In this ABC Grandstand sports digital segment we the story of Sarah Phillps.


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Who is Sarah Phillips?

First broken by Deadspin, it details the rise & fall of “Sarah Phillips” definitely worth a read as it details the world of sports parody accounts & how easily people can be fooled.

Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet! Watch out for the fakes.

Sports Geek Medals – Parody edition

Twitter allows fan & parody accounts via it’s parody policy as long as they are clearly identified as a fake & some do a great job providing the laughs.

Bronze – Dennis Cometti

Silver – Fake Shane Watson

Gold – Not Bill Walton

Until next week

Catch it live on Saturday mornings (at 7:40am) when Sean Callanan discuss sports digital with Francis Leach on ABC Grandstand.

Tune into ABC Grandstand Breakfast over the Friday through Monday on ABC Grandstand digital radio.


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Podcast Transcript

FRANK: Time to catch up with Sean Callanan, our Digital Sports Guru, to have a look at sport in the digital space with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, wherever it is, Sean is all over it. Good day, mate, how are you?

SEAN: I’m good, thanks, Frank.

FRANK: The question is, is it real or is it not?

SEAN: It is a bit that way. This week we’re talking about fakes and parodies, and one is the Worldwide Leader, ESPN. It seems to have been caught up in a pretty big Twitter scandal and a big scandal in incident, anyway.

FRANK: Has it been punked?

SEAN: It effectively has been punked by the looks of it. The story goes as, I guess, we’ll put it in, it’s hard to do what quite sounds right.

FRANK: Let’s start. What happens?

SEAN: So, Sarah Phillips…

FRANK: Who is Sarah Phillips?

SEAN: So, I’m doing air quotes, which is hard to do on radio, but Sarah Phillips started as a 22-year-old blogger, blogging about gambling on the site Covers.com, and she was…

FRANK: So, let me get this right, so you got a 22-year-old blogger…

SEAN: She was in the forums talking about the bets she was doing and things like that, and she was sort of plucked out of the forums and given an article, you know, a spot on Covers.com to blog about gambling and how she’s doing betting on different sports and things like that.

FRANK: So she proposed a picture like of herself and avatar herself looking like an attractive young 22-year-old, and someone goes, ‘Oh, obviously somebody who knows what they’re talking about…hmmm a 22-year-old with a lot of experience in gambling,” hmmm, alarm bells already; keep going.

SEAN: Yes, so you can only gamble, again, not very much in the United States, but you have to be 21, so she’s had a varied experience…yeah (sarcastic laughter), and from that, and she obviously had a little bit of a following and from that she was recruited by ESPN to sort of help fill their void in covering the gambling space and again she’s got a nice avatar and had a bit of a following and started writing for ESPN for their reformed Playbook, which used to be Page 2, which is just, I guess, a little bit of an off Broadway side, a bit of covering different topics, and so she was writing a few columns there. There was a bit of murmuring of who is this Sarah Phillips? And there was a little bit of skepticism of if she was a real person.

FRANK: So we’re talking about ESPN who hired her to write, didn’t bother to actually have any sort of face-to-face time to check to make sure if this person was bonafide, or anything like that?

SEAN: Again that’s what it appears. It appears it was a bit of a email communication around recruiting, but that’s not really, you know, if that was it, that’s not really a big deal, like they might have just had her writing articles, but then it was actually again Sarah Phillips and a couple of her partners who started leveraging the name of ESPN to then go and find other accounts to bring into a network with what they we’re going to call the Sports Comedy Network, and now they’re eventually going to sell it to ESPN. So they went to some of the really popular parody accounts on Twitter and Facebook and started saying, ‘Oh, look guys, If you come into our stable of accounts we will produce this Sports Comedy Network and we’ll sell it to ESPN.

FRANK: What are some of the really big parody accounts if you’re a sