And then sweeping up the jokers that he left behindA little over a year ago I wrote a piece about the friction between social media and the written press as it pertains to the transfer circus. It was inspired by a disgruntled football journalist from the Birmingham Mail who bemoaned the fact that such is the power of social media these days that a 'ridiculous story' about Peter Odemwingie failing to agree terms with Arsenal - based on two 'friends' of his - was run by a Nigerian website. Not a usual news source, he pointed out, just one which anyone of any age could set up in their bedroom and portray as a reputable provider of news. Trouble is that people get sucked in. They see the reports on NewsNow and assume it might, just might, be true. Who can blame them, he asked, not least when a UK-based agent is also repeating the false rumour on national radio to millions of listeners. Such was the power of that particular report that both clubs were moved to issue a statement denying it all. As it happens Albion and Arsenal never had discussions over Odemwingie, let alone got to a stage where the player was quibbling over personal terms.
You find he did not leave you very much not even laughter
Like any dealer he was watching for the card
That is so high and wild
He'll never need to deal another
At the time I was writing that original article Herita Ilunga was reportedly a £1.5m target for Greek champions Olympiakos. Except he wasn't. Nor had he ever been. Julien Faubert was also alledgedly poised to move to Lazio; a piece of rampant speculation extrapolated from a solitary snippet of second-hand information that a club official at the time had reportedly met with the Frenchman's representative, but that was as far as it went. We now know that both stories were little more than educated guesswork, which more often than not, is what fuels social media panic, be it on Twitter or on Facebook. A couple of websites in Italy subsequently reported the Faubert story and then it was picked up and reported as news by the website branch of a national radio station.
I was reminded of this today when reading an account of how a group of football supporters attempted to get a completely fabricated transfer rumour started last week; eventually choosing Newcastle United as the 'interested' club, and naming North Korean striker Jong Il-Gwan as the transfer target. The formative stage of their plan, such as it was, initially involved doctoring an article from a Korean newspaper. They claimed Newcastle had been tracking the player ever since 'he was named Asian Footballer of the Year', bemusingly adding 'he is the best young prospect since Kim Jong-Il'.
They subsequently tweeted the said article (accompanied by a YouTube video of Gwan scoring a hat trick against Australia) to a select number of Newcastle blogs and fansites, who voraciously swallowed the bait and promulgated the rumour. It wasn't long before a respected north-east journalist, Mark Douglas, was reporting "he didn't know about Gwan specifically but that he knew that the Mags were actively scouting in Asia for talent". From here it was a short step to the rumour being disseminated on the major Newcastle forums and members there enthusiastically discussing how he could be a bargain considering Carr's recent scouting record. Within hours one of the most popular Newcastle ITKs took to Twitter to claim he had heard from his 'sources' that Gwan would be signed for the club's development squad.
A couple of days later and the Daily Mail 'Insider' was attributing a score of 3/5 to the possibility of the transfer being concluded. The paper stated: "Newcastle rewarded scout Graham Carr with a new eight-year contract today and he continues to have that knack of finding talent. One of the latest targets of his attention is North Korea international striker Jong Il-Gwan. The 19-year-old has been linked with PSV Eindhoven and Partizan Belgrade but Newcastle have been keeping an eye on him since his hat-trick for North Korea in the Asian Youth Championship against Australia in 2010. Alan Pardew wants to build up his squad and will invest around £10m on second string players who can step up. The added bonus would be the commercial revenue a player such as Il-Gwan could generate."
The following morning a Serbian news site took the doctored article and printed it, adding that Partizan Belgrade were now keen to snatch Gwan away from Newcastle United's grasp. By the afternoon, other outlets were crediting PSV and Trazponspor with interest in the player; some claiming the former has a manager with good contacts within the Korean market. The story kept rolling for another week before eventually fizzling out; although not before ensuring a little-known player from behind the modern Bamboo Curtain had punctured Western consciousness and over 20,000 people had viewed his little-seen exploits on YouTube.
Self-publicists and shop-windows, the trouble these days is that people are in such a rush to break stories that diligence no longer applies, argued the Birmingham mail journalist. Nobody bothers checking with clubs to see if a story is true. They might check with an agent to see if it's true - and you can count on the fingers of one foot the number of agents you can truly trust - but even then they might not bother. Social media has not so much changed the way sports journalists work, it's shredded the rule book too. The growth of Internet and, more so, Twitter and Facebook leads to frenzied excitement and fevered panic, so that a large proportion of the local beat writer's job becomes sorting out the truth from the non-truths, half-truths or the not-yet-truths.
