Why the Stephen A. Smith Burner Twitter Account Went Dark

    • Man behind parody account has appealed his suspension over allegedly using copyrighted music.
    • Smith's verified account appears to have had less engagement since @sasburneracct's suspension.

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The Stephen A. Smith Burner account disappeared from Twitter on April 23. Sports Twitter hasn’t quite been the same since.

The creator of the parody Twitter account that had more than 550,000 followers told Front Office Sports that he has “some hope” that the account could return from suspension. The account ran afoul of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for the use of music in tweets that mocked ESPN’s highest-paid employee.

“Well, it’s a blow because I only ever used my platform to put smiles on people’s faces,” the person behind @sasburneracct told Front Office Sports. “Getting that stripped for old irrelevant [music] edits [in Tweets] that a bot picked up stings, but it’s a good reminder that in a blink of an eye circumstances can change. And I do have some hope.”

Citing company policy, a Twitter spokesperson said the social media platform doesn’t comment on individual accounts. But @sasburneracct was the target of 54 DMCA takedown requests, according to Lumen, a database that tracks cease and desist demands.

While the account was able to argue that he had the fair use to use a snippet of music on other requests flagged, @sasburneracct said he was suspended for the use of a Lil Wayne song in a 2019 post.

ESPN declined to comment. A source said the network, Smith, and Smith’s weekday morning show, “First Take,” had nothing to do with Twitter’s decision.

Since the suspension, Stephen A. Smith’s official Twitter follower count has remained stable at 5.3 million followers. There does appear to be less engagement, however.

In the six weeks before @sasburneracct was taken offline, the five most-liked tweets by Smith averaged 31,000 likes. In the six weeks since, the top five have averaged 18,340 likes. While it’s basically impossible to determine a cause and effect, @sasburneracct took some of the credit.

“His tweets are getting nowhere near the interactions,” @sasburneracct said.

Thousands of DMCA takedown requests are filed with Facebook, Twitter, and Google (mostly tied to YouTube) each day. Most come from bots utilized by the recording, movie, and broadcast industries that flag content that could violate their respective copyrights.

“It’s not like I got targeted,” @sasburneracct said.

An appeal has been filed by @sasburneracct, although he has “accepted” that the account could be lost forever. Twitter appeals can take several months to be resolved.

The man behind the account, who spoke with Front Office Sports on condition of anonymity, created the account that became @sasburneracct in 2014 when it was a “depressed Bears fan” account until he pivoted to parodying Stephen A. Smith in November 2019.

“The 2019 [Bears] season was so disappointing, I said, ‘Screw it. I’m gonna be the Stephen A. burner,’” he said. “I related to his Knicks rants.”

He quickly amassed a following, typically by recutting clips from “First Take” to emphasize the mannerisms that make Stephen A. Smith, well, Stephen A. Smith.

The creator didn’t monetize that following with sponsored tweets or any other means, outside of selling some merchandise from which he “gave the proceeds” to family.

His wielding of the account did catch the eye of producers at ESPN and there was talk of a collaboration. Those talks, however, didn’t get far.

At least one major sports site, however, has inquired for his services, @sasburneracct said.

Smith, meanwhile, has become the face of ESPN. He’s still the loudest voice in Bristol, recently walking off the set of “First Take” in a huff and engaging in a bitter public feud with former NBA player Kwame Brown.

On Wednesday, a “pissed” Smith took off his microphone and briefly walked off the air after launching a fiery broadside against NBA players for not speaking out against Brad Stevens’ promotion to president of basketball operations by the Boston Celtics.

“NBA players are some of the most powerful people in this world. When have they spoken up for black coaches? When? When have they spoken up for black executives, GM’s, presidents of basketball operations? When has this happened?” Smith asked. “LeBron [James], all of them, everybody. Where the hell have they been? Nobody’s done anything.”

In recent weeks, Smith has exchanged broadsides with Brown, the No. 1 pick in the 2001 NBA Draft who never reached the lofty height expected of him over a 12-year career with seven different teams.

The 39-year old Brown has seethed about being used as a running joke and NBA bust. He’s been going hard after Smith, Skip Bayless of Fox Sports, and other critics. In an expletive-filled rant, Brown charged Smith made a career out of criticizing other black men. 

“Didn’t you used to play basketball, Stephen A? My mother——- career was better than yours,” Brown said. “You’re good at talking. The only thing you can beat me at is a spelling bee. Or learning big words. And you might not beat me at that, punk.”

Smith could have taken the high road. Instead, he responded with a 8-minute dissection of Brown’s air balls, drops and bad passes on “Stephen A’s World.”

Smith said he and other critics didn’t personally attack Brown; just his play. “The only negative thing anybody ever said about Kwame Brown is he couldn’t play a lick of basketball. Newsflash! That wasn’t a lie.”

Still, Brown’s decision to fight back after years of abuse has struck a chord with many fans who dislike what the Washington Post called the “hot-take industrial complex” propagated by embrace debate shows like “First Take” and Bayless’ “Undisputed.” 

Wrote columnist Kevin Blackistone: “Brown represented the class that the sports media industry manipulates. In his response, he at least checked the unprincipled media behavior that has often run unbridled all the way to the bank, particularly off the stereotypical appraisal and framing of actors like him, the Black male athlete who predominates the games we watch.”