Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

I don't think whales smile like that, either.
Attention Mr. Cole: Eight birds might not actually be able to lift a whale out of the ocean.

Cam Cole wrote a ridiculous article today about social media and the National Hockey League trade deadline.

Cole mentions that during the intense discussions surrounding today’s NHL trade deadline, many people availed themselves of the opportunity to have a little fun;  some folk decided to create Twitter accounts that appeared to emanate from real hockey media personalitiesDown Goes Brown decided to spice up a dull morning by using the new media to organize the 21st century (ahem) grownup equivalent of a class clown prank.  Following the lead of an old high school classic, the  “co-ordinated, math-class-derailing pre-arranged 11:45 coughing fit”, DGB suggested that at 12:50, everyone should send the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Joffrey Lupul (@JLupul) a tweet that appeared to refer to his “trade” to Long Island (that trade being, of course, an entirely fictitious event which had not occurred).  The tweets were sent en masse.  Lupul appears to have played along with the gag, tweeting shortly afterwards that he was “Long Island bound. So I hear…”

I didn’t see it, but apparently the “Lupul trade” was, for a time, being reported by some as an actual event.  I saw some Tweets indicating that it was briefly posted on the Philadelphia Flyers’ website, and – according to Cole’s article – Gord Miller and TSN briefly fell for it too, relaying the information to unsuspecting viewers watching their Trade Deadline Special.

At first, Cole’s article reads like a more or less good-natured look at these virtual hijinks in the social context within which they occurred.  The first two thirds of the article, at times, read a bit like a barely concealed admiration for the inherent hunour in the Lupul prank in particular:

Fake Twitter accounts impersonating hockey reporters moved April Fool’s Day ahead by a month and pranked the National Hockey League’s massively over-hyped trade deadline, briefly duping both those trying so feverishly to be first with the news and those hungering to get it — and, in the process, greatly enlivening a day of sparse activity and mostly minor deals.

Got it?  The Twitterers “pranked” the NHL and lampooned the “over-hyped” deadline, “greatly enlivening” the day.  Pretty good stuff, huh?

In the end, though, Cole ends up clucking his tongue at those involved like a disapproving schoolmaster:

The actual Bob McKenzie (TSNBobMcKenzie) has 114,000 followers. BMcKenzieTSN and TSN—BobMcKenzie? They have fooled 957 and 549 gullible followers, respectively, by attaching McKenzie’s photo to their Twitter accounts, and yes, there ought to be a law against that.

But there isn’t. So they are free to live in their parents’ basements, plotting to bring the world to its knees with their cleverness, nibbling away at the social network’s credibility — as if it cared — one little white lie at a time.

Really?  Is there really a need for either (a) another “blogger in the basement” joke or (b) a law prohibiting the creation of  spoof Twitter accounts?
I don’t wish to position myself as a defender of mendacity, but if Mr. Cole and the rest of the world can’t stomach the thought of people lying to one another over the Internet, I sincerely hope he never has occasion to be made aware of Internet dating sites.  Also, he would be well advised to avoid taking up fishing for sport, as the ability to spin a tall tale, though far from rare, is very much a quality to be nurtured and developed among anglers.  Maybe it would be best to stay out of the “fiction” section of the library, and the cinema too, just to be safe.

Now, I’m not here to tell you that I understand why some people would get their jollies concocting fake trades to whirl around the Internet, and I’m not suggesting that DGB’s little prank is the comic equivalent of Newton’s contribution to calculus;  I can tell you, however, that people discussing things amongst each other, having fun, and taking the piss out of one another is probably nothing to be terribly alarmed about.  It’s been happening wherever people have gathered socially for thousands of years.  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn that somewhere, deep in an unexplored cave in northern Europe, there is a cave painting that is now difficult to comprehend, but which – back on the day it was first splattered on the rock – was the functional equivalent of a Star Wars Kid mashup.

My point is not that I think “fake Twitter accounts” are desirable and necessary, but rather that social media platforms represent a meeting place, not just another broadcast medium.  Twitter is a conversation;  the content may be partly based in the news, but it is wholly about entertainment.  Journalists who choose to rely on it and rebroadcast it unfiltered and without any value (such as fact-checking) added – in my opinion – do their readers or viewers a disservice.

