Nasty YouTube Death Threat Hoax Has A Happy Ending

Nasty YouTube Death Threat Hoax Has A Happy Ending

It’s a sad truth of living on the internet that there’s usually someone out there more than happy to make your life a living hell. As public-facing figures, the couple behind popular YouTube gaming channel Girlfriend Reviews know this all too well, but they recently endured intimidation of a different sort when a harasser sent fake death threats to himself and blamed the YouTubers.

In their latest video, Girlfriend Reviews duo Matt and Shelby stepped in front of the camera to directly address the situation and explain their weeks-long investigation into the harasser’s false claims. They uncovered a misinformation campaign that, while built on a foundation of sand, managed to weaponize a fringe gaming community hellbent on hating them and further exacerbate the horrors that often come with having a presence on the internet.

Inventing harassment

It all started, as these things so often do, with a tweet. After a year of negative attention from subreddit r/TheLastOfUs2 — we’ll get to them a little later — Shelby tweeted some of the frankly unhinged posts made about her and her partner on July 9 alongside a snarky message, as you do. The author of one of those posts, a user named TheRealRogerEbert, then created a follow-up topic claiming the tweet had triggered a torrent of incoming harassment from fans of the YouTube channel.

TheRealRogerEbert’s second Reddit post, which included several screencaps of hateful messages he claimed to have received, skyrocketed in popularity. Here was proof, at least in the minds of the Redditors who already hated Girlfriend Reviews, that the YouTube duo were the true monsters in this asymmetrically contentious relationship. But Matt and Shelby quickly noticed odd discrepancies in the “harassment” supposedly being sent to TheRealRogerEbert.

“Like most YouTubers, we get hateful comments on a regular basis, and it’s a sad day when you realise the internet is so full of hate that it doesn’t phase you anymore,” Girlfriend Reviews told Kotaku via email. “What made this feel important enough to be addressed was the seriousness of the accusations, the popularity of the post, and the large number of users who appeared to believe this man’s claims without question, while also expressing a lot of anger towards us and wishing us harm.”

“A rude YouTube comment is white noise,” they continued. “An online community who already dislikes you organising a brigade on your Twitter to instigate conflict with your fans will set off alarm bells. Not to mention this was one of the highest upvoted Reddit posts about us in a while. Who would want that post and those comments to pop up when their name is searched on Google? No one.”

“Evidence” TheRealRogerEbert posted to demonstrate his supposed harassment at the hands of Girlfriend Reviews fans showed obvious inconsistencies and logical errors.

For example, Matt and Shelby doubted members of their fanbase would call someone a “retard,” as one of the messages did, let alone do so while also claiming the recipient was transphobic for disliking The Last of Us Part II. TheRealRogerEbert’s screencaps of the supposed harassment also showed threats about a “golfclub to the head,” which is a meme phrase commonly used by r/TheLastOfUs2 in reference to series protagonist Joel Miller’s fate in the sequel. Something wasn’t adding up.

As detailed in the video above, Girlfriend Reviews followed a trail of breadcrumbs and soon felt confident TheRealRogerEbert was sending the harassing messages to himself. He eventually emailed them from his personal account asking for “help” in corralling their “fans,” and Matt and Shelby were outwardly cooperative despite their suspicions.

But when TheRealRogerEbert refused to send them uncensored screenshots of the harassing messages, and even threatened to bring his local authorities into the mix, the couple had had enough. Girlfriend Reviews let TheRealRogerEbert know they were on to him, and then watched in real time, bemused, as the hoaxer systematically deleted his Reddit sockpuppet accounts, his main account, and even the email he’d been communicating with them on.

Needless to say, this cleared up any possible lingering doubts about where the “harassment” was coming from.

How dare you like a video game

Matt and Shelby have been publishing gaming videos as Girlfriend Reviews for almost three years. What started with a satirical critique of Red Dead Redemption II from the point of view of a girlfriend whose boyfriend was obsessed with the open-world cowboy simulator eventually spawned a hugely popular source of video game reviews and analysis on YouTube.

