Twitter’s power serves a Guardian ‘disaster’

by Kevin Coleman

What happened? On Thursday evening, the Guardian hyped up an exclusive two hours before it was set to appear at 5:30. Twitter ran into a frenzy of speculation, but the exclusive – a rumour that Inter Milan were to bid for Gareth Bale in the summer – was a major dud, rather than a major exclusive.

Twitter is a very powerful medium. Just ask Ryan Babel, who is £10,000 poorer since his Howard Webb message. Everybody involved with football knows the informative, instantaneous powerhouse Twitter has become. This can be seen in the number of media outlets, businesses and organisations that are now associated with it, even Sky Sports News have began to report news that has stemmed from Twitter.

A rumour gets retweeted again and again, and suddenly it’s common knowledge throughout the world, or at least by those who follow certain people. The social networking site’s true power stems from it’s instantaneous ability to spread news and information, the prime example being Michael Jackson’s death just over a year ago. The story spread like wildfire, and the Twitter servers struggled to cater for the traffic. Even Wikipedia crashed, as thousands upon thousands of people flocked to the encyclopaedia to see Michael Jackson’s page as they couldn’t access Twitter.

Twitter is also powerful because it the only online website ever devised that seamlessly unites football fans, football bloggers, football journalists – and the odd football player – into one large community.

On a footballing level, a rumour surfaced earlier this month when an ESPN journalist, who only had a few hundred followers, mentioned Luis Suarez was about to sign for Liverpool. This was long before the recent dealings between the Merseyside club and Ajax, but nonetheless the rumour was picked up by a number of Twitter users and it spread rapidly. The journalist in question, who may not even have been the first to make the allegation, gained a few hundred more followers as fans retweeted, speculated and crossed their fingers in hope that this may be true. It may well end up happening, but at the time there was no previous links between Suarez and Liverpool. This is just one example of many since Twitter – and particularly the football community – grew to such a gigantic scale in early 2010.

Even our Twitter account has been the source of a ballooned transfer rumour, when we got word that Warren Barton – the former Newcastle defender and now football pundit in America – had said live on air that he had just got a text from Shay Given (his ex-team mate) saying a move to Arsenal was on. We tweeted it. It got retweeted over one hundred times. But evidently, it wasn’t true. But who are we?! It just goes to show, regardless of your standing on Twitter – whether you have 100 followers or 10,000 followers – it is dangerously powerful.

But this evening’s ‘disaster’ for the Guardian took on whole new levels, and all from one single tweet from their sports editor Ian Prior. Not because their 5:30pm ‘exclusive’ was false, but because of the terminology used by Ian. ‘Major’ and a football ‘exclusive’ aren’t exactly terms I’d associate with Gareth Bale possibly joining Inter Milan, or the Milan club possibly making a bid for him. Even the transfer fee speculated, £40million, doesn’t fall into the ‘major’ category of football news stories these days. Don’t get me wrong, it’d be a massive story for football in Europe if it materialises, a Welshman joining the Italian powerhouse for such a large fee, but fans expected something, well, major and exclusive, not something that is – at the moment – just a rumour. It didn’t shine the newspaper in a nice light, but at the same time, could be regarded as a compliment for the high standards it is expected to produce. It would have been a very good story, had it not been staged two hours earlier in earnest.

The resulting panic, excitement and speculation that ensued after Ian’s tweet was nothing short of phenomenal. The #GuardianExclusive hashtag, where fans made comical updates of what the story may be, became a worldwide trending topic. You know you’ve made it when you become a worldwide trending topic. And all because of one single tweet. Speculation grew to such a pace that their were mentions of Alex Ferguson retiring, Carlos Tevez joining Chelsea, even Manchester United being taken over with a £2billion bid. These are major football exclusives.

Journalists, bloggers and fans the world over sat intently with the Guardian Football page open, index finger abusing the F5 button on their keyboard as 5:30 couldn’t come any sooner. Twitter continued to spread the news. It was probably texted around between mates. It undoubtedly made chat forums all over the world, from Football 365 to non-football websites.

5:30 came around, and the world exclusive fell flatter then a lead balloon. Carlos Tevez joining Chelsea would be a major football exclusive. Even announcing the completed transfer of someone like David Luiz or Luis Suarez would be quite a big story. Not reporting a quoteless story that Inter Milan could make a £40million pound bid in five months time.

Cue a furore of disappointed status updates, angry messages and undeserved abuse. The story on the website had over 100 comments in five minutes. So it wasn’t the world shaking story everyone had been expecting, but it’s nothing worth crying over. Fans get excited, especially over potential ground breaking news as we were lead to believe.