Lastly, the final point about “nibbling away at the social network’s credibility” is so astonishing I honestly don’t know what the hell he’s talking about.  It’s Twitter; it HAS NO CREDIBILITY in the first place.

The logic is so confused in this article, it’s honestly difficult to follow Cole’s reasoning as to why he feels that the legislative process needs to be invoked.  It’s very hard, however, to escape the general feeling that the Cam Cole No Pissing Around on Twitter Law is necessary solely to protect lazy journalists who are in such a breakneck rush to report the news that they’re basically just reading their Twitter feed directly into the camera without doing some basic fact-checking first.

Evidently, the Damien Cox example didn’t take. You remember the Toronto Star (now also Sportsnet) columnist who broke news of former coach Pat Burns’s death in September, two months before it happened, because of an honest mistake? Oh, the copycats who leaped on the story that day and spread it without making sure it was true were duly apologetic at the time, and a little cautious for a while afterward, but that was more than five months ago.

All kinds of highly respected, earnest reporters were duped, if only for a matter of minutes, and a lot of effort was wasted trying to chase down the truth, revealing the mean-spirited side of the pranks, which all had one thing in common: none originated with mainstream media, but rather with those trying to make the MSM chase its own tail.

Do you follow that?  Damien Cox made an “honest mistake” when he wrongly reported Pat Burns’ death, but “highly respected” and “earnest reporters” were “duped” when they failed to do the minimal checks necessary to make sure @ForREELZESPN_LeBrun – the account reporting the trade of a puck moving defenceman for a bag of doughnuts – is actually related to the hockey journalist in question.  To review: Damien Cox makes an honest mistake, those engaged in that line of work fail to learn from it, and – by breathlessly reporting gossip overheard in a virtual barroom as fact – are victims of  “mean-spirited” and socially destructive users of the Internet.  Heads I win, tails you lose.

The part I have a very difficult time understanding is how Cole misses the point.  He actually points out, in the middle portion of the article, how easy it is in most cases to spot a fake Gord Miller Twitter account merely by reading the contents of the page on which the tweets appear (Gord Miller’s Twitter account has probably been around for more than two hours, likely contains more than eight tweets, and it’s highly likely the real Gord Miller has more than 52 followers).  In other words, Cole identifies the ease with which these “frauds” can be discovered, but swerves right past the legitimate target – so-called reporters relying on random stuff posted on the Internet for Christ’s sake as accurate – and instead delivers a confusing, poorly reasoned and somewhat startling conclusion generally indicting humans for just fucking around.

Good luck putting a stop to that.

Brian Burke is Rocky: NHL Trade Deadline 2009

The 2009 NHL trade deadline came and went at 3 p.m. today.  You can find a complete recap and analysis here;  briefly, out the door go Nik Antropov and Dominic Moore (in return for draft choices).  In the door comes former Sens goalie Martin Gerber, who was claimed on waivers as a stopgap measure as it was revealed this morning that goaltender Vesa Toskala has been playing injured and will undergo season-ending surgery on his hip and groin tomorrow.  Judging by the general reaction (check this one out) of many of the folks in the Pension Plan Puppets discussion threads, there is a sense of disappointment out there.

I confess that I am having some difficulty understanding that sense of being so tremendously let down;  to me, it seems like people have missed the point of the Leafs’ participation in this exercise. It’s a little like being upset that Rocky didn’t knock out Apollo Creed in the first movie of that series.  The Italian Stallion was never going to actually beat the Champ in that first fight;  he wasn’t a legitimate contender, he was a tomato can whose stated goal was to simply go the distance.  When he achieved this goal, it was a victory for him in the sense that he achieved his goal.   It was a victory for us because it made possible Rocky II and its beach training scenes set to Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger.

So it was with the Leafs today; Brian Burke didn’t swing a trade to bring John Tavares straight from the OHL into Maple Leaf Blue & White.  He didn’t use some Creole voodoo spell to raise Syl Apps from the dead and bring the Leafs their first zombie captain since Rob Ramage.  He didn’t knock out Apollo Creed today.

“A couple of second rounders and a fourth?” some say, peering at the results like Charlie Brown into his Hallowe’en trick-or-treat bag, “We [Leaf fans] got screwed.”  Burke didn’t revitalize the franchise with a single trade today, but if you expected that result, you were deluding yourself all along.  Prepare yourself for a lifetime of disappointment, because Doug Risebrough is probably not going to be allowed to trade Doug Gilmour again anytime soon.

