Understanding the Zoe Affidavit

In all the noise that’s been made around Zoe Quinn and Eron Gjoni, there’s been a great deal of — depending on which side you’re on — either a sense of outrage or a sense of vindication over Quinn being granted a restraining order against Gjoni which limits his speech online.

However, people on both sides of the “Zoe Quinn issue” have almost completely ignored the actual claims made in the affidavit used to justify the restraining order. Gjoni’s supporters decry the order as an infringement on free speech, often viewing it as an extension of Quinn’s abusive behavior. Quinn’s supporters simply assert that the restraining order was deserved and necessary, often painting perceived violations of the order, or even his intent to appeal, as evidence of Gjoni’s poor character. What’s strange is that very few people attempt to back up their claims by delving into the particular details of the case.

In fact, while there’s been a great deal of colorful commentary, pseudo-analysis, and armchair-diagnoses of one or the other of the two parties, Quinn’s affidavit—the entire basis of the case—has scarcely merited a mention, save for indirect allusions to its contents by Gjoni himself.

Because abuse has been a topic in the periphery of the whole debate, and because the court system can be used by abusers against their victims as well as the other way around, it’s important to take a serious look at the allegations made before forming any definitive opinions on the legality or appropriateness of the order, or worse, piling on more accusations.

Some passages in this piece have accompanying comments that provide additional context. Click on the square speech balloon symbols to the right of paragraphs to view them.

Background

On September 16, 2014, Zoe Quinn filed a Complaint for Protection From Abuse form with the court, including a supporting affidavit intended to document incidents of past abuse, requesting an abuse prevention order against her ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni. One interesting thing about the affidavit, however, is that the vast majority of it does not consist of allegations that Gjoni has committed abuse, either against Quinn or others: less than two of the twenty-two lines in the affidavit allege anything that could be argued to fit the law’s definition of abuse. This is at odds with the entire purpose of such a complaint: documenting past abuse and seeking relief from future abuse.

Abuse prevention orders are defined and governed by Massachusetts General Laws (M.G.L.) chapter 209A. The definition of abuse for the purposes of these orders is very specific, and is given in M.G.L. c. 209A, § 1 as any of the following:

(a) attempting to cause or causing physical harm;
(b) placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm;
(c) causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat or duress.

To file a complaint requesting an abuse prevention order, the plaintiff — the person requesting the abuse prevention order — must be currently suffering abuse (as defined above, not defined by The Internet) from the defendant, per the first line of M.G.L. c. 209A, § 3, and clarified in the handout Am I Eligible For a Restraining Order? In the affidavit, after first going on at great length about Gjoni’s online activities, Quinn makes precisely one actual allegation of abuse: she claims that Gjoni had “also” left “bruises” on her arm during their “last sexual encounter” in July. This seems to be almost an afterthought, as the greater bulk of Quinn’s complaint focuses instead on Gjoni’s online speech, linking it to an online “mob” harassing her.

Massachusetts has a law for protecting people suffering from harassment: M.G.L. c. 258E defines harassment prevention orders, which offer relief in a very similar manner to abuse prevention orders, such as forbidding the defendant from contacting the plaintiff, or from being near the plaintiff’s workplace or residence. Strangely enough, despite online harassment being the primary focus of her complaint, Quinn instead chose to file for an order explicitly intended to prevent physical harm. The only apparent significant difference that might motivate such a strange choice is that there has already been precedent for overturning harassment prevention orders used as gag orders against critical bloggers (Nilan v. Valenti, 1227RO235).

Stranger still are the forms of relief Quinn requests in the affidavit — once again blithely ignoring the affidavit is solely for describing a history of abuse. In addition to entirely redundant requests for no-contact orders, Quinn asks that the court legally bar Gjoni from talking about Quinn to “stalking campaigns,” or even talking to anyone in the games industry whatsoever.

