suffered large-scale internet attacks.
1. Obligatory but reluctantly: Get your security locked down in advance. Follow the advice on the feminist and security blogs. Just a warning though that actually you can put 100s of hours into your life (hours you don’t have) into trying to lock down your shit, but you can only mitigate the threat. It costs tens of thousands of dollars or more to actually lock down every aspect of your life from hacking, invasion, exploitation, revelation, social engineering and stealing, and frankly even if you do all that, it doesn’t work that well anyway. All it takes is that one little narrow window in the web of interlocking and poorly functioning mechanisms that is your digital body. You will do everything you can and you will think you have it together but they WILl find your home address, your phone number, your relationship history, every social media profile you ever had, and that of your entire family. This will happen EVEN IF YOU FOLLOW EVERY “SECURITY” GUIDELINE available on the internet. The more you lock yourself down, personally, the more anyone who has ever been associated with you becomes a target and provides an attack vector. Our personal information is the life blood of the internet and it is fundamentally impossible to secure yourself from an entity that has literally grown to document, publicize and profit from every element of our lives while seeing us as disposable beings unworthy of safety or protection, and robbed (can you be robbed of something you never had) of any autonomy or consent regarding our online privacy.
2. When the attack comes, you think you’re prepared. But there is no way to be prepared. A million times you will think to yourself: I knew this could happen, I’ve seen this happen to others, but I have underestimated the magnitude in every way.
3. Have a bag ready and waiting somewhere you can grab it, in case when this happens you have somewhere to go. When your address goes online and you know they’re coming to get you, you will pack like shit. Like no one in the history of the world has ever packed worse. You’re gonna be in the middle of a massive panic attack and you’re gonna be trying to keep the nausea down and you might need to puke in between throwing your socks in the bag. Every device you own is banging, ringing and vibrating like a hornets nest and some of them are calling to say “I’ll rape you and slit your throat”. In your head you’ll be thinking, “yeah I can pack for this” because part of your head is like WE HAVE THIS WE ARE ADULTS but in reality you are completely incapable of packing in any way that is remotely useful or helpful.
4. Related and broadly: If you can, try to have your emergency exit plan down in advance. Even if you think its unlikely that this will happen to you, you should know a few places you can go to, and you should think about all the many things that could go wrong if you go to them.
5. The fact is that we don’t have, as a community, an organized way of getting people to a safe place or providing any remote guarantee of their security, and when this happens, victims are almost always left alone without safe, confidential and trustworthy infrastructure support. This is catastrophic. Work to improve the tech and gaming industries literally cannot continue when we are unable to keep creators, critiques, publishers, writers, whistle-blowers, artists and activists safe from people who are actually trying to kill them.
6. They will hack all your shit, they will dig up all your “dirt” (aka private life that you are entitled to), they will dig up all your enemies and give them a platform, they will pay your exes to give tell-alls. You will have no privacy left. You will have no sense of safety or of security left and for awhile there will be no self esteem left to have because you literally watch every fragment of your existence held up for punishment, shaming and ridicule. You love yourself more than every supporter and hate yourself more than every abuser. Every 10 minutes your life can get worse and you pray for the 10 minutes before. You may think back on some of the worst moments of your life with fondness and nostalgia. When they start going after your personal life, which they will, it is a unique kind of pain and hell. If you’ve ever been the victim of rape, sexual assault, molestation, domestic/physical violence, etc… things like cyber sexual assault (“revenge porn”), having rape/death threats made against you, and images photoshopped to show you as a victim of physical assault are triggering as fuck. Like on top of everything else you’re reliving a whole bunch of ugly shit in your mind. You take long walks with a past of trauma and the new one hand in hand, constant companions.
7 and 8. They are actually trying to get you killed. Lots of people are going to tell you right away that this is just harmless people looking for some fun who don’t have serious intentions. But actually the goal of these hate groups is to get you killed. And even if that’s not the overall and specific goal of the group, they are inciting hundreds of people to actually murder you, and it only takes one to carry it out. The evidence that they are trying to kill you is that they actually say “we are going to kill you”. Anyone who tells you that your life is not in danger when people are explicitly threatening it, is gaslighting you. People say, “I will come to your house to kill you” and other people will tell you “you don’t need to worry about that.” People say “I am going to kill your fucking family and rape you and kill your pet” and other people say “they’re just blowing off steam offline.” But when someone threatens to kill you your life is in danger. Your life is in danger and you need to act accordingly and anyone who can’t see that needs to get the fuck out of your life right away because they are actually increasing the chances you will die.
9. Most of the targets of extreme online terrorist attacks are also life-long victims of traumatic oppression and violence. This is for a reason. The people who understand what is happening to you and could help are also under constant threat of death, stalking, domestic violence, assault, rape, inprisonment, plagiarism, media abuse and loss of their housing and jobs. They are oppressed, impoverished, criminalized, traumatized, lacking institutional support, and blighted and left behind by every social system. They will do everything they can to help you, and their support will literally mean the world to you, the sun under which you still breathe, but it is impossible to expect groups with no resources and no support, under constant terror to provide a truly effective resistance effort against a multi-billion dollar machine built to take people like you and like them down.