This is just step one of the process.  Rocky wanted to make it to the end of the fight;  Brian Burke’s goal today was simply to re-stock the draft pick cupboard as capably as he could.  Judging by the trade of Ales Kotalik to Edmonton, (for which Buffalo received a second-round pick) the return Burke got was market value or better;  the Rangers gave up a 2nd rounder and a conditional pick for Antropov, a player of more or less comparable value. The same yardstick suggests that Buffalo may well have overpaid for Dominic Moore, a useful player, but not a standout.  Burke also got creative and found a way to essentially turn cash into some additional hockey assets;  in one other trade, the Leafs acquired a 4th round pick from Tampa and took on the expiring contracts of Olaf Kolzig and Jamie Heward (both of whom are out indefinitely with injuries) as well as an injured prospect and former first-round pick by the name of Andy Rogers;   the transaction was accomplished essentially by the Leafs agreeing to take on the salaries of the injured players (and giving up a minor league prospect, I suspect to make the trade “legal” under the NHL’s rules) in exchange for the pick and prospect.  In this way, Tampa (it appears) will qualify to receive revenue-sharing money and the Leafs turn an asset they have lots of (cash) in to assets they find themselves needing (picks and prospects).   Overall, Burke managed to get a fair price for the assets he had to sell, and managed to creatively manufacture a little something else that might just turn out to mean something down the road and cost us nothing in terms of hockey assets.

Step two of the process comes after the Cup is awarded to someone else.  The plan will unfold a little more at the draft and during the upcoming free agent season.  Burke has given himself plenty of salary cap flexibility to build the team he wants to have over the next couple of years.  Like many others, I strongly suspect he has his sights set on Rick Nash the year after next.  In the meantime, he can choose to deal Kaberle and/or Kubina if he feels the need to do so and gets the right offer or offers.

Brian Burke stuck to the plan today.  He did what he needed to do to begin the rebuilding of the team in earnest.  He managed to avoid losing Antropov and Moore for nothing; perhaps more importantly, he managed to avoid failing to move Antropov and getting himself into an uncomfortable negotiation as a result, with Antropov holding all of the cards in that little poker game (if Antropov isn’t traded, with his contract expiring at the end of the year, the pressure on Burke to re-sign him rather than letting him walk for nothing would have been immense.  Antropov would have been in the driver’s seat in that negotiation.)

So Burke did what the plan asked of him.  He didn’t lose sight of any of the objectives.  He achieved his goal.  He should now feel free to stand in the middle of the ring and shout, “Adrienne!”

Nice Column. Um, How About Vaccuuming, Dude?

A New Day Dawning in Leafland?

Sleep was deep, my breakfast was good, and the pot of tea hit the spot.   I have completed and posted the piece I promised on Brian Burke and the NHL trade deadline.  It sets out the reasonable expectations that Maple Leaf fans everywhere should have of our angry Irish overlord.  Looking around me at the detritus distributed throughout the house, it occurs to me that I ought to perhaps perform a little housework before Spouse returns to Juniorvania from her overnight stay in the Niagara Region (she’s joining the board of a community organization and spent the night at a retreat with her fellow board members to get to know them a little better).  I don’t want to say I’ve let the place go a little, but it’s getting kind of hard to find a fork around here.

If you’re dropping by from an SBNation blog to investigate whether I’ve written anything else that you might like, here are some things I’ve written about the NHL and the Leafs.    When I’m not wearing my Wendel Clark jersey and bemoaning another loss in the shootout (non-Rangers games only), I write a lot about my lawn tractor and stuff around the house.   You might enjoy some of those posts.


Trade Deadline Day

I haven’t had a chance to sit down and look at all the deals, but just off the top of my head, here are a couple of thoughts:

Biggest Trade: Atlanta sends Marian Hossa to Pittsburgh for prospect Angelo Esposito, Colby Armstrong and Eric Christensen. Sid the Kid gets some help – like he needs it with that guy Malkin around. If Pittsburgh gets any kind of decent goaltending out of Conklin/Fleury/Sabourin/Patrick Lalime/Ken Wregget/Bunny Larocque, they could make some noise in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The way is open for pretty much any club that qualifies for the dance to take a shot at Lord Stanley’s mug. Which makes the following all the more puzzling…