Today’s story on fake Twitter accounts, and particularly Jadeveon Clowney’s several such accounts (and one widely followed one in particular), used some quotes from South Carolina athletic department officials.
Here now, the full accounting of their quotes for the story, along with some leftover quotes from ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell, who was once a victim of Twitter impersonation.
Some of these quotes were in the story. Others weren’t. But just to give you a complete idea of what the USC folks said, here it all is …
“Twitter’s terms of service do prohibit impersonation accounts,” said Brittany Lane, the coordinator of digital and social media. “Twitter does allow parody and fake accounts, as long as they’re clear. And we agree with that, too.
“With this account in particular (the big fake Clowney account) and in general, our step is if they’re following one of our accounts, which they typically do, we’ll send them a direct message just saying, ‘Hey, we appreciate the enthusiasm, but please make it clear you’re a parody account or a fake account.’
“We’ll send a few of those, trying to be fan friendly or encourage fun Twitter accounts. But if we do get to a point where they don’t respond or they don’t make those changes, then we do file an impersonation report with Twitter, and we have done that with that fake account (the big fake Clowney account). The timeline just varies for Twitter’s response on how quickly they act.”
When did you let Twitter know about the big fake Clowney account?
“That one, we just filed (Wednesday) night,” Lane said. “We’ve sent them two or three messages saying, ‘Please make changes.’ And they haven’t. Since I read the tweets (Wednesday) night (making fun of Manti Te’o’s situation), that was kind of the catalyst for, ‘All right. We don’t have a choice anymore.’
“I’ve been here about two years and I’d say I filed about five to six impersonation reports to get them taken down (and the fake accounts for guys like Connor Shaw and Marcus Lattimore were taken down). Just the timeline varies for how quickly Twitter is able to act. It’s a form you fill out to show, and you have to be an authorized person to act on their behalf. A fan can’t just send in an impersonation letter. They have my photo ID. They have all my information on file so when I submit a report, they know that, OK, this person is authorized to act (for the athlete).”
So it’s only a matter of time before the Clowney account is taken down?
“Most likely,” Lane said. “I don’t know for sure. In the past, Twitter’s first step is to notify them that they are in violation of Twitter’s terms of service, and they’ll put recommended changes for the account, but it’s up to Twitter if they do that or if they just immediately suspend the account. I don’t know which way Twitter would go on this case.”
What about getting Clowney’s account verified?
“Unfortunately, Twitter doesn’t respond that way to requests for verification,” Lane said. “I’ve read through all their information and it’s something we’ve worked on in the past with other accounts, main (USC athletic department) accounts as well. Twitter’s internal process for how they do it is kind of their own thing.”
On Wednesday, Charles Bloom, USC’s new senior associate athletic director for external affairs, posted a tweet on his account, which has more than 12,000 followers. It read: “The real Twitter account of the nation’s top returning defensive player in #CFB is @clownejd #Gamecocks.”
Of course, nowhere in the bio for Clowney’s real account does it say that it is his official account.
“There are a lot of tactics to discourage fake accounts and definitely promoting your own account as an official account is one way to do that,” Lane said when asked about this. “One of the best tactics is to promote an official account and have an official account and during the season, Jadeveon didn’t tweet, so there’s a void there where a parody account was able to fill in. As Jadeveon is ramping up his Twitter at this time, it’s more of an opportunity for him.”
What about listing athletes’ official Twitter accounts on the roster with their bios?
“It’s something we’ve discussed, and Twitter is one of those things that’s evolving all the time, and so is our strategy,” Lane said. “We try to stay as up to date as possible. That will definitely be part of a larger effort if we were to have some sort of directory, and I think the student-athletes would have to be involved in that conversation as well.”
So what are the frequent discussions that USC officials have about Twitter?
“Just as far as how we want to relate to student-athletes in social media,” Lane said. “Do we want to re-tweet (what they tweet)? Do we want to mention who’s using it best in a way that we might be comfortable promoting their official account?”
Do you follow the big fake Clowney account to monitor it?
“One of the ways to make it clear that it’s not a true account is I’ve contacted people that were following it and I know, to let them know, ‘Hey, that’s not really him,’” Lane said. “Some of them are just following because (the fake account is) funny, and they know it’s not him. I did see a few other people re-tweet (the Te’o stuff put out by the fake account) and then would respond to them and say just, ‘Hey, FYI, that’s not really him.’ I contacted several people. David Pollack was one to re-tweet and say, ‘sorry about that, it’s not his real account,’ once he knew.
“It’s concerning because obviously you want to protect Jadeveon. For the people that are aware it’s a fake account, if the account user had taken the steps to make it clear it was a parody, I think we’d all be OK with it. But unfortunately, they haven’t been willing to do that. I think that’s what causes the issues for Jadeveon’s image.
