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It’s not often that we go back and analyze “tweet storms,” those controversies that spin out of control on Twitter and the rest of the Internet after somebody steps their foot in a big pile of crap.
Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus VR and the modern virtual reality movement, got caught in such a storm. Along with a $500 million judgment in a copyright-and-theft lawsuit by Bethesda, the controversy led to his departure from Oculus. But a document that captures the tweet storm shows how it escalated and spun into something worse than it was at its beginning.
The issue arose again after news surfaced that Luckey, through a Californian limited-liability corporation called Wings of Time, gave $100,000 to President Donald Trump’s inauguration fund in January, according to official records (and first reported by MotherJones and Washington Post reports).
It all started back on September 22, when The Daily Beast published “Palmer Luckey: The Facebook billionaire secretly funding Trump’s meme machine.” To Harris, the idea of fake news starts with a misleading or inaccurate headline, often with a sexy headline. Then it spews through social media, energized by outrage, support, or concern.
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The Daily Beast article was followed by Ars Technica’s “How your Oculus Rift is secretly funding Donald Trump’s racist meme wars” and Boing Boing’s “Facebook ‘near-billionaire’ Palmer Luckey secretly funding racist pro-Trump hate meme machine.” Luckey called it the “social media assassination of Palmer Luckey (and his girlfriend).”
The document was compiled by Blake J. Harris, who is writing a book for HarperCollins about the modern VR industry. Harris took the trouble to deconstruct what happened in the tweet storm line-by-line, and his conclusion is that Luckey didn’t get a fair shake in the controversy. He also included his own commentary and why he thought certain posts were important in the timeline.
“We rarely take a step back and reflect on stories from a few news cycles ago, especially when those stories were inaccurate, misleading, or outright false. It’s easier to just make a small correction or two, or perhaps even none at all, and move on to the next piece,” Harris wrote in an email. “It’s somewhat understandable why this happens—we’re busy, readers have already lost interest, etc. etc.—but ignoring these things leads to a sort of systematic problem: a lack of accountability, which is incredibly concerning to us all. Both as readers and as writers.”
He added, “It’s somewhat understandable why this happens—we’re busy, readers have already lost interest, etc. etc.—but ignoring these things leads to a sort of systematic problem: a lack of accountability, which should be incredibly concerning to us all. Because, in retrospect, it’s easy to see how this dynamic becomes fertile ground for ‘fake news.’”
Harris said he is not a Trump supporter, nor does he want to come off as a Luckey apologist. But he said he is bothered by the fairness of the press’ treatment of Luckey, as he believes that the headlines weren’t true.
In mid-September 2016, Palmer Luckey donated nearly $10,000 to a recently formed pro-Trump nonprofit organization, Nimble America. At the time of his donation, the entire body of Nimble America’s work consisted of putting up a single billboard in the Pittsburgh area that suggested Hillary Clinton should be in jail. Going forward, Nimble America planned to put up more billboards in battleground states (hence the organization seeking donations).
Here’s the facts as Harris saw them:
- Nimble America was not responsible for creating or spreading any memes online.
- Nimble America’s goal was to take meme-like images, like the billboard above, and put them into the real world (via billboards, T-shirts and stickers).
- There is no evidence—nor, based on my research, do I see any reason to believe—that this organization promoted any sort of racist, sexist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic or white supremacist agenda. Neither is there any evidence of Nimble America engaging in any sort of trolling, harassing or “astroturfing.”
- Milo Yiannopoulos had no affiliation with Nimble America other than to endorse the cause and, in his capacity as a moderator of the The_Donald subreddit, verify that there was indeed a wealthy backer [Luckey] who had donated to the organization [a little less than $10,000].
“The part that makes me sad (and angry) is the lack of accountability. Palmer Luckey no longer has his job. Meanwhile, every reporter who covered the story still does. I’m not at all saying they should lose their jobs, but I do think there ought to be a better way to handle these situations,” Harris wrote. “Oh, and the other thing that really kills me (which I believe is in that timeline): one week later, the Cards Against Humanity founder posted that 90 foot anti-Trump billboard in Chicago. The media loved that one.”
