Football fans are in a frenzy. The transfer window is about to shut and many observers of the so-called beautiful game are attached to their phones, TV screens and desktops – eagerly awaiting updates of new arrivals at their favourite teams.
As a Liverpool supporter, my team is supposedly in the market for some big name transfers. One of our top players is angling for a move away and the team has left it late in securing players for this season’s squad.
Usually I take football gossip with a pinch of salt. It’s a bit of fun. Something to make small talk over at lunch.
However, in the past few days I’ve noticed a somewhat alarming pattern that could have wider negative implications for Twitter as a “public sphere”.
If we believe, as many do, that Twitter is a force for democratic good – giving voice to the voiceless and allowing everyone equal access to information – then this could prove to be a sinister development.
Journalists use Twitter as a platform for engaging with their readers. They share their stories and those of other trusted journalists and sources. In the past Twitter had a verification tick but that seems to have lost its meaning with many being able to apply for account verification.
While Twitter may have brought football fans close to the gatekeepers of information, the journalists, it has also given rise to an army of b**ls*itters.
Again this is nothing new. We saw during the US presidential elections last year how fake news influenced if not the result then at least the debate.
But the latest ploy being used is rather nefarious. Several of these fake news football related streams have come up with a new tactic, that may in the future be used for political purposes.
They are pretending to be journalists from reputable news organisations. It is quite a convincing tactic.
The way they do this is by using the news organisation’s web address and Twitter handle in their profiles.
It doesn’t stop there. They then get a few friends, who have similarly trumped up profiles, to push the accounts to their followers. Take a look at the following example:
A quick Google search will tell you there is no Declan Carey at the BBC. There’s nothing, that I have observed anyway, carrying his byline on the BBC Sport website. Yet on the face of it his account looks very convincing. He even Retweets genuine football journalists and several BBC Sport tweets, making him seem like a genuine part of the Twittersphere.
The pièce de résistance though is this other account, which is convincing Twitter users that this account is genuine.
This Greg Twomey account is convincing others that this Declan Carey is working for BBC Sport. When you Google ‘Greg Twomey’ it actually shows that this guy’s account also showed @BBCSport in the bio at some point. Quite clearly the two are working hand in hand.
The other fact is earlier on this account was peddling another supposed journalist called Gareth Cambridge, this time claiming to be from ESPN. Once again looking to hoodwink gullible fans.
The common theme that links all these accounts is that they all seem to originate from Ireland. A few people have cottoned on to this confidence trick and seen Cork listed as the location in some of these bios. In fact the first account I flagged up even talks about going to Cork City football matches.
My initial reaction was to pass this off as just ‘banter’. However, during an election is there anything stopping people from pulling similar tricks, impersonating political journalists and commentators to disseminate fake news amongst followers?
We’ve had convincing looking fake news sites. It seems as if the phase of fake news social media accounts claiming to be genuine journalists is now upon us.
More needs to be done by social media companies to stop the spread of fake news. They acknowledge this fact time and time again. Maybe they could start by stopping fantasists from pretending to be journalists working for reputable news organisations.