Gamers flush out hoaxer on WSB-TV; station retracts story about gamer claiming to know Virginia killer

Screenshot: YouTube

A few days after the WDBJ-TV news crew was gunned down during a live report in Virginia, someone in Atlanta, GA decided to take advantage of the situation. My Twitter blew up with gamers (people who play video games online) telling me about a guy in Atlanta who had played a hoax on WSB-TV.

The guy told a local reporter that he was a gamer who had communicated with the killer, Bryce Williams AKA Vester Flanagan. He claimed that he had chatted online with Flanagan for a few years while they played video games.

The guy did not allow WSB-TV to use his name or show his face. He also told the reporter that the killer supported something called the “GamerGate” community.

First of all what is “GamerGate?” The reporter stuck that term in the story. The guy told her it was a group. Another issue that angered gamers who knew this guy was a fake.

For nongamers, “GamerGate” is a confusing controversy within the gaming world.  Unless you’re a hardcore gamer, you won’t have a clue about “GamerGate.” But it was obvious that the hoaxer used that term to shed a negative light on other gamers. Several gamers told me the WSB story had red flags all over it from the screenshots to the soundbites the guy gave the reporter.

The guy also claimed the way in how Flanagan killed the two journalists was very much like a video game he played with him.  My gamer sources say the guy knew that the media loved a story that connected violence with video games.  Again information feeding into the stereotype that all gamers are violent people. Not true.

The station promoted the interview as an “exclusive” and the hoaxer ended up on the evening news. The WSB story spread quickly via social media within the gamer world.  Many gamers knew the guy had duped the station. 

GAMERS COMPLAIN ON TWITTER

I told many gamers who complained to me via Twitter to contact WSB-TV, but they needed solid proof the guy was a fake. I have to admit many of us journalists do not  know the gamer world. Very few of us cover it.

FakeGamer2_Flush

I recently started looking into the gaming world and realize that community does not trust the media.  Many say they’ve been burned by several writers who exclusively report on the gaming world. That’s another blog.

So it took me the power of persuasion to get many of these gamers from around the country to contact WSB-TV to tell them what they knew about the hoaxer. I recommended they tell other gamers to contact the station with their own facts.

Many of these gamers do not like the limelight and tend not to use their real names online because of privacy reasons. I told them they had to come forward before this guy got the attention of another reporter.

My Tweeter

My Tweeter

My Tweeter

WSB-TV RETRACTS STORY

The gamers came through and WSB-TV retracted the story and apologized for its mistake.  I’m not sure if WSB  reported the retraction on television, but that usually is proper procedure. If the mistake happened on television, the apology is done on TV too.

Here is part of the statement WSB-TV posted on their website on Friday, Sept. 4:

“We had an onslaught of emails and calls from online gamers saying we’d been duped. Among other things, they questioned that profile. This week, we asked a Georgia Tech scientist, who is also a gamer, to analyze the profile and other screenshots the man showed us.  Our expert determined the profile had not been active long enough to support the man’s claim he’d known Flanagan three years. He found problems with other screenshots, enough to conclude the man’s story was not true.  As a result we are retracting the story. We apologize for any confusion it caused.” 

Kudos to the gamers who came forward to help WSB-TV get to the bottom of the hoax.  This guy was out to damage for the thrill of it.  But most of all he was out to hurt the gamers who are mostly in the sport to play, have fun and network with others online. Yes, playing video games is called a sport today.

LEARN FROM WSB-TV

I applaud WSB-TV for retracting the story and apologizing.  But what happened to WSB is bound to happen again to another news media outlet. We have to remember to be on alert to a “low life” who get thrills from the pain of others. And they will do anything to get their mug or name in the news.

I don’t know how the station in Atlanta vetted the guy before he got on television. But if you’re a journalist learn from what happened to WSB.

As journalists we need to slow down when collecting the facts. Get two or three sources.  When someone says do not use my name or show my face, dig deeper on the “why not?” Do not be in a hurry to be “first” or have an “exclusive” even on social media.

These “low lifes” do not care about victims in a story. They do not care about the reputation of a reporter or a media outlet.  If this happened to me, I would be suing the hoaxer. I would go through legal channels to make him pay for hurting my reputation.

A big thank you to the gamers who helped WSB-TV flush out the fake. We need to work together to get the truth out.

Until next time!

Rebecca

Source: WSB-TV statement

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About Rebecca Aguilar

Journalism is my life. I've been a reporter for 36 years. My office is the world. During my career I have been honored with 50 journalism awards and nominations. I'm also an Emmy-nominated TV commentator. I'm currently the VP of Programs for SPJ Fort Worth Chapter. I'm also the former VP of Online for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Posted on September 6, 2015, in Journalist, News Now and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Gamergate is about ethics in games journalism. It came to light that some games journalists were giving positive reviews in exchange for certain favors and payoffs. It has nothing to do with kicking women out of video games or pushing them out of the tech industry. Regardless of what some feminists want everyone to believe.

    • Thank you for the information. As you can see from my article, I did not get into the Gamergate issue because just explaining the controversy would take more than a few paragraphs. I also did not talk about any of the stereotypes of women within the gaming community. I do not report information unless I dig into it. I don’t copy information and definitely misinformation and pass it along. That would be against what a journalist is all about. I report the facts not rumor or agendas. Thank you again for your feedback.

      • Apersonofsomedescription

        Ah geez. Any comment on what “Gamergate is about” generally evokes cringes. Let me try to clarify.

