By Nathalie Collida
With research contributions from tarantino, James P. Persica, and Eric Barbour
Between what has become known as GamerGate and the Apple iCloud incident, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Internet has declared a full-on war on women’s privacy. Over 100 female celebrities have had their iCloud accounts hacked and personal, mostly nude photographs of themselves published on 4chan and Reddit. Video game developer Zoe Quinn endured a vituperative online harassment campaign from men’s rights advocates after her ex-boyfriend publicly accused her of infidelity – including, and, as it turned out, wrongly, of having had an affair with a journalist to ensure favorable coverage of her interactive fiction game, Depression Quest. In addition to being unfairly accused of corruption and called all kinds of names, both on the Internet and through anonymous phone calls, Quinn found her address revealed on Reddit together with illegally obtained nude photographs of herself.
Feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian recently went into hiding, after her latest series of videos analyzing how women are used as background decoration in video games resulted in death threats against her and her parents and the publication of their home addresses on twitter. Since launching her Tropes vs. Women project in 2012, Sarkeesian has become a popular target for misogynists. Attacks on the critic by men’s rights advocates and Internet trolls included graphic threats of rape as well as a crudely-made video game in which players scored points for punching Sarkeesian in the face. Following the latest Twitter onslaught, a slew of Angry Men on the Internet were predictably quick to suggest that she may have made up the death threats to garner sympathy and donations. Two men’s rights activists are now asking you to part with your hard-earned cash to help fund a documentary on Sarkeesian and her perceived transgressions against the straight white males of the gamer community.
A little knowledge …
How does Wikipedia factor into this? The site is prime real estate for activists of all persuasions, and gamers and men’s rights advocates, like many others, have been trying to influence its contents from the beginning. Sarkeesian’s Wikipedia biography was infamously vandalized after she started her online funding campaign for Tropes vs. Women, and has since been fought over by men’s rights advocates and feminists alike. To this day, the article and its discussion page focus prominently on the harassment she and her supporters continue to receive.
It comes as no surprise that Zoe Quinn’s Wikipedia biography has received an equal amount of negative attention. The issue: should a trumped-up non-scandal relating to someone’s very private life be included in their article? Should the harassment of Quinn kicked off by the actions of a vengeful, narcissistic ex-boyfriend be perpetuated on a site that currently comes up as the first google hit for her name? Should Wikipedia be used to shame Quinn through quoting selective online sources? For a few weeks, it looked like Wikipedia video game aficionado Woodroar and administrators like Mr. Stradivarius and Black Kite had been successful in keeping Quinn’s article free from mentions of the attempts at ruining her professional and personal reputation. Sadly, they did not prevail. Quinn’s biography now features a section devoted to the incident, and attempts have been made at including a section titled Accusations of personal and professional misconduct.
The talk page for Quinn’s article tells a long but incomplete story of the sustained battle between men’s rights activists and editors striving for neutrality. Some of the comments posted there were deemed so biased and intrusive that they were subsequently oversighted, which, in Wikipedia parlance, means that they are no longer viewable in the site’s public archives.
Most of the main advocates for depriving Quinn and other notable women of their right to privacy have a history of tendentious editing on Wikipedia and excel at gaming the site’s myriad – and in some instances contradictory – policies, which they can quote in their sleep. As you will see, they are an interesting bunch indeed. And by interesting, we mean that a screenwriter would have a hard time coming up with a selection of equally colorful characters.
Boys will be girls – Watching the watcher
One of the anonymous Wikipedians who argued most vociferously for the inclusion of Quinn’s harassment in her Wikipedia biography and finally managed to do so at the end of August uses the handle Tutelary. That was not the first nickname this person went by on the encyclopedia. Until April 14, 2014, their pseudonym was Ging287, a nym they still use on Reddit. Five months after first appearing on Wikipedia, this user very briefly claimed a transgender identity before adopting a female online persona they named Danielle. Tutelary has been most active on the article talk pages for Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, with 70 and 58 contributions respectively. Other areas of interest include the frequently vandalized article about radical feminism, the 2014 Isla Vista killings, and the men’s rights movement. This Wikipedian can be quite subtle when masking their bias in article talk page discussions, and until you look at the bulk of their contributions in context, you may come away with the impression that this is indeed a woman or a transwoman writing from an anti-feminist perspective.
However, we have found written and photographic evidence which suggests that Tutelary/Ging287 is in fact a young man attending a high school in rural Michigan, although our standards of publishing prevent us from releasing certain personally identifying information about potentially underage persons. Suffice it to say that having first identified as transgender and now as a woman, Tutelary/Ging287’s gender is unclear. Pretending to be a woman on a site where women and transwomen constitute a tiny minority has been used successfully in the past by various sociopathic male participants including Robert Clark Young aka Qworty, a small-time American novelist and full-time Wikipedia contributor mostly known for defacing the biographies of his perceived literary enemies on Wikipedia. Other male editors have displayed a more benign but no less pathological urge to masquerade as members of the opposite sex.
And while Tutelary/Ging287 is a member of a Wikipedia task force aimed at countering the encyclopedia’s bias against women, and has repeatedly emphasized that they are giving their opinion as a woman, their activity on the site as well as their overall Internet footprint suggest a misogynistic agenda. In addition to complaining about Wikipedia being overrun by feminists on the men’s rights discussion board of fellow social networking site Reddit, they moderate r/womanlogic and r/unbirth, two extremely misogynistic subreddits, the latter of which is NSFW. The descriptions speak for themselves: “Woman logic is logic that contradicts itself, uses circular reasoning, or promotes special exceptions towards the woman and disqualifies males as an exception.” “This subreddit is for the display of images of the act of unbirthing; stuffing someone (entirely) within female genitalia for mostly pleasuring purposes. Since it’s obvious that a female cannot accomplish this in real life, it is mostly rooted towards drawn images.” r/sexycentaurs, another subreddit Ging287 set up, is likewise NSFW. The opinion they express on Reddit about the iCloud hacking incident indicates no empathy for the female victims; they choose to view this particular violation of women’s privacy and dignity as nothing more than a copyright issue: “There are no laws on the books that prevent people from sharing stolen images except copyright law. […] People are saying that speech that they don’t like should be censored, especially if they don’t like it. That’s wrong. Morality =/= legality.”