Context

Quinn’s affidavit is far more complicated than it first appears. It consists of a number of claims, the majority of which are based, however loosely, on public Internet posts that anyone can find for themselves. What follows is a breakdown of the narrative into discrete, individual claims to be fact-checked. But the pattern throughout is simple: withhold context and word things carefully, so as to heavily imply something false, without actually saying anything strictly false. Highlighted below are the passages that serve to distract, misdirect, or outright deceive the reader:

— — — — — — — Claim 1— — — — — — —

wrote and published a long post about my sex life and private dealings”

What it sounds like:

Gjoni shared intimate and lurid details of my sexual history and proclivities. None of his words could possibly be of legitimate public interest.

What it is:

Revealing a person’s secrets does not constitute abuse. And TheZoePost, to which Quinn obviously refers, only discusses infidelity to which Quinn admits in the accompanying Facebook logs, without going into any sexual detail deeper than mentioning that sex occurred, and that she lied about it occurring. Referring to the post as being about Quinn’s “sex life” makes it sound as if it were far more in-depth and invasive than it is. This implication is especially ironic as Gjoni has explicitly stated that “references to her sexual past were specifically censored so as to minimize harassment,” and that he was less “concerned” with cheating itself than with “mindfuck levels of dishonesty.”

In contrast, Gjoni himself described his post as “a portrait of her actual personality,” citing evidence of Quinn repeatedly lying, lying about lying, admitting to hypocrisy and claiming her lying to be a “compulsion.” He has also alluded to worse wrongdoing by Quinn he omitted from the post, but has withheld details—previously, he cited fear of the information being misused; however, thanks to Quinn, he is now legally unable to reveal this information.

As it happens, “private dealings” here is Quinn’s dubious euphemism for ‘gaslighting’ him (convincing him he was going insane) and nonchalantly subjecting him to weeks of panic attacks for so much as suspecting any level of dishonesty on her part.

Conclusion: Misleading and euphemistic. Does not support an allegation of abuse.

— — — — — — — Claim 2— — — — — — —

to several websites that he knew had a history of harrassing[sic] me.”

What it sounds like:

I am beleaguered by many hostile websites I won’t identify, and Gjoni sought them out specifically to incite and maximize further harassment.

What it is:

Gjoni posted the contents of what is now known as TheZoePost as threads on exactly two message boards: Penny Arcade and Something Awful.

He has stated numerous times that he chose these forums specifically because they were sympathetic to Quinn, and the least likely to harass her over the contents of his post. ([1],[2],[3],[4a],[4b],[5]) While you may find his choice to even make such a post questionable, it’s important to note that for both websites in question, Gjoni’s claim that the sites had a history of expressing only positive sentiment toward Quinn is verifiably true.

One alternative, considerably more generous reading is that, rather than referring to Gjoni posting the contents of TheZoePost to “websites,” Quinn instead alleges that Gjoni posted links to TheZoePost to “harassing” websites. Such links can be found to have been posted anonymously on 4chan, though only after threads about Gjoni’s deleted Something Awful thread, containing the same information, were already posted. Quinn may be assuming these anonymous posts were Gjoni, however, even if true, the claim remains dubious. Quinn’s much-publicized allegations of harassment over her game Depression Quest were pinned on Wizardchan, not 4chan per se. Even if one denies the existence of any meaningful distinction between anonymous imageboards, and accepts as fact that 4chan, through Wizardchan, has a “history of harassing” Quinn, 4chan remains a singular website. The plural used here appears to be baseless, even under this more generous interpretation of Quinn’s words. There is no indication that TheZoePost has been a major topic of discussion on Wizardchan, let alone that Gjoni linked it there.

Conclusion: False. Would not support an allegation of abuse even if true.

— — — — — — — Claim 3 — — — — — — —

He was aware that harrassment[sic] and stalking would happen,

What it sounds like:

Gjoni intentionally provoked my harassment, and is to blame for the actions of strangers. Gjoni maliciously intended absolutely everything bad that has happened to me since his post.

What it is:

Note the careful phrasing. She says he was aware that harassment would happen, not that he intended to incite harassment.[2] The reader is left to infer something far worse than what is technically stated. Critics being aware their criticism may be appropriated by third parties for harassment is not a legal justification to silence them, and has nothing whatsoever to do with abuse—the nominal topic of Quinn’s complaint.

Again, Gjoni has explicitly stated that “references to her sexual past were specifically censored so as to minimize harassment,” and he has given the same reason for limiting the venues in which he posted the information to Penny Arcade and Something Awful. Note that even Quinn herself is unwilling to state outright, under penalty of perjury, what many of her supporters allege: that Gjoni intended to incite harassment, all his actions and words to discourage it nothing more than a “smokescreen” for his true intentions.

Conclusion: Misleading. Does not support an allegation of abuse.

— — — — — — — Claim 4— — — — — — —

“and openly admits to doing so to damage my professional reputation as an independent artist.”

What it sounds like:

The court should care about this entirely legal activity, because it is so obvious it makes Gjoni a bad person I don’t even have to explain why.

What it is:

Abuse prevention orders are for preventing abuse, not damage to one’s reputation on the Internet.

Even ignoring the fact that TheZoePost makes a point of preempting unwarranted impugning of Quinn’s professional skills, “damaging” someone’s reputation by criticizing hypocrisy on public stances using private facts as part of a “portrait” of a public figure is not abuse, harassment, or remotely actionable. Regardless of whether one considers Gjoni’s public post and subsequent discussion about Quinn to be appropriate or even acceptable, it’s neither illegal nor relevant to an allegation of abuse.

Conclusion: Irrelevant. Does not support an allegation of abuse.

— — — — — — — Claim 5 — — — — — — —

“Since then I have received numberous[sic] death and rape threats from an anonymous mob”

What it sounds like:

Gjoni intentionally provoked my harassment, and is to blame for the actions of strangers. Gjoni maliciously intended absolutely everything bad that has happened to me since his post.

What it is:

Quinn outright blames “an anonymous mob,” not “Eron Gjoni.” Harassment from third parties does not constitute abuse by the defendant.

And of course what Quinn doesn't mention is that Gjoni has loudly exhorted his readers not to harass Quinn or others.

Conclusion: Irrelevant. Does not support an allegation of abuse.

— — — — — — — Claim 6— — — — — — —

“that he had given details to. My personal info like my home address, phone number, emails, passwords, and those of my family have been widely distributed,”

What it sounds like:

Gjoni tried to ruin my life and my family’s lives by giving all this information to a mob that hates me. Gjoni is to blame for the actions of strangers and maliciously intended absolutely everything bad that has happened to me since his post.

What it is:

Absolutely none of this “personal info” originated from Gjoni. Note the use of passive voice to avoid actually naming who’s allegedly responsible for distributing this information, while the previous sentence alleging Gjoni released unspecified “details” and the context of the affidavit heavily imply Gjoni’s responsibility without technically outright saying so. There is zero evidence Gjoni has assisted or even desired to assist anyone in gaining any of this information. In fact, he has specifically refused to comment where commenting might increase the odds of someone “doxxing” Quinn.

Conclusion: Misleading. Does not support an allegation of abuse.

— — — — — — — Claim 7 — — — — — — —

“alongside nude photos of me,”

What it sounds like:

Gjoni took sexually explicit photos as part of our relationship and, after breaking up, spread them around to humiliate and slut-shame me.

What it is:

Again, Quinn implies her ex-boyfriend is somehow responsible for the dissemination of something horribly inappropriate — the Locke Valentine photos. Many people have heard of revenge porn, a phenomenon in which generally an ex vindictively posts nudes of their ex-partner online without their consent. Reading the affidavit with no familiarity with the events in question, one can too easily infer from Quinn’s oddly vague wording that the photos came from their intimate relationship, and that Gjoni spread them — in much the same way one might be led to infer incorrectly that he spread Quinn’s “personal info” such as her address and phone number.

However, what Quinn notably omits is that the photos mentioned here predate their relationship, and come from her nude modeling days. Someone legally paid for access to the photos off of Broken Dollz — a company which compensated Quinn for the photos and legally owns all distribution rights — and then illicitly infringed the company’s copyrights by spreading them around for free. There is zero evidence to support Gjoni being responsible for their spread. He had, in all his comments online, never hinted at their existence before their independent discovery, and he has claimed he was not even aware the photos were still available.

