John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
A hoax got so out of hand that the Carolina Panthers needed to address it publicly. How did it go so far?
On the evening of January 30th, Carolina Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton was the next athlete in line to succumb to the 'broke both his legs' hoax that seems to circulate almost monthly in the NFL. Once again, too many fell for it, the hoax was circulated too many times -- and this time it led to the organization coming out via Twitter to refute the hoax, that's how much steam it had gotten.
January 7th, 2013 -- The Atlanta Falcons were preparing for their playoff run. While most had written them off as pretenders, even the most staunch supporters knew their team would need to be at full strength to make a deep run -- something Matt Ryan hadn't achieved. When a report was leaked from an unvetted, unproven, and unsubstantiated source that wide receiver Julio Jones had broken both his legs in a car accident, Twitter was aflutter with activity.
What's worse, this was the second time in less than six months people fell for the exact same phony report. First making its appearance in mid-September, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk called the report 'bogus', offering the first reliable outlet to dispel the hoax. Fool me once...
Herein lies the problem with crowd-sourced media like Twitter: Where are the gatekeepers? In traditional media there are a series of checks and balances to ensure accuracy. Here at CSR our editorial team is constantly evaluating our fact-finding methods as we add and remove people from a list of outlets we trust to have expert opinion. Remember, this wasn't Jay Glazer, Adam Schefter, or Albert Breer making the report -- it was a do-nothing, click farm that has, right now, two identical stories that were posted 30 minutes ago; one has Cam Newton breaking both his legs, one has Julio Jones breaking both his legs. The only changes are the cities and the names. To a news-hungry, follower-obsessed medium like Twitter, everyone wants to have 'the scoop', even if there isn't a shred of proof.
It's natural to ask 'why are we addressing this hoax?', but unfortunately it seems necessary. This same hack-kneed outlet has an established history of re-hashing the same hoax stories to garner more clicks. It's without question that we will see another 'Cam Newton has broken both his legs' story before training camp, and it's without question we'll have hundreds of people share without looking into it, or trying to see if a reputable outlet is reporting the same.
The second time Julio Jones 'broke both his legs' it was re-Tweeted over 900 times, and shared on Facebook more than 600. Mentions of the 'report' were in the multiple-thousands.
If you are on Twitter and want to really garner knowledge about the team -- learn who to trust. Slowly build a list of reliable sources, and stay away from any random second-hand info that isn't vetted. Not everyone is a journalist, nor do they desire to be, but as a fan with a public soapbox you owe the rest of the fan base to check something before hitting that 're-tweet' button.