A number of conflicts of interest have been explored and exposed by some of the anonymous diggers who have been working around the clock since #GamerGate started to put certain poor practices of video game journalism front and center for everyone within the community to see. The latest foray into digging centers around a lack of disclosure between Critical Distance and one of their patrons, Silverstring Media.
On Twitter, Maximus Honkmus tweeted out a pastebin file containing a number of linked citations where the video game media outlet, Critical Distance, wrote about or referenced material or individuals from the consultancy and PR firm Silverstring Media without disclosure.
As pointed out at the start of the pastebin file, Silverstring Media is a Patreon supporter of Critical Distance.
An alternate archive of the Patreon page shows that they have at least been supporting Critical Distance financially through Patreon since mid 2014.
If you attempt to access Silverstring’s Patreon page as of the writing of this article, it states that the page is private, so the public is unable to see who they contribute to financially.
More than a dozen conflicts of interest are listed in the pastebin, where various members of Critical Distance have written about products or individuals from Silverstring Media without at least disclosing that Silverstring Media has financial ties to Critical Distance.
As for the examples of conflicts of interest… an archive of Silverstring’s project page shows that one of their projects includes a game called Glitchhikers. The game was mentioned in a piece on May 25th, 2014 where they link to an extended blog about the game.
In another instance, on April 17th, 2015 Zoya Street, Silverstring Media’s editor-in-chief, joined Critical Distance to discuss the history of Everyday Games. Neither the intro article or podcast disclose that Silverstring Media has financial ties to Critical Distance.
Critical Distance also brought on Zoya Street as their senior curator in 2016, and further promoted Silverstring’s employees in a round-up piece on March 20th, 2016 by linking to content produced by Street without any disclosure of financial ties.
It’s very interesting because after #GamerGate took off in the late summer and fall of 2014, even Game Informer started posting up disclosures in their articles whenever they would write about or mention GameStop, their parent company.
In this case, Critical Distance seems to have made no effort in making disclosures a primary goal of their endeavors.
Ironically enough, Twitter user nuckable linked to a discussion from back in 2013, where Critical Distance was criticized by Dan Cox from Video Games and Human Values Initiative in a Google Group discussion where contributor to Critical Distance, Cameron Kunzelman, wanted to start a new feature where they would discuss the things they liked and didn’t like about Critical Distance in the previous week. Cox responded with…
“While I think this has the potential to generate discussion, it also opens the doorway to complain about Critical Distance itself. For example, I have already seen “Cameron Kunzelman’s game got linked to? Doesn’t he contribute to Critical Distance?” as a response to this latest post.”
The issue of disclosure and conflicts of interest were shutdown in that thread by Zach Alexander, who was the deputy curator at the time, who replied with the following…
“[…] please please -please- start a separate thread about CD’s selection bias. it’s a discussion, but it’s different from talking about the cool things that WERE linked.”
The pastebin also reveals that articles published by Silverstring Media employees promoted Critical Distance content without disclosing that they financially invest in the outlet.
#GamerGate essentially blew up over the fact that game journalists and game developers had become so close as friends that some game journalists were wistfully writing about their “friends” without any sort of disclosure. They were effectively using their media platforms to help push specific people into the spotlight, unbeknownst to the average reader.
Most gamers don’t mind if a journalist is promoting a friend, lover or financial investor’s game, but they do mind if it’s not disclosed. In the case of the last example, the FTC certainly cares if a financial investor’s product is not disclosed.
I informed Critical Distance about the conflicts of interest. Hopefully from here on we’ll see disclosures when they cover products from those who are financially invested in the outlet.
(Main image courtesy of Mangy Black Sheep)