Conclusion: Misleading. Does not support an allegation of abuse.

— — — — — — — Claim 8— — — — — — —

“and several of my proffessional[sic] accounts and those of my colleagues have been hacked.”

What it sounds like:

Somehow, Gjoni is responsible for this, too, why else would I include it in this complaint? Gjoni is to blame for the actions of strangers and maliciously intended absolutely everything bad that has happened to me since his post.

What it is:

Again, note the use of passive voice, leaving the responsibility for the hackings nebulous and freely assignable.

Conclusion: Misleading and irrelevant. Does not support an allegation of abuse.

— — — — — — — Claim 9 — — — — — — —

“Eron has coached this mob multiple times,”

What it sounds like:

Gjoni taught my harassers how to harass and threaten better: this is proof of his malicious intentions!

What it is:

By “coached,” Quinn might be referring to Gjoni’s discussions with members of an IRC channel she previously claimed Gjoni was “coaching” on Twitter. Quinn conveniently leaves out just what he appears to have been “coaching” them in: namely, focusing on criticizing industry practices and avoiding harassing or antagonizing Zoe Quinn or anyone else. Quinn is literally complaining that he told people to stop harassing her and to act more civil, while implying he did the opposite. Any actual examination of his conversations on IRC or his commentary on his blog show he did nothing but discourage harassment.

Conclusion: Misleading. Does not support an allegation of abuse.

— — — — — — — Claim 10 — — — — — — —

“made multiple social media accounts”

What it sounds like:

The court should care about this entirely legal activity, because it is so obvious it makes Gjoni a bad person I don’t even have to explain why.

What it is:

If you consider the Penny Arcade forums and Something Awful to be technically classified as “social media” (that is, if you’re reading this from 1995) this is arguably technically correct. Here, “multiple” appears to mean “three”: Gjoni registered an account on PA, on SA, and, in late August, on Twitter.

Again, a naive reader might mistakenly infer that “made multiple social media accounts,” described as if it were so terrible an act it’s somehow relevant to an abuse prevention order, actually meant something genuinely inappropriate, such as making multiple sockpuppet accounts on a single service such as Twitter. If Gjoni has made any such sockpuppets, there’s no evidence of it.

Conclusion: Misleading. Does not support an allegation of abuse.

— — — — — — — Claim 11 — — — — — — —

“to smear my name publicly,”

What it sounds like:

Gjoni is making actionable, malicious false claims about me.

What it is:

The verb “smear” carries the connotation of making false, slanderous allegations; not true ones. And Gjoni’s public claims, as well as those of others who have had direct personal dealings with Quinn, all remain either explicitly unchallenged, or independently verified. Revealing details about a public figure’s life they would prefer the public to remain ignorant of is perfectly legal. Even if one considers Gjoni to be in the wrong morally, this is completely irrelevant to a complaint for protection from abuse.

Conclusion: Irrelevant. Does not support an allegation of abuse.

— — — — — — — Claim 12 — — — — — — —

“and has stoked the fire of this on many occasions and doesn't seem to be stopping.”

What it sounds like:

Gjoni’s active and malicious efforts to further rile up an angry mob and expand its size have deliberately caused me more and more harassment and threats.

What it is:

The phrase “stoked the fire of this” is a uselessly vague metaphor that’s practically unfalsifiable. This again ignores Gjoni’s repeated efforts to discourage people from harassment.

Conclusion: What the fuck? Does not support an allegation of abuse.

— — — — — — — Claim 13 — — — — — — —

“He has also called hotels that he suspected me of staying at, falsifying information to give more personal info to the mob.”

What it sounds like:

He tried to find out which hotel room I was hiding in after fleeing my home, and he was going to tell the Internet!

What it is:

First, how could Quinn possibly know who Gjoni has or hasn't called, let alone what he said during the conversation or why he said it? Either she’s tapping his phone and reading his mind, or she’s basing this claim, much like the others, on posts she read on the Internet.

