'Bully Hunters' Organisation Claims To Hunt Down Harassers In Games, Stirs Controversy [Updated]

Everybody's fantasised about owning jerks in games so hard that they drop off the face of the internet. It's an appealing idea, but Bully Hunters, a group that's trying to fight harassment by diving into games and killing harassers, has become an object lesson in why that idea works better as an idle fantasy.

Last week, the Bully Hunters announced their presence in Counter-Strike, describing themselves as a collective that "connects victims of in-game harassment with gamers who want to help."

"The Bully Hunters are a vigilante hit squad of elite female gamers who have banded together to end sexual harassment and abuse in the popular game CS:GO," said the announcement.

In theory, the system works like this: if you're experiencing "in-game harassment or verbal abuse" in CSGO, you go to the Bully Hunters website and login with your Steam account.

At that point, you'll be matched with a hunter, who'll then friend you on Steam. After that, you invite them to join your game, and then they body the baddie and drop a message into chat saying that harassment is not a joke.

Anyone can register to become a Bully Hunter through the initiative's website, but the vetting process is opaque.

Counter-Strike is a game that's more popular with men than it is with women, and anecdotal evidence suggests that griefing and harassment are common for some players.

A blurb on the Bully Hunters website justifies their cause by claiming that "21 million female gamers have experienced sex-based taunting, harassment, or threats while playing video games online," an apparent extrapolation of a study that the site links to (the study, however, only says that 63.3 per cent of women in an 874-person survey claimed to have experienced sexual harassment while playing games online).

According to a release on marketing site MediaPost, Bully Hunters is a "passion project" of two marketing firms: FCB Chicago and sister firm New Honour Society, who teamed up with gaming peripheral maker SteelSeries to fight back against in-game harassment.

In addition, popular Twitch streamer ZombiUnicorn says she's consulted for the initiative, and the Bully Hunters website displays the logos of custom PC manufacturer CyberPowerPC, and gaming chair store Vertagear, as well as two activism-focused organisations: the National Organisation For Women and the Diverse Gaming Coalition.

Kotaku reached out to Bully Hunters and for more information, but PR firm Golin - representing Bully Hunters - said that the Bully Hunters aren't talking to press because they "want to remain anonymous."

The Bully Hunters' announcement was accompanied by the promise of a debut livestream, but before that even happened, the organisation was met with criticism that ranged from open vitriol and trolling to dissections of statistics they were citing to rampant questioning of their fight-fire-with-fire methodology.

In the wake of the initial round of criticism, ZombiUnicorn - who vociferously defended Bully Hunters on multiple occasions - claimed she'd been "called racist, bigot, sexist, ppl have threatened me with violence, sexual harassment & more all because I'm standing up to end harassment in gaming."

However, whether in bad or good faith, most arguments against the Bully Hunters basically boiled down to the idea that it's probably not a great plan to go after harassers by antagonizing them - even if it's exclusively through gameplay.

This widespread supposition is backed up by a 2015 study which found that men who aren't performing well in games are more likely to make nasty, potentially harassing comments toward women playing the same game.

Morgan Romine, director of initiatives at Intel and ESL-backed esports diversity organisation AnyKey, further told me via DM that, in her organisation's own research, they have found that "the most effective strategies for discouraging harassment involve modelling positive behaviours," especially when highly-skilled players are the ones supporting others and being actively welcoming.

After the announcement, Bully Hunters hosted a livestream last Thursday where the group purported to hunt down bullies live. The demonstration had a pre-recorded (but allegedly real) situation in which a "casual gamer" called on a Bully Hunter to dispense justice in a CSGO match.

The hosts played a clip of a male voice calling a woman player a "whore" and saying that "women just suck at video games in general." He was quickly dispatched by a Bully Hunter with a knife to the back.

It all went off without a hitch, and weirdly, there was no voice chat beyond what the guy initially said. After that, they cut away from the scenario.

Next, ZombiUnicorn hosted a Q&A with two psychologists walking through the 101 basics of why harassment is a severe issue. Dr. Alexandra Solomon and counselor Kevin Lanham hit on points ranging from how in-game harassment can have real-world psychological effects to the idea it's on men to step up and call out harassment, too.

