Randi Harper is one of the women that Gamergaters love to hate the most. A software developer, she became Gamergate Public Enemy #4 — after the troika of Sarkeesian, Quinn, and Wu — when she developed a BlockBot that enabled Twitter users to easily shield themselves (insofar as this is possible) from possible Twitter harassment at the hands of Gamergaters and others of their ilk.
This little bit of software garnered her many months of vicious harassment herself, and ultimately a three-part smear series on Breitbart by Gamergate’s pet “journalist,” Milo Yiannopoulos.
Now one Gamergater is going after Harper’s Patreon supporters, using personal information taken from the crowdfunding site when it was hacked earlier this month.
After finding the names and addresses of Harper’s several hundred Patreon supporters in the leaked data, British blogger Sam Smith took it upon himself to “warn” these people of Harper’s alleged crimes against decency by sending a mass email to everyone he found on the list.
But to a lot of people — myself included — his supposedly friendly warning read more like a blackmail attempt.
One of the recipients of the email shared it with me yesterday. It starts off in a decidedly unfriendly manner:
I am the author of the major blog www.matthewhopkinsnews.com. I am sending you this email because your name appears in a list of people who donate to a Patreon operated by a person called Randi Harper. The list was confidential but has been hacked and placed online by unknown third parties. As a result of the leak you may be named, so please read this email carefully.
Smith — who goes by the name “Matthew Hopkins” online, styling himself as a sort of digital reincarnation of the original “Witchfinder General” — then lays out what he sees as Harper’s ethical failings, linking to Yiannopoulos’ three-part smear job as proof. Among Smith’s complaints:
Harper has … admitted to drug abuse, including attempting to smoke meth from a broken lightbulb. She also irresponsibly dyed her dog blue and accidentally allowed it to lick up her drugs.
Dyeing a dog blue may annoy the dog, but if done properly it will not harm it. And literally billions of human beings on our blue planet have used drugs at some point in their lives.
Now we come to the blackmaily bit, which Smith insists is not blackmaily at all:
You are supporting a person who is associated with some of the vilest imaginable extremism. …
As a responsible journalist, I can assure you I shall not be publishing the list. However, some of you may work in regulated roles with responsible access to information, vulnerable adults or children. There may be a lawful public interest in my contacting the relevant authorities (including an employer).
Smith went on to ask Harper’s supporters if they, personally, “endorse her extremist views” and if they felt “aggrieved at Ms Harper’s failure to safeguard your personal data.” (Never mind that it was Patreon’s job, not Harper’s, to protect the data on its servers.)
If Smith’s email was intended to rattle its recipients, it seems to have succeeded. The person who sent the email to me reported that “[i]t left me quite shaken and furious.”
If the email was intended to scare donors into abandoning Harper, it has apparently backfired in a big way. Indeed, Motherboard reports that, according to Harper,
Smith’s efforts has had the opposite effect: her backers have responded by doubling, and sometimes tripling their donations. Her campaign has jumped more than $1,300 a month in donations after the emails went out.
For his part, Smith insists, as he did in a post yesterday, that his email wasn’t intended to be threatening. He had simply
decided the ethical thing to do would be to warn the people concerned, reassuring them I would not release the data and also what might happen, as I thought the Patreon boilerplate warning insufficient.
That bit about there being “a lawful public interest in my contacting the relevant authorities (including an employer)?” That was
actually just boilerplate legal language related to UK law. Obviously I am analysing these supporters and in some limited circumstances I might be required to report things – for example if they were a risk to a child. As a person who may wish to enter a regulated profession, I would be expected to cooperate with the authorities. Far from being a blackmail demand it is just standardised ‘cover-yourself’ legal language.
I will have to consult with the monkey lawyers flying out of my butt on that one.
Some Gamergaters have insisted that Smith isn’t really one of them, which is a bit silly, considering that he is a regular on the KotakuInAction subreddit — one of Gamergate’s main hubs of activity — who happily posted a photo of himself hobnobbing with Yianopoulos at a #Gamergate meetup in London last April.
But it is worth noting that the overwhelming majority of those posting about Smith’s email blast on KotakuInAction since word of it got out earlier this week have been strongly critical, blasting it as the sort of thing that (in their mind) only evil anti-Gamergaters would do. (Never mind that they haven’t.)
Of course, Gamergaters (and the mythic “third party trolls” they like to talk about so often) have been doing far worse to Sarkeesian, Quinn, Wu, Harper and many others among Gamergate’s favorite villains for more than a year now.
Still, the reaction to Smith’s blackmail-that’s-not-really-blackmail-honest suggests that at least some Gamergaters have a few sickly shreds of decency still living deep inside them somewhere. I can only hope they can nurse their decency back to full health before they ruin the lives of more people in their attempt to rid the game world of anyone and everyone who disagrees with them.
And I hope Patreon brings the full force of its lawyers down on Smith.