Tonight as Red Sox fans were ready to watch the Jim Rice retirement ceremony at Fenway Park, there was a buzz on the internet after a Tweet stated that the Sox were close to a trade with the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Cliff Lee. It came from an account that said it was “WEEI850AM”. It had the WEEI logo and linked to the station’s website. The Tweet appeared to come from WEEI.com editor Rob Bradford as it said,
That tweet was picked up by a legitimate account, MLBTradeRumors which sent it out to its 10,000 followers and was spread among Red Sox fans who were excited about this development. Red Sox beat writers scrambled looking for clues.
I e-mailed Rob to get his version of events and he picks up the story from there:
I was away from the park, spending some time with my family when I got a call from Ian Browne of MLB.com at about 6:30 p.m. asking me what was up with “this Cliff Lee thing”. I had no idea what he was talking about. He explained that there were reports all over the internet that I was reporting that the Red Sox were close to a trade for Cliff Lee. I didn’t know what to say. It was completely out of nowhere. I jumped on a computer and immediately looked on our site and saw nothing was there. I then went to MLB Trade Rumors and saw the post saying that “Rob Bradford reports…” I clicked on the link and saw the WEEI logo all over this Twitter account. For a second I thought somebody in our organization had posted to our Twitter account without me knowing. But then I saw there were only 50 followers and knew this wasn’t a real account, which I obviously quickly verified upon closer examination. But by this time the report had already seeped into multiple corners of the internet. I immediately told Ian that this was bogus and to spread the word, which he did, with help from other WEEI.com writers — such as Mike Petraglia, Joe Haggerty, and Alex Speier — who were in the Fenway press box. (Let me take time here to thank everybody who quickly helped get out the right information.)
It was an odd feeling, not really having an answer how to stop this from spreading. Alex and myself contacted the team officials to apologize for any inconvenience and explain the situation (when something like this is written they get a massive amount of emails trying to confirm or deny such a report). I posted on my own Twitter account as well as WEEI’s real one, while also explaining the situation on our blog, Full Count. I let the folks at MLB Trade Rumors know what happened, and they were very diligent in posting the real story immediately, which was greatly appreciated. Then we just asked everybody and anybody to get the word out that this was not our Twitter account and this was not my report.
As time passed word did get out that this wasn’t my report, which was somewhat gratifying. And Entercom has continued to do due diligence regarding the matter. But this was a HUGE wake-up call. Think about it — was there any Twitter feeds referenced during last year’s trade deadline? Don’t think so. I’m sure this might spawn copy-cats, but what will also do is make news-gathering organizations think twice about where they get info from.
Rob says WEEI is working with their lawyers and Twitter to take down the fake account, but as of 10:08 p.m., it’s still up. The lesson here is that we all have to be careful about Twitter. While it has become an important social networking tool, there are still disadvantages like the fake accounts.
As we’re all aware, fake athlete and celebrity accounts have forced Twitter to verify the real athletes and celebrities who post on Twitter. The service may have to do the same with legitimate media accounts.