In the Sports World, Verified Accounts are Key

“It’s been a great journey down here in #Beantown my agent just confirmed im heading to Tampa to play with the Rays. miss you #Soxnation.” – @MikeAviles3

That’s how Red Sox shortstop Mike Aviles broke the news of his being traded to the Tampa Bay Rays this past month. The problem? He wasn’t traded to the Rays. In fact, he wasn’t traded anywhere. Another problem? Mike Aviles wasn’t on Twitter.

Check out influential athletes’ Twitter profiles, and you’ll notice an icon next to their Twitter username; a small ribbon with a checkmark on it. The icon signifies that a particular account has been verified by Twitter. Verified accounts are those that Twitter has claimed are authentic and are created by the actual person whose name is on the account. For example, that CJ Wilson’s account @str8edgeracer is really CJ Wilson, and not just a fan that created the account as a way to pay homage.

CJ Wilson Twitter Profile

Despite Twitter’s best efforts to verify as many accounts as possible, typically only influential athletes get verified accounts. Take a look at the starting lineup and bench for Major League Baseball on tweetstargame.com, and you’ll notice that every athlete’s Twitter account, sans Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, is verified. You’ll also notice that the lowest Klout score among the athletes is 59, much higher than the average Klout score of 20. This leaves many less influential athletes with unverified accounts. These accounts belong to lesser-known athletes like Aviles. Aviles, a 30 year-old shortstop for the Boston Red Sox, started his career with the small market Kansas City Royals, and has never hit more than 10 homeruns, stolen over 14 bases, or played in over 110 games in a season.

While Aviles may not be considered influential according to Klout, his account was influential enough that the Red Sox had to officially deny the report. Additionally, Aviles took to Twitter with an official account, @themikeaviles, to announce that he was in fact still a member of the Boston Red Sox. The event is another example of the current sports media landscape, where the invention of Twitter, and its ability to let anyone break news, has created an atmosphere where the race to be the first to break news has become paramount for journalists. That need involves occasionally running with unverified, and potentially false, information. We’ve recently seen this with matters involving Joe Paterno and Dwight Howard.

Mike Aviles Twitter Profile

I don’t know what the fix is to this situation. Verification doesn’t come easy. Despite his recent issue, Aviles’s new authentic Twitter account still hasn’t been verified by Twitter, and journalists aren’t likely to wait to write breaking news. Doing so would run the risk of the news being broken by a rival journalist. The more likely situation is that we continue to struggle with this environment. An environment in which athletes can break news directly via Twitter, fans can create short-term chaos by releasing fake news via the same platform, and journalists and fans can’t tell the difference.

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