"What this initiative is all about is figuring out how can we work together - men and women both - to move from a culture of harassment to a culture of inclusion," said Solomon. Solomon and Lanham did not explain how hunting down harassers would help achieve that otherwise admirable goal.

A horror-movie-style sound effect played at the end of the Q&A, signalling that another bully had appeared in-game. "You wanna get raped, bitch?" asked a male voice that sounded exactly the same as the first.

"I know where you live. I can't handle how big your tits are." Then another bully hunter showed up in-game with startling speed given how many steps are involved in connecting people with Bully Hunters, not to mention the fact that CSGO games are often full, making it hard for new people to immediately join matches.

But this second hunt, presented as a live, spontaneous occurrence, also went perfectly, with the hunter getting a double-kill and advertising the Bully Hunters service in chat instantaneously.

After that, there were a couple more brief segments about the severity of harassment, followed by a confusing montage of "Bully Hunt highlights" accompanied by the same male voice as before hurling similarly generic insults. By this point, large portions of stream chat were declaring the whole thing fake. Then the stream ended.

Since the stream, Bully Hunters have received a new wave of criticism, much of it centered on the questionable stream, insults like "bitch" and "cunt" publicly used by host ZombiUnicorn in the past (for which she's since apologised), and just how unworkable the Bully Hunters idea seems in action.

In addition to the aforementioned complications of joining an in-progress CSGO match, the ease of changing your name on Steam means that anybody can impersonate a Bully Hunter, and it seems that some already have. On top of that, the Bully Hunters don't vet claims of harassment before acting, meaning that there's potential for people to be judged guilty without any evidence.

Bully Hunters have, as a result, become the butt of many jokes, with even Pewdiepie joining in on the mockery.

In the wake of all this, SteelSeries, the company whose brand was most prominently displayed on the Bully Hunters page in the form of a pair of special Bully Hunter-themed headphones, has pulled support. "Bully Hunters was not a viral campaign stage-managed by us," the company said in a statement on Facebook over the weekend.

"We did not hire a marketing agency to create it. We didn't have anything to do with its execution, content or messaging. And more importantly, we would never take advantage of an issue like bullying to sell hardware ... although we still believe in a world where harassment isn't tolerated, it's clear to us that Bully Hunters is hurting, not helping, that cause."

Vertagear and the Diverse Gaming Coalition released statements announcing that they're pulling support as well, both expressing surprise at what Bully Hunters - a very different campaign when they first came on board, they claimed - eventually became.

"Although our engagement with this particular campaign ends here, we would like to express that our commitment to furthering causes that support those in need will not," said Vertagear's statement.

"However, we will ensure that proper due diligence is exercised from this point forward so that the Vertagear name is not attached to anything that may undermine the community and our brand ever again."

Paloma Delgadillo, president of the Chicago chapter of the National Organisation for Women, didn't distance herself from the campaign, but did acknowledge the blowback.

"We know that one platform won't end sexual harassment, but I'm still glad to have had the opportunity to bring attention to this issue," she said in an email. "Speaking personally, although the hateful comments aren't easy to look at, I still firmly believe it's important for me and like-minded individuals to speak up on behalf of victims and share our truth no matter what the trolls may say."

ZombiUnicorn, who emphasised that while she's only consulting on the Bully Hunters project and is not heading it up, believes the Bully Hunters organisation has heard the criticism and is open to change.

"They are gonna be working on changing stuff and coming up with more ideas," she said over the phone, also claiming that Bully Hunters began as a campaign to raise awareness around online harassment, with the hunt element only being added a few months ago as a stunt to kick off the larger campaign.

"I am still working with Bully Hunters to come up with more solutions and other ways of taking all the feedback."

She added, however, that from her perspective, the campaign has already kind of succeeded in that it got a lot of people talking about harassment, even if a lot of that talk was directed at the campaign itself.

"If it's gonna help a few more people understand that this is not OK - all these people are speaking up saying that we shouldn't do the Bully Hunters thing because that might harass the bully - then it did its job," she said.

"It's bringing more attention to the fact that harassing isn't OK. You can debate the merits of the execution, but I'm always gonna remain supportive of the overall goal."

