By Philip  |  04-16-2018   Opinion
Photo credit: CyberSport.com

Where to begin with BullyHunters? They're a "vigilante hit squad of elite female gamers" according to the press release The tagline for the campaign was "this is not a game" and during the ramp-up in publicity, people were encouraged to tune in for the "live event" April 12 so they could "witness the hunt live."

Polygon, Paste, PC Gamer, Good Morning America and others hyped up the event before it ever happened. The event itself was evidently put together by one of the oldest ad agencies in the US, FCB Chicago and is (excuse me was) connected to gaming companies like SteelSeries, Vertagear, Cyperpower PC. National Coalition for Women is currently the only sponsor who hasn't dropped the Bullyhunters, though whether Bullyhunters still exists is worth asking since the site has been down a couple days already.

The "self-styled A-team", adopts a Venus symbol styled as a bullet as their logo. It's these little touches that make it painfully obvious money was spent in the wrong way on this project. High production values and tons of money spent on the project resulting in nothing but bad press is the kind of PR nightmare that people get fired for.

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Despite all the sponsors who have left having made their statements washing their hands of the whole fiasco and statement released through Twitch by host Nati Casanova, there are still many questions left unanswered.

At one point Casanova insisted that the gameplay was real, later however she claimed that she didn't mention the line from the script saying that the "BullyHunt" was not live, but just a simulation.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">So which is it, <a href="https://twitter.com/TheZombiUnicorn?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TheZombiUnicorn</a>?<br>You seem to have some conflicting statements. <a href="https://t.co/VI2YRkraxN">pic.twitter.com/VI2YRkraxN</a></p>&mdash; 『Anime Dad』 (@TheAnimeDad) <a href="https://twitter.com/TheAnimeDad/status/984781414485897216?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 13, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Multiple issues also exist within the ranks of the Bullyhunters. Open recruitement from the website has apparently resulted in some less than stellar picks, (many of whom were apparently /pol/acks posing as women) but that's to be expected considering the whole thing was likely an ill conceived and executed gimmick and marketing ploy from the beginning.

Ah well, it was just to "start a conversation" evidently anyway. A conversation has definitely been started with many people invoking comparisons to Zoe Quinn, GamerGate and Anita Sarkeesian. All in all, if you're trying to build goodwill lying to your consumers and perpetuating hoaxes and propaganda maybe isn't the best way to do it.

@TheAnimeDad and other Twitter users using some minimal investigating (from noticing that the maps changed in the simulation to using Steam's "also played as" feature, among other little things) swiftly uncovered the scam. The initiative was widely lauded in the mainstream which brings up the issue of how press releases become news, especially when they're "socially conscious" which, by the way, is the main reason for this shallow and callous attempt at hacking the news as a product placement scheme.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Is <a href="https://twitter.com/SteelSeries?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@SteelSeries</a> on a crusade to lose more and more costumers with each tweet? Are they trying to commit PR suicide on twitter? <a href="https://t.co/gocyV16fHF">pic.twitter.com/gocyV16fHF</a></p>&mdash; Radu (@Radetu) <a href="https://twitter.com/Radetu/status/984721620509118465?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 13, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Steel Series continued to backpeddle, trying to distance themselves from the whole affair until they finally released a statement this weekend. They are, at this point, claiming they had nothing to do with the campaign other than agreeing to donate headphones. This counters what Casanova said in her recent Twitch stream statement. She says it was someone from SteelSeries who was working as a consultant that referred her to the BullyHunters team.

Meanwhile, Casanova was working to distance herself from the BullyHunters claiming she was against the "hunt" idea from the very beginning and had advised them against using that as their tactic as there would likely be "backlash." BullyHunters in turn was distancing themselves from Casanova after the videos and tweets of her calling people "cts" and "f*s" and "b***s" were revealed.

One woman in the Steel Series "Apology Part III" thread called it perfectly:

<blockquote>Who told you insulting and slandering your core customer base is good marketing? And if you were trying to win over the Feminist crowd at least you should have picked a spokeswoman who didn&#39;t have a history of sexism and homophobia</blockquote>

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I can&#39;t stop laughing at this. Who told you insulting and slandering your core customer base is good marketing? And if you were trying to win over the Feminist crowd at least you should have picked a spokeswoman who didn&#39;t have a history of sexism and homophobia.</p>&mdash; Ahn Nguyen (@MeowPurrAnn) <a href="https://twitter.com/MeowPurrAnn/status/984730374281613312?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 13, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Another interesting issue was brought up related to data privacy. Evidently Facebook scraping and other data privacy issues were another blot overshadowing the BullyHunters campaign.

Twitter user Littoralis (who showed up in the Nati Casanova statement Twitch stream) had this to ask: "Corporate Vigilantism against children through online interstate computing devices is an affront to modern society and apparently steel series, NOW and FCB underwrote this endeavor. Who paid for production, which corp. is the business liability policyholder?"

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Plenty of victims sent FCB, NOW and god knows who else their personal identifying information through Steam OpenId. Will a third party data security firm be hired at FCBs expense to audit all digital and physical copies of that PID and securely delete it at FCB expense?</p>&mdash; Litoralis/Littoralis (@Litoralis2018) <a href="https://twitter.com/Litoralis2018/status/985278096424259584?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 14, 2018</a></blockquote>

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During that stream Casanova claimed that she thought the "bullyhunt" was a one-time stunt despite the script for the production clearly bringing up multiple times how the event was "launching our global tool." When she showed the script it showed the line about the simulation. In most scripts it has your lines and the other parts, so unless the script was changed at last minute or Casanova didn't read through well, it was obvious that this was meant to be just the first "live bullyhunt."

