Gaming The System

How a network's reporting error unleashed the fury of an online community.

It all started with sloppy journalism, and ended with lessons about the power of online reputations and questions about fairness and proportional response.

In January, Fox News ran a story on a popular video game called Mass Effect, claiming the game contains nudity and explicit sexual content (it doesn't). Host Martha MacCallum stated the false information as fact, but the lowlight came when pop-psychologist Cooper Lawrence admitted she'd never played the game, then trashed it--and the people who play it--anyway.

The reaction was swift and fierce. Gamers flooded Amazon.com to write negative reviews of Lawrence's books, which quickly sank in the bookseller's rating system. Amazon scrubbed hundreds of comments from angry Mass Effect fans who clearly had not read the books, but Lawrence's ratings remain brutally low, and some comments by actual readers are even more damning.

Beyond the obvious lessons--get your facts straight before making outlandish statements about popular products on national television--came some insight into the ethics and culture of online communities.

One pseudonymous commenter, Bee, disagreed with Amazon's reaction. "If a review is just senseless ranting or vulgar, fine, delete it. But a lot of people have legitimate, reasoned arguments against the purchase of [Lawrence's latest] book, which are no less legitimate just because they are based off of the author's appearance on film. The fact is, when it comes to self-help books, I think the author's background is very important. ... Her statements and behavior in the interview demonstrated that she may not necessarily have the credentials, professional judgment or personal ethics that someone writing a self-help book should possess."

Good point, gamer.

This article was originally published on 02-11-2008
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