Bully Hunters has yet to make a statement about all of this, but as of writing, its website, YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, and Facebook were offline.

Update - 5:31AM, 18 April 2018: Marketing firm FCB Chicago, who headed up Bully Hunters, has issued an apology.

“We recognize our efforts were less than perfect and apologize — to our supporters, the gaming community and most importantly to those that continue to be bullied,” the firm said in a statement to Kotaku. “This issue deserves more ways to end it and we look forward to continuing to find them. Until then, we hope the conversation around ending sexual harassment in gaming grows even stronger.”


Comments

    This was 100% fake and staged. Just check some of the videos. There's no way it was real. Purely done to sell merch. Plus what, killing someone in a pvp game? Yeh that sure showed em...

    Also... amazing how they were simply able to just join a game without having to wait?

      Yeah, SidAlpha covered this the other day.

      I just find this odd that the Bull Hunter incident gets signal boosted while the Alex Mauer epic was not given a look in.

        Sid was late on it, it was pretty much everywhere before he touched it, while the Mauer stuff is old and not many people care outside his circle.

    For simply playing a game normally while daring to (gasp!) have a feminine element in my username, I've had aggressive and intrusive comments about the following: how sexually attractive I am, how sexually unattractive I am, my sexual experience, my sexuality, my virginity, my weight, my personality, how I must be a bitch, how I must be boring, how I'm a fake gamer because I'm a woman, how I'm a fake woman because I'm a gamer. My value as a human being. Note that these people have never seen me and 9 times out of 10 haven't heard me, either. They're just flailing madly in a void of insults based on one small, feminine detail that opens the floodgates. They're all misogynists; some who would adamantly deny that for ironically misogynistic reasons and some who would proudly claim that. I'd like to see a solution of a support network where I could socialise with people who weren't fucking insane, rather than have someone attack them and escalate the issue. I don't want to interact any further with these crazy, cruel idiots.

      It isn't really even a good answer to your problem, but I would suggest looking into playing premades in any of the large semi closed gaming communities.

        Oh man, it's been a while since I've had MMO time. I play a lot of single player games and stuff that's easier to play casually, like Overwatch. Luckily I have some friends in-game who I can group with, or I just ignore chat and listen to salsa music. It's like a fun handicap because you can't hear footsteps.

          I think its useful for more than mmos, I used to frequent a lot of clans to lower the amount of shitters. Maybe try something like Unreal Aussies or something?

            I'll check it out, thanks!

              There is also Kotaku's steam group, but I dunno how active people are on it.

          I think MMOs have improved in this respect, at least.

          Back when WoW was only a couple years old, there was still a pretty common misconception that anyone with a female avatar was a female player. Which meant that yeah... as a guy playing a female avatar, I got some pretty creepy and weird unsolicited chat messages.

          But over time, returning periodically to the game, it's non-existent for me. I can only assume that either the shitty little trolls are assuming everyone's male until evidence is provided otherwise (such as voice chat or hint-dropping), or that the demographics have shifted. (Or both.)

            Weird, I never saw that in WOW even back in vanilla. I made a mix of male and female alts and never saw weird whispers on any of them. Maybe it's a server thing? I know a couple servers have terrible reps for weirdos and perverts.

      I always look at what clans or groups are available for the specific game I'd like to play. I'm a gay guy, so I've always looked into what LGBT themed ones are available on Reddit or a game forum. It's not the most convenient solution, but it assures I'm not being called a f*g or worse when I just want to play a few rounds.

        Yeah, I'm gay too. There are some good gaming communities branching out from local LGBT groups.

        We had a small ‘family and friends’ gaming group with a couple more immature guys who would sometimes use ‘gay’ to describe things they didn’t like. They did this even though my brother is gay and was right there. It just didn’t... connect, for them. A couple times they’d realize and catch themselves, apologizing, and when they didn’t we had to bring it up.

        There’s conditioning happening out there somewhere to make this just an unthinking reaction for these kids and it’s got a lot to answer for.

          Though even then I've got friends who are gay or very much involved in the LGBTetc community who would still use the term that way. Not as prolific or vitriolic as your classic "straight white basement-dweller with a chip on his shoulder" or whatever, but enough to feel like there's a legitimate disconnect between that and homosexuality.

