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Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn and more take aim at cyber harassment against women

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The Broadband Commission Working Group on Gender gathered at the United Nations yesterday to present its findings on what they consider to be a "rising tide of online violence against women and girls."

The full briefing aired live on the UN's streaming website. An archive of the footage is now available for on-demand viewing.

Present at the event were game developer Zoe Quinn and Feminist Frequency creator and industry critic Anita Sarkeesian, who took part in a panel discussion.

Both Quinn and Sarkeesian were among those called on to speak about their involvement with the UN Women's coalition that was formed to reduce instances of gendered cyber violence. Each spoke of the systemic nature of the problem, while touching upon their personal experiences as a target of online harassment.

As one of the most prominent figures embroiled in GamerGate, a loosely organized crusade to rid of the video game world of progressive voices, Quinn mentioned having "sat for two weeks in a chatroom silently recording them plotting how they would [drive her to kill herself]" during the period in which her online antagonizers were most virulent.

Regarding her present involvement with the group, she stated, "We shouldn't have to keep fighting when anyone can go take a look at my Twitter mentions right now, when people are impersonating my friends to ... basically use gendered violence slurs against me. That's my day-to-day. And it shouldn't be on people like me to have to prove this."

Through her work with Feminist Frequency as the star of a video series critiquing depictions of women in the media, including video games, Sarkeesian also found herself caught up in the GamerGate firestorm. "I have been a target for three years non-stop," she told those in attendance, "of egregious online harassment in all levels."

She defined this as not just the violence that the group has formed to combat, but also the "day-to-day grind of ‘You're a liar,' ‘You suck' ... making all of these hate videos on a regular basis to attack us and the mobs that come from those hate videos."

After the briefing, the Broadband Commission published a detailed report on its research to its website. The 48-page document provides statistics on the rates at which women are harassed on the internet, analysis of the data, and a proposed plan of action to combat the issue.

"The online social media sites and the places in which we are engaging really need to step up and change the way that their systems operate," Sarkeesian said during the panel discussion. "It's not enough that [social media sites] simply put band-aids on the problem areas. They need to completely reimagine what their systems look like in order to build sites that actively deter online harassment."

This was echoed in a statement Sarkeesian gave to Polygon over email, regarding her participation in the discussion on combatting cyber violence. "We need to create an online environment where everyone can participate without fear of intimidation or violence," she told us.

Finally, the group aims to develop laws and other governance to "enforce compliance and punitive consequences for perpetrators."

Also included in the report is a list of notable female targets of cyber harassment from the past decade. Quinn and Sarkeesian are named and joined by others ranging in age from 13 to 64.

While the women are still frequently the recipients of a certain sector of the web's ire, both have since used their experiences to embolden them as they pursue online gender equality.

Quinn has since founded Crash Override, an online harassment assistance and prevention organization. She also participated in a similar discussion earlier this year as part of her continued activist efforts. The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence met before congress in April to talk about cyber threats and stalking.

During the spring briefing, GamerGate was invoked multiple times, as Quinn shared her experience as the receiving end of a barrage of hate mail and other personal attacks.

"When thousands of faceless strangers have set their sights on you," she said then, "every single aspect of your life is bombarded and probed until who you were before is gone and your life becomes almost unrecognizable."

Just prior to yesterday's session, the Working Group experienced some of what they have come out against. Quinn, Sarkeesian and other members visited Google Ideas the day before the briefing with the intention of discussing their research and further exploring the issue of cyber harassment.

Google Ideas, which is a think tank devoted to freedom of expression and access of information, tweeted about the visit and uploaded a photo to its account.

The post received a less than warm reception, as indicated by a follow-up tweet.

Sarkeesian remains undeterred by those who speak out against her and other activists, as she explained to us. "It's an encouraging sign that the United Nations is taking the epidemic of gendered online harassment seriously," she wrote, "and I hope this inspires even more active efforts in this area."

Note: The Broadband Commission report is currently in revision. We'll update this story once it is re-issued.