March 01, 2011
There are two people named Greg Wyshynski on Twitter. One is me: @wyshynski. The other is not: @GregWysh, someone who publishes under the banner "I am not really Greg Wyshynski. This is a parody." Which, ironically, is also the first thing I say to myself in the mirror every morning.
He's a Penguins fan, cites New York as a base of operations and occasionally he's given me dining tips, which is surreal. But if you were to see a tweet from GregWysh and the dopey sunglasses-and-cigar headshot from this very blog next to it, you might believe what is being written is from yours truly.
If you were a lazy, oblivious moron, that is.
Alas, the lazy oblivious moron population explodes around events like the NHL trade deadline, which creates the perfect conditions for the mold that are social media hoaxes to prosper.
The 2011 NHL trade deadline was a fountain of misinformation. As a delivery system for breaking news, Twitter has always been a minefield of bull[expletive]; ask any celebrity that's read about his or her own death as a trending topic. But there were several explosions during the trade deadline that echoed through the empty void of actual news ...
BOOM: "Pierre LeBrun" reports that Brad Richards(notes) goes to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Nazem Kadri(notes), Clarke MacArthur(notes) and a conditional first-round pick. It's re-tweeted by 34 people, viewed by thousands more.
BOOM: "Nick Kypreos" reports that Dustin Penner(notes) is traded to the Montreal Canadiens for Jarred Tinordi(notes) and a first-round pick. It's retweeted by 72 users, seen by tens of thousands. Previously, he duped others with a Zenon Konopka trade to the Ducks.
All three accounts were fakes, spoofs, hoaxes created to mock fans and journalists all too eager to consume any shred of new information at the deadline. The malarkey made Deadspin, as tacit an endorsement of its whimsical chaos as there is in modern sports media. As the dust settled on a rather uneventful deadline day, the perpetrators, fans and the medium itself were being scolded for their mischievous irresponsibly.
Which, of course, completely misses the point that this is the best thing to happen to hockey fans and media in years. It is, as they say, a teachable moment.
And many did just that, creating an odd game of telephone that eventually led some to believe Lupul had actually been traded to the New York Islanders.
And by "some" we mean the Philadelphia Flyers' website:
No official word, no secondary source, no investigating; nope, just news passed along as fact because it crossed the newly christened news wire for hasty journalism ... before, of course, it was unceremoniously deleted without a single note about its existence on the Flyers site.
But that's the Internet for you. Written today, deleted minutes from now. News moves at an unprecedented velocity, which makes it rather easy for someone spoofing a newsmaker to bamboozle the masses.
It's not like phoning your grandmother when you're a kid, pretending to be calling from Canadian Utilities, asking if her refrigerator is running and, when she says yes, telling her she better go after it.
Nobody giggles and gives the gag away at the other end of the phone, when Twitter pulls your leg. Plausibility is the key, which is why all of the above reports got extensive play before being shot down.
No, actually, it's exactly the refrigerator gag, only without a familial target and on a grander scale. It's more akin to the refrigerator gag's snotty grandson: The phony phone call you'd hear on a vintage Howard Stern show, only Brad Richards would have been traded for Clarke MacArthur and Baba Booey.
The gag's aim is two-fold: Ridiculing the organizations and mechanisms that would allow for such outright fraud to thrive, while mocking the gullibility of human beings to forgo logic for the sake of rapidity. There aren't many degrees of separation between a journalist frantically re-tweeting a trade from a spoof account and ABC News taking a call from an obvious goof claiming to see O.J. Simpson in a Ford Bronco.
Both are a product of meager safeguards, irresponsible haste and putting a desire to break news ahead of getting it right. Both are the product of an individual looking to exploit it all for their own amusement or to make a point.
Cole felt there was a "mean-spirited side of the pranks" in the way they duped journalists; in actuality, the journalists who were duped simply haven't gotten the firmware on their crap detectors updated for social media ... or didn't take the time to investigate the validity of the source. Blame the hoaxers all you want -- that's Journalism 101 stuff.
Monday was the great re-education of hockey fans and hockey journalists about social media as a news source, thanks to these pranksters who decided to expose the logical failings, bad habits and systemic problems with the NHL trade deadline spectacle.
The hockey scribes got to see what using this medium has wrought: a go-go-go, first-first-first mentality that values the headline more than the facts and invites hasty reporting of bad info.
The fans, meanwhile, learned to look closer at where our news is originating on social media and the value of an extra click of the mouse.
Example: "Nick Kypreos" on Twitter is @RealKyper_ and not @RealKyper, which is Sportsnet's pundit Nick Kypreos. If you saw his Dustin Penner news and clicked his name, you'd find the former had about 49 tweets and had been on Twitter for about 10 hours. The real McCoy has 540 tweets and over 34,247 followers, and his account is easily found with a cursory web search.
The actual BobMcKenzie (TSNBobMcKenzie) has 114,000 followers. BMcKenzieTSN and TSN-BobMcKenzie? They have fooled 957 and 549 gullible followers, respectively, by attaching McKenzie's photo to their Twitter accounts, and yes, there ought to be a law against that.
But there isn't. So they are free to live in their parents' basements, plotting to bring the world to its knees with their cleverness, nibbling away at the social network's credibility -- as if it cared -- one little white lie at a time.
Cole's not the only one who believes it was Twitter that was damaged through Monday's mockery. From Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, among the deadline losers:
FANS WHO RELIED ON SOCIAL MEDIA FOR THEIR TRADE DEADLINE INFORMATION
Thanks to bogus Twitter accounts, someone posing as Rogers Sportsnet analyst Nick Kypreos tweeted that the Montreal Canadiens had acquired Dustin Penner from the Edmonton Oilers for Jarred Tinordi and a first round pick. Joffrey Lupul was part of a hoax of a deal that had him going to the New York Islanders and someone posing as ESPN.com columnist Pierre LeBrun said Brad Richards was coming to Toronto. Perhaps the best was when the bogus LeBrun was tweeting that the real LeBrun was a fake.
Did Twitter lose credibility? Was social media a deadline loser?
Of course not. Because they're just delivery systems, and we're the consumers.
Twitter has revolutionized journalism. It's indespensible. It's made coverage of the deadline and the free-agent frenzy more lively and fun. But as a news source, it's tricky. We all know what we're dabbling in here, and it's only going to be as accurate and reliable as we make it.
My point is not that I think "fake Twitter accounts" are desirable and necessary, but rather that social media platforms represent a meeting place, not just another broadcast medium. Twitter is a conversation; the content may be partly based in the news, but it is wholly about entertainment. Journalists who choose to rely on it and rebroadcast it unfiltered and without any value (such as fact-checking) added -- in my opinion -- do their readers or viewers a disservice.
Lastly, the final point about "nibbling away at the social network's credibility" is so astonishing I honestly don't know what the hell he's talking about. It's Twitter; it HAS NO CREDIBILITY in the first place.
It's thousands of carnival barkers shouting for your attention. You choose to listen. You choose to enter the tent. And if once inside there's only a goat with a horn glued on his head, you can either choose to blame the sideshow or your naïve conviction that it was a unicorn to begin with. Either way, it's your fault for spending so much time with the geeks.