After amassing 60,000 online signatures for their petition in support of EA’s decision to allow games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic to feature gay romance stories, AllOut — a global organisation dedicated to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality — has now disabled the campaign page after a massive Spambot attack which has added almost 6,000 additional, fake signatures.
AllOut’s petition initially seemed to be a burst of positive publicity for a company that has been inundated with bad press. The petition, which supported EA’s decision to continue providing gay relationship options in Star Wars: The Old Republic, had gained the very public support of influential tweeters such as Stephen Fry and Charlie Brooker.
“Electronic Arts customers are speaking out loud and clear: Being for equality is good for business,” stated AllOut’s Executive Director Andre Banks. “Groups like the Family Research Council are truly on the ‘dark side’ – they put pressure on companies like EA to block fair, balanced portrayals of gay characters in gaming and other media. You don’t have to be a gamer to understand that it makes a real difference for Electronic Arts to present positive portrayals of gays and lesbians to its community of 100 million players.
“We are not arguing that Electronic Arts is a perfect company,” he added, “but we know that today, on this issue, they are taking an important stand that should be celebrated and supported.”
Then, 14 hours later on Reddit, an image — which apparently originated from 4Chan — appeared, providing proof that multiple Spambots on Twitter had hopped on board this campaign. Many on both sites appear to believe that EA itself had created and set these bots loose in an attempt to rustle up more support for the campaign and turn the tide of negative publicity towards the company. Some posted this Reddit image in support — an apparent tip off from an ‘anonymous journalist’ claiming that EA would attempt to steer this negativity into a conversation about homophobia, to “make the public assume the dislike of EA is due to the dislike of people of a certain sexuality”.
At this point any insinuation that EA itself was involved in this spam attack in order to reverse negative publicity seems purely speculative. AllOut themselves have suspended the petition in acknowledgement of the attack.
“AllOut.org has temporarily disabled the campaign page of its website due to a cyber attack by hackers,” states an update to the campaign page. “In the attack, hackers added roughly 3000-5000 comments and signatures onto the petition. AllOut.org is currently in the process of removing those signatures, but can verify that over 60,000 members have sign onto the petition and continue to urge Electronic Arts to stay away from the dark side.”
Another statement on the petition page itself seems to suggest that the campaign was entirely of AllOut’s own volition, and has had no input from EA whatsoever.
“More than 60,000 AllOut members took action before our page came under attack from spammers,” claims AllOut. “We’ve disabled the form, but want to assure everyone we’ve had no contact with EA regarding this campaign and are looking into the source of the spam.”
One tweeter uncovered this piece of information from a Kaspersky Internet Security & Anti-Virus forum, which stated that they had traced the origin of a Spambot to an Origin exe file, but this could possibly be a false positive.
We spoke to Michael McKinnon, Security Advisor at AVG, who seriously doubted that a massive Publisher like EA would be involved in this attack.
“These online petitions typically have different ways of blocking spam, the only way something like this could work and fool the voting form is a remotely controlled bot net,” said Michael. “I would seriously doubt that EA would have a part in remotely controlling a bot net.
“My general overview of this situation is that, given the passion seen in regard to gay and lesbian rights, it’s not too surprising that we might see fringe elements try to help push the momentum forward on this issue.”
We’ve contacted EA locally about this situation, and will update this story when we get official comment.