#ZachAttack: How I Faked My Identity To Unmask Harassers In The Progressive Gaming Community
The following article is an expanded excerpt from my interview with TGG, which I have republished here in the interest of clarifying how the ZachAttack was planned and carried out.
A Short Introduction
I am an anonymous netizen that frequents online message boards like futaba, 2ch, 4chan and 8chan. I have participated in these communities for a long time.
In real life, I am a mom who works as a medical research translator while finishing up my post-grad education. I live in Tokyo with my husband, our two daughters and our cat. I like to spend what little free time I have arguing about video games online, and have made this a habitual practice for over a decade.
In late 2014, “GamerGate”, an ideological and cultural conflict within the gaming community, made 4chan inhospitable. I migrated to 8chan and started to take interest in the events surrounding GamerGate. Shortly after that, I made an account on Twitter and added my voice to the discussion. Inevitably, some of the “anti-GamerGate” people who disagreed with my opinions made a habit of attacking my character.
Without getting into the arguments and claims of each side of the GamerGate feud: anti-GamerGate is a loose confederation of progressive internet activists, pundits and writers who have made it their mission to discredit the GamerGate movement and its “pro-GamerGate” participants as racist, sexist and homophobic.
Both sides of the GamerGate feud possess their fair share of vile internet trolls. However, the gaming media is tied to anti-GamerGate and has generally supported their version of events. Consequently, pro-GamerGate has been labeled as monsters who will stop at nothing to chase women out the gaming community. Key to my story, pro-GamerGate was often accused of “doxing”, or exposing someone’s personal identity, in order to terrorize these women.
Meanwhile, my anecdotal experience ran contrary to the gaming media’s depiction of GamerGate. I became the target of frequent attacks by male anti-GamerGate activists who sought to discredit my arguments by labeling me as a “fake woman”. This behavior worsened over the months, until several of my attackers began to claim that they knew my real identity.
I was never alarmed by these character attacks, but I found them to be hypocritical; anti-GamerGate had always presented itself as the victim of harassment by pro-GamerGate, and the journalists connected with key anti-GamerGate participants continued to propagate this version of events.
The Events of ZachAttack
In April of 2016 I was approached on Twitter by an anonymous pro-GamerGate participant called Rudderhouse. He suggested to me that he could compel key people in anti-GamerGate to incriminate themselves by acting as a double-agent, feeding my attackers false information about my identity, and recording their attempt to dox me.
Rudderhouse said that all he would have to do is gain anti-GamerGate’s trust and then provide them with the false information about me, and anti-GamerGate would do the rest by building a dockett of blackmail with which they would attempt to intimidate me off of social media. I agreed.
In the following days, I played along with Rudderhouse by pretending to argue with him on social media. Sometimes our act got very heated, and both Rudderhouse and I did our best to act like we truly hated each-other. After a few days of back-and-forth Rudderhouse blocked me, which I gleefully announced to my followers. Both GamerGate and anti-GamerGate bought the act. Rudderhouse was in.
Over the next four months, Rudderhouse and I worked together quietly. Rudderhouse built up a fake identity which we named “Zachary Miller”. He was given a face, a place of birth, an address (of a burned down building), an employer, and even social media accounts. I provided details and embellishments, drawing upon my knowledge as a Japanese. Most of all, Zachary was imbued with traits which we knew that anti-GamerGate would love to hate: we made Zachary a rich, white, heterosexual anime fan who cosplayed as Naruto at age 32 and posted fetish hentai porn on his Facebook. In almost every doctored screenshot of Zachary’s Facebook posts, Rudderhouse inserted a subliminal clue which implicated that Zachary was my true identity. These clues were meant to be found and connected by my would-be doxers.
