Sun-Times reinstates Richard Roeper after Twitter investigation

Richard Roeper

Richard Roeper is back on the beat following a Chicago Sun-Times investigation into whether the movie critic padded his Twitter account by buying fake followers.

“Roeper is genuinely contrite — aware, now, that these purchases were improper,” the Sun-Times said in a statement released Friday night. “The Sun-Times will implement a policy to clarify what we thought was obvious — that journalists should not pay to acquire followers on social media.”

As a result of the investigation, Roeper will continue to write movie reviews and expand his duties to include TV reviews and other entertainment stories. But plans for him to write a twice-weekly general interest news column have been dropped.

The Sun-Times announced Monday that Roeper’s work would not appear in the paper while it was looking into a New York Times story that identified Roeper among celebrities who bought Twitter followers from a company linked to a “black market” of bogus accounts.

Among Roeper’s 226,000-plus followers, the New York Times reported, were some purchased from a company called Devumi, which sells “bot” followers to individuals who want to appear more popular or influential than they are. As of Friday, Roeper’s account numbered 221,000 followers.

In the statement Friday, Roeper said he would be “voluntarily deactivating” the Twitter account and activating a new one under the name @RichardERoeper.

“I want to express my thanks to the many colleagues and friends — and readers and listeners and viewers — that have reached out to me over the last few days to express support,” Roeper said. “Your trust is something I have worked hard to earn over the course of my career. Moving forward, I will do everything I can to keep that trust.”

The New York Times story and the Sun-Times reaction to it provoked a national debate over whether it was ethical for journalists to inflate their social media status by buying followers. Some dismissed it as embarrassing but inconsequential puffery, and others considered it a form of digital-age personal marketing. But at least as many said it was deceptive for journalists to suggest they have more influence than they really do and that it could undermine their credibility.

Roeper, 58, has been a mainstay of the Sun-Times since he began as a freelance writer and editorial assistant in 1982. He was named a full-time columnist in 1987 and shifted to film critic following the death of Roger Ebert in 2013. The two hosted the nationally syndicated movie-review show “Ebert & Roeper” from 2000 to 2008.

Here is the complete text of the Sun-Times statement:

Roeper’s work to again appear in Sun-Times; Twitter follower investigation closed

CHICAGO — On Saturday, Jan. 27, the Chicago Sun-Times became aware of a report in the New York Times that our company’s movie critic, Richard Roeper, was among celebrities, journalists and others found to have purchased Twitter followers. On Monday, Roeper agreed with company leadership that publication of his work should be halted pending an investigation.

We took these steps because, in addition to our expectation of professional accuracy, authenticity is particularly important to the profession of journalism. We also wanted insight as to whether Roeper knew that the company named in the story, called Devumi, had engaged in “a kind of large-scale social identity theft,” according to the New York Times.

We have concluded our investigation into the purchase of Twitter followers and find:

Roeper purchased about 50,000 followers on at least six separate occasions between July 2014 and July 2016. Three of those purchases were from Devumi; the other three purchases were from another company. In all, Mr. Roeper spent about $650 on the purchases out of his personal accounts.

Roeper represented that these were all the follower purchases that he has been able to find to date; he did not rule out other potential purchases.

Roeper stated that he was unaware that any of these followers were fake or had had their identities compromised. Both companies, he said, portrayed themselves as promising “legitimate” followers.

Roeper cooperated fully with the company, including providing receipts and other relevant documents.

The Sun-Times had no explicit policy banning the purchase of Twitter followers.

Roeper is genuinely contrite — aware, now, that these purchases were improper.

The results of our inquiry raised additional questions that go beyond Roeper’s case. We found, for example, that there is a thriving market for the acquisition of followers across social media, and that the public seems unsure what to think of the practice. We received feedback ranging from “who cares,” to “this is a breach of trust.”

As a result of this investigation, we’ve concluded that:

1. Mr. Roeper will continue to write movie reviews. He also write TV reviews, as well as entertainment stories — but not general interest news columns.

2. He will start a new Twitter account, delete his existing Twitter account shortly thereafter and never purchase followers on any social-media platform.

3. The Sun-Times will implement a policy to clarify what we thought was obvious — that journalists should not pay to acquire followers on social media.

Statement from Richard Roeper:

New York Times reportage has named me as one of many people that have purchased Twitter followers.

The reports are accurate. On a number of occasions, in an effort to build my brand, I bought Twitter followers. I did this on my own, without the knowledge of the Chicago Sun-Times or any other media organization for which I have worked.
 
In the interest of transparency and a fresh start, I will be voluntarily deactivating my Twitter account and launching a new account.
 
To the thousands of you that followed me on Twitter, I hope you’ll join me at my new Twitter handle, @RichardERoeper.
 
I want to express my thanks to the many colleagues and friends — and readers and listeners and viewers — that have reached out to me over the last few days to express support.

Your trust is something I have worked hard to earn over the course of my career. Moving forward, I will do everything I can to keep that trust.

In the interest of putting this matter behind us, Roeper and company management are agreeing to not discuss it further publicly. We look forward to Roeper’s return to the pages of the Sun-Times.