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.
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.
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!
Source: WSB-TV statement