As it happens, on one of the two days Gjoni appears to have openly posted on 4chan itself, an anonymous poster claimed to have had sex with Quinn in January in Richmond, Virginia. Specifically, he claimed they had had sex in Quinn’s room at a Comfort Inn. Posters began to wildly speculate that, if verified, he would have been the sixth known man to sleep with Quinn while she was claiming to be exclusive with Gjoni.

Gjoni, using a tripcode to identify himself, later posted in the thread that he had had a private conversation with the purported sixth man on Facebook to check whether his story had any credibility. He reported that nothing confirmed the story, but that he had an idea for how to determine its veracity.

The next day, an anonymous post, purportedly from Gjoni, claimed to have called the Comfort Inn to determine whether Quinn had even been where the anon claimed the encounter occurred.

To be perfectly clear:

  • The anonymous post, if taken at face value as Quinn took it, clearly indicates Gjoni only made a request for months-old hotel records, and only from a single hotel. Quinn both conspicuously omits this vital detail and claims he called multiple hotels.
  • With important context omitted, Quinn’s affidavit heavily implies that Gjoni was systematically fishing for information from hotels, plural, that she might have been currently staying at. With the context of her home address being leaked, the reader can all too easily infer Quinn was recently staying in a hotel to avoid going home out of concern for her own safety. Despite Gjoni openly refusing to even hint at information that could enable finding Quinn, Quinn implies Gjoni sought to reveal information about her current whereabouts to an online “mob” of strangers.
  • Quinn claims Gjoni sought to give out her ‘personal info’ to a hostile “mob,” a mere two sentences after using the same term ‘personal info’ to refer to such things as her leaked address, phone number, and passwords. The only “info” Gjoni appears to have sought to share is a single bit of information: whether Quinn stayed at a Comfort Inn or not. At no point is there any sign he seeks to share Quinn’s personally identifying information. Quinn’s affidavit misleads the reader to believe Gjoni to have stalked and attempted to doxx Quinn, when there is zero evidence he ever sought to do any such thing.

Conclusion: Blatantly misleading and false. Would not support an allegation of abuse even if true.

— — — — — — — Claim 14 — — — — — — —

“he is not repentant for the mob’s harrassment[sic] of me”

What it sounds like:

Gjoni is responsible for the bad actions of other people, and must repent for them. He is glad that I am suffering from harassment.

What it is:

This not only implicitly puts responsibility for the actions of strangers onto Gjoni’s shoulders, it’s also a complete falsehood. He has repeatedly expressed his regret and condemnation of all harassment. Even a glance at the headline of a piece from BuzzFeed, which was far from sympathetic to Gjoni, would suffice to debunk this claim.

Conclusion: False. Would not support an allegation of abuse even if true.

— — — — — — — Claim 15 — — — — — — —

“and keeps hinting at giving them more information,”

What it sounds like:

Gjoni plans to release further, still more incendiary details about me, and uses the future possibility of such to entice the mob to work as his personal army.

What it is:

Here, describing what is nominally a good thing, Quinn has once again attempted to spin it as evidence of malice towards her. Gjoni has stated he has deliberately withheld information that would be especially damaging to Quinn ([6],[7],[8],[9],[10],[11]), because those hostile to her would be unlikely to use the information responsibly. Since then, Gjoni has shown no intent of reversing his decision. Yet Quinn somehow implies openly withholding sensitive information explicitly to protect Quinn is a terrible thing.

Conclusion: Misleading. Does not support an allegation of abuse.

— — — — — — — Claim 16 — — — — — — —

“which he knows will continue eliciting the threats and harrassment[sic].”

What it sounds like:

He knows giving this hinted information out would make the mob harass and threaten me more.

What it is:

This knowledge is obviously the reason why he refuses to give out that information, so this is even further twisting of the truth to somehow spin a good thing as a bad thing.

Alternatively, Quinn might be asserting that merely claiming to be protecting Quinn by withholding information is ‘eliciting the threats.’ How could openly refusing to release information possibly do that? And again, Quinn somehow claims to know exactly what Gjoni knows, believes, and intends, without evidence.

