From GamerGate to Learn to Code

Talia Lavin explains the profound meaning of “Learn to Code.”

Last Thursday, I received the news that the HuffPost Opinion section—where I’d been opining on a weekly basis for a few months—had been axed in its entirety. The same opinion column had had a home at The Village Voice for some 21 weeks before that entire publication shuttered as well. “This business sucks,” I tweeted, chagrined at the simple fact that I kept losing my column because of the cruel, ongoing shrinkage of independent journalism in the United States. Dozens of jobs were slashed at HuffPost that day, following a round of layoffs at Gannett Media; further jobs were about to be disappeared at BuzzFeed. It was a grim day for the media, and I just wanted to channel my tiny part of the prevailing gloom.

I follow a lot of journalists and columnists so I saw a lot of tweets about that grim day for the media.

Then the responses started rolling in—some sympathy from fellow journalists and readers, then an irritating gush of near-identical responses: “Learn to code.” “Maybe learn to code?” “BETTER LEARN TO CODE THEN.” “Learn to code you useless bitch.” Alongside these tweets were others: “Stop writing fake news and crap.” “MAGA.” “Your opinions suck and no one wants to read them.” “Lmao journalists are evil wicked cretins. I wish you were all jail [sic] and afraid.”

She looked at the mentions of a lot of other journalists and columnists and saw the same swarming. She suspected a coordinated attack.

My suspicions were confirmed when conservative figures like Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump Jr. joined the pile-on, revealing the ways in which right-wing hordes have harnessed social media to discredit and harass their opponents.

Been there, seen that, got no T shirt.

Often hatched in the internet’s right-wing cesspools, these campaigns unleash a mass of harassment on unsuspecting targets. 4chan’s /pol/ board—a gathering-place for people who want to say the n-word freely, vilify feminists, and opine on nefarious Jewish influence—has an oversize role in organizing brigade attacks, in part due to the fact that all its users are anonymous.

While it’s difficult to trace the origins of brigading—like most of internet history, its beginnings are ephemeral—the term, and its tactics, came to new prominence during the loosely organized and militantly misogynist harassment campaign known now as GamerGate, which unfolded over the course of 2014 and 2015.

I remember it well. First GamerGate, then Trump. It’s almost as if there’s a pattern.

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