IGN Staff ‘Pissed’ After Meeting About Deleted Palestine Charity Post

How an article trying to raise money for Palestinian charities turned into an editorial crisis for one of gaming's biggest websites.
May 17, 2021, 9:33pm
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Image: IGN

Around lunchtime Friday, one of the largest and most influential gaming websites, IGN, published an article called "How to Help Palestinian Civilians." The article noted "Palestinian civilians are currently suffering in great numbers in Jerusalem, Gaza, and West Bank, due to Israeli forces." It was a short post, in line with similar articles IGN has done in the last year related to raising awareness for Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, Asian American hate crimes, and more. Similar articles also quickly appeared at both Game Informer and GameSpot

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Over the weekend, the IGN article and its corresponding tweet were quietly deleted. The same fate soon followed for Game Informer's article. It is rare for publications to remove articles without making note of the change. But both were removed without any notice or announcement or update. They just disappeared. GameSpot's, however, has stayed up.

IGN and its parent company, J2 Global, did not respond to a request for comment about this weekend's events, nor did Game Informer's parent company, GameStop.

Speculation and conspiracy theories broke in the absence of a real explanation, only aided by the lack of commentary by IGN's typically chatty and very online editorial staff. IGN broke its silence at 2:20 a.m. Eastern Time Monday, releasing a statement that said "by highlighting only one population, the post mistakenly left the impression that we were politically aligned with one side" and it was "not our intention and we sincerely regret the error."

What stuck out in IGN's statement, beyond walking back its previously noteworthy support of Palestinians in the wake of the latest Israeli militaristic aggression that has so far killed 198 people and injured 1,300 more, was the word "we." Who was the "we'' in this scenario? Editorial? Management? Did the same editorial staff that proudly pushed for the original blog and changed the header of the IGN website to include the Palestinian flag suddenly decide it was a mistake?

Crucially, no one from IGN editorial signed off on or was involved in sharing the statement on social media, Waypoint has learned.

Three IGN employees, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid putting their jobs in jeopardy, told Waypoint its editorial team was not consulted. The statement's eventual existence became clear to the editorial staff over the weekend but what it would include or say was not clear to anyone until it was published. The sources Waypoint talked to didn't know who wrote the statement, and say no one they talked to on the editorial staff knows either.  An identical version of the statement was distributed internally to employees with no added commentary, they said.

One source described the mood of many employees as "pissed."

Just a few weeks ago, IGN’s various internal divisions were in conflict over the rollout of an exclusive gameplay video for Six Days in Fallujah, a game that’s been criticized for coming across as American military propaganda.

At a contentious staff meeting this morning, three IGN employees told Waypoint that IGN executive vice president and COO Peer Schneider was peppered with questions about the post coming down. Who actually removed it? Why did they decide to remove it? One employee said Schneider did not respond with specifics, and argued the issue was the charity article choosing a side in an ongoing “war.” (He was specific to use the word “war” multiple times.) Another employee asked if IGN's parent company, J2 Global, was motivated by financial investments in Israel, which reportedly Schneider could not answer.

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IGN staff did not leave the meeting with satisfying answers.

The first sign of contention about the Palestine charities post did not come from IGN readers unexpectedly upset at the politics of the editorial team—responses to IGN's now deleted tweet were supportive—but from IGN Israel, one of many spin-offs operating throughout the world, which released a scathing critique of the charity post that originated on IGN.

"It is important for us to emphasize that we condemn this action and did not take part in it or were aware of it, this is not our way," said the IGN Israel statement. "We at IGN Israel support the State of Israel (obviously) and support IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers who do everything to keep us all [safe] in these tough days. We work in every way possible to remove this misleading and offensive content from the American edition which does not represent our views."

The IGN Israel statement, which originally appeared on Facebook and Instagram, has since been deleted by both. IGN Israel did not respond to a request for comment.

IGN's article came not long after GameSpot managing editor Tamoor Hussain released a widely shared and celebrated video critiquing how the games industry's silence about Israel's treatment of Palestinians "is a stark contrast to the way big streamers rallied for other causes over the last few years." Hussain called upon those with power to take a stand.

Nothing about this seemed controversial. It wasn't meant to be a bold statement. It was solidly in line with what IGN had already been doing. The entirety of IGN's staff didn't consult and approve this decision because they didn't need to—it reflected the mood and attitude of the staff. And it's why they're "pissed" it was deleted.