Conclusion: Misleading. Does not support an allegation of abuse.

— — — — — — — Claim 17 — — — — — — —

“He also was violent during our last sexual encounter in July, prior to breaking up, leaving several bruises on my arm. My friend [REDACTED] stayed with me in the hotel Eron and I had shared after this, having seen the bruises on my arm + noticing he still had a hotel key because we feared he would come back.”

What it sounds like: For the first time in the affidavit, exactly what it says.

Quinn’s sole allegation of abuse at the hands of her ex-boyfriend is that he left “bruises” on her arm during their “last sexual encounter in July, prior to breaking up.” This would have occurred late on the night of July 14, the same timespan described in TheZoePost Act 3, after Gjoni rushed to her aid when she told him that she had attempted suicide earlier in the evening. She further claims a friend witnessed her bruises and stayed in her hotel room overnight after Gjoni left, which seemingly contradicts Gjoni’s account — supported by the posted Facebook logs and, less directly, by Gjoni’s blogging at the time and Quinn’s own tweets — in which he stayed with Quinn until well past 11 a.m. It’s at that point that he finally ended their relationship, immediately before the logged Facebook conversation between them resumes.

It is baffling why Quinn would make this allegation — the sole allegation which could arguably qualify Quinn to file for a 209A abuse prevention order at all — only towards the end of the affidavit, after a dozen lines of lies, half-truths, and misdirection about Gjoni’s perfectly legal and completely irrelevant online activity.

Conclusion: Has no evidence. This is the sole allegation of abuse. The affidavit should have begun and ended here.

— — — — — — — Claim 18 — — — — — — —

“Eron has also admitted mental instability to me,”

What it sounds like:

He’s crazy, and as you know crazy people are violent and dangerous. They terrify me and they should obviously terrify you, too.

What it is:

This line is especially concerning considering Quinn’s staunch public support of social justice principles, particularly as they relate to combating the social stigma of mental illnesses, such as depression. Here, Quinn is apparently using “mentally ill” to imply “dangerous and violent criminal.” It’s troubling that Quinn fails to hold to such important principles while claiming it’s for her own safety.

As Ben Hitov commented on Reddit, this “instability” appears to be a misleading allusion to Gjoni having ‘mentioned he shows some signs of [schizoid personality disorder], which is roughly defined as too much mental stability.’ Gjoni himself has described his emotional distance as a dissociative defense mechanism he developed in response to his experiences growing up—and that he increasingly fell back on using this defense mechanism to weather Quinn’s behavior during their relationship.

Conclusion: Misleading and hypocritical. Does not support an allegation of abuse.

— — — — — — — Claim 19 — — — — — — —

“and informed me via email that he had a history of being violent with a family member.”

What it sounds like:

Gjoni is a dangerously violent person, as shown by his past abuse of a family member.

What it is:

At first glance, this certainly sounds like an allusion to a history of abuse, though not of Quinn. It’s oddly vague and lacking in details, though. Quinn seems to be implying that Gjoni outright admitted to being abusive of a family member, but refuses to call it that, or provide any detail whatsoever, completely disregarding she is instructed to “provide specific details about the alleged abuse.”

However, while no quotes from this email have been posted publicly, Ben Hitov did post a summary of the email’s contents: ‘history of being violent with a family member = he tackled his grandfather once when he was eight and his grandfather hit his head on a cabinet. (he showed me the e-mail and I am not being hyperbolic.)’ Philip Wythe has confirmed having read the email as well, and corroborated Hitov’s summary.

Conclusion: Unbelievably misleading. Is suspiciously vague if intended to allege a history of abuse of a third party.

— — — — — — — Claim 20— — — — — — —

“and stop contacting friends and professional colleagues to try and destroy my business.”

What it sounds like:

The court should care about this entirely legal activity, because it is so obvious it makes Gjoni a bad person I don’t even have to explain why.

What it is:

It bears repeating: Business “destruction” is not what is supposed to be prevented by an abuse prevention order. Abuse prevention orders are to prevent abuse.

