A writer at Polygon going by the name of Merrit K., was discovered to have promoted a game from developer Christine Love, a close friend of theirs, without disclosing ties.
The article was published on January 24th, 2017 and was co-written by Merritt K., and Simone de Rochefort. The article is labeled as an opinion, but discusses and promotes the latest work from Christine Love. Most people would assume it was just a critically positive dissertation examining the work of Love upon first glance, but diggers over on Kotaku In Action, such as sodiummuffin, put together a pastebin file showing that Merrit K., and Christine Love are actually really, really close friends.
The pastebin contains links to public tweets shared between Merrit K., and Christine Love across Merrit’s various Twitter accounts. In the tweets it’s revealed that the two chat frequently, have slept over, and have cordially met on multiple occasions. They’ve been frequently in contact over the last several years, as indicated in the tweets below.
Despite clearly being in a close friendship with Love, Merritt K., nowhere in the article is the friendship disclosed.
The lack of disclosure gives the impression that the opinion piece is unbiased, neutral and objective, when in fact it is aimed squarely at helping promote a game for a friend.
This oversight in adequate disclosures worked as a catalyst to kickstart #GamerGate back in 2014, and continues to be brought up years later as a lapse in ethical standards by various publications.
According to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, they suggest avoiding conflicts of interest. Journalism expert Tony Rogers goes a bit more in detail in an article about journalism, writing…
“It’s important to establish a good working relationship with the sources on your beat. But there’s a fine line between a working relationship and a true friendship. If you become best friends with a source you’re not likely to cover that source objectively. The best way to avoid such pitfalls? Don’t socialize with sources outside of work.
[…] “If you have a friend or relative who is in the public spotlight – let’s say your sister is a member of the city council – you must recuse yourself from covering that person as a reporter. Readers simply won’t believe that you’ll be as tough on that person as you are on everyone else – and they’ll probably be right.”
In this case, if Polygon was going to absolutely allow staff to cover a close friend, at the very least they should have disclosed ties within the article to inform readers that the piece would not be entirely objective.
(Main image courtesy of Yahlantykan)