It's how the news business is supposed to work, when you're not in the market for 'Internet hits' or 'website traffic'. Which is not to say these websites and social media networks do not have a place in society. The recent sacking of Kenny Dalglish, for example, highlighted how far ahead breaking news on social media is when compared to traditional TV outlets. Almost a whole hour after Twitter had gone into overdrive and the news had broken, Sky and their special little yellow runner for 'breaking news' reported what hundreds of thousands, possibly millions had already discovered. Granted, it may not have been officially confirmed by the club until a little later but when you have reliable sources confirming reports, leading news outlets should be going public with news of this magnitude a lot faster, thinks Football and Social Media's Matthew Scott.
The reluctance to report anything until it is set in stone is surely a huge factor in the success of social media in attracting those who want to be the first to know. Surveys have shown that over 50% of people have learned about breaking news via social media rather than official news sources. Indeed, Twitter would be perfect and almost certainly replace rolling TV news if, adds Scott, it could be cleansed of people who, upon seeing genuine reports or rumours with some substance, take it upon themselves to add little white lies that then spread like wild fire, working its way down the IQ numbers. It is, he says, frustrating and saddening that genuine users or professionals can end up having their timeline tarnished with tweets that have been subject to a Chinese whisper-like effect.
These are social media's kite-flyers; occupying a hinterland somewhere between truth and lies, disseminating unsubstantiated whispers as fact and uncorroborated hearsay as indubitable certainty. They profess to be in constant contact with their 'sources' and titillate their followers with hourly updates concerning transfer targets, price negotiations, contract discussions and planned medicals; desperately searching for the one true dart among a hundred thrown that will validate their existence as 'In The Know' and thus perpetuate their myth. For these people Twitter is a parasitic persuit, promoting a never-ending discourse of what Llosa termed 'permanent insurrection'. They feast on their ability to arouse, to disturb and to alarm; to keep fans in a constant state of dissatisfaction and apprehension. Yet it is a symbiotic relationship. Their followers, hot with anticipation, constantly hector for the latest tidbit, each new detail firing the imagination and encouraging discourse. It is why my own Twitter timeline constantly pulsates to the latest disclosures of @bradley_whufc @WHUFC News @WHUFC_ITK @WHUFC_News @BackPage @TheInsider_2012 and @WestHamDaily. I welcome the speculation because it ameliorates the lull of the summer months and because I want to be the among the first to hear about the next West Ham bound Jong Il-Gwan and how he is the best young prospect since Kim Jong-un. I just don't expect to actually learn anything.
For the years spent working on this blog, the constant scouring, filtering, checking and cross-referencing has taught me that there are no more than a handful of truly ITK people in the online West Ham United community and none of these post on Twitter. So I could tell you we are going to sign one of Grant Holt, Steven Naismith, Wilfried Zaha, Nicolas Anelka, Michael Kightly, Johan Djourou, Abdoulaye Ba, Victor Wanyama, Modibo Maiga, Matt Jarvis, Eljero Elia, Milos Krasic, Fabio Quagliarella, Dimitris Salpingidis, Chris Solly, Samuel Souprayen, Danny Simpson, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Guti, Reto Ziegler, Luc Castaignos, Jonas Olsson, Clarence Seedorf, Burak Yilmaz, Juan Manuel Iturbe, Joselu, Abdul Kader Mangane, Nathaniel Clyne, Christopher Samba, Keiron Richardson, Alessandro Del Piero, William Gallas, Marco Capuano or Dejan Stankovic, and the chances are one of those names will stick.
Or I could alternatively tell you Kevin Nolan isn't going anywhere. That Carlton Cole's knee is not getting any better and that he will be used sparingly next season. That Grant Holt isn't coming unless Norwich change their stance. That Freddie Piquionne is being offered around but his high wages are proving prohibitive for interested teams in the Championship. That Joey O'Brien has been told he will not be first choice next season but he still wants to stay. That we have three main targets before kick-off; namely, another central defender, a central striker and a winger with pace who can 'score as well as create'. That Abdul Kader Mangane has taken a medical. That full backs are not an absolute priority but considerable effort has been made to land Nathaniel Clyne. That we are very happy with our two goalkeepers and won't actively be looking for a third. That Ravel Morrison will get a lot of pre-season action to determine the level of his participation for the opening months of the season.
I could tell you all these things and be fairly confident that the percentage of truth contained within will be substantially higher that anything you will read on your Twitter timelines tomorrow morning. It is provided by people who do not seek recognition or adulation and the information they impart is given in good faith and without fuss; even if it it is invariably sporadic and often frustratingly vague. In short it is rarely as interesting, exciting or as neatly packaged as the revelations provided by their Twitter counterparts, but that is because truth seldom is stranger than fiction.