It didn't take long for everyone involved to run as fast as they could. All the sponsors (apart from National Coalition for Women) have dropped at this point.

CyberPowerPC’s brand manager, Namanh Hoang, addressed the situation in a Twitch stream, which was captured by Opinions Hurt. You can read the official statement below.

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“Technically, I’m the PR department in a sense. I don’t know too much about the details, I wasn’t in the meeting when this deal [was] enacted. [But] what we signed up for in our minds the way it was told to us, when they asked us for backing. It just ended up being something completely different the way they went about it.

“What they told us was something completely different from what they executed. You understand? There’s not much we can say or do now, but that’s not what we were backing. That’s as much as I can say apparently […]”

“[…] We were a little misled. […] We can’t really do much about it. We endorsed the group. It didn’t go the way that we thought it was going to go planned – we weren’t really informed enough, I guess. That may also be part of our fault as well. We think negatively on that kind of behavior… but yeah.”

VertaGear also apologized while running away:

“We have always prided ourselves in understanding the needs of the gaming community from all walks of life. We engage with non-profit and charitable entities such as Anxiety Gaming and Stack-Up.org to try and spread the love of our passion to those who yearn for it. It has never been our intention to sow discord or undermine the efforts of those who earnestly dedicate their lives trying to stem the tides of the many issues our community faces. It is disheartening to us that our name has been attached to a campaign that contradicts our principles, and to that end we would like to announce the end of our relationship with Bully Hunters.

“Although our engagement with this particular campaign ends here, we would like to express that our commitment to furthering causes that support those in need will not. However, we will ensure that proper due diligence is exercised from this point forward so that the Vertagear name is not attached to anything that may undermine the community and our brand ever again. We hope that the community will not see this occurrence as a means to undercut the prevalence of cyberbullying, but rather, take from it that it does exist, and that it may come from anyone, and happen to anyone.”

Who even <i>are</i> the BullyHunters though?

"Because of NDA I cannot tell you exactly who the BullyHunters are" Casanova explained on her Twitch stream.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">So wait.<br><br>Not only was the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/bullyhunters?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#bullyhunters</a> gameplay faked, its figurehead a &#39;f*ggot&#39;-yelling sociopath, and the statistics extrapolated from a tiny sample size.<br><br>The &#39;charity&#39; has nothing to do with gaming, and signing up lets them data mine your steam account. <a href="https://t.co/WYir8E0JLI">pic.twitter.com/WYir8E0JLI</a></p>&mdash; Hellshake Jeko (@JekoJekoUEM) <a href="https://twitter.com/JekoJekoUEM/status/984815586675970049?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 13, 2018</a></blockquote>

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In addition to manipulating statistics in a deceptive manner, there's the "experts." Kevin Lanham "gaming psychology expert" has spent most of his career working on "the psychology of decision making, which he applies to those living with diabetes." With all the "sponsors" having jumped ship, the question is who paid for all this? Lighting, legal team, experts, hosts, the PR campaign that got them on Good Morning America and elsewhere?

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">&quot;I don&#39;t mean the legitimate concerns/criticisms voiced in appropriate manners…&quot;<br><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BullyHunters?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BullyHunters</a> <a href="https://t.co/fw9d44wmoE">pic.twitter.com/fw9d44wmoE</a></p>&mdash; Angela Night (@Angelheartnight) <a href="https://twitter.com/Angelheartnight/status/985261345942753280?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 14, 2018</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">In just one hour <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/bullyhunters?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#bullyhunters</a>: <br>*Got caught faking harassment in game<br>*Their spokesperson got caught calling people faggots in game<br>*Found to have lied about their harassment data<br>*Linked the wrong twitter via their website that leads to a male rape victim unrelated to gaming<br>GG</p>&mdash; WeWuzMetokur (@WeWuzMetokur) <a href="https://twitter.com/WeWuzMetokur/status/984595334197399553?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 13, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Casanova interviewed with VPEsports, Polygon and Kotaku after the whole thing had fallen apart. So far VPEsports has released a scathing Op-Ed but Polygon and Kotaku have still not written anything based on the interviews. Considering how quickly anyone who supported the failed endeavor are scattering, it's likely that Polygon and Kotaku will pretend it never happened. There's still a lot more to this story though. Not only is more information coming out about the situation, but some major questions still exist about how this came about, how involved certain corporations and persons were in the whole campaign. It's likely that, due to the NDAs FCB Chicago (or whoever was behind the whole plan) instated are likely to keep some details enshrouded. Even more disturbing questions about "press release news" are raised by the campaign as well. We have attempted to reach out to Nati Casanova, FCB Chicago, SteelSeries and TimesUp about their part in the BullyHunters campaign. The question of what Twitch, Steam and Valve had to do with this (considering parts of the BullyHunters program seem to operate counter to their terms of service) is also worth delving into. Stay tuned to The Goldwater for exhaustive coverage of the situation.

Twitter: <a target="_blank" href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%40TheGoldWaterUS%20%23Bullyhunters ">#Bullyhunters </a> <a target="_blank" href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%40TheGoldWaterUS%20%23GamergateHD ">#GamergateHD </a> <a target="_blank" href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%40TheGoldWaterUS%20%23GamerGate ">#GamerGate </a>

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Anonymous No. 23255 1523873971

Really good story, I enjoyed your take

Phil No. 23265 1523882755

>>23255

Thanks so much, anon. I ended up with almost 15 pages of notes after beating the bushes over the weekend for details. Still some leads to be tracked down but this is just the tip of the iceberg of what I do have info on. More to come…

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