“We have not talked to him about that account. Jadeveon wasn’t into Twitter when he first got here. There was another fake account that was very active that many people were tagging and thought was him and we used the same process to have it removed. That was when he first got here. We’ve done it for him in the past. For him, it’s not unprecedented. There are several accounts out there that are not him.”
Said Steve Fink, the head of USC’s sports information department and the man who coordinates media interviews with the football players: “Something else happened back in the fall where (a tweet from a fake Clowney account) was getting re-tweeted, and I asked (Clowney) about it and he didn’t even know about it at that time.”
Lane said you used to be able to submit verification requests to Twitter, but obviously you can’t do that any longer.
“We would certainly like to solve the verification riddle,” said Eric Nichols, USC’s assistant athletic director for marketing. “That’s where we’re stubbing our toe.”
Nichols added, when speaking about Twitter perhaps shutting down the big fake Clowney account, “What we don’t know is what has happened between the fake users and Twitter. Some people will immediately say, ‘I’m scared and I’ll take it down.’ But others may fight it. We don’t know how that part works.”
Bloom, who previously worked at the Southeastern Conference, had this to say regarding the verification process: “At the SEC, there were (non-SEC) accounts using the SEC name. We were able to talk to the folks that were doing it. We had an agreement with the folks that were using the SEC (name). But in terms of the verification, we could never get verified. We tried to get verified. We were over 100,000 followers for our SEC account and still couldn’t get verified. The main SEC account. We’re still not verified.
“There are so many accounts for Jadeveon that it would make sense to verify the main one, to clarify the confusion in the public. The Twitter verification would help probably more than anything else.”
What did the non-SEC Twitter accounts using the SEC name agree to do?
“What we negotiated,” Bloom said, “is for this other group who was promoting the Southeastern Conference is (for them to put in the bio): ‘For official SEC news, follow @SECSportsUpdate.’”
Finally, some leftover comments from Rovell …
“The crazy thing is that there are competitors of South Carolina, there are fans of opposing teams who would love to use this account. This is the version of a fan who on a message board unveils something crazy about an opposing team’s player. There’s interests here, which is what’s scary.”
Rovell doesn’t mind having a parody account that someone made about him.
“Luckily, the guy (who runs it) is witty and he’s actually pretty smart, which is good if someone is mocking you. I have no problem with that.
“One time, there was a guy who I believe the Ls were capital Is (in the last name on the account), so it looked like it was me and he used the same exact photo and he just started following people and I think got 6,000 or 7,000 followers in two or three days and just started writing fake stuff. So my integrity was on the line. The problem was that it had the same photo and it looked like it was the exact same thing (as the real Rovell account).”
That fake account was shut down.
“These kids (college athletes) have got to realize when a reporter or a fan thinks that what you write is you and it’s truthful, we’re in a day in age when people quote directly from Twitter accounts and just like Google hits, people look at it and they say, ‘OK, that’s real.’ Just like if there’s enough Google hits on Lennay Kekua or whatever. If there’s 20,000 of them. I think it’s the responsibility of the kid and the school to shut it down immediately.”
It helps that Clowney isn’t draft eligible this year, Rovell said.
“It’s probably a little bit more damaging if a sports marketer looked it and said, ‘Oh, this guy is draft eligible and could be a top pick in the draft and this is the way he talks.’ I think that there’s no debate that this needs to be shut down right away to prevent further damage, and even go as far as to find out who it is, so that this doesn’t regenerate somewhere.
“I think Twitter needs to do some work, too. This is a great question of: How responsible are corporations for what they let you do on their message board or bulletin board or marketplace? Amazon and eBay are legally protected from if something is sold on their sites that is fake, they’re actually not responsible. In fact, several companies have gone to court proactively to make sure that they’re not responsible (to save money that would be have to be spent on policing such matters).
“This started 12 or 13 years ago. I did a story on ‘Outside the Lines’ maybe eight years ago (about) people stealing athletes’ identities. A black man went to Home Depot and got a $25,000 home loan credit under Danny Wuerffel. A man posed as Tiger Woods got a real social security card even though he had a different middle name than Tiger really has. He had the same initial. He went into Fry’s Electronics and ran up a humongous bill. It went from being an anonymous thing, from people getting their jollies (by commenting anonymous on message boards, etc.) to faking being real people. It’s clearly an issue.”
“Ultimately, it really is (Clowney’s) responsibility. The school needs to do their investigation to protect him, but ultimately it’s on him to know what’s going on about him. It’s not like he needs to know every time someone is saying something about him, but he needs to know if there is a (huge) fake Twitter account. This is the world we live in, and it’s crazy. Before my parents even knew my daughter’s name (when she was born 11 months ago), I locked up her name@gmail, her name.com, her name on Facebook, her name on Twitter. That’s the world we live in right now.”