It only took eight months, a lot of misrepresentation, plenty of media slander, and perpetual reminders from thousands of gamers that #GamerGate is about ethics in games journalism for the editor-in-chief at Kotaku to acknowledge this very thing in a long and detailed post on Kotaku.
Stephen Totilo, the editor-in-chief at Kotaku, made an article-length comment at the bottom of an article that dealt with an incident involving a group of people at the Calgary Expo being wrongly ejected for their association with #GamerGate. Totilo’s comment was in reply to a user who took Kotaku to task for their perceived lack of ethics and the pressure by the #GamerGate consumer revolt to get them to make any sort of change to elevate to the journalistic standards that gamers expect from them.
Majority of the comment from Totilo covers many of Kotaku’s major journalistic screw-ups, from Dragon’s Crown to the Max Temkin case, and a few things in between. I’m not going to quote the entire comment, because as I mentioned, it’s the length of an article. However, there are some choice bits in there that acknowledge what gamers, consumers and protestors against unethical journalism have been trying to point out all along: #GamerGate is about ethics in journalism. Totilo stated…
“I had long talks with my staff about disclosure back in August. And then I wrote this on the site, I said: “We’ve long been wary of the potential undue influence of corporate gaming on games reporting, and we’ve taken many actions to guard against it. The last week has been, if nothing else, a good warning to all of us about the pitfalls of cliquishness in the indie dev scene and among the reporters who cover it. We’ve absorbed those lessons and assure you that, moving ahead, we’ll err on the side of consistent transparency on that front, too.” From what I’ve seen, though, the Gamergate anti-Kotaku narrative is that we avoided talking about journalism ethics, that we didn’t acknowledge any mistakes. I hope you can see how that doesn’t square with me.”
If anyone from Gawker or Kotaku had bothered to interview someone like Sargon of Akkad, Christina Hoff Sommers, Mundane Matt, Ashton Liu, Adam Baldwin, LeoPirate, Allison Prime, Jennifer Medina, Daddy Warpig or any of the moderators from Kotaku in Action, it would have been made abundantly clear that it wasn’t that Kotaku avoided talking about journalism ethics, it’s that Kotaku avoided doing anything about their failure at upholding even the most basic of ethics principles in the world of video game journalism.
To this day, Nathan Grayson has not been publicly reprimanded for his blatant conflicts of interest with the developer for whom he had personal relations with while also paying money to this individual after their relationship ended, while infrequently covering the individual in articles. He covered the developer on multiple occasions and only added disclosure statements after #GamerGate made a stink about the issue. It is true that Totilo discussed ethics with TotalBiscuit and it’s true that Totilo did make a post about Grayson’s impropriety, but in the post from back on August 21st, 2014 Totilo writes…
“In recent days I’ve been asked several times about a possible breach of ethics involving one of our reporters. While I believe no such breach occurred, I feel it is important for Kotaku readers who have questions to get clear answers.”
The breach itself was the conflicts of interest that were not disclosed. And before #GamerGate, these conflicts of interest were not disclosed.
Totilo also further notes that #GamerGate’s obsession with ethics didn’t prompt Kotaku to address certain issues, but that some of the issues – such as affiliate link disclosures – was something Totilo was doing all by his lonesome outside of any pressure from #GamerGate, Gawker or the FTC, writing…
“Finally, no, it didn’t take “#gamergate to even make you guys disclose about making profit from sales referrals.” I know some people in Gamergate think that, but they also think that we didn’t care about ethics until they started talking about ethics.”
Well at least Totilo acknowledges #GamerGate is talking about ethics.
Nevertheless, Totilo steps up to take credit for disclosures of affiliate links on Kotaku, stating…
“[…] about the affiliate link disclosures. No one asked me to add them to our recurring lists of the Best games on each platform. No one in our company mentioned in. That was my decision, made on my own, without consulting anyone outside of my staff.”
“In November, I decided we’d refresh our Bests posts to reflect our tastes through the holiday releases. Around the same time, our Commerce team asked if I’d mind if all the links in the Bests were changed to affiliate links. I guess some had been affiliate links already, without me realizing it. I decided I’d be okay with that—we were giving readers multiple retail links for each game anyway and were recommending these games—but I knew that I’d be way more comfortable if we then also added a disclosure about the links. So we added it once all the links were changed. I know Gamergate was trying to make a thing about this around the same time, but as far as I know there’s no connection.”
For as far as Totilo is concerned, there may not be a connection, but during this time – following an e-mail campaign to the FTC – Vox Media decided to overhaul their disclosure policies as well.
Totilo is also mistaken about the affiliate disclosures: it was for all of Gawker, not just Kotaku.
#GamerGate ran a consumer campaign operation to e-mail the FTC specifically about Gawker’s lack of disclosures regarding native advertising and affiliate link disclosures. This took place in late 2014, around November 1st, 2014. The FTC directly addressed the consumer complaints on November 27th, 2014.
On December 1st, 2014 one of the FTC officials who requested not to be named, stated…
“Although we were already planning on updating our Endorsement Guide FAQs to address various issues that have arisen with respect to endorsement-related practices, the fact that we recently received many complaints about undisclosed affiliate links has made it clear that the FAQs need to address that specific practice.”
[…] Although the pure number of complaints won’t necessarily affect our analysis of whether the FTC Act has been violated, we do strive to be responsive when we see a pattern of complaints in our database, and certainly we saw a pattern here.”
Shortly thereafter, it was reported on December 18th, 2014 that Gawker had a site-wide notice about their policies regarding affiliate disclosures being overhauled for a January 19th, 2015 issuance.
While the media has been silent on what’s been deemed “#GamerGate victories”, spinning stories to suit their own concocted narratives, consumers have been doing the legwork to get things changed in the media arena, regardless.
Totilo closed out his comment, stating…
“I’ve talked about most of this stuff many times before, and here and there I’m sure I’ll wind up talking about it again. Does this make us a bastion ethics? I have no idea. But I’d like to think that what we actually do—that the kind of approach we’ve taken even at our worst moments—reflects an outlet that is always trying to do its best.”
At this point, it appears many gamers see a bridge that’s been burned too badly to even consider crossing. After eight months of media slander and an entire Wikipedia page full of defamation and many blatant lies, it’s not surprising that one of the sites responsible for the entire #GamerGate consumer revolt blowing up has been hit the hardest when it comes to criticisms from the core gaming community.