We haven’t made any judgment of our own in this case. But we’ll post this document for everyone to read. Harris provided the tweet document below, but for timing reasons, we have not provided the links to the actual tweets.
Timeline of Reporting for PL/NA Story
Below is a timeline of how the story was reported and the ripples that ensued.
SEPTEMBER 22, 2016
[note: all times are Pacific]
6:00 PM The Daily Beast (Gideon Resnick, Ben Collins)
Excerpt: “Palmer Luckey—founder of Oculus—is funding a Trump group that circulates dirty memes about Hillary Clinton.”
6:10 PM @websterandrews2:
guess I won’t be buying an oculus rift
6:13 PM @rillawafers:
eat my entire ass
6:15 PM @anildash ✔:
One reason every political hashtag on Twitter is filled with racist trolls? The founder of Oculus is funding them
6:16 PM @blackholetalos:
Rich kids who think fking America is funny. The age of overnight millionaires, reality TV sensations and Twitter bullies.
6:18 PM @jezzerat:
It’s so weird that someone named @PalmerLuckey could turn out to be a douchebag
6:18 PM @anildash ✔:
This guy, @PalmerLuckey, put some of his billion FB dollars toward explicitly funding white supremacy. Peter Thiel approved the acquisition.
6:19 PM @DukeOfVinings:
what a sad man you must be.
6:23 PM @ablington:
I curse his immortal soul for funding the meme industry. Fuck this guy.
6:25 PM @BrowningStephen:
Sad that such a talented guy has gone to the dark side. There’s got to be a more constructive way to create, pal.
6:28 PM @CodyBrown ✔:
Holy fuck @PalmerLuckey. You’re using your @Oculus fortune to back a pro-Trump org w/ [Milo Yiannopoulos]? Plz tell me this is VR
6:34 PM @anildash ✔:
Next $FB earnings call is November 2. I want this to be the first question that comes up.
6:43 PM Kotaku (Luke Plunkett)
Oculus Rift Founder Palmer Luckey Funding Trump Shitposters
“Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus Rift, has been keeping busy since he sold the company to Facebook in 2014. One thing he’s done to pass the time, as reported by The Daily Beast, is to financially back (and be named Vice President of) a company dedicated to alt-right meme shitposts.”
6:45 PM @rbottoms:
@anildash You just broke the biggest story of the year concerning people of color in tech. Thank you.
6:46 PM @JohnLeguizamo ✔:
why are you trying to undo our democracy by funding anti-Hillary memes? Do you want #trump 2 b our president? What’s wrong w u
6:46 PM @ScrutaGames:
Until @PalmerLuckey steps down from his position at @oculus, we will be cancelling Oculus support for our games.
Note: With this message, Scruta Games became the first developer to publicly announce they would no longer be working with Oculus. A handful of other developers would follow in the days ahead.
6:52 PM @maladamus:
His anger toward women is obviously obvious.
6:52 PM @HumanityPlague:
You obviously won’t care but you’re a wretch of a human being.
6:56 PM @anildash ✔:
Story is all @GideonResnick & @oneunderscore__ , I’m just happy to amplify.
6:58 PM @joanmbird:
so you’re a White Nationalist? Wow, must be difficult to work with others. Poor thing. Hope sales don’t tank even more.
6:59 PM @Toadsanime ✔:
You blew it, man.
7:04 PM Boing Boing (Xeni Jardin)
Facebook ‘near-billionaire’ Palmer Luckey secretly funding racist pro-Trump hate meme machine
“Luckey is funding a pro-Donald Trump “shitposting” tactical team that churns out racist, sexist, hatey anti-Hillary Clinton memes and works to make them go viral.”
7:05 PM @brant ✔:
7:09 PM @josefkstories:
Hey @PalmerLuckey did you ever consider curing malaria or polio with that money or was funding racist trolls the first thing you thought of.