          Agreed. And it goes deeper than that. My 17 yo nephew, who came out 12 months ago, uses "Gaaaay" like that all the time - gaming, watching football, social media. When I mentioned it he thought it was hilarious.

          It's the Southpark thing, the word is "just an insult" to them. They don't actually know the meaning or the effect it has on certain people. It's no different to calling someone a wanker or a dickhead or an idiot. I honestly don't mind people who use an insult that way because they're not trying to be truly hateful. It's the ones that use it as a targeted insult that I don't like.

      Or it's trash talk trying to psych you out. Hell, just look at sledging in cricket and other sports. It's not surprising it's prevalent in online gaming where anonymity is a feature. Not to mention the troll could be any age, gender, etc.

      Not saying it's right or "nice" and I wouldn't do it myself. But I think the best way to deal with it is to ignore it, mute the person (if possible) or report them (if the game allows it). Using a 3rd party like the article suggests is fraught with all sorts of issues. It seems like it's getting a bigger bully to bully the one bullying you and that just leads to escalation.

        Yep, that's what I usually do!

        Last edited 18/04/18 1:14 am

      I've been a gamer for many years. I personally love it when I find out a girl plays games.... I don't know what the big issue is with it, my gf is a gamer and we jam online together quite alot, I have heard people criticize her too, it is such a load of bull and this needs to change. I feel like most of these people are living in their moms basement... don't let it bother you too much, just mute them or find a different server... what these bully hunters should be doing is maybe hosting private games for women only where they won't get harassed.... might have a better outcome than what they are doing now.

    Bullyhunter is the worst idea ever. There are so many faults in the idea that it will never work in CSGO.

    Also, the amount of cringe in the video was hard to handle.

      I'm starting up a group, a small group called Cringehunters...

      Incidentally we have Cringehunter headphones for 199.95, mousepads for 59.95 and Monitors for 299.95! Totally not a marketing scam...

        You know the worst part is that someone out actually probably thinks it is a good idea. Someone that likely does not play CSGO or games in general.

          I wanna start BullyHunterHunters... where decent people hunt down scumbag con artists who are trying to start up crappy marketing scams to prey on the innocent and abused online.

          Because that's what it feels like they're doing, taking advantage of those who get preyed upon online, making them, themselves ironically that which they're claiming to stamp out.

            Except it is even worse because the hunters aren't even paid, just the site owners and some unnamed anti internet harassment groups. So it won't be long before people are probably paying for a service that can't be fulfilled due to them not having players available.

    So the solution to harassment they're promoting here is to hire a hitman to eliminate the people you have a problem with? I know it's all virtual but the result is still the same, you are just getting someone else to solve your problems for you by eliminating them. They should instead be helping players deal with it on their own and even start trying to educate other people about how their behaviour is unacceptable.

    If there's one thing I've learned about bullying, it's that once you stop reacting then most of the time the bullies will give up and sometimes even be civil. Sometimes it will continue but that's when you start pulling out the heavy artillery, not before.

      Fight bullying with bullying. That always works, right?

      They sit there behind the anonymity of the internet and act like dicks. If they tried half this shit in real life they'd be beaten so hard their zits would fall off.

        Which could be I guess ok? If it were real and not entirely staged.

          Outside of self-defence violence is never OK. It is not an acceptable solution.

          There is, however, something gratifying about watching a victim of bullying putting the bully on their arse.

          When it is real and not entirely staged.

            Oh I'm just referencing the videogame incident here lol.

            In real life, violence is never ok, despite peoples fantasy that 'punching a bully stops bullying'. It doesn't these days, it just leads to worse and worse situations.

            But this clip was hilarious, where they kill someone in a pvp game and expect it to 'teach them a lesson' lol

    The video was staged. In fact, if you look at the name of the person who was being harassed, and then the name of the bully hunter who they apparently asked to help, they are actually both usernames of the same person.

    And seriously, calling in support to kill the guy in game is ridiculous - thats the entire point of the game. Mute the harassers, report them, and if the company isn't doing something to stop the harassment, ask them why or stop supporting them.

      This is the most exasperating part of the entire exercise.

