THQ Nordic facing serious backlash after 8chan AMA [Update]

THQN PR and marketing boss 'should be fired,' one senior PR person tells GameDaily.biz.

Update (3/4/2019):

THQ Nordic AB (the parent company of THQ Nordic GmbH, the publishing arm that participated in the AMA) Group-CEO, Lars Wingefors, has released a statement on the company's investor relations website

This letter is to offer my sincerest apologies and regret for THQ Nordic GmbH Vienna’s interaction with the controversial website 8chan last Tuesday, February 26. I condemn all unethical content this website stands for. Even if no one within the THQ Nordic Group would ever endorse such content, I realize simply appearing there gave an implicit impression that we did.

As Co-Founder and Group CEO of THQ Nordic AB, I take full responsibility for all of THQ Nordic GmbH‘s actions and communications. I have spent the past several days conducting an internal investigation into this matter. I assure you that every member of the organization has learned from this past week’s events. I take this matter very seriously and we will take appropriate action to make sure we have the right policies and systems in place to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

As a Swedish based, fast growing group, we firmly support equality and diversity. We are also working actively to combat discrimination, harassment, and misconduct. We are alreadyin the process of developing new work processes, based on the United Nations’ SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and using the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) standards, and we will accelerate this work going forward.

Original Story:

THQ Nordic held an AMA on 8chan. To give you an idea of the bizarre nature of this situation, all one would have to do is look at the first result for ‘8chan’ on Google. You'll notice that it doesn’t link to it directly, but rather its Wikipedia page.

8chan was blacklisted from Google search results back in 2015 for "suspected child abuse content” (in fact, one of the results shown on Google in relation to 8chan’s Wiki is a ‘child pornography’ section). 8chan has become a home for those users who considered 4chan -- an image board known for shock humor and edgelords -- to not be edgy or open enough. The Washington Post's profile on 8chan's founder, Frederick Brennan, provides more perspective on how 8chan was dreamed up and how it became what it is today: a bastion of free speech at all costs.

And yet, THQ Nordic decided to hold an AMA on the site. At a little after 12:30pm EST yesterday, the company’s Twitter account put out a tweet saying this:

A little less than half an hour later, it put out another tweet:

Those tweets have been since deleted. An hour and a half after the AMA commenced, THQ Nordic's PR & Marketing Director, Philipp Brock, expressed regret for setting it up.

“I personally agreed to this AMA without doing my proper due diligence to understand the history and the controversy of the site,” he said. “I do not condone child pornography, white supremacy, or racism in any shape or form.

“I am terribly sorry for the short-sightedness of my (!) decision, and promise to be far more vigorous in my assessment of these activities in the future. This was not about being edgy, this blew up and I very much regret to have done it in the first place.”

Brock added in a further comment to Gamasutra that he “f----d up” and he’d “undo” the AMA if given the choice again. For what it’s worth, we’ve asked for comment from THQ Nordic co-founder and CEO Lars Wingefors now everything seems to have calmed down in the 24 hours since the AMA. He hadn't responded by time of publishing.

In the aftermath of what happened, though, the social media backlash had already begun in full force. Several PRs and community managers approached GameDaily.biz after a call out for reaction was published, providing insight and context on what THQ Nordic did. There was an overwhelming consensus: THQ Nordic made the worst of all PR plays.

“This is a keen example of a systematic breakdown in processes from a company that has grown from regional to global without adjusting their organizational structure to compensate with the necessary level of understanding,” senior account director for gaming at True Communications, Will Powers, told GameDaily.biz.

“A local PR representative engaged in activities on a global scale without understanding the medium or ramifications of the platform on which he was facilitating his engagement.”

Kevin Casper, community manager at IT and services company Factom, but who has had experience within the games industry, added: “There isn't really an excuse for using such a questionable platform as the company's stage. Whether you're handling press releases, influencer partnerships, or community engagement, one of the biggest things you need to do is make sure they're not presented in conflict with your brand, or in this case, large percentages of society.”

One senior North American industry PR, who wished to remain anonymous, told GameDaily.biz that Brock should be dismissed from his role immediately, regardless of whether he acted intentionally or not.

“I hope I never meet this guy at a trade show,” they said. “I hope I never have to be introduced to him because, professionalism aside, as a decent human being, I don't tolerate people who behave like that. And what he did is not only irresponsible, but it’s negligent and it's just grossly offensive to victims everywhere of harassment, rape, molestation, you name it."

“I firmly believe, despite his apology, that he did it knowingly and intentionally,” they added. “If he did do it knowingly and intentionally, he should be fired because that is irresponsible on several levels. If he didn’t do it knowingly, he should be fired for gross incompetence.”

Another PR professional, based in the Asia-Pacific, added to GameDaily over Twitter DM: “To be honest, I don't think there will be any real repercussions for THQN. To be frank, if you're not internet/internet political savvy, you may not know what 8Chan is and it wouldn't surprise me if they didn't know better. However, I would say that this exposes a huge due diligence gap in their process as a quick Google would have avoided this.”

The focus will now turn to how THQ Nordic will handle such scenarios in future. Powers suggested to GameDaily.biz he’d be “surprised” if any and all future activities weren’t looked at through “a ‘global’ PR team in the future,” while the Asia-Pacific PR person added that THQ Nordic should be “deleting the tweets, posting a full apology highlighting they understand the issue, and making a donation to an anti-cyberbullying fund.” (THQ Nordic have deleted the tweets, as per above.)

Casper added: “I’ve dealt with sponsorships. People and their platforms would come to my desk, asking to work with the company I'm representing. Before I'd even check with a colleague for their thoughts, I'm going to Google the person/platform, I'm going to check their content, I'm going to check the media surrounding them. It's basic. And THQ Nordic here missed that so, so, so very hard.”

“They're a public company, I don't know what the hell anyone was thinking,” added the NA PR person. “Even thinking this was edgy, you just aligned your very public company that answers to shareholders with a site known for kiddy porn. Good job. Why hasn't that guy got fired already, I don't know. If he doesn't get fired into a sun, I don't know what's wrong with this industry.”

Responding to the earlier call out on Twitter for responses to what happened for our story, Dave Oshry - co-founder of New Blood Interactive, developer and publisher of games like DUSK and AMID EVIL, responded with a CM Punk gif.

In the end, the last line to all of this should go to a UK-based PR source who put it best when asked for reaction to the whole thing.

“I don't really have much to say beyond ‘omg wtf?’.”

Kind of sums it up.

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Johnny Cullen is a freelance writer and author from Derry, Northern Ireland who has written for Eurogamer, VG247, Official PlayStation Magazine UK, and so many more since July 2009. Come @ him about The Last of Us, Metal Gear Solid 3, Jonsi and Alex, or the Four Horsewomen of WWE on Twitter @JohnnyCullen.

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