written by Dayna Abel
This is going to be a biased review.
I’m stating this right at the start because, two years ago, I needed Crash Override, the nonprofit from which this book takes its name. (Technically it’s from the movie Hackers, about which the less said the better.) While it wasn’t anywhere near on the scale of what happened to Zoë Quinn – it was about two months of harassment, threats and slander from one internet edgelord with a medium-sized following – it was enough to unnerve me to the point where I turned to Crash Override for help.
I ended up chatting with Zoë for about twenty minutes about the abuse, listening to their advice on damage control, and maybe another ten minutes fangirling over the latest World Of Warcraft expansion with them. Zoë Quinn and Crash Override helped me through an extremely shitty time in my life, stopped it from getting shittier, and provided invaluable resources which I would, in turn, use to help out a friend later on down the line whose sister had been targeted and doxxed by an internet hate mob. I am extremely grateful to Zoë for their kindness and their sincere help.
I’m stating my bias at the start because one of those people who have a hate-boner for Zoë will more than likely come across this on page thirty-seven of Google search results for their name and act like a predictable dick. To which I state: I do not pay myself for any content I produce for Made of Fail and also I’m not a real journalist so piss off with your “ethics” horseshit.
Gosh, the internet is fun. Let’s talk about the book.
Part of it is, as expected, a memoir of Zoë Quinn’s relationship with the internet and how it went straight to hell because of their abusive ex-boyfriend (Boston Magazine has an excellent story from 2015 here which sums it up) and…well, I don’t want its name attached to this website thanks to search engine results, so I’ll call it the Video Game Hate Mob, or VGHM for short.
There’s a lot here about the failure on the part of social media platforms to remove abusers such as the VGHM from their platforms, as well as doing anything to prevent abuse in the first place. At the time of this writing, both Stormfront (one of the biggest Neo-Nazi websites on the internet) and Gab (like Twitter but for Nazis) have been barred from their webhosting services for – can you guess? – violent threats and hate speech. This is a contentious time in America (and the world, but I can only speak for the American experience), and seventy-plus years after the first outbreak of Nazis, we now have a place where they can gather en masse without the barriers of physical space. Crash Override does a lot to talk about the positive aspects of the internet, but it doesn’t remotely pretend that there aren’t far too many people who use it as a tool for evil. I was tempted while writing this to go on my own tangent about how the internet can be good or bad, but honestly, Quinn does it better.
It’s also very easy for me to make a personal connection with this book and its topics of feeling alone and weird, of finding people like you in a place you didn’t think you could, and of having that haven turned against you. Anyone who has felt the sting of being ejected from a group – online or off – can relate to Quinn’s hurt, anger, guilt and fear when what felt like the entire internet was howling for their head.
One of the most important things about Crash Override is how indispensable it is for those who have been targeted by online abuse. It’s sort of like the difference between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson – both had to see their parents murdered before their eyes. But whereas Bruce had to bear that burden alone, Dick had Bruce there to say “I know what you’re going through and I know how to help you heal without making the mistakes I did.” Quinn does this by telling their audience that their emotions and reactions are valid, that there is a community of support out there for targets, and that there are things they can do to help minimize the damage.
Crash Override is a hybrid memoir and how-to book, blending insightful advice from someone who has seen the best and the worst of the internet with personal anecdotes about their life. Some of the latter are possibly slightly dramatized for effect, but the emotions themselves ring true, especially for someone like me who was also a weird loner growing up and blossomed in online communities.
Zoë Quinn has written an invaluable book for a wide variety of reasons – to connect with cyber-misfits, to tell their story, to highlight the failures of social media CEOs in preventing online abuse, to explain to other targets how to minimize the impact of their abuse, and most importantly, to remind anyone who has ever been afraid to use the internet because of cockroaches like the VGHM that they are not alone. Quinn reminds us that the flip side of online hate mobs is the online support system – the reason most of us are here in the first place. When we work together to be kind, to be there for others, or even to create a podcast/website about sharing the things we love with others, we are fighting against the darker angels of human nature, and the world is better off for those small blessings.