As we worked on creating Zachary, Rudderhouse was busy socially engineering a handful of anti-GamerGate trolls who we considered to be the dumbest, most gullible and most vindictive of the lot. Rudderhouse fed each one a story via private messages. He imparted to my would-be harassers that he had ridden in an elevator with another white man at a Tokyo comic-book convention in December of 2015 and overheard a conversation about experiencing a “gender crisis” over Twitter shenanigans. Rudderhouse lied, telling them that he had sneaked a look at the man’s phone and seen that the man was tweeting from the mombot account. Every troll who Rudderhouse contacted had an axe to grind with me, so they all readily believed this story and couldn’t wait to call “mombot” out for the pathetic, anime-loving white male that they believed me to be. But Rudderhouse implored them to wait; there wasn’t enough evidence and he needed to “scour the comic-book convention’s hashtags on Twitter for further clues” —this was a lie meant to buy time until we had finished building the fake Zach identity. The trolls, thinking that they possessed exclusive access to juicy gossip, waited for Rudderhouse to come through with further confirmation.
Our preparations were finally nearing completion in the beginning of August when another unrelated incident focused many angry eyes on me: Robert Marmolejo, a volunteer aid worker for the Feminist Frequency-sponsored internet harassment prevention organization Crash Override Network, was accused by dozens of women of exploiting his authority to stalk and solicit sex from female victims of online harassment. Members of Crash Override Network quickly denied Marmolejo’s involvement in their operation. But hours later an anonymous source entrusted me with leaked chatlogs of Crash Override Network’s Skype group which proved that Marmolejo was active in the Crash Override Network’s Skype group and was delegated with the task of counseling harassment victims. I gathered these findings together into an article and published them here.
My article aggravated anti-GamerGate very badly. The next day was accompanied by much combativeness and trolling. Many Twitter accounts that I had never seen before came out of the woodwork to question my race and gender — as if it had anything to do with what I had written about Marmolejo. I then realized that the time to spring my trap had come. Anti-GamerGate wanted to discredit me by any means possible, and I could use that overzealousness to trick them. I contacted Rudderhouse and we began our sting operation on Tuesday afternoon, August 9th Japan-time.
As is recorded in the log here, Rudderhouse gathered the anti-GamerGate trolls he had tricked into a chatroom and told them that there had been a development: months of scouring social media for pictures of Zachary had proven fruitless, but “a real-life friend who had listened to Rudderhouse’s description of Zachary” was, by sheer luck, a mutual friend with Zachary on Facebook. This lie was convenient, because it enabled the trolls in the chat to rationalize why Rudderhouse’s only evidence was a link to a private Facebook account and amateurish screenshots of its content. Anti-GamerGate bought the story hook, line and sinker. They immediately went to work trying to find more details about Zachary online, even going so far as to illegally contact a government worker at the California State Department of Motor Vehicles and comb through PACER (the Public Access to Court Electronic Records) to see if “Zach” had any criminal history. Thrilled with the idea that they were finally going to “bag mombot”, they started to crack jokes and make memes about the physical appearance and general online behavior of “Zach”. The trolls renamed the chatroom to “ZachAttack!”, a name now identified with their own botched doxing attempt.
As time went on, more accounts joined the chatroom. Izzy Galvez, another Crash Override Network volunteer and a self-titled “internet abuse specialist” eagerly joined the chatroom after Rudderhouse, in a private message, informed Izzy that my doxing was underway. Rudderhouse took advantage of Izzy’s well-established egotism by tempting him with a chance to be the hero of the mombot dox operation: He presented Izzy with a tweet on my account, the context and content of which perfectly matched one of the Zachary Facebook screenshots. A smoking gun. Izzy couldn’t contain himself. “I’ll be in the DM group lol”. From that point on, in the main dox chatroom, Izzy claimed that it was he who had discovered the matching Tweets. For this, the other anti-GamerGaters vigorously congratulated him. Rudderhouse, for his part, silently surrendered all credit of the discovery to Izzy.
Also present in the chatroom at this point was Ubisoft Creative Director Palle Hoffstein. This was surprising to me, but not unprecedented. I had humiliated Hoffstein in the past by forcing him to publicly apologize when he mocked the physical appearance of a wheelchair-bound GamerGate supporter.
