A story that caught the corner of my eye, Toms’ Hardware reviewer and Partnered Twitch streamer Natasha ‘ZombaeKillZ’ Zinda put herself in a situation when she asked Sony and Microsoft for their respective consoles using a serious social issue as leverage. Between the battle of the keyboard warriors, I notice Natasha used her credential as a Toms Hardware writer when asking Sony for a Playstation 5 for personal consumption- streaming- while diplomatically hinting an article as an exchange. Just like how it was highlighted a long time ago, conflict of interest is an industry issue which needs to be highlighted and discussed. Except this is a Conflict of interest of a different variant.
Long story made short
The story starts with ZombaeKillz using the current and sensitive social issue and protests happening in the United States as a mean to access consoles starting with Microsoft and Sony. As expected many people on Twitter and Youtube started criticized to which she used copyright infringement those videos who called her out. As you’d expect to see with such scenarios involving partnered Twitch streamers- namecalling, deleting tweets, using Youtube’s absolutely horrible automated report system to take down the channel which created the Streisand effect. This is why the other kneejerk Youtubers started to call out on the streamer.
Regardless of how its narrated now, it does involve Toms’ Hardware and perhaps Twitch, but traditionally Twitch has a well-established reputation of letting such bad faith actors slide, with certain exceptions only when things over-escalate. As you’d expect with knee-jerking responsive Youtubers, they forget to read about the important bit. That’s the only bit this news piece is covering.
What’s wrong in it?
While asking for review units is nothing new, the intent and the way you ask matters. Naturally, all the communication PRs and marketing get from reviewers, journalists, bloggers and editors are mostly via email, LinkedIn or private messages. Streamers, Youtubers and any well-known platform partners do the same. The difference, however, is the intent. Content creators use it for promotional purposes, while reviewers use it to make objective content. In both cases, ROI is giving a priority. To give a better understanding, you wouldn’t expect a journalist or a reviewer to give a crappy product a glowing review. At the same time, the intention of a sponsored promoter is obvious. But what if someone got something with the intent to be used personally while using media credential and hinting a writeup?
In such cases, one will have to question the reviewer’s objective and question their motives. Regardless of the answer, the content they write will need disclosures to make the readers aware of their current arrangement. There’s a review. There’s news. And then there’s op-ed. Disclosures are as important as getting clarity. Toms Hardware should know better because of its “Just buy it” writeup which eventually had to be followed up with a disclosure and a “Just dont buy it” op-ed piece. The ‘opinion piece’ disclosure came well after the backlash, along with the counter-argument. Better late than never. Keeping that in mind, I can only hope something good and productive comes out of this, despite a dramatic (un)response towards something so simple.
The communication (so far)
Irrespective of one’s intent, professionalism counts. Clearly, Natasha wanted the consoles, the PC and another type of sponsorships for personal use. Nothing wrong for asking for personal use, but she used her media credential and implied exchange for an article while communicating with Sony in the same tweet. This potential conflict of interest is concerning, especially from someone who just started working for Toms Hardware. What makes us as reviewers also break us- credibility, disclosures and transparency. Was this something discussed with the editor-in-chief and if not, why?
Before I can conclude, I did ask her the respective questions. The cat named curiosity, however, was met with a block on Twitter without any answer. Actions speak louder than words. But apart from the inability to answer a genuine question, it had to be asked. The other best person to ask was Tom’s Hardware Editor-in-Chief. Keeping with the current theme of putting everything in public, I asked the following:
Seeing that it involved Toms’ Hardware, I asked the Editor-in-Chief, Avram Piltch, if he knew about it. I’ll add to this if there’s any update. It should also be noted that while Avram was the person who wrote the ‘Just buy it’ RTX 20 series op-ed, the addition of the disclosure, better late than never, is appreciated.
Strange activities raise questions…
Let’s put a silver foil hat for a paragraph:
Interestingly, shortly after this tweet, ZOMBAEKILLZ slowly started to delete multiple Twitter posts. To be fair, she was facing multiple trolls at her end who had their own predictable motive. Eventually, she locked her account from public view at the time of writing. Based on people’s response towards her earlier tweet, she makes an impression of deleting her old tweets once its purpose is served. There’s nothing wrong with it, but based on the tone of language used in those deleted tweets raises concerning questions beyond the relevancy of a PC hardware review website.
What do we need to do as editors and website owners?
Getting a response is irrelevant considering writers uses a poor defence and error in judgement. Therefore organizations need to draft a new ethical code of conduct to keep up with the times. It is best if publications like Toms Hardware draft an ethical code of conduct with its writers who stream in a personal capacity. Same applies to for other types of tech and game reviewers are streamers, too. Seeing what was unfolded recently, this is something we need to think about collectively.
How not to ask for a freebie…
This is important to emphasize this considering how it is easy to misconstrue people’s words to suit a narrative. It is not whom you asked for the support that is the problem. It is the ‘how’ and ‘what’ you used that is in question. Furthermore using a very serious and genuine social issue for products is distasteful, to put it mildly. Using a press credential and making a scene in public makes it worse. Nobody likes to be bullied. Nobody should be bullied. That’s the whole point. I hope this is not a tactic that will be used by others. Just use your analytics and if they find value, they will support you. If not, move on. Companies that have a global reach, fo all companies, will look at Return on Investment before they consider sponsoring or sending a promotional unit.
Also, the ‘lack of representation’ is a rather bizarre and a serious claim to impose on manufacturers, especially for someone working in a well-established publication. You forget that you also represent your job and your company, but not the only one who is waiting for a review unit, irrespective of the location, including those outside the United States. Also, using it as a honeypot resulting in a public post-teenage drama fest as a result of a fallout makes it worse. Calmer, professional and composed minds would have prevailed and likely to have achieved without such poor choice of words in public display. Regardless, we all live to learn. At least learn now.
Personal message to the debate lords of the internet
Coming back to an issue involving YouTubers highlighting this issue. This also involves people on Twitter who are either in support for her or against her. While some concerns on both sides are valid, the method used involving by, involving, in favour and against ZombaeKillz is equally vindictive, counter-productive and creates a distraction from a serious issue. Just like the person in question, others use it as a license giving bash using one’s political and social stand. So when does the Twitter and Youtube warriors highlight the actual issue? Never. They all have to switch-and-bait with facts and screenshots which is already drenched with switch-and-bait arm-twisting drama and propaganda of sorts. Somehow the involved parties manage to stretch these issues with their political and social standings and opinion.
The observation from a fringe analyst during an interview by Johnny_Now reflects the switch-and-bait culture in this case. Both sides use it to drag people in- and it does nothing but affect people mentally, affecting their jobs and in the scenario, their life. If every Tom, Dick and Harry is going to arm-twist everything on the internet, it encourages disinterest or worse- apathy. While we don’t know how content creators originally called out ZombaeKillz, there are some articles and Youtube videos with the non-neutral tone of reporting- and lack of research and not asking the right question. In this case, it would be easier for me to expect Toms Hardware to train and educate the involved person than internet debaters on both sides of the fence via Twitter and Youtube.
This article is specifically about exploiting media credential to get things for personal use. Nothing more. But nothing less.