10. Lots of people will tell you that this is being done by random teenagers on the internet living in their parent’s basement. But among the people inciting death silence and violence against you – both as anonymous cowards on hate forums and under their names, in public, without shame or danger of repercussion – are your professional peers, former colleagues, community leaders, event organizers, managers and founders of companies, journalists and venture capitalists. When you become a target you do not have a professional or personal community. You have a dangerous pool of transactional acquaintances who would happily see you fall so they can read about it on Twitter. Your well-being is significantly less important than their banal entertainment. If you have provided any value to their life they will ask you to pay them for it in pain and performance now.
11. The cops do not give a shit. Cops are also not necessarily safe people to call. You can try to call them and talk to them and maybe you should, but most of them don’t know about internet hate mobs, they don’t know about SWATing, and they don’t give a shit about violence against women. Also they’re going to think you’re crazy because you’re like PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET ARE TRYING TO KILL ME and you can literally barely speak through the panic and maybe you are actually mentally ill, its showing hard now, and no one finds mentally ill people to deserve protection. Women in fear and danger have throughout centuries been called crazy and psychotic for speaking up about the threats against them, threats which are made inevitabilities by the blanket refusal to treat them as more than the banshee wailings of damned and disposable women. Also sometimes when you call the cops they do fucked up shit like release your home address and information about where you’re staying to the people who are trying to kill you. They might try to involuntarily hospitalize you. They might actually kill you or kill you later on when you get SWATed even though you tried to tell them about it but they don’t have a protocol for that and no you can’t have a case number. They might demean you and harass you. Literally anything could happen. The cops are not to be trusted. Who the fuck knows what will happen when you call them. This is not advice on whether or not to call the cops. These decisions are incredibly complicated and it all depends on the situation you are in, the information you have and what you want to do.
12. Supposedly the FBI is trying to do something about this but so far they haven’t done shit and I promise you when this happens to you the FBI is not gonna show up to fucking help you. You can sit by your phone forever and the FBI is not going to call, or call back. In the vast surveillance machine that the government and Silicon Valley has built, that is supposed to keep us “safe” , well when the victims are undesirable women, these apparatuses don’t work in any way. The system has not been designed to protect you, it has been designed to squash you, to harvest you, and it has been built to literally ignore all threats against you and throw you into garbage collection – GC which literally doesn’t technically work in any way except when it comes to obliterating the records, lives and testimony of marginalized people. Garbage collection is basically not practiced by any tech company but somehow everything goes missing when it comes to keeping women safe. “Anonymity” is a state that is only granted and protected by tech and government according to capitalist and patriarchal goals and exercise of violence. You will never have anonymity, you are a hyper-visible object with no hope of privacy much less anonymity. They will never use their surveillance mechanisms to find the men who are planning to kill you.
13. Internet hate groups are more organized than literally any mainstream feminist organization, any social media watchdog, any free speech group, any digital platform, and any grassroots organization in existence. You are unlike to receive any help whatsoever from any of these groups. Frankly, if you are lucky you will receive no help and outright silence, which may be better than having them dispense more and more heaps of violence on you as they enact truly depraved forms of “creating awareness” around your story, with no fucks given as to your actual desires, consent, safety and day-to-day needs.
14. There is supposedly a number of loosely organized women in tech and activist groups, but none of them is remotely equipped to face the level of threat and violence that is now occurring against their “community”. Most of the people involved in these organizations have never experienced a large-scale attack and thus are not remotely qualified to help with them. Most of their advice is bad and/or obvious and/or functionally useless and designed to increase their profile as “anti-harassment” activists while they remain safe from harassment via respectability politics and endorsement from Big Tech. “Protecting” women in tech is about to become big business while their actual safety remains irrelevant. It’s easy to sit safe on the sidelines giving “opsec” advice when the people you are getting props for protecting are fleeing their houses and you are nowhere to be found except in blog posts like “use two factor auth”. Thanks, motherfucker. I used two factor auth and they’re still ruining my life. Be warned: the second you are attacked you become one of the only experts available and you are too unwell to help yourself. The Doctor is you and they are not in.
15. The tech media is making millions of dollars covering harassment of women online while they have spent decades building a tech press that excludes, abuses, marginalizes and harasses women in tech. You cannot trust a press establishment that demonstrably does not give a fuck except when it comes to generating ad dollars off the terrorism of women in tech. When you are the victim of an attack, the press comes like vultures. If you talk to them they will distort your story, slander you, and offer no guarantee that they will respect your safety or comfort. Every other line will insinuate how you actually deserved it but isn’t it horrible though. Most articles written about your abuse will result in more harassment and both short and long-term stalkers, some of whom will persist for anywhere from months to years. The media that generated millions of page views off your story will provide no support of any kind as you suffer from their “coverage.” On the other hand, if you don’t talk to them, that becomes part of the overwhelming silence that is orchestrated around whats happening to you. Sometimes you just want people to hear you and sometimes being heard is what you need the most. Any choices you make about engaging with the media are OK, and any way that you feel about it before, during and after is also OK. There is no map and there is no right way.
