The Massachusetts Appeals Court dismissed a First Amendment case tied to the online harassment of women in video gaming, quietly closing another chapter on the online mob phenomenon known as Gamergate.
In a decision released Thursday, the court declined to rule on Eron Gjoni’s claim that a now-rescinded abuse prevention order violated his free speech rights because it instructed him not to post information about his ex-girlfriend online.
A Boston judge granted the order in September 2014 at the request of Zoe Quinn, a former Boston-area game developer. Quinn complained that Gjoni had “abused her in various respects” and published a long essay online that “included highly personal information about her, and that this in turn incited many third parties to harass her,” the Appeals Court wrote Thursday.
That blog post accused Quinn of infidelity with a gaming journalist, which led to claims that her work was given unfairly positive media coverage. Those accusations were refuted by the editor of the gaming website Kotaku. But the Gamergate campaign continued to grow, leading to numerous reports of death and rape threats against Quinn and other women in the industry.
Gjoni appealed the abuse-prevention order, arguing that it illegally restricted his free-speech rights. A judge rescinded the order at Quinn’s request while the appeal was in motion, but Gjoni wanted a higher court to rule it unconstitutional anyway.
The Appeals Court agreed with Quinn that the entire issue was moot, writing that “neither party retains anything but an academic interest” in the free-speech questions.
Gjoni’s lawyer, Jeffrey G. Harris, said they were disappointed in the court’s ruling “but we are gratified that it recognized the First Amendment implications of court orders restricting speech.”
Quinn’s lawyer, Felicia Ellsworth, said, “We welcome the Massachusetts Appeals Court’s decision to dismiss Mr. Gjoni’s appeal as moot. Our client, Ms. Quinn, wants nothing more than to put this difficult chapter of her life behind her. The court’s decision, we hope, will do that.”
Gamergate’s ability to marshall online agitators had serious real-world effects even beyond the harassment of women.
Chip maker Intel Corp. pulled advertising from the website Gamasutra in late 2014 after pressure from Gamergate campaigners over an opinion piece published on the site. But Intel later apologized, reinstated its ads, and announced a $300 million plan to help boost diversity in the tech industry.
Intel’s plan includes a push by the International Game Developers Association to double the number of women working in the industry by 2025. Video game developers remain mostly male — three-quarters of them, according to a recent industry survey — even though about 40 percent of players are women.