Quinn uses similar questionable wording throughout the affidavit. Gjoni seeks to “smear” her name, to “damage” her “reputation,” and even to “destroy” her “business.” The same language can be used to paint literally any critic as in the wrong merely for criticizing, regardless of that criticism’s merits. While Gjoni’s public discussion of Quinn is quite possibly “damaging” to her reputation, so is any public criticism. Criticism you do not like is not a matter to take before the courts as justification for an abuse prevention order.

This same defense gets trotted out whenever anyone gets accused of wrongdoing: they say that the accuser is just trying to ruin someone’s reputation, or career; that they’re just bitter and jealous of their success. Anybody who scoffs at this kind of defense in other cases should certainly do the same in this one.

Conclusion: Misplaced and irrelevant. Does not support an allegation of abuse.

Ostracizing

Notably absent from Quinn’s affidavit are allegations against Gjoni found in the widely disseminated screencaps from August of a Facebook post apparently made by Quinn:

I refused to answer his calls or answer the door when he showed up at my apartment at 2am.

And:

he has sent me death threats from his IP address

One might think these allegations of Gjoni sending Quinn death threats online through some unspecified method—and that she has IP log evidence proving he sent them — and of Gjoni coming to her home uninvited in the middle of the night would have merited the space in the affidavit that was instead spent on discussing at great length his conversations with Internet strangers. Instead, Quinn limited these allegations to a private communication to friends while demanding that they “NOT LET THIS TRAVEL,” and to speak and do nothing on the matter without her explicit approval. Including such serious allegations in communication to friends who trust her while excluding them from her affidavit, written under penalty of perjury, suggests Quinn lied to her friends, trusting they would submit her claims to no scrutiny, in an early attempt to prevent them from so much as looking at Gjoni’s post, let alone raising its visibility.

Fear

One might argue that Quinn’s complaints about Gjoni’s discussions online fall under the law’s definition of abuse via clause ‘(b) placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm’ — that Gjoni’s civil engagement with a “mob” placed Quinn in such fear (incidentally shifting responsibility for the fear from the mob itself). However, this would be a specious and perverse reading of not only the spirit, but even the letter of the law.

Abuse prevention orders carry an implicit assumption that abuse, by definition, occurs in person. This is why the prescribed stay-away orders are presumed an effective relief method. An example of abuse that would fit under definition (b) would be menacing a partner or family member with a weapon, or making explicit threats. The danger to the victim is imminent, the weapon may be used against them at any moment to inflict serious physical harm.

The claims of Gjoni’s detractors are that, at worst, Gjoni’s online speech dramatically increased the risk of Quinn being “doxxed” — having her home address discovered and posted by strangers online — and that he desired this, all his words to the contrary considered simply lies. Doxxing, in turn, makes it hypothetically possible for strangers to visit Quinn’s home at some indefinite future time, with the still more remote possibility that such strangers intend serious physical harm.

While certainly an unsettling possibility, the remote possibility of physical harm resulting from doxxing is not by any stretch of the imagination “imminent.” Though the word is vaguely defined, the Supreme Court provides some precedent in Hess v. Indiana (1973), in which even intentional incitement of crime “at some indefinite future time” was judged to fall well short of intending to produce “imminent disorder.” Any reasonable reading of the word requires the time between the act of the defendant and the danger to the plaintiff to be exceedingly small. The possibility that a completely hypothetical third party, at a completely indefinite time, might commit violence, enabled or emboldened by (entirely non-threatening) words publicly spoken by the defendant in the past, cannot possibly render the defendant’s words retroactively into a cause for fear of imminent serious physical harm by proxy. A strong possibility of harm must be imminent at the time of the defendant’s actions, as otherwise the word loses all meaning, becoming able to describe literally any uncertain future possibility, however distant.