This is just another in a long line of examples of Twitter’s social explosiveness. Twitter has united each footballing hierarchy of fans into one, and that in itself is a generator of energy that nobody can control when it gets out of hand. Twitter has seen the growth of football blogging, which ironically the Guardian have been so innovative in welcoming to their shores with the 100 blogs of 2011, the ‘what we liked this week’ section and the World Cup’s fan network. The Guardian should have known better, that you don’t big up a story and not expect a backlash if you don’t fulfil it, especially when you have a reputation as valuable as they do online. Ian, Sid Lowe, Daniel Taylor, Sean Ingle, Barry Glendenning and Guardian Football itself are just some of the many Twitter accounts associated with the newspaper and it’s online website, and with them alone you have nearly a 100,000 strong following.

Earlier last year we published an article on the problems facing football journalists and the expectation of Twitter usage before the World Cup. In hindsight, they performed magnificently and continue to do so. Even Henry Winter, an early adopter of Twitter but who was notorious for his lack of interaction on the site, has began following and replying to people.

But as this evening proves, there are still a lot of kinks to work out when it comes to Twitter and what it has done to news reporting and football writing.

13 Responses

  1. Matt Visser says:

    A nicely written piece my friend. I have to say the crazed mob like witch-hunting is still in progress and I anticipate it to go for for weeks.

    #guardianexclusive will be a joke shared by tweeters for a while yet, but the Guardian won’t care, they got what they wanted, hits.

    Fair play to them really, my eyes would light up with glee if I had hundreds of thousands of people heading to my website, regardless of their potential reaction.

    Tomorrow will bring something new for football fans to moan about and it will eventually be forgotten. I don’t anticipate the world and his wife to stop reading Guardian gossip because of one guff story (nor a whole host of them as it happens).

    1. Indeed, this was surely a record period for the Guardian website.

      As you say, everyone will move on. Yesterday, tucking things into Andy Grays groin, tomorrow… God know’s what.

  2. Just crazy that they cold let this happen! I’m so surprised at them because they are normally so good and their apps and podcasrs etc are top notch. I listen to the football one ever week. They shouldn’t have published the story once they saw the hype building and should just have said they had to hold it. It’s done a huge amount of damage to their brand in a short space of time!

  3. Mark says:

    Might have been useful if you had printed the tweets which caused the hype. and indicated how quickly the hype spread.

    The article assumes prior knowledge of the story.

  4. @itbeganin1992 says:

    Mark there is a picture showing what Ian Prior said midway through the article. Looking at the pic it wasn’t much but i’m sad to say I was one of the many speculating what it would be (Fabregas to Barca in the summer rubber stamped) on twitter whilst also frantically F5′ing theGuardian site!

    1. To be fair to Mark, I put that in after his comment.

      My prediction was at best, or it’s biggest, something involving a big player with huge money, or at worst – Suarez to Liverpool!

      And all we got was a rumour.

  5. Neil Sherwin Neil Sherwin says:

    Sure it might have been an anti climax but there were some hilarious attempts at guessing the rumour, and that again led to some effective networking on Twitter which is of course is what it’s for.

    To play devil’s advocate, The Guardian ran a similar story about Ronaldo and his move to Madrid which was shot down in the same fashion. Look how that turned out.

    Having said that, my initial reaction was one of annoyance having stayed up until almost 2am on a work night for a bloody Gareth Bale rumour!

  6. Thomas Levin says:

    Twitter is a monster, Ian may have promised a major transfer news yesterday. But I think Footballing public wanted something concreate.

    after the #guardianexlusive jokes, guesses etc… it was going to be very hard to live up to the hype. I don’t think Ian fully understood what he unleashed. But I thought he dealt with it well and in all good humour too. Full respect to the man.

    It’s great to connect with people on twitter, but because twitter gives people the ability to share the opinion. Some people need to realise that they don’t always have the right to say what they are saying.

  7. Willie Gannon Will says:

    Really good piece Kev,

    But I think part of the backlash was caused by other papers de-bunking the “exclusive” so quickly.

    Especially when you listen to Thursday morning’s Football Weekly and you hear Sid Lowe basically saying that other papers had printed rubbish on the Chelsea-Aguero rumours and that the Guardian were above that sort of thing…

    Ah well, either way Twitter is here to stay and is an extremely powerful tool, and is here to stay.

    Don’t be surprised to see players banned from using it in future contracts.

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