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 games 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 Mr Jubbal, shown above, was tweeted by user @blacktric with the caption: "One of the Paris suicide bombers' photo's [sic] been released. He posted the photo on twitter shortly before the attack."
Mr Jubbal is a fierce critic of Gamergate, regularly using Twitter to express his opinions, who 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 Mr 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 Mr Jubbal (content warning: examples here and here).
The original image, a bathroom selfie photographed using an iPad, was posted on August 4th 2015 by Mr 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 12th. TW's doctored image changes the iPad to a Koran, adds a suicide vest to Mr Jubbal's waist, and 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 Mr Jubbal's face on its front page, calling him "one of the terrorists". Though La Razón has retracted its allegation, the damage is done: in just a few hours Mr Jubbal went from being an 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. Select members of this group exemplify many of the problems the authorities face in dealing with online harassment. Gamergate as a whole is decentralised, 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 Mr Jubbal, but we can prove the link.
TW's original Photoshop image was discussed with blacktric on August 11th, but first appeared on August 13th.
TW posted this image three more times before November 13th, 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 favourite targets are Arthur Chu, Anita Sarkeesian and Zoë Quinn – all of whom have spoken out against Gamergate harassment. 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".
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 Mr 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 Mr 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 in between members and outlets of the gaming media, but it's impossible to deny that the links are there.
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. Mr 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 ISIS, 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 Mr 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?"
Further to this, Gamergate supporters reposted the image on Twitter, while others added to the confusion by faking tweets from Mr Jubbal, such as this:
Whatever the outcome may be, this situation serves as an object 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 Mr Jubbal by flagging the image as fake, after the damage had been done.
Related, on Motherboard: SXSW Announces More Speakers at Harassment Summit, Relocates Gamergate Panel
For all its ethical crusading, Gamergate is labelled a hate group for very clear reasons, with members previously pulled up for posts full of misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism and transphobia. It has savagely attacked its targets, with Mr Jubbal just 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. Mr Jubbal is currently safe and well at home in Canada, and 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."