16. The consumption of female pain is a multi-billion dollar industry spanning multiple disciplines. The number of people interested in consuming, fetishizing, delighting, and profiting from your pain is exponentially higher than that number of people who want you to be safe and happy.
17. You think you have a lot of friends before this happens but holy fuck do people disappear on you, usually 30 minutes to 24 hours in. People who haven’t spoken to you in a year act like they give a shit, like you’ve somehow been “friends”, while in public they feast on the digital remnants of your “story” claiming some special and non-existent tie to you to seem relevant. Everyone wants a part of the “fame” (aka consumption of pain), but no one acknowledges or gives a shit that you’ve being terrorized into silence and literally are unable to respond to any form of attack for fear of your life. Many will seek to distance themselves so that what happened to you will not happen to them – but that won’t protect them.
18. This is your lowest moment and it is this exact moment when everyone with a fucking grunge to hold, someone you argued with, someone you fell out with, they are going to squirm from the fucking wall like maggots for their share and then crawl back in well-fed on the feast while you spend the foreseeable future shrunken and barely functioning. You will literally not have the energy to defend yourself, and after a few days its hard to give a fuck. They come to claim credit for your “success” as they consume it, use it to justify your abuse, and ultimately steal and plagiarize it while they doom your entire history to an account of lies and slander — and that’s as a last resort if they cannot actually succeed in wiping you from the record of your own work and life, which they will try. Though this process, you will be accused of things that you literally never did, and it will be uncritically taken as fact. Slander will be used for your “communities” to absolve themselves of completely abandoning you. You become part of some kind of public punishment and cleansing ritual. No one will seek your comment or response to the inventions, self-serving distortions and lies thrown at you like a deck of cards. The people piling on know for a fact that you are literally on the run from your house, checking behind your back scared someone’s gonna physically hurt you, trying to keep your family safe, and trying to keep your body functioning and any of your normal life functions remotely running. Meanwhile the pundits on the internet are beating a ghost for retweets. Everyone’s waiting for your comment, but you’re dry-heaving in the bathroom with your life collapsing around your head. Congrats on the 100 favs though, you bloodsuckers.
19. “Everyone” knows that online violence against women is an issue. When it happens to you, though, no one will believe you. No specific instance is ever believed. In the whole media-funded and endorsed industry forming around harassment of women, no one will correctly identify an actual instance of online terrorism against women or intervene as it occurs. Online harassment of women is accepted as abstract theory but in specific incidents every possible force in the world comes forth to deny its existence. The ground actually rises to deny specific instances of terrorism against women. It exists, we agree, but it also never happens, we insist. Meanwhile women are disappearing from the public internet by the thousands.
20. What is self-care? Everyone will tell you to do some self-care and to take care of yourself. What is self-care when it isn’t safe to be at your home, when you cannot work, when your family and your colleagues are actually being explicitly hunted and threatened, and when you haven’t slept in 5 nights? What is self-care when you literally can’t eat and you lost 20 pounds in two weeks? What is self-care when they call your dad and tell him they’re gonna kill you and your whole family? Right now maybe all you can do is try to have a self even if you can’t take care of it. Maybe that looks like staring at the fucking wall and drinking an entire bottle of wine and wandering through the good and bad of your life. Chain smoking and all the marijuana California has to offer. Maybe you have health insurance and medical care that remotely gives a shit and you can take benzos from the second you wake up until the second you pass the fuck out. Maybe all the calories you can get is in coffee but hey you’re doing good. Maybe you can’t fucking shower for awhile and maybe you talk to yourself a lot. Maybe you can scream in the fucking shower. Maybe no matter what you do you’re going to be sick as fuck and traumatized as fuck and all you can do is try to keep your body and your heart and your mind remotely operating when all they want to do is give up. No one can work like this. No one can speak out like this. But maybe you will keep working and speaking because that is the only way for you to feel like you aren’t actually disappearing. Are you disappearing?
21. Everyone is pretending like these attacks are a few isolated incidents; “concerning” and pointing to “culture problems”… aka spawn for think pieces by media organizations that do not give a fuck. Many people in the tech and gaming communities right now think they are safe because they think they don’t stick out enough as a target. Actually, these attacks have been going on for years and they are massively increasing in the level of organization, the scope of the attacks, the number of targets, the malevolence of the techniques used, the lack of accountability, the level of financial support available to terrorists, and the apathy exhibited by literally every community, company and industry capable of mounting a real response to this. These hate groups have been evolving exponentially and have been literally practicing their techniques while we have averted our gaze and abandoned their victims.
We are in no way prepared for this, and this is just the beginning.