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How Journalists Verified The Dr Disrespect Allegations

"The thing people don’t understand is, we can’t just write about the first thing that comes across our desk"

Dr Disrespect / YouTube

The reason Dr Disrespect got banned from Twitch is finally out there. Thank goodness. Now we can stop talking about him. We figured, however, that we’d dip one last bucket into that well by spotlighting the good work of Ash Parrish, our former Kotaku colleague turned Verge reporter, who played a pivotal role in verifying the allegations. On this week’s Aftermath Hours, we talked to her about how it all came together.

We begin by asking Ash what happened in the immediate aftermath (dot site) of an ex-Twitch employee’s decision to suddenly tweet out the reason behind Dr Disrespect’s ban last Friday. Why is that what it took to shake loose new sources, and how did reporters verify that they actually knew what they were talking about? Then we answer one of the major questions the recent torrent of information has produced: Why did it take journalists – some of whom had known the reason for years beforehand – so long to finally make it public? Why now? We also talk about the process of reporting out sensitive stories involving victims and what we think will happen next

Afterward, we move on to a discussion of Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, an expansion so divisive that it summons Chris Person from The Land of Shadow to share his misgivings. Lastly, we come up with a killer game idea based on the TV show Severance (call us, Apple). 

You can find this week's episode below and on Spotify, Apple, or wherever else you prefer to listen to podcasts. If you like what you hear, make sure to leave a review so that we can launch our own edgy streamer persona who [five seconds later] we regret to inform you that the edgy streamer persona is a terrible person.

Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

Nathan: What happened on your end, Ash, that allowed you to confirm this after it had been so hard for people to figure out?

Ash: What happened with me was that this whole thing came out late Friday, and I received a message from someone who said they worked at Twitch on the trust and safety team, and that they had some additional context to share. And after a conversation with this person that was able to confirm some details and essentially prove they were who they said they were, we were able to publish a story that was essentially able to corroborate what Cody Conners – who was the Twitch employee who first tweeted it out – was tweeting. 

And then from there, dominoes started falling. Cecilia D’Anastasio at Bloomberg was also able to publish a piece with a couple more sources from Twitch – firsthand sources that kind of shed light on this. And then after that, we got confirmation from Dr Disrespect himself that basically was like “Yeah, I did the things that they are saying I did.” 

Riley: That confirmation took the form of a tweet on his Twitter account. It wasn’t to any reporters or anything. In case people aren’t caught up on this nightmare we’ve been living in for a week.

Nathan: Right. And so the reason he got banned is that he was exchanging messages via Twitch’s DM system – their Whisper system, is what it was called – with a minor in 2017, and these were explicit messages. Not the kind of thing that any sane adult should be exchanging with a minor. Basically what happened is, when Twitch caught wind of this in 2020 – as a result of somebody reporting it – Twitch moved extremely rapidly to ban Dr Disrespect. 

This is what made it really hard for a lot of reporters to confirm it. When it first happened back in 2020, I tried to report it out and had a few different sources telling me “Here’s the basics of what happened.” It’s been the same story ever since. But those sources were like “Well, I wasn’t there at the time; I only heard this from somebody who was there. But I can’t give you their information. I can’t tell you who they are.” The reason for that is that the number of people who were there at the time – because Twitch sort of bypassed its own protocols to do this – was very, very small. 

I don’t know if you heard this, Ash, but the impression I’ve gotten over the years is that it was maybe 10-15 people who were present or helped make the decision, and then most of the rest of Twitch was in the dark.

Ash: That’s the key element to all of this, because one of the things that has come out now that this story is out so much is [commentary like] “Well, Twitch should be investigated because they covered up a crime” or “The journalists who are tweeting like they knew about it or heard about it were sitting on a story to profit” or whatever. The thing people don’t understand – that, Riley, you have written about – is we can’t just write about the first thing that comes across our desk.

Especially for a story like this, involving sensitive material like exploiting minors or big famous people with lots of money, you have to be airtight. You have to make sure that the things you are reporting are airtight from people with firsthand knowledge of the situation. For a long time, we didn’t have that. And now, because this person that I spoke to was on the trust and safety team at the time [Disrespect] was banned and had firsthand information on how all of that went down, we were finally able to report the way that we were.

