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Gamergate investigation let suspects off with warnings, despite violent threats

Why it matters to you

Gamergate is in the past, but the FBI's response to online harassment -- and death threats -- is an increasingly important part of its job.

Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, the FBI has finally released its report on the investigation into the controversial Gamergate group — though it has been heavily redacted. The information contained in the report reveals the vicious nature of the threats sent to female developers and social critics, but more than that, it illustrates that the FBI may not have taken the events as seriously as it could have.

For those of us who have blocked out the events of Gamergate, a brief refresher: Essentially, a mob of online bullies decided to harass a number of game developers and social critics who had the temerity to criticize the video game industry’s handling of gender roles and sexism.

The FBI got involved when online harassment blossomed into outright death threats. The investigation report details a number of emails sent to unnamed recipients which threaten bombings, shootings, and all sorts of violence. According to The Verge, the recipients of these threats were very likely social critic Anita Sarkeesian and game developer Brianna Wu, who were popular targets of Gamergate trolls.

Looking into those threats, the FBI as an organization appears to have taken them very seriously — even involving the Behavioral Analysis Unit to try and identify some of the culprits. The agency used a sophisticated Palantir search method to identify the email addresses of some suspects.

But individual FBI agents may not have taken the threats as seriously or may not have understood what it was they were investigating. The report contains emails and filings from individual FBI agents who refer to Twitter as “Tweeter” and TOR as “Thor.”

Additionally, when the FBI tracked down a few of the individuals who admitted being responsible for the death threats, at least two were let off with little more than a warning — despite the horrific levels of violence described in the threatening emails. One suspect apologized, and another — a juvenile — was grounded, but neither suffered criminal penalties.

Wu spoke with the Verge about the FBI report and made it clear that she was not satisfied with the way the investigation was carried out.

“All this report does for me is show how little the FBI cared about the investigation,” Wu said. “Almost nothing we told them is in this report.”