7:10 PM @ironicaccount:
that Oculus Rift kickstarter sure had weird stretch goals
7:21 PM @CodyBrown ✔:
The amazing part of this is @PalmerLuckey didn’t invent core VR tech. FB deal enabled by ‘borrowed’ Valve prototypes
7:29 PM @carmencolborne
got a compassionate bone in your pudgy body? Didn’t think so
7:35 PM @jasonschreier ✔:
7:39 PM @rbottoms:
@PalmerLuckey Make me sick to my stomach. Bad enough to think racist AltRight Neo-Nazi scum run…
7:40 PM @rbottoms:
…Silicon Valley and the failure to make any progress in diversity is accidental.
7:41 PM @rbottoms:
This basically shows that a lily-white tech nirvana is a feature, not a bug.
7:49 PM @pixelatedboat:
*puts on VR helmet*
*Palmer Luckey appears*
“Welcome to libertarian paradise. No taxes. All money is bitcoins. Murder is legal. GOD IS DEAD”
7:53 PM @HonestWilliam ✔:
Hey. My name is @PalmerLuckey and this… Is Jackass.
7:56 PM @DanaHoule:
Revenge Of The Racist Asshole White Supremacist Racist Asshole Racist Sexist Asshole Nerds
8:08 PM Business Insider (Ben Gilbert)
Oculus Rift creator Palmer Luckey is financing a pro-Trump meme group
“He may be most closely associated with the kinds of anti-Clinton Facebook memes that even strident Donald Trump supporters roll their eyes at…with a focus on viral, anti-Clinton memes.”
8:09 PM @TTLabsVR:
Hey @oculus, @PalmerLuckey’s actions are unacceptable. NewtonVR will not be supporting the Oculus Touch as long as he is employed there.
8:11 AM @samfbiddle:
this guy turned out to be an immense shithead? no way
8:11 PM @kimmaicutler:
I’m at the Trump rally in Anaheim! Love the diversity of people here!
Note: When later asked about that tweet, Nicole Edelmann (aka @nikkimoxxi) replied, “I definitely meant it sincerely! I met so many great people from all different races, ages, and backgrounds.” Regardless, her Twitter feed would soon become so inundated with threats of rape and violence that, by the following morning, she disabled her account.
8:14 PM @Cheryllynn512:
8:23 PM @Papapishu ✔:
My HTC Vive review:
- Good immersion
- Comfortable headset
- Not invented by an obscenely rich pissbaby edgelord
8:19 PM @LeftWingMilitia:
The French Revolution 2.0 is coming & we’ll see your head fall into basket of deplorables.
8:22 PM @NickH725:
whomp whomp, I wish you good fortune in the flame wars to come
8:26 PM @Papapishu ✔:
Excited for the new PlayStation VR slogan “VR….Without The Holocaust Memes”
8:46 PM @LukePlunkett ✔:
Musk: let’s go to Mars!
9:03 PM @GhostofGhostDad:
Will I catch racism if I try on an Oculus headset?
9:35 PM @markhaverty:
@PalmerLuckey once called a plumber about a big shit clogging his toilet. The plumber tried to drag him out of the house.
9:36 PM @MimasAgency:
guess your career is over…RT
9:45 PM @AndyWarrenStein:
@PalmerLuckey is a singularly bad person.
9:27 PM @minliangtan:
Oh wow, I thought the pro-Trump Palmer Luckey story was satire the first time I read it. Just realized it’s true.
10:11 PM @MelWebster:
10:13 PM @sherylmaloney:
Zuckerberg gives billions to fight disease @PalmerLuckey gives millions to spread racism. The latter is everything wrong with the valley.
10:17 PM @Vahn16 ✔:
sure was considerate of palmer luckey to bring vr to the masses so they can escape the nightmare terror world he hopes to usher in
10:33 PM @CalebTRB:
I am so appalled to have ever given you a dime.
11:34 PM @Rockmstr99:
I will never, NEVER buy an oculus.
11:35 PM @yldcatz:
@PalmerLuckey watch your back
11:45 PM @BenKuchera ✔:
It’s going to be tricky to get devs and press excited about Oculus Connect 3 until this whole “funding white supremacy” thing is addressed.