Riley: The response to me has been so interesting because I took the stance that it does feel weird. I don’t fault normal people for being like “What the hell?” after the tweet came out Friday night. I feel like there was a surge of people corroborating that they heard it. So I understand the reaction of “Wait, did everybody know about this?” But the situation has been useful to me, a journalist who always wants to talk about journalism, for talking about how journalism works. Our colleague Mikhail wrote a really good newsletter about why people haven’t reported on it. So it was exciting for me to see you get something out Sunday night. I feel a bit of pride that you and Cecilia [were responsible for corroborating the story]. I’ve been an editor to both of you, and I was like “Aw, my children!”

Ash: Kotaku alumni. Hell yeah. There’s a funny personal story related to how all of that happened, but I don’t think this is the venue for it. But one day, I will share. 

Nathan: You can’t drop a bomb like that and then say “But later!” 

Riley: Here’s something you can maybe talk about: I’ve seen a lot of people say they want to see the proof, and people want to know how you know. I saw a lot of the less savory elements of the internet be like “Oh, that’s anonymous sources. That’s hearsay!” I know from being an editor that everything you report goes through a rigorous legal process, and I’ve done this with Nathan where you tediously go through every quote in a story checking and checking and checking, and I was wondering if you could speak at all to what process you went through on your end with The Verge.

Ash: So the number one thing – and the thing that scared me about this initially – was, you always want to feel like the people who are speaking to you confidentially are speaking to you in good faith and that you can believe the things they’re telling you, because they’re taking great personal risk to do so. But you always have to be skeptical. So one of the things that we did to make sure before we reported what we did is [confirm] that this person is who they say they are. 

It feels weird because it’s like “I don’t want you to believe that I think you’re lying, but I have to prove who you are. Are you comfortable with sharing that information with me?” To this person’s credit, they were. We were really grateful for that, because there are gonna be a lot of times when – especially when you get down to brass tacks in reporting a story like this – somebody will approach you and be like “I have insider information about this that I want to talk about, but I want to be anonymous,” and they’ll tell you their story, but then when it’s time to write the story and I need some clarifying information and I need them to prove who they are, they kinda get cold feet. They’re like “Oh shit, if I tell this person who I am – even though they’ve said they’re not gonna share my identity – I’m afraid that the things I have said could potentially reveal who I am.” And so they back out, and that’s how a lot of pieces die.

So thankfully this person who spoke to me did not get that kind of cold feet. They were able to be like “This is me, and this is what I did. Here’s all my stuff” – their bonafides that made it such that we could report it that way. And to Riley’s point about proof, with this specific case, involving the topics it involves – including potential exploitation of a minor and sexting – you cannot keep that kind of evidence. That’s not something Twitch wants to keep on its servers. That’s not something you want to personally possess. 

So I understand this desire of “Let me see everything with my own two eyes,” but there are a lot of legal entanglements that prevent that kind of thing. So I understand why people want to ask that, but you don’t need to see it because, first of all, it involves a minor, and second of all, your chances of getting it are very low because companies don’t keep that shit on the books. Because they open themselves to a lot of legal liability if they do. 

Nathan: I’ve seen people like Tfue say, like, “Show the Whispers.” And it’s like, OK well, this involves a victim. Even if someone somehow got their hands on the whispers, the victim may not have consented to those being shown. That could do potential harm to the victim both in terms of exposing their identity and also just in terms of showing something really sensitive from when they were literally a kid. That does emotional damage. That hurts somebody. The victim has not come forward after all these years. There is likely a reason for that. So to just show the Whispers for the sake of proving to people – who, by the way, will never be satisfied no matter how much evidence they see – that this is real, that just harms the victim.

I think on the internet there’s this desire for lurid detail. But what you need is all out there. Doc said he did it. Companies have dropped him after doing their own investigations. Journalists have looked into it. It’s all out there. The rest is just this desire for people online to be able to gawk at the absolute most heinous shit they can look at. And that, I think, is a really unfortunate instinct.

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