Update: By request, I’ve added a few more details about how this whole thing originated.
Though we’ve only had it for a few years, it’s already hard to picture a world without Twitter. The simple social network is the Information Age equivalent of crack, allowing us instant access to thoughts and facts from millions of people all across the world. Almost every piece of news breaks on Twitter first. Sometimes, during particularly embarrassing lapses of judgement, news breaks because of Twitter. This one simple website gives us an unprecedented level of access to the world.
There’s just one problem with Twitter: People are stupid.
This story starts Monday, the day the NFL lockout ended. The Internet was buzzing with rumors at 10pm, when undrafted college players could begin officially negotiating with NFL teams.
On a message board I frequent, one user (Matt Elliott) made a fake tweet about linebacker Mark Herzlich joining the Baltimore Ravens. Another user (Chris Field) believed the lie and posted it on Twitter, where it was retweeted by @NEPatriotsDraft. When Field realized he had been duped, it was too late — the damage had already been done.
Following this, somebody who calls himself @NFLDraftInsider picked it up and spread it to his thousands of followers.
Curious about NFLDraftInsider and his trigger-happy tendencies, I decided to check his page out. It seemed as if he was firing off rumors with no qualms or reservations, no matter where they came from. He didn’t cite sources or look for confirmation on anything. Exacerbating this issue was the fact that several legitimate NFL reporters were retweeting and repeating his statements, some of which might have had absolutely no basis in reality, like the rumor about Herzlich.
So I decided to run a little experiment.
Using my alternate Twitter account, which has 30 followers and no tweets, I made up a rumor about quarterback Pat Devlin joining the Arizona Cardinals and sent it to NFLDraftInsider. Thirty seconds later, he repeated it. No citations, no credits, no fact-checking. Just an echo of what I said.
“So wait a minute?” you might be asking. “Some random guy who calls himself a draft insider is repeating bullshit rumors with no sources? Who cares?”
Good question. CBS cared.
Deadspin cared, too, when I sent them part of this story yesterday.
But wait — there’s more! Not content with the damage I’d caused so far, I decided to test out the limits of NFLDraftInsider’s journalistic integrity.
By making up a player.
There is no Matt Kessler. Also, Binghamton doesn’t have a football team.
Keep up the good work, NFLDraftInsider. The world of sports media needs more folks like you.
Note: Some of the time stamps on Twitter reflect different time zones (and/or random Twitter bugs), and may therefore seem incorrect. The timeline of events above is accurate.