There is no indication IGN editor-in-chief Tina Amini was involved in crafting the statement, and the IGN employees I talked to mentioned how Amini has supported this and previous efforts to use IGN's platform to champion causes, regardless of potential political blowback.

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Amini did not respond to a request for comment.

"Blindsided and furious," wrote IGN producer and host Stella Chung this past weekend.

Tiny acts of rebellion came up while the statement was being written. For a brief moment, IGN South Africa re-published the original Palestinian charity article. It was quickly deleted without a note or an update.

This morning, as IGN employees returned from the weekend and found themselves forced to clock in for the week ahead, some made comments on Twitter alluding to recent events.

"Ah," wrote IGN reporter Rebekah Valentine. "It's like that."

Similarly, the aforementioned Chung shared a frustrated version of the "this is fine" meme.

Others, like IGN director Justin Davis, simply repackaged the charity article in tweet form.

Popular IGN hosts like Brian Altano were even more direct, saying "Palestinian civilians are suffering at alarming, catastrophic rates."

Game Informer employees were more muted, though associate editor Liana Ruppert did vaguely tweet: "We are trying."

None of the public comments from IGN employees included much in the way of direct criticism of IGN or J2 Global. Like many publications, gaming or otherwise, IGN is not unionized. (Same with Game Informer.) Several publications also run by IGN's corporate owners have attempted to unionize, but so far, the effort has not resulted in a contract. Even if it did, it would not apply to IGN, who would have to put together a separate unionization effort.

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However, an IGN employee told Waypoint that even after the Palestinian charity post was removed, there were no instructions (or even indirect pressure) for staff to stop commenting on social media. The silence seemed to be a natural reaction to a staff caught by surprise.

"I work for the parent company [of IGN] and as someone who they just gave an award to for human rights reporting, I don’t stand by this," said Mashable associate video producer Tulika Bose on Twitter. "You can’t 'both sides' this situation. [...] A simple post offering help to children that needed it should not be controversial, no matter their skin color or religion. Children are children. This is where I draw the line. If I get fired for this, so be it."

Mashable editorial is, on the other hand, one of the groups demanding a union contract.

"During my time at IGN I was often told by my colleagues that I came at a good time because 'things use to be a lot worse' but now 'things have gotten so much better,'" said former IGN associate guides editor Janet Garcia, who is now an independent creator. "Things were far from perfect but there were a lot of times I was proud to be at a company that spoke publicly in support of things like Black Lives Matter, esp. given the size."

The decision also drew the attention of one extremely popular former IGN personality, Kinda Funny co-founder Greg Miller. A person often known for taking off his shirt and eating chicken wings, Miller is not typically associated with the escalating mixture of video games and politics. He also used to work closely with far right gaming commentator Colin Moriarty, who was pushed out of Kinda Funny in 2017 following criticism of a sexist tweet.

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In the last few years, prompted by Trump, Miller and Kinda Funny have been, in fits and starts, incorporating more political conversations into their podcasts and streams. This morning, Miller announced Kinda Funny would be "streaming and raising money for the Palestine Children's Relief Fund," a non-profit that was mentioned in IGN's original article. They’ve already raised more than $6,000. The full stream is on Friday.

"We're upset about what's happening in Palestine, and now, we're upset about what's happened to our peers at IGN," said Miller to Waypoint. "We're not alone. So let's take all those emotions and pour them into something positive."

Miller said he watched the video from GameSpot's Tamoor Hussain, which prompted the Kinda Funny staff to reflect and talk about how they could help. They settled on a charity stream, and Miller said they "took the weekend to educate ourselves" on the plight of the Palestinians.

"It's crazy how much things have changed since the conversation started on Friday," said Miller. "I really thought that we'd have to plan around an IGN charity stream."

IGN and Game Informer have both continued to publish new articles today, while their charity articles remain offline. It's unclear if additional statements or clarification are coming from staff or management. The true test may not come until the future, when the next cultural moment arrives and employees are forced to wonder if merely using their platforms to suggest people raise money for noteworthy causes will suddenly endanger their career.

Update: IGN employees have released a statement aimed at “management of J2 global and Ziff Davis, and the corporate leadership of IGN,” which was shared simultaneously on social media by dozens of IGN workers. The statement calls out management not issuing an “explanatory statement” of why the charity article was removed, and called the move “highly disrespectful to much of its content team and broader staff.”

The employees are calling for a meeting with management “by the end of the week” that would include “full transparency about the reasoning and process behind the post’s removal.” They also hope to re-publish the piece, albeit “through a process that incorporates management feedback and concerns about how its content is perceived.”

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561)