While a lot of #GamerGate’s planning and organization happens over IRC (Internet Relay Chat, a chatroom protocol) and on message boards like 8chan and reddit, the primary place it targets people on is Twitter.
Twitter is a great platform for this kind of harassment to fester. It’s trivially easy to create new accounts, and it’s also easy to create and use multiple accounts at once. This is great for GGers who maintain lots of what are called “sock puppets”, or accounts in addition to their main one, usually for the sake of making it look like a person or idea has more support than it actually does. Additionally, Twitter is basically the place where a lot of discussion about many professional fields from game development to water policy happens, and so choosing not to use it to avoid the harassment on it must forgo the ability to contribute to the conversation about their work and community and the networking opportunities that come out of that conversation.
Twitter also knows that its platform is being used this way but so far hasn’t done a lot to fix it, despite saying that they would. It’s possible this is just bureaucratic institutional slowness, though– they did ask Women Action Media to help with the problem and they recently released their report on harassment. It’s highly informative and suggests what Twitter should do to fix its harassment problems. (Also, it has pretty graphs.)
One number stuck out to me in particular, and that’s that only 12% of the harassment reports that WAM analyzed were from #GamerGate. The report treated that like a low number, but when you consider the estimates for the size of #GamerGate are around 500 people, many of whom have multiple sock puppets, that’s actually a pretty high percentage.
It’s clear that #GamerGaters aren’t the only people using Twitter for harassment, even though their use of it is unusually intense and planned: they’re exploiting an already broken platform. They might be less the metaphorical straw that broke the camel’s back and more an anvil falling on an already prone camel, and the backlash that they’ve inspired will hopefully get platforms like Twitter to change in ways that reach far beyond #GamerGate’s targets.
ADDENDUM: Sarah Nyberg did some back-of-the-envelope calculations on #GamerGate and it looks like a GG account is about 10,000 times more likely to get a Twitter ban than an average account. (The responses on that tweet will give you a taste of what feminists like Nyberg who stand up to #GamerGate are dealing with every day.)