Gamergate and the subpolitics of online abuse

M. Salter

Western Sydney University, School of Social Sciences and Psychology, corresponding author:

‘Gamergate’ refers to a campaign of online abuse and misogynist harassment that unfolded over 2014 and 2015 as a subculture of ‘gamers’ reacted against the perceived intrusion of women and more diverse users into the video game market and industry. During Gamergate, prominent women in the video game industry and press were subject to unprecedented levels of hostility and attack on social media. Gamergate exposed the disinterest of the criminal justice system in complaints of online abuse as well as the failure of social media platforms to consider their duty of care to users. The resistance of women targeted by Gamergate, notably Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, has drawn global attention to the abuse of women on social media and the unavailability of formal means to inhibit or sanction abusers.

This paper argues that Gamergate is indicative of the clash between online homosociality and the heterogenous publics of social media. From this perspective, online abuse is a perpetuation of the exclusion of groups that have typically been unwelcome in the public sphere. However, the paper suggests that law reform is unlikely to curb online abuse which is largely ‘subpolitical’ (Beck 1997) and hence sub-criminal. As Gamergate demonstrates, mass campaigns of online abuse generate much of their force through the collective actions of hundreds or thousands of users, the majority of whom are engaging in minor displays of incivility rather than illegal acts such as threats. This foregrounds the importance of pre-empting abuse and enabling bystander intervention through social media design strategies. The paper identifies those elements of social media design that may increase or decrease the risk of online abuse.


Dr Michael Salter is a senior lecturer in criminology and member of the Sexualities and Genders Research Group at Western Sydney University. He researches violence against women and children, with a focus on complex forms of victimisation such as organised abuse and technologically-facilitated abuse. His book Crime, Justice and Social Media on online abuse and harassment was published this year by Routledge.


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