Even though this information is publicly available to any Wikipedia contributor who is mystified by a supposedly female colleague seemingly intent on attacking other women’s biographies and viewpoints, the site’s “outing” policy forbids any mention of it on Wikipedia itself. In the case of Tutelary, this rule, combined with Assume Good Faith, one of the fundamental principles of Wikipedia, means that while the few actual women of Wikipedia may know that they’re being played, the way the site is set up prevents them from doing anything about it.
Titanium Dragon is another Wikipedia participant with an interest in Zoe Quinn’s biography. Over the past two weeks, he has made a staggering 100 contributions to Quinn’s article talk page, a number of which have been oversighted. His other areas of activity on the encyclopedia include the articles on furry fandom, Satanism, and the Virginia Tech massacre. Judging by this edit to his personal Wikipedia page, he has little sympathy for the victims of school shooters and spree killers in general. Yet while he claims that there is “entirely too much irrelevant material on Wikipedia, including such nonsense as the names of victims of spree killers”, and that his favorite webcomic “is probably more notable than they are, and neither belongs on Wikipedia,” he personally authored an additional section of Zoe Quinn’s biography dealing exclusively with accusations of personal and professional misconduct against Quinn that has also since been deleted. On Wikipedia’s administrator’s noticeboard, he subsequently accused other editors of censorship and justified his actions by opining, “The entire reason that Zoe Quinn has gotten coverage is precisely because of the controversies she has been embroiled in, and her notability is pretty much entirely contingent upon these controversies – and notably, per the standards people are claiming above, if we are complaining about single sources here, it is worth remembering that Zoe Quinn’s claims of harassment ultimately come from her.”
Excrement will happen
Who is Titanium Dragon, and what makes him a judge of Zoe Quinn’s notability? At the time of writing, he described himself as a colleague of Quinn’s, “a [sic] independent game designer working on a fantasy roleplaying game”. Like many Wikipedians, he uses his pseudonym in other Internet venues. Searching for his nickname will currently lead you to a site where male fans of the children’s television series My Little Pony publish mostly erotic fiction about the equine cartoon characters from the show. Titanium Dragon is a frequent participant and has produced 16 stories of brony fiction for the site. He also maintains a regularly updated blog where interested parties can read about his dislike for the prose of award-winning writers Zadie Smith and Denis Johnson, whose short stories he considers “dreary.” Many of his blog entries on the My Little Pony fan site make it clear that “Mr. Dragon” considers himself an auteur of sorts as well as a connoisseur of “the terminology used in literary circles”. He is also fond of the odd literary conspiracy theory, such as the one about Truman Capote being the true author of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”. So fond, indeed, that he added it to the Wikipedia article for the classic novel and sourced it to a blog entry written by his fellow My Little Pony fanboy, who goes by the name of Bad Horse.
You could call Titanium Dragon eccentric. We prefer to call him Nathan Thomas Merrill, a 29-year-old brony currently running a one-man wannabe games developing outfit in a suburb of Corvallis, Oregon. His latitude may well exceed his longitude. As far as we can tell, this self-styled arbiter of Wikipedia notability has yet to publish a game of his own. Could his animosity toward Zoe Quinn be motivated by professional jealousy rather than outright misogyny? As the case of Qworty has shown, this can be a strong incentive for contributing to Wikipedia. Or is it more likely that, like so many members of his demographic, Merrill simply hasn’t spent much time around women and blames this on the evils of feminism?
I see Tutelary admits to pretending to be female over at hackforums:
The exploit ONLY works for Yahoo messenger, sorry I didn’t mention that. But it’s good for pretending to be a girl, all it takes is, “Hey, wanna see me naked? <3" and you've got another slave.
Oh, and he actually says on hackforums that he is a guy:
For all future clarification, I’m a guy.
Yes, they are without a doubt the same person. At hackforums Tutelary’s profile lists their real name as Danielle Leishman. On wikipedia Tutelary’s user page gives their name as Danielle. A mediawiki bug report refers to Tutelary as Danielle Leishman. Note that Tutelary has a hackforums article in their userspace. Note wikipedia Tutelary’s interest in RAT software. Note the overlap in MRA/anti-feminist crap. They’re the same person.
On hackforums.net, Tutelary speaks openly about impersonating women and using Remote Access Trojans (RAT) to gain control of other internet users’ computers. If these are the people who hijack gender gap discussions on Wikipedia, professing to speak for women, it is perhaps not surprising that Wikipedia is not making much progress with addressing its gender imbalance. The gender split from the 2012 Wikipedia editor survey has still not been released.
(Titanium Dragon’s address data were taken from an old version of his Wikipedia user page, where they were freely disclosed by him and remain publicly viewable to this day. An earlier version of this post contained a link to publicly viewable photographs (mirror selfies) of Ging287, which he uploaded to an image sharing site five years ago when a teenager. The link was removed upon request by a Twitter user.)
Image credits: Flickr/Daniel Svensson, Flickr/exfordy, Flickr/Carolyn P Speranza ~ Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic