Brow Beat

The Chicago Sun-Times Suspends Richard Roeper While It Figures Out if His Twitter Followers Are Real

Richard Roeper attends a Michigan Avenue Magazine event in February, 2017.
Richard Roeper attends a Michigan Avenue Magazine event in February, 2017.
Jeff Schear/Getty Images for Michigan Avenue

The Chicago Sun-Times announced on Monday that it will no longer be publishing anything by film critic and columnist Richard Roeper until it completes an investigation his Twitter followers. Roeper was named in a New York Times investigation into the buying and selling of fake Twitter followers as a media personality with a significant number of fake followers. The article didn’t go into Roeper’s case in detail, but included him in an interactive image listing prominent accounts with the following vague caption:

Many of these celebrities, business leaders, sports stars and other Twitter users bought their own followers, records show. In other cases, the purchases were made by their employees, agents, family members or other associates.

It’s unclear which category Roeper falls into, but the Chicago Sun-Times is looking into the matter. In a statement, the paper’s editor-in-chief Chris Fusco briefly explained Roeper’s suspension:

We became aware over the weekend of issues relating to Rich Roeper’s Twitter account. We’re investigating these issues. We will not be publishing any reviews or columns by Rich until this investigation is complete.

Roeper, who has been at the Chicago Sun-Times since 1982, has 225,000 Twitter followers. The New York Times didn’t specify how many of those are fake accounts, or who paid for them. Similarly, the Chicago Sun-Times didn’t explain why they care if Twitter user @Juan60023873’s love of Richard Roeper is sincere. The investigation should provide some clarity on their thinking, but institutions like the Sun-Times are going to need to draw a clearer line between “distasteful, tacky self-promotion” and “serious breaches of journalistic ethics” than they have so far. Otherwise, the entire foundation of today’s media infrastructure, built on vague notions of “influencers,” could be at risk!

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Matthew Dessem

Matthew Dessem is Brow Beat’s nights and weekends editor and the author of a biography of screenwriter and director Clyde Bruckman.