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Saturday, March 2, 2024

The Spread of Sports Misinformation on X Is Increasingly Apparent

  • In recent weeks, some aggregator accounts have come under increased scrutiny for posting false or misleading information as actual news.
  • These accounts profit from the engagement on X under a monetization program launched in July.
Twitter X
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports / FOS

Ballsack Sports was created as a bit of a lark, a social media account that morphed into an example of how misinformation can spread without any truth behind it. 

The X (formerly known as Twitter) account duped major outlets like Fox News, ESPN and others with fake quotes — all before X began its monetization program that would have been a mini windfall for the college student who created Ballsack Sports in June 2021. 

“I was helping clean out my brother’s garage when I came up with the fake Ja Morant quote,” said Matt, the Ohio native behind Ballsack Sports. “I was at lunch when I heard ESPN running with it. I turned to my brother, ‘Hey, that’s mine.’ It’s really about capturing somebody’s attention for three to five seconds. That’s really the landscape we are working in.”

Ballsack Sports is pretty obviously a parody and is labeled as such in the X bio. But in recent weeks, other accounts — known as aggregators — have come under increased scrutiny for posting false or misleading information as actual news, especially related to the NFL.

And, unlike when Matt was putting the most effort into Ballsack Sports in 2022, these accounts profit from the engagement on X under a monetization program launched in July. For $8 dollars a month — along with having enough followers and impressions —  “verified” accounts are now incentivized to create the most engagement possible. 

The larger NFL aggregator accounts can make about $2,000 a month, but even accounts with smaller followings can generate hundreds a month since outrage in the replies count as engagement.  

It wasn’t fake, but rather old news that drew attention to an X post from BroBible reporter Dov Kleiman about USC quarterback Caleb Williams seeking an ownership stake in the NFL team that drafts him. Many took his tweet from Tuesday — which has more than 9.3 million views — as a new report when it actually originated from a story written by ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio nearly three months ago. 

Kleiman told Front Office Sports that he didn’t mean to mislead anyone in that post or any others. He noted that his X post included that it came from PFT in July, and he had seen it circulating again recently, in part, because of an Oct. 11 story from The Athletic that reported there “has been scuttlebutt in NFL front offices that Williams could demand equity from the team that selects him.”

“I saw it already in the news so I shared it as well, and linked to the actual report for full context,” Kleiman said. “I did it the right way.”

With nearly 260,000 X followers, Kleiman is among the most popular of the NFL aggregator accounts, and he’s posted league news for more than a decade. Kleiman, however, bristled when asked what it’s like to be grouped together with other aggregator accounts. 

“I hate it,” Kleiman said. “It is what it is. And you know the worst part? In some ways I have a worse reputation on Twitter because of them.”

An X post from Tuesday picked up steam about the Los Angeles Chargers fan who went viral during Monday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys. The account, MLFootball, penned a post that claimed the woman was a “PAID ACTOR.” 

“I usually would ignore a fake story,” sports media personality Boston Connor wrote. ”However, this lady is too good a person to let this slide.”

ESPN’s Mina Kimes posted a screenshot of MLFootball blocking her on the platform. 

MLFootball’s Chargers fan tweet remains up on his timeline as of Thursday evening, and there’s a financial incentive to leave it up. The post has more than 21 million views, and deleting a tweet — a common action that usually includes a correction when journalists make an error — potentially wipes out the money earned from a viral post. 

That post received a community note with accurate information about the fan — and it wasn’t the only correction others have posted to an MLFootball tweet. 

Citing “league sources,” the account alleged the home of a Chicago Bears coach was raided by the FBI. 

“False,” the community note stated that included links to multiple stories as proof. “The Chicago Bears said this is not true. No one in the organization had their house raided by the FBI.”

That tweet also remains up as of Thursday evening and has nearly four million views. 

MLFootball did not respond to a request for comment. 

JPAFootball, another aggregator account, had an X post on Monday that cited a post from an account of a fake NFL reporter that created a fake quote about fake pregame conversation between Cleveland Browns quarterback PJ Walker and San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Nick Bosa. 

“I acknowledge that the Bosa post was a huge mistake, probably the most egregious mistake I’ve ever made and I know accuracy is everything in this business,” JPAFootball told FOS. “I know I need to be better and I will. It was a failure of due diligence on my part and it will not happen again. 

“I don’t want to be associated with other aggregator accounts and I’m planning to make wholesale changes and improvements to my account.”

Meanwhile, the fake reporter’s post is still up and has more than 7.5 million views. That account is also verified and is eligible for X’s monetization program.

Matt, the Ballsack Sports founder, hasn’t been as active with his parodies as he works two jobs and progresses toward a degree in psychology with plans to attend graduate school. In fact, his timeline in recent months has called out misinformation shared by aggregator accounts. 

“There are definitely days where it can get frustrating seeing [misinformation spread],” Matt said. “You see it happen everywhere. It’s tiring. Like, dang, just because it didn’t come from Ballsack Sports you are falling for it?”

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