        On Aug 16 2014 there was a callout post from somebody’s ex. Morally questionable, as these things tend to be. Among other things an indie developer was accused of having affairs with her boss, her PR agent, a journalist which had plugged her work in the past, and one of the judges of a contest she was involved in. Journos who normally eat this stuff up were dead silent, a video talking about it was struck down by an abuse of copyright law, and discussion of the issue was censored in various places. One particular thread saw more than 25,000 comments deleted supposedly as an emergency effort to contain sensitive information. One person who asked Julian Assange of WikiLeaks fame what he thought of the discreet bannings was discreetly banned. This led a group of gamers (myself included) to suspect that cronyism and other incestuous business practices were undermining the industry, whereas due to the political climate we’ve never quite been able to shake off the stereotype of being some sort of hateful patriarchs out to control women’s sexuality and career options.

        Somehow, this has not gone away a year later. Certainly some ethical violations have been fingered (mainly a long list of undisclosed conflicts of interest, a few cases of careless editors and some evidence of collusion between outlets) and certainly the concerns above are likely to be alleviated by a more conscientious and professional press, but to say “it’s about ethics” is mostly a soundbite. People have invested so much effort in getting to know ethics that the very investment skews their perception of the importance of that aspect of the issues.

  2. Rebecca, what’s going on beneath your feet is a massive culture war that’s being largely misunderstood. On one side you have GamerGate, on the other Social Justice Authoritarians. GG is a loose confederacy of people with a shared hobby… gaming, who became aware of the staggering degree to which SJA holds a stranglehold on New Media. This isn’t a liberal v. conservative thing. The politics of individual GG members is as diverse as they come. SJA on the other hand, commonly called “Social Justice Warriors” are… and I don’t say this lightly, please believe me, frightening. Under the banner of “Social Justice” they champion the destruction of everything from due process (College campus “Yes means Yes” laws that are little more than kangaroo courts prosecuting young men in an extrajudicial setting) to freedom of speech (banning debates at Oxford university based on the gender of the debaters) and on and on and on.

    Go ahead and research this, don’t take my word for it, save this. Do so exhaustively because that’s the only way you’ll be able to pierce the massive smokescreen on this.

  3. Thank you for sharing your points of view. I’m at the baby stages of the gaming world. It’s all new to me, but I am going into it with my eyes wide open. Journalists are always learning so I appreciate what you have shared.

    • Thank you very much for your time and patience. I know that being a new person in all this, but still thank you for doing due diligence. It’s all we wanted from our media.

      Have a good rest of the day.

  4. Thank you for seeing as as human. On correction though: GamerGate consists of mostly gamers from around the “world”. That is why GG was able to get SPJAirPlay trending internationally after the bomb threat against the event. We have been enjoying this open and shared hobby for decades. Thanks again. You have no idea how odd it is for us to not be demonized by someone in the press.

  5. Great blog, thank you. Very interesting to hear that you would Sue the guy.

    • The news business is a business. Our reputation as journalists is important . Our reputation helps people decide whether to trust us or not. People who try to humiliate us are hurting our paycheck. I think that would make a case for a lawsuit in my opinion. Thanks of your feedback.

  6. If you want to know more about gamergate, you can try and visit the gamergate site: https://gamergate.me/

  7. Hi Rebecca. Really appreciate your journalistic integrity. Very refreshing to see people not simply going along with ‘convenient’ one sided narratives and smear campaigns and actually doing their work well. GamerGate doesn’t need anyone to ‘take their side,’ they just need journalists to do the proper research and present all the relevant facts (which seems so blatantly obvious but sadly it appears to be a rarity nowadays). Thanks for being one of the good eggs.

    • Thanks for the feedback. I’m to the gaming community. Still at baby stage of research. I realize there are many gamers who feel burned by some writers who write exclusively about gamers. But good journalists just report the facts–no agendas, no spin, not being in bed with source or subject. We always do our own research not copy what others do. Good journalists are truth seekers and nothing else.

  8. Thank you for the article.

  9. As a journalist I would have sued my source for duping me, just like you would have done. Thanks for this well thought out blog because as a reporter who works for a local paper and a gamer, I see the confusion and frustration on all sides. Most reporters are confused about what a Steam account is while GG are like DO YOUR OWN FUCKING RESEARCH YOU EVIL EVIL EVIL EVIL EVIL JOURNO!

    • Thanks Robert for your feedback. I don’t like to get into name calling. All I know in this case is that WSB did the right thing and retracted the story.

  10. FNDSAJKGNFKADGN OH MY GOD REBECCA ANGUILAR IS THANKING GAMERS AND SAYING MEDIA SHOULD LEARN FROM US OH MAN HAPPY DAYS.

    Seriously though, thank you so so much for sheading light into how gamers have basically been doing reporters jobs for them in some cases. I don’t think I need to explain GamerGate, that’s more more articulate people. But if you do wish to have conversations about other people who have gotten wind of the movement talk to Milo Yiannopoulos, Cathy Young, Erik Kain, or Christina H. Sommers. They’ve been entangled in this mess for nigh on a year as well.

    How far you want to fall down the rabbit hole is up to you, though.

  11. Thanks for the feedback. As I have mentioned before, I’m new to this. While I don’t know all the details pertaining to GG, I will look into it. But for me its about finding good stories within the gamer community, and hopefully break down stereotypes and misconceptions.

  12. Adam Ward
    Dedicated to four years of service to WDBJ TV 7 in CBS.

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