Tim Tebow to the Dolphins! How I Trolled Twitter Into Believing an Absurd Rumor
I love Twitter a lot -- like 83,000-tweets-and-counting a lot. So I didn't troll everyone yesterday with fake news about Tim Tebow joining the Dolphins because I was mad. I did it because it would be funny, and also because it's fascinating how information goes viral -- particularly in the murky world of sports reporting. Someone sees a tweet and retweets it immediately, no questions asked. Along the way it grows like as snowball rolling down a hill, until it's been spread so far and so wide that IT MUST BE TRUE. There is no "Are you sure?" button and there is no "Is this true?" button; there is only a "show what you just saw to the bleachers full of people that follow you" button called "retweet."
The following is a blow-by-blow look at how in less than 90 minutes I convinced the Twitterverse that a made-up ESPN reporter with the same name as the Marlins bench coach was reporting Tebow would soon be a Miami Dolphin, a hoax that didn't end until ESPN, Tebow, and the Dolphins themselves put a stop to it.
Step 1 - Pick a source, any source
Pick a name, literally any name, and add "ESPN" at the end. People see ESPN and assume it's true. You could see on ESPN's bottom line that you crapped your pants in the future at 7:57 p.m., and at 7:57 p.m. you would be like, "Am I about to crap my pants?" I picked Marlins bench coach Rob Leary. Rob Leary just looks like the name of an ESPN guy, like Bob Ley or something. This was a bonus because no matter what the Marlins bench coach's name was, I was going with it.
Step 2 - Make the tweet speculative, never confirmed.
You need to dangle the carrot while at the same time making the news something that can't readily be confirmed or denied. One of the evil little secrets about Twitter is that we all want to be the person that told the other person that told the other person about that thing, whether it be news as serious as someone famous dying, or that Amanda Bynes posted her boobs on Instagram again. Everyone is a source on Twitter, which is as much its draw as its downfall. One day you have 300 followers, the next day you're on CNN because you live-tweeted Osama Bin Laden's capture.
So, after straight-up warning everyone on Twitter that I was about to troll their balls off, I dove in with this simple, complete lie of a tweet.
ESPN's Rob Leary is reporting Tim Tebow is at the Dolphins facility as we speak taking a physical..says team very interested, could get done-- Rizzmiggizz (@RizzWrites) May 2, 2013
Again, I just reported that the Miami Marlins bench coach, who amazingly, suddenly works for ESPN, has sources telling him Tim Tebow is at the Dolphins facility in Davie. The whole premise is ridiculous. Forget that you just need check my timeline to see this is a complete lie -- I said so moments earlier! -- because now people just assume someone works at ESPN named Rob Leary. This tweet was quickly retweeted by 50 people, getting the snowball rolling.