“Their signature series taps into gaming as a spectator sport, with Shelby providing snarky commentary of her time sitting through her boyfriend’s varied gaming sessions,” the duo’s official website reads. “Far from the stereotype, Girlfriend Reviews subverts the trope of the disinterested or annoyed girlfriend with reviews and commentary filled with love and passion for games and gaming.”

It shouldn’t come as a shock that Shelby’s mere presence was enough to throw grown men into hysterics. It also shouldn’t be all that surprising that this harassment became very pointed when Girlfriend Reviews published two positive-leaning The Last of Us Part II videos last summer. For over a year, these uploads have earned Matt and Shelby rent-free real estate in the minds of a bitter subreddit known as r/TheLastOfUs2, whose users took the videos as a personal attack. The community has since followed the channel’s every move, a one-sided vendetta often paired with attacks that go uncontested by the subreddit’s moderation staff.

While its title may imply otherwise, the r/TheLastOfUs2 subreddit is dedicated to hating its namesake. But the members of this community rarely stop there. It’s not enough for them to dislike The Last of Us Part II, they also criticise it from an “anti-SJW” perspective, espousing the belief that Naughty Dog killed off Joel as the main character and introduced more diversity in the sequel to kowtow to a mythical “woke” mob. Anyone who enjoys The Last of Us Part II and doesn’t adhere to this misguided perspective (i.e. Girlfriend Reviews) becomes fair game for the subreddit’s ire.

A silver lining

Matt and Shelby have been in contact with both Reddit proper and the moderators of r/TheLastOfUs2 since the publishing of their investigative video over the weekend. But little progress has been made on setting the record straight. Reddit has only responded with a series of automated messages, and the r/TheLastOfUs2 mods, while initially cooperative, refuse to outright disavow the false claims against Girlfriend Reviews or take responsibility for the hateful environment they’ve fomented.

“After our video, we feel they tripled down by once again making stickied posts and statements that try to somehow cast us as the villains,” Girlfriend Reviews said. “They continue to twist our words, or just flat-out lie to their members in a pretty poor effort to play the victim. They made the sub private, scrubbed it clean, then opened it back up and said, ‘See for yourself!’ Some of those mods deleted their own comments, one of them deleted their entire account, and the creator of the sub just abandoned it altogether.”

“That means, you guessed it, we’ve been receiving more hate and harassment,” they added. “But this time, we’re sleeping easy because the truth is out there. We just want the mods to say, ‘Hey, guys, Girlfriend Reviews didn’t do this. Sorry we allowed that post and lied to everyone.’ It would also be nice if they stopped equating what they are going through (as a result of the things they did and said in public) with what they’ve put us through. It’s victim blaming, and it’s not ok.”

The internet is a wonderful, heinous place. While it’s great to be able to connect with folks from all over the world, that connection also enables multitudinous avenues of harassment. Your online reputation, especially as a public-facing content creator, is often determined by just one or two moments that get spun out into a whole alternate reality fabricated by people who don’t even know you. And this isn’t just confined to communities like r/TheLastOfUs2. Even online destinations promoted as bastions of good-faith discussion, like ResetEra, get in on the action, as Girlfriend Reviews themselves can sadly attest.

It’s very easy to lose track of a person’s humanity in the red mist of internet bloodsports. And as someone on the receiving end of harassment, the positive interactions that can accompany the bad often fall by the wayside in the cacophony of bullshit. Fortunately, Matt and Shelby managed to turn this whole ordeal into a positive by organising a donation drive for no-kill animal shelters. As of this writing, they’ve raised nearly $US28,000 ($38,032), blowing past their modest $US6,000 ($8,150) goal.

“The last two weeks were miserable,” Girlfriend Reviews told Kotaku, “then our video dropped, our charity goal was smashed, and we’ve been all smiles ever since. It was a much-needed wake-up call that most people on the web are empathetic and loving. That when something bad is happening to you, there are lots of people who will want to help. Even strangers. Mister Rogers’ mum always told him to ‘look for the helpers,’ and we’ve got a long list of them on our donation page.”

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