      The only way killing someone in the game where the objective is to kill someone could be effective was if they were being targeted exclusively and if it was so severe and brutal and sustained that it was tanking their ranking or otherwise ruining their experience of the game by ensuring they spend most of their time spectating.

      This would mean by necessity that the 'bully-hunter' would need to be of uncommonly exceptional skill - confidently and reliably better than the bully, not only enough to best them, but to survive long enough against everyone else to track the bully down and target them specifically. Either that, or to win against everyone. That skill difference pretty much doesn't exist except amongst the pros, who are regularly notoriously toxic themselves. It'd be pro vs pro, at that point, which... y'know... IS THE POINT OF THE GAME.

      Anything less than that is someone pretending that they've done something out of the ordinary by playing the game as intended or offering themselves up as fodder.

      This was a placebo, a frustrated attempt at catharsis, appealing to a desire for revenge.
      They've retreated back to the claim that it wasn't meant to be, and that this was instead a statement for awareness... but even if that excuse is (generously) accepted, it's still a cringey-as-fuck statement. Like 20yr old arts majors touring high schools on government grants to convince teens that 'cool kids don't do [whatever],' through the ultra-cool persuasive power of interpretive dance.

      It's an important issue, handled in the most ineffective and self-defeating way possible. It makes me feel sympathy embarrassment for everyone involved. Not a shred of self-awareness in the irony of attempting to prove misogynistic bullies wrong about their ability by being forced to resort to faking having ability.

      Someone, somewhere, thought this was 'cool'.

    What we have here is one of them anti-trolls that feeds on the trolling of other trolls, distracting them from regular folk.

    It's the only logical explanation.

    It just... wouldn't work anyway. You can't have people jump into a ranked game partway through a match. I dunno about casual lobbies but I assume you can jump in and out, so let's say you're doing that. So you get harassed, you can very easily mute and report, but no, ok, you go to this service... which you have to give them access to your steam account for... And a high level player jumps into your game to... join your team... And... team kill? Therefore getting the "bullyhunter" kicked from the game. Or they join the other team, where they then have no identifiers on who the bully is, and just destroys everyone in the lobby, including the one being bullied.

    Yup. Seems like a much better method than muting and reporting.

    You gotta spend money to make money right....

    Nah but seriously, I'm all for anti-harassment initiatives, but they often overlook cultural norms around competing. I mean, sledging in cricket has and always will be a massive part of the game. Is it just the mutual understanding of this between players' that makes it OK? How can you differentiate between someone that's genuinely toxic and someone who's just trying to put the other player off their game by being obnoxious?

    For the record I don't like to compete in that way, be it esports or regular sportball (sportsmanship ftw). It used to really annoy me, but I've realised that I play significantly worse when I get annoyed. So by getting annoyed I was confirming for whoever was doing the sledging that it was a viable tactic. On the flip side, laughing along with your attacker is a fantastic way to throw them off their game when they're trying to do the same to you.

    TL:DR fight hate with love.

      Fair enough if it's the opposing team trying to psyche you out, not gonna lie I've trash talked a few times to throw off the enemy team in the past, but I try to avoid doing it cos I know it sucks to have the fun of the game ruined by some ass trashing on you. However, when it's your teammates? There's no reason to psyche out a friendly. If I just don't speak, no problem, people will assume I'm a man and treat me as such, but come voice chat and my own team will, more often than not, suddenly stop using their brains and think 'hey I know let's insult the fuck out of this woman just because she's a woman that'll be hilarious'. Just...why? I don't mind it, I find it easy to ignore 'em and it doesn't bother me (unless I've had a bad day), but it's still so pointless to be so toxic to your own teammates. I've seen the effects that treatment can have on women or young girls that I've played with in the past, being scared to talk or even play games just because if some toxic dick finds out they're female, they'll jump all over that, and it's sad.

      I do agree though, having a laugh when someone tries to insult you or being self deprecating throws them off a lot of the time, fight hate with love, indeed! It works pretty well, and works well for me too because a lot of my humour is self deprecating regardless.

    The irony is they hired bullies themselves.

    mobile.twitter.com/WeWuzMetokur/status/984583188952616960

    mobile.twitter.com/Bortug/status/984526541689360391

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