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5/2/12

ESPN-Sarah Phillips-Deadspin Story Reveals Dark Underbelly of Social Media Business

Deadspin is just not letting anyone live this week. I mean they never cut anyone any slack ever, but this week they’ve been particularly sharp taking down Sun Times Joe Cowley for his creepy condescending sexism and now exposing ESPN Playbook and Covers.com writer Sarah Phillips for being a complete fraud.

You can read the whole story here and here. It’s a long read, but I think it’s pretty worth it.

At first glance this is a story about two things: ESPN not properly vetting some freelance writer and the fact that a woman used her looks to get ahead. But it’s not that simple. This is really a story about how the ability to make money via social media (including getting hired by or getting more clicks for a popular site) creates a perfect environment for frauds to prosper.

First of all, I’m not all that bothered by ESPN’s decision to take Sarah Phillips on as a freelancer. [Update: Okay, I WASN'T bothered, but now I kinda am cause I went to her page on ESPN Playbook and she wrote nothing but terribly executed drivel about athlete twitter accounts. What a lucky b***h!!!] The fact is that precious 18-35 white male demographic is hard to reach and everyone from Tide to EA sports is trying desperately to do it. If you’re on twitter for 5 seconds you know that men love beautiful (or at least not ugly) women who talk about stupid guy shit like watching sports and scratching and whatever else men do in their free time. I’m a girl so I’m only guessing.

I’m going to guess that ESPN saw her twitter followers (upwards of 60K when I checked) and the fact that she writes on a popular betting site and figured she could bring those clicks to them. This is the reality of marketing right now. Doesn’t matter if you want to star in a movie, get hired as a writer, or get a book published–almost every employer/company wants you to already have a following that you can bring to them.

The problem with that is that followings can be purchased. You can purchase twitter followers (as Phillips apparently did), you can purchase twitter accounts with real followers (which is apparently what Phillips and her fellow con team did with the @Ohwonka account) and you can fabricate other social media things too like you tube views and all that.

Companies have caught up with the “bring your following” concept but haven’t yet caught up to vetting whether such a following actually exists. ESPN is not alone in that although I realize that their position as a leader in sports makes it fun to laugh at them when they get caught. Still, they’re definitely not alone. This is where the business of writing stands generally speaking.

The second part: a woman using her looks to get ahead is also inconsequential from my perspective. Obviously, Phillips isn’t acting alone she’s just a front person for an operation of some sort. This has nothing to do with women writers, women bloggers, or women period. This has to do with the ways and means in which a group of people can execute a scam. And this is done by playing on people’s sensibilities including the penchant men have for fetishizing women who are both attractive and knowledgeable about sports.

Parody accounts on twitter are another example of appealing to folks’ sensibilities as are the many accounts with “facts” as part of their handle or ‘models’ who post photoshopped photos and are probably often not women at all and certainly not who they pretend to be.

This is the underside of social media business that many people–as they trot along the web reading this site and that one and corresponding with online buddies–aren’t aware of because they don’t have to be.

I think this is a good information about how our presence and data on social media is used by people who see multiple ways to make money off our clicks. It also raises questions about how to conduct business with people you haven’t met or have no 3rd party connection to. Which, at this point, MOST of us have done at some time or another with the web being as vast as it is. Unfortunately in this case it resulted in Phillips and her crew stealing a sports site and facebook page and complete idea from its original owner.

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