Two months ago, the now-infamous internet movement #GamerGate was reaching its peak of effectiveness. In the beginning of October, the group convinced Intel to remove display ads from the gaming site Gamasutra; at the end of the month, the group waged an "anti-bullying" troll war against Gawker Media that ended in a humiliating editorial clarification by Gawker's then-editorial director, Joel Johnson, that the company did not condone bullying.
It was at this triumphant moment for #GamerGate that writer Adrian Chen accompanied posters from 8chan, which he called "the main staging ground for supporters of the Gamergate movement," to a party at a strip club in Queens. The article was accompanied by a photo of revelers — smiling broadly and holding drinks — crowded into the apartment of 8chan's founder, Fredrick Brennan. Though the digital flock has since moved to graze on other, more serious outrages, six weeks ago this picture might as well have been subtitled "the center of the internet."
Today, /gg, the 8chan subforum that served as the pulsing core of #GamerGate, is in shambles. A scroll through the board's 15 pages reveals a pestilent slurry of words and images, the components of which will be familiar to anyone who has spent time perusing 8chan's more famous cousin 4chan. To wit: hardcore pornography, Japanese hardcore animated pornography, My Little Pony pornography, 9/11 image macros, images of Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, words typed over again and again, things intensifying, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, rage comics, and pictures of poop.
Amid it all, there is hardly a single mention of ethics in game journalism, or social justice warriors, or any of the familiar concerns of #GamerGate. In fact, if there are mentions, they're in jest: /gg's tagline is now "Actually, it's about desu in desu journalism desu," a troll-language mockery of the #GamerGate cri de coeur.
So what happened? How did the bastion of #GamerGate fall apart so fast?
As you might expect given the real estate, it's complicated.
According to multiple posts on Reddit and 8chan, the story goes like this: The original creator and head moderator of /gg, who goes by the handle Niko of Death, assigned moderator privileges to a member of GNAA, the internet's most ignominious troll group. Seeing this, Brennan, the 8chan creator, thought that Niko of Death had been hacked, and gave moderator privileges to the #GamerGate regulars responsible for the movement's greatest victories.
Only it turned out that Niko of Death hadn't been hacked, and he asked for his board back. Days ago, Brennan (who runs the 8chan Twitter account), gave it back to him:
And, cue the GIFs of ejaculation and caricatures of the Elders of Zion. The second post on /gg currenly, written by Niko, reads, "Until further notice doxing, raiding, etc."—in other words, all of the verboten online activity that #GamerGate strains to distance itself from—"are allowed on /gg/ That is all".
In response to the destruction of their board, GamerGaters started a new 8chan board, /gamergate; it quickly rose to become the second most popular board on the site (/gg has plummeted to No. 8). To many GamerGaters, that's proof that their movement works, and that the core of supporters who care only about a benighted gaming culture and the social justice warriors who oppose them remains strong. (And of course, there are other online spaces where GamerGate gathers.)
That's one way to look at it. Another way is to marvel at the shocking speed and finality with which GamerGate was expunged from its citadel and conclude that the movement, which still has no centralized leadership, is essentially rootless and nomadic, and is as susceptible as the rest of us, if not more so, to the putrid tides of the internet.
Joe Bernstein is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Bernstein reports on and writes about the gaming industry and web culture.
Contact Joseph Bernstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.