Independent journalist Tim Pool traces a story from an unproven claim made in a Reddit AMA through multiple layers of news outlets until it becomes common and accepted knowledge that Neo-Nazis recruit teenagers through the online game Fortnite, which has a voice chat mode. A certainly plausible accusation, but totally unverifiable without further investigation.
"While it is interesting that someone who claims to be a former white supremacist made this claim, that does not mean it is true," Tim Pool explained. "It certainly does not imply a widespread epidemic of this happening. Just because he might know some people who did this does not mean it was common or effective."
"Nobody wants to say, it was one person on the internet who made this claim, it might not be true. They'd rather just say, 'Well maybe this guy knows what he's talking about! So it's probably true!' At the very least they'll use certain qualifying language like 'appears to be,' 'maybe,' 'might be,' claim to be.' But the average person can not see through those words and assumes it must be true. Thus, we end up with an absolutely insane psychotic story about FORTNIGHT, a silly little game where you fly onto an island and shoot at your buddies. And how white supremacists use it to recruit people. This plays into the whole '#GamerGate' notion about video games being a 'gateway drug' to white supremacism. And how people believe you might simply want to play a video game without [left wing] politics getting involved you are automatically a hardcore white identitarian."
"The world is damn insane," Pool said. "But there is more!"
Pool also introduces an internet term that people involved in politics are going to have to learn about in the next few years, the Live Action Role Player (LARPer), who pretends to be one thing on the internet in order to influence people in a certain, and often hidden, direction.
"What I think actually happens is, there is a culture among young gamers to say these things. If you go on [anonymous message boards like] 4chan, you're going to see a lot of people saying things that are racist and stupid, but most of these people don't actually believe it. Are there people in 4chan who actually are white supremacists? Yes, sure, but for the most part, they are LARPing. People on video games who yell things that are racist, sexist, or homophobic are probably just trolling. Some people say, well if you are trolling that way you must actually be racist, sure maybe, but the point is there are a lot of people who think it is funny to trigger someone by saying the most shocking thing possible."
"There are also many people who just want you to get angry," Pool said. "And yes, you will probably here this nasty stuff? Is it good? No, it is a bad thing, and there is probably no way to fix it, other than to police speech, but you can ban people for violating certain guidelines, but I'm not sure if that's a solution."
Here's how someone can make a random claim on the internet and see it transmuted by the media into a fact:
1. Someone claiming to be a former white supremacist writes on Reddit that such people use online interactive video games to brainwash and recruit impressionable young people.
2. A niche comics website writes a story about the idea, citing the Reddit AMA. At no point do they fact check or ask the company who made the game for a comment, but they tell readers the subject is "something we all need to be aware of."
3. British Murdoch-owned Tabloid 'The Sun' writes up the story, citing the video game/comics blog and doing no further research or fact-check.
4. More media outlets, including FOX News, repackage the story from The Sun without any fact check or further research.
5. FORTNIGHT is one of the most popular video games of the last couple of years among teenage boys and college students, who do use the game's voice chat in much the same way that their female counterparts use texting. It became a fast-growing hit because the base game is free to play, and you only have to spend money if you want to buy 'upgrades.' The story is a gold mine for media companies because it is so popular that using the name in your headline will get you tons of click revenue automatically.
6. The story makes the leap from outlets like The Sun and FOX News to ABC News affiliate WBMA Alabama, providing local color and 'proof' in the form of a quote from one local gamer, again no fact checking or asking the game company for comment. The gamer said he hears racist and anti-Semitic speech all the time over his headset when he plays the game. Again, this is anecdotal evidence and while it proves that there are indeed racists who play video games, it does not prove any kind of organized plot to brainwash the video game-playing youth of America. The ABC affiliate did a better job than any of the previous steps, but a second piece of anecdotal evidence no pattern makes.
7. Other ABC affiliates nationwide run with the story, and the guy who originally posted the Reddit AMA asks other neo-Nazi recruits to come forward with their stories. Also, as Tim Pool notes, "simply because you hear racist or hateful things, doesn't mean they are trying to recruit you for anything. It could just be that they are kids trolling you. The idea that there is some nefarious middle-aged man asking kids playing FORTNITE if they want to be white supremacist is probably not happening."
8. People begin to call for boycotts of FORTNITE based on reading the story.
9. An investigation into the guy who originally made the claims shows that he has said he believes Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, and Stefan Molyneaux are more dangerous than actual white supremacists like David Duke or Richard Spencer. So, it appears that the guy is still a white supremacist. Lies pile on top of lies...
Anyone else remember when Vox ran an article arguing that is was likely that "jews inherit materialism"— Tim Pool (@Timcast) September 10, 2018
They go on to say it would be morally bankrupt or unethical to pursue... but believe it is likely?
Vox Wtf is this?
Maybe they just framed it poorly but this is gross pic.twitter.com/oA4qGE6nkP