Following the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday night, the majority of the world recoiled in horror. But individuals active within Gamergate—either a movement dedicated to harassing women and what the group calls "social justice warriors" (SJWs) in the video game industry, and/or campaigning for better transparency and ethical standards within the media, depending on who you ask—had a different reaction. They used this tragedy to present a Gamergate critic, Canadian journalist Veerender Jubbal, as one of the Paris terrorists.
In the aftermath of the attacks, the Photoshop-altered image of Jubbal, shown above, was tweeted by user @Bl4ptrep with the caption: "One of the Paris suicide bombers' photo's [sic] been released. He posted the photo on twitter shortly before the attack."
Jubbal a fierce critic of Gamergate who regularly uses Twitter to express his opinions, became a target for the group's more aggressive members after starting the hashtag #stopgamergate2014. He's also an advocate for equal rights and a Sikh—which has led to the suggestion by some Gamergater supporters that Jubbal is a terrorist, their reasoning based on a deliberately moronic conflation of Sikhism and Islam. This kind of "joke" hints at the deep-seated racism that can be seen in tweets from explicitly pro-Gamergate accounts towards Jubbal (content warning: examples here and here).
The original image, a bathroom selfie photographed using an iPad, was posted on August 4, 2015, by Jubbal. The image was tweeted by blacktric seven days later and, following a conversation that can be seen above, a version altered by user @turd_wartsniff (hereafter TW) appeared on August 12. TW's doctored image changes the iPad to a Koran and adds a suicide vest to Jubbal's waist (other minor alterations were later made). The original, the repost/discussion, and blacktric's tweet following the Paris attacks are shown above.
The fake image, thus disseminated, was picked up by media outlets worldwide in the wake of the Paris attacks, including Sky Italy and Spain's La Razón newspaper. The latter published Jubbal's face on its front page, calling him "one of the terrorists." Though La Razón has retracted its allegation, the damage was done: In just a few hours Jubbal went from being unknown to the face of the Paris attacks.
But to those familiar with Gamergate's worst actions, the photo-doctoring will come as no surprise. Some of the group's associates exemplify many of the problems the authorities face in dealing with online harassment. Gamergate as a whole is decentralized, largely composed of anonymous individuals, but capable of bringing an enormous amount of manpower to bear on those it declares "enemies." Members of the group have denied any connection between Gamergate and the photoshopped picture of Jubbal, but we can prove the link.
TW's original Photoshop image was discussed with blacktric on August 11, but first appeared on August 13.
TW posted this image three more times before November 13, and his authorship was helpfully confirmed by blacktric when things began to kick off.
TW is also responsible for a series of images, Photoshopped and otherwise, attacking Gamergate opponents. Among this individual's favorite targets are Arthur Chu, Anita Sarkeesian, and Zoë Quinn—all of whom have spoken out against Gamergate harassment. (Quinn has contributed to VICE.) The account also posted images containing the Gamergate logo, a purple and green "GG" badge, and the Gamergate cartoon character Vivian James. Examples of tweets attacking Anita Sarkeesian and indie developer Brianna Wu are below:
Gamergate members have insisted that blacktric has no association with the group, but that is contradicted by his posting on the GG subreddit KIA*, jolly back-and-forths with Gamergate's "based lawyer" Mike Cernovich, and his history of commenting on stories about the group. Astonishingly, amongst the evidence offered by Gamergate that blacktric has no association with them is a tweet where he refers to GG as "us."
(*This comment was deleted by KIA moderators after this article was published. It is archived here.)
Before deletion, blacktric's Twitter account also featured the post, "GamerGate is the greatest thing that's ever happened to both gaming and journalism." It is not hard to find further evidence of his affiliations—just google "Gamergate" and "blacktric" together. With assistance from an anonymous source, we've identified the individual behind this account as a 24-year-old man from Turkey, and this information has been passed both to Jubbal and the relevant authorities.
It is incontrovertible that both the individual behind this image's creation and the individual who disseminated it with the Paris attacks in mind are intimately linked to Gamergate. Immediately after the fake image of Jubbal achieved wide circulation, blacktric deleted his Twitter account, and TW's account has disappeared, too. It's natural that the majority of Gamergate supporters want to disassociate themselves from blacktric and TW, as their actions contradict claims that the group is committed, exclusively, to promoting clear disclosure of professional and personal relationships between members and outlets of the gaming media, but it's impossible to deny that the links are there.
Read on Broadly: What Could Possibly Go Wrong with a Social Media Terrorist Manhunt?
The full consequences of the fake image are yet to be seen, but we can include among them wasting French police time in the aftermath of the most serious terrorist attack in the country's history. Jubbal will for the rest of his life be in danger of mistaken identity, and faces the possibility of misguided revenge attacks. And of course the Islamic State, that most social media-savvy of groups, must be delighted that Gamergate is sowing confusion around who its members are.
Though it is unlikely the image will fool more media outlets, the fact is that it did fool some for several hours in the aftermath of the attacks, and there may be further long-term consequences. The reaction from other Gamergate supporters over the next few days has been unalloyed glee, exemplified by outspoken Breitbart journalist Milo Yiannopoulos, who emailed Jubbal and posted the text online.
Make your own call on the motivations behind those questions or, better yet, consider them in the context of the Breitbart article's headline and tone: "Media fooled by deplorable, irresponsible, absolutely not funny trolling of Gamergate critic." Posters on KIA reacted with depressing eye-for-an-eye reductivism: "When you've been calling other people terrorists for over a year, can you really complain when someone calls you a terrorist?"
Gamergate supporters reposted the image on Twitter, while others added to the confusion by faking tweets from Jubbal, such as this:
Whatever the outcome may be, this situation serves as a lesson in the tactics of select participants in groups such as Gamergate—in this case outright denial and hurried deletion of proof, followed by the counter-claim that Gamergate is actually helping Jubbal by flagging the image as fake, after the damage had been done.
Read on Motherboard: SXSW Announces More Speakers at Harassment Summit, Relocates Gamergate Panel
For all its ethical crusading, Gamergate is labeled a hate group my many for very clear reasons, with members previously called out for posts full of misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, and transphobia. It has savagely attacked its targets—Jubbal is merely the latest victim—and justifies this by saying their victims bring it on themselves. "This is poetic justice, he contributed to his own misery," reads a typical post from KIA user gtt443.
But perhaps linking an innocent man with one of the most despicable terror attacks on European soil, within hours of it happening, will be what brings Gamergate to an end. Jubbal is currently safe and well at home in Canada, intends to sue those responsible. He has released a statement on the photoshopping incident (read it in full here), which includes the following words:
The dark horror of violence in Paris and Beirut last week is mourned by 25 million Sikhs and over 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. I ask that the media outlets that ran my image immediately retract my photo and apologise, but also take the time to learn and educate their readers about the Sikh faith, the fifth-largest religion in the world.
When we paint entire faiths and communities with the same brushstroke, we further give terrorists exactly what they want. We're strongest in the face of terror and bigotry when we stand together. This false image is an opportunity for all of us to hopefully grow together in our shared understanding for one another.