A member of Reddit GamerGate hub KotakuinAction filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents pertaining to the FBI’s investigation of the online movement which they received last month. Now those documents have been made public, and amid its 173 heavily-redacted pages is one email chain encapsulating how a year of the Bureau’s efforts resulted in exactly zero prosecutions.
The initial complaint in the email thread titled “we need an update on our case” was filed by a woman in Massachusetts—game developer and Congressional hopeful Brianna Wu, according to a statement obtained by The Verge, who was doxxed, threatened, and sent photos of mutilated dogs by those within the movement. The thread begins with an email on May 22, 2015. Though nearly all of the message has been redacted, four sentences remain.
We feel like we are sending endless emails into the void with you.
I am CCing both the federal prosecutor and the Ohio district attorney on this email. Please help us. If you are serious about pursuing these cases, our family deserves to know.
The FBI appeared to find a lead on a bomb threat and interviewed the suspect who admitted he had, “called her at least 40- 50 times with threats.” Though the suspect claimed to have “never made any bomb threats” he thought it credible that “someone else in the chat group could have done it.”
At the end of the interview the suspect “apologized for this incident,” mirroring a later interview with another suspect who “understood that it was a federal crime to send a threatening communication to anyone and will never do it again.” Less than slap on the wrist.
The second suspect did, however, reveal GamerGaters to be pretty much who you’d expect them to be: He “considered himself to be a ‘tech guy’... often plays video games... [and] lives with his parents.”
It’s not clear what “group chat” the first suspect is talking about, although the document refers to the imageboard 4chan in similar terms. Horrifying levels of internet ignorance are revealed by the document. For example it calls 4chan a “chat room”; refers to Twitter as “Tweeter” and the Tor browser and “Thor”; failing to ascertain a suspect’s IP address due to basic countermeasures like proxies. Between several credibly-worded bomb and shooting threats is a letter obviously penned by a troll claiming there are “over 9000 bombs that we will use to blow up the [Taggert Student Center],” making use of an old Dragon Ball Z-based meme.
At its most extreme, the FBI’s utter misunderstanding of trolling and internet culture led an agent to ask an apparently innocent suspect “if anyone had ever called him a ‘Glorious Winged Faggot Extraordinaite.’”
Internal communications within the email thread also call into question how organized the investigation was. It appears, from the snippet above, that in the year-long search for a “prosecutable federal case” involving the FBI, Homeland Security, and local law enforcement, clear communication was an ongoing issue. Other internal emails show that evidence wasn’t being sent in a timely manner and phone interviews with suspects may have been lost.
To its credit, the FBI was able to determine that much of the doxxing associated with GamerGate was taking place on 8chan’s /baphomet/ board. However, the board still exists to this day, hosting the personal information of dozens of individuals and encouraging their harassment.
Blame rests as much on internet platforms for doing as little as humanly possible to prevent the targeted harassment of individuals during and since GamerGate. But the FBI’s unwillingness to charge a single person as a result of its investigation, despite evidence that at least two people had committed federal crimes, should make us question the efficacy of our law enforcement protocols in a time when many of us live much of our lives online.