Feature DeepFreeze: An Interview with Bone Golem

The man behind DeepFreeze talks about the catalogue of ethical breaches in game journalism.

Justin Knight

Published

By Justin Knight @StoicWriter

When DeepFreeze came into existence just over a year ago, it earned quite a positive reaction from individuals who had been campaigning for gaming journalists to clean up their act and behave more ethically. It also received quite a hostile response from those who it appeared to take aim at. For those on the outside of the whole debacle, it is a worthy resource and reference point as to why gaming journalism reached such a low point. The site is a catalogue of the ethical breaches committed by those mentioned, and serves as a guide for the reader as to whether the individuals' work can be trusted or not.

The man behind DeepFreeze is known as Bone Golem (he likes to protect his privacy and remain anonymous). He took it upon himself to do this project as it was for a cause he believed in, and still does to this day. He was kind enough to give me some of his free time to talk about the whole project and its future.

DeepFreeze logoi

Why set up DeepFreeze to begin with?

Back in 2014, I had been doing a series of infographs called 'Ethic Fail,' where I wrote about individual problems in game journalism. I wanted to focus a little more on all issues of gaming journalism present and past-nothing against political discussion, but this was what I thought and think was more important-and contextualize the issues of the present with the issues of the past. 'Ethic Fail' too included old scandals, such as the firing of Jeff Gerstmann from Gamespot and so on, but also the more recent ones like the then newly-discovered conflicts of interest at Kotaku. These morsel-sized infographs would keep this information neat and clear, in one place, easy to read and share over social media; but they eventually evolved into longer articles, and eventually a lot of them started to become connected... the same names with the same examples. I kinda threw out there the idea of making a website cataloguing these issues on 8chan, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. My post got screencapped and tweeted by a major GamerGate account that was apparently lurking the thread, and this was retweeted by the likes of Oliver Campbell, who originally came up with 'Operation DeepFreeze' as a way to catalogue these issues with journalists, and my personal hero William Usher. This response made me decide to actually put the effort in, that this could work and something that could be a nice exercise in my skills with PHP. Since 'Ethic Fail' I was already devoting a lot of my time to these projects, so I made the site with the idea of turning this hobby of mine into work. I changed my mind before starting the project, which has been running for a year with no ads and no income, but I eventually changed my mind and recently started accepting donations, mostly because the site's development keeps stretching. Neither choice was easy."

Am I right in saying that this was set up as quietly as possible?

Well, yes and no. The whole process of developing DeepFreeze was documented daily on the GamerGate thread on 8chan's /v/ board. Every night I would go on there with a few screen caps to show the progress I was making and ask for input, feedback, ideas and so on. Everything I did was public and is still in the thread archives, including some pretty ridiculous mistakes that /v/ prevented me from doing. There was no intent to be sneaky about it."

Roughly how long did it take to track down the relevant information for each journalist involved?

About three months, but I was working on the shoulders of those before me. A Plant's precious list gave me most of the information about the journalists (with Plant himself keeping me up to date on changes), and of course most of the data came from Usher, the digs by the great BoogiePopRobin and the unsung heroes of the GamerGate wiki. DeepFreeze has been relying on external sources most of the time; only recently we've been making more original content for the site such as the Metal Gear Solid 5 review camp scenario -- which I researched myself -- or the tips that our very valuable diggers send me... information that is often first published on DeepFreeze. Not an optimal platform for that, but eh."

The site certainly got some reactions when it went up. For example Brendan Keogh referred to it as a "hit list." Stephen Totilo accused you of "smearing good journalists" and Jonathon Holmes even mocked the site and his featuring in it for a piece in Destructoid. How did you find some of these reactions?

I don't have any issue with anyone criticizing the site. Legitimate criticism is always welcomed even when it is not positive. I do not feel mad at Totilo or Holmes for what they have written. In fact, I'm quite grateful for what they have said and I have had peaceful conversations with both of them. Totilo lashed out at me at first, but then apologized and was reasonable in the end. So you could say water under the bridge. I have a reasonable degree of respect for him and even for Holmes who is one of the top 'scorers' on the site. When I contacted Holmes, he was very helpful to me, and even offered some pointers as to how journalism works. The kind of criticism I don't appreciate and the one that I get a lot of is trolling, as that is basically white noise and not even worth considering. The biggest reaction to DeepFreeze, in my opinion, is silence. If you look at the tweet Keogh put out, he was telling people not to talk about the site, and that's what happened. Journalists wouldn't reply to me when I contacted them on social media. I'm pretty sure it got to a point where the journalists would put themselves in a headlock, because the moment they would criticize the site they were basically promoting it, which is a pity in case they have legitimate gripes. When I have contacted journalists, especially after the Totilo incident -- which could've been avoided had I not approached him publicly -- I have always been very careful to not put them under the spotlight, especially lately, as it is also a learning process for me. Lots of room for improvement."

One of the criticisms of the website I have seen is that some people do not like the way it promotes ethical alternatives. Is that fair?

That is a very fair criticism. In fact, I almost removed that feature when the homepage was remodelled. Early on people said they liked the featured alternative, so I kept it. It may seem strange, but it is part of the world that DeepFreeze covers and also acts as a guide to the reader about what to support as well as where to go to find information that is reliable and unbiased. The reason these sites are recommended are explained in the site's guidelines. The gist is that they are not chosen because they are supported by the GamerGate community, but they are chosen because they provide quality content."

I've noticed in the past that you have worked with some journalists to clean up their profiles on DeepFreeze. How many times have you done that now?

I don't believe I've actually worked with any journalists to clean up their profile. What I have done is to contact the individuals beforehand and explain what I am going to do and give them a heads up. I have contacted some journalists with a reasonably clean profile to give them a heads up and say, 'You may want to know this' and so on. I don't believe I have contacted people unless I believe they have something positive to earn from the conversation. I would never contact someone to try and incriminate them. That infamous tweet to Totilo was actually trying to improve the profile of Patricia Hernandez, who, as a journalist -- regardless of if you like her or not, -- has been making an extreme effort to clean up, and has been taking disclosures seriously and making them in her work. Her profile is one that pisses me off, because when I set up the emblem modifiers system, it was also to benefit people like her -- who made disclosures -- [and to] separate people like her from people who never issued any correction, like Leigh Alexander. The problem is, while I was implementing this new mechanic, I was sent a new conflict of interest concerning Hernandez concerning her articles about the game Sunset, where she had written about it twice without disclosing her friendship. As it happens to Leigh Alexander herself, who was involved in the game through her PR company. Given the way DeepFreeze's profiles work, Hernandez's profile does not have a clean-up mark on it because of that entry, and it pisses me off. Journalists should never gauge their disclosures on what DeepFreeze does with them. Not only is DeepFreeze hardly an ethical authority, its rules change fairly often, but it's a bit of a pity."

What is the future for yourself and the website?

Well, right now I am working on implementing a new system where the outlet page will be modified, hopefully making the site fairer to journalists, as well as more informative and appealing to those people who have not been involved in this debacle that has been going on for almost two years. The filing system will change to also reflect where a certain journalist has committed any ethical breaches, and if they move to a different site the breach will remain filed to the old one, not the new one. This system will also enable me to file entries on an outlet rather than on a journalist. I also want to finish implementing the backend of the site, so other people can write entries that I could edit and approve with a 'yes' or a 'no,' and then we'll see how it goes. Once others can contribute to it, maybe it will be creating content fast enough that I feel confident tackling mainstream media. If I won't be able to do that... well, maybe someone else will come up with that, and I wouldn't mind this idea going on without me."

Images courtesy of DeepFreeze.it