As evidence mounted through Rudderhouse’s story-telling and the trolls’ own detective-work (which “uncovered” further evidence that they were intended to find) the anti-GamerGate trolls began to feel certain that I was Zachary’s alter-ego. The would-be doxers couldn’t contain themselves anymore and began to send me tweets and private messages with “ZachAttack!” memes, shadowy allusions to my true identity and — most damning of all — the Facebook pictures which revealed “my” face and full name — Zachary Miller. Just according to plan.
I immediately made a few panic-stricken tweets, deleted them once I confirmed with Rudderhouse that the doxers had archived them, protected my account, and went radio silent. On my signal, Rudderhouse deactivated Zachary’s Facebook account. If the bait was already in anti-GamerGate’s mouth, this was their confirmation. They completely believed that I was Zachary.
Over the next 12 hours, I did not Tweet at all. My private messages were a sea of worried well-wishes, but also many anti-GamerGaters mocking my apparent downfall. I resisted the urge to reply. Instead, Rudderhouse and I — along with a team of other anonymous friends — meticulously archived the bedlam on Twitter: Dozens and dozens of tweets from anti-GamerGate accounts, all celebrating that I had been doxed. Izzy Galvez blatantly lied and tweeted, “I don’t know why mombot is locked down, but considering all the abuse they are responsible for, I am OK w/ this”. At the very same time, he was busy in the chatroom searching for my address and employer.
Rudderhouse and I decided that 12 hours was how long it would take for my doxers to figure out that the dox were fake, and by then it would be too late; they would have already made fools out of themselves by celebrating, sending me threats, and generally ceding all semblance of the high moral ground which they had claimed to hold since the beginning of GamerGate.
However, not everything went according to plan. It was not, in fact, the anti-GamerGaters which discovered that the dox were fake. They had completely bought into the narrative which Rudderhouse had fed them. They wanted the dox to be real. Instead, it was pro-GamerGaters who — approximately 7 hours into the 12-hour time window — analyzed the Japanese lettering in one of the Zachary photos. This led to the true source: a stock photo for a traveler’s WiFi advertisement. Zachary was a lie. Either Anti-GamerGate hadn’t thought to perform a search based on the Japanese words in the advertisement, or no one present in the dox chatroom could read Japanese. Ultimately, it was average, everyday GamerGaters that beat anti-GamerGate’s dox team to the punch and discovered that Zachary was a fake.
The news of the discovery threw the dox chatroom into confusion. Their first instinct was to believe that I had stolen this man’s identity. Was the stock photo model pretending to be Zachary who was pretending to be me? Had they been had? Some of the doxers started to express suspicion, but even then they refused to give up. My behavior had been too suspicious, and ‘precisely what one should not do when one is doxed’. They kept digging, and eventually managed to find various accounts and websites belonging to the stock photography model. It was a dead end.
It was at this point that Rudderhouse and I decided that the ruse wouldn’t keep until 12 hours had elapsed. Instead, we decided to drop the curtain after 9 hours. The anti-GamerGate dox chatroom, for their part, did not put the pieces together in time, and remained certain to the very end that they had doxed me until they were shown that Rudderhouse was a mole and that they and all of their friends had been duped by an incredibly long con.
The reveal, and the immediate fallout, can be viewed here.
In the days following the ZachAttack, many of the trolls caught in my trap sent angry tweets at journalists for writing several articles about it. Ubisoft’s Palle Hoffstein, indicted in my attempting doxing, changed his Twitter handle several times before fleeing Twitter completely (edit: Hoffstein has returned to twitter, where he and his followers occasionally send me disturbing messages about “finding me” at video game conferences. Ubisoft has made no official comment about this). Crash Override Network disowned Izzy Galvez, and former Crash Override associate Randi Harper threw him under the bus. Best of all, Twitter made some incredible memes. All in all, a great success.
Thanks for reading!