Continuing my series of journalism fails, which began when Katherine Cross insisted on falsely accusing Markus “Notch” Persson for harassment on Twitter, brings us now to the Boston Herald and Zuri Berry. Mr. Berry is the Deputy Managing Editor for News and Multimedia at the Boston Herald, and he made the classic mistake of writing about Gamergate while being terribly unequipped and unprepared to do so. The result is an article falsely connecting a Twitter troll to the Gamergate movement, and a refusal to acknowledge his reporting error when presented with evidence to the contrary.
The story begins with the Manchester terrorist attack. A Twitter troll that went by the username @GamerGateAntifa (Gamergate and Antifa are, generally, two conflicting ideologies) posted a picture of a YouTuber named TheReportOfTheWeek with the message, “My son was in the Manchester Arena today. He’s not picking up my call! Please help me.” The tweet went viral and was retweeted thousands of times.
BuzzFeed News picked up on the Tweet and posted it in a piece about fake news circulating Twitter about the terrorist attack. Because of the troll’s username, they associated him with Gamergate. “Trolls, some of them with Twitter handles that suggested connections to the GamerGate movement, also posted pictures for seemingly malicious reasons,” they wrote.
The troll is now banned from Twitter but a quick perusal of his timeline would reveal no actual association to the Gamergate movement, despite Gamergate being part of his username. The only instance of him using the #GamerGate hashtag was the next day, after BuzzFeed’s report. Moreover, while the account was a few years old, it had no tweets before May 19 of 2017, just a few days prior. The Gamergate movement began in 2014.
As is often the case with modern media, other outlets immediately picked up on the story and re-packaged it in their own words to publish on their own sites. USA Today’s Mike Snider did this with an article asserting an even stronger connection between the troll and Gamergate. “Also,” he wrote, “some online identities known to be part of the GamerGate movement passed along a picture of TheReportOfTheWeek purporting to be his worried father, BuzzFeed said.”
I sent emails to Jim Waterson and Brad Esposito, the original writers for the BuzzFeed piece, as well as Mike Snider of USA Today. A Gamergate supporter also tweeted at Mike Snider to inform him of his error, and soon after he changed the article to read, “Also, one Twitter handle (@gamergateantifa), an apparent reference to the GamerGate movement – an often harsh and sometimes life-threatening online argument over gaming culture that peaked in 2014…”
I sent follow-up tweets to Waterson and Esposito to no avail. I published a video detailing the situation, which you can find here.
While Snider of USA Today corrected his article, BuzzFeed did not, and so other outlets picked up on the same erroneous report, including at least one in France.
Slow on the take, the next day the Boston Herald picked up on it as well, and Zuri Berry re-packaged his own article with the added irony of talking to a fake news expert.
“A Twitter user connected to the GamerGate movement , which was known for its hostilities and threats directed at female video game players,” he wrote, “falsely portrayed himself as the father of a popular YouTube personality…”
I sent Mr. Berry an email with a link to my video with the correct information. I asked him the same questions I asked the other reporters: “how did you get this wrong? Why didn’t you just take minutes of your time to see if this Twitter user was actually connected to the GamerGate movement?”
I asked why they associated the Twitter troll with Gamergate when he also has “antifa” in his username, and they did not mention any association with Antifa.
None have answered my questions or responded to my emails or tweets.
After some time with no response to my email, I sent a tweet to Mr. Berry asking why his article had not yet been corrected. He then provided me with the first response I’ve received on this matter: he blocked me.
And for that action, for blocking me and burying his head in the sand when confronted with evidence proving inaccurate reporting, I add Mr. Zuri Berry to the list of Game Objective journalism fails. The BuzzFeed writers would also make the list but let’s be honest, they write for BuzzFeed. I expect better from the Boston Herald, and request that Mr. Berry, a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, re-read the very first item in the SPJ Code of Ethics: “Seek Truth and Report It.”