Book review: “Crash Override” by Zoë Quinn

by Heather McNamara

Crash Override

Overall: 4/5

Trans narrative: N/A

Crash Override is going to be a different kind of book than the previous works I’ve reviewed for Gender Analysis. While Zoe Quinn is out and proud nonbinary, this book is not a trans narrative. There is a lot of discussion about how they found out that they were queer online and they do conspicuously refer to themself as a “feminine person” several times and never as a “woman” but the book itself is about their experience as a victim of severe online harassment.

Online harassment is something that most trans people experience at some point or another. Sure, some trans people hide behind nondescript cartoon avatars and don’t ever talk about it, but those who come out will get hit with it. TERFs will dox and deadname. Concern trolls will “worry” about mental health. It will be impossible to avoid talk about delusions and dicks and attack helicopters. It’s impossible to discuss the experience of trans people online without acknowledging both the unique opportunity online communities present to trans people where they can explore themselves or support one another and the constant risk of personal, hurtful, and often dangerous harassment that trans people face.

Crash Override is the story of the biggest hit job the scum of the internet ever pulled off: Gamergate. I’m still nervous to type that without warping the spelling in some way for fear of being searched and subjected to the old bullshit. It began in late 2014. To most of us, the exact date may be a little fuzzy. Maybe at this point, the year is even a little fuzzy. To Quinn, however, it is not. Chapter 1 opens with a photograph of Quinn and then-boyfriend Alex on August 15, 2014 “a few minutes before the life I had built for myself – after clawing my way out of poverty, homelessness, isolation, and mental illness – would be destroyed by someone I had once loved.” Ouch.

While Zinnia and I have been the targets of a few internet hate mobs, our experiences have been nothing like this. Yes, it has sometimes become scary. Our address and pictures of our home have been posted online. People found Zinnia’s deadname and a certain infamous TERF has her posted as a lesbian harasser or some nonsense on her garbage TERF website. We’ve been threatened. We’ve had our social media accounts rendered almost unusable as a result of the bombardments. As trans equality activists who advocate for treatment of children and prisoners with or without the consent of parents and wardens, it comes with the territory. But still, we’ve never experienced anything comparable to gamergate.

Quinn’s partner, parents, past employers, and friends were harassed. People whose names happened to rhyme with their associates’ names were harassed. Quinn and partner were forced to couch surf for months because it was unsafe for them to return to their home. The courts got involved. The UN got involved. I don’t want to spoil it. It’s easy enough to google but I highly recommend reading the book. It’s a good book!

The book was not simply a memoir of the harassment Quinn faced during this time. It is an explanation of the group psychology, bonding, and tribalism that created the kind of atmosphere which allowed it to happen and continues to allow groups like the Alt Right and various other internet hate hubs to flourish.

“They bragged about victories like flooding my game’s page with hatred and nude photos of me and went so far as to create guides to share tactics on how best to ruin my life. They even orchestrated plans to donate to various charities specifically to make themselves look like concerned citizens and not a mob of people trying to get me killed. They built friendships and bonded with each other by reinforcing their dedication to the righteous cause of taking me down, reminding themselves at every turn that they were the good guys.”

Sound familiar?

The writing is less compelling than I’d hoped for such an incredibly terrifying story. Quinn mostly only skims their own narrative in the beginning of each chapter before rushing to the next group of facts about online harassers. Personally, I find Quinn to be a very compelling person and I’d been hoping to learn more about them on a personal level, but of course I understand that at this point in their life, they probably haven’t enjoyed much in the way of privacy and they likely want to keep a lot of that to themselves.

In the end, Quinn goes over what you can do to protect yourself from internet mobs in case they come after you. Their organization, Crash Override, does research in online mobs and assists victims. 

About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender healthcare, public health, psychiatry, and history of medicine, integrating these many perspectives and guided by the lived experiences of trans people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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