Even if the law’s definition of abuse were interpreted in such an overly broad way, it would be overridden by the First Amendment. A person’s speech cannot be made unlawful over the purely hypothetical actions of strangers who read their words unless those words explicitly outright incite people to commit “imminent lawless action.” Not even a Klan member suggesting a future racist “revengeance” by whites meets that standard (Brandenburg v. Ohio, 1969). Quinn’s claims, as far as the affidavit is concerned, have never been so bold as to outright allege that her ex-boyfriend explicitly suggested or encouraged violence, doxxing, or harassment, and so appear to be even further from meeting the standard for prior restraint.

Although Gjoni’s detractors insist, without evidence, that he must be lying, his actual words, with which he has also consistently discouraged harassment and threats, do not meet the definition of incitement, let alone abuse. No matter how distressing an indefinite, continuous fear of strangers that might, someday, have both the necessary knowledge, means, and motivation to physically assault a popular figure on the Internet may be, it cannot be reasonably construed as an instance of abuse at the hands of Gjoni.

Jurisimprudence

Hitov’s report of Gjoni’s ten-day hearing which, after a mere ten minutes, ended in the judge ordering the abuse prevention order to be made permanent is, if accurate, disturbingly irregular. Even putting aside the merits of the judge’s final decision, the proceedings themselves reportedly gave Gjoni no chance to challenge Quinn’s spin-doctored narrative of events in the affidavit. As indicated in Massachusetts courts’ guidelines for abuse prevention proceedings, pages 12, 96, and 98, the defendant “has a general right to cross-examine witnesses against him.”

C.O. v. M.M., 442 Mass. 648, 659–659 (2004) (court found that, absent grounds that would justify a limitation on the defendant’s right to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses, the defendant’s right to due process was denied him where the defendant was not given the opportunity to present and cross-examine witnesses).

Hitov also noted the judge’s granting of Quinn’s extremely unusual requested relief constitutes prior restraint on what would otherwise be legal speech. Gjoni, who has retained legal counsel, has spoken publicly that Massachusetts courts have already established “you can’t use harassment restraining orders as gag orders,” (again, see Nilan v. Valenti) while abuse prevention orders have “no such free speech precedent yet.” Considering Quinn’s explicitly stated concern over “damage” to her “professional reputation” — something completely irrelevant and which neither abuse prevention orders nor harassment prevention orders are intended to protect — this suggests Quinn’s unusual choice of requesting an abuse prevention order, when her requests for relief and the majority of her complaint concern online speech, is exploiting a loophole in case law in order to silence criticism.

Conclusion

The definition of abuse in the laws of Massachusetts (and indeed, most states) does not cover all behavior that many might consider abusive, such as verbal, psychological, or emotional abuse. The law is concerned, instead, with physical harm. One could, of course, still condemn Gjoni’s online posts as abusive by one’s own personal definition of abuse, or, just as easily (though with considerably more support from research on emotional abuse patterns), condemn Quinn as abusive based on her conduct in their romantic relationship and her misuse of the courts to prevent Gjoni from subsequently speaking out about it.

What does not depend on any semantic arguments, however, is the fact that Quinn’s sworn testimony consists almost entirely of a mix of audaciously deceptive half-truths and even outright lies, contradicted by evidence. Zoe Quinn’s affidavit is extremely misleading and Quinn appears to have committed perjury no less than three times. Rather than limiting her allegations to a singular alleged incident of abuse in July, Quinn seemingly perjured herself in pursuit of receiving an abuse prevention order against Gjoni which legally silenced him from speaking about her to others. Even if Quinn is right that Gjoni is morally entirely in the wrong and should never have said anything about Quinn publicly, even if one judges that he somehow ‘deserves’ a gag order in spite of all legal precedent, Quinn is provably a liar who has put her deceptions of the court in writing.

Quinn’s primary, if not sole, motive in filing the complaint appears to be a very short-term strategy of imposing a gag order on Gjoni for at least several months to a year. If the goal of the gag order is truly to protect Quinn from the “mob” whose actions she blames on Gjoni, it obviously failed, as Quinn has continued to lament the existence of such a mob ruining her life. If the goal is to punish Gjoni for daring to speak out against her, however, it has been far, far more effective.

Edit: Also of interest is the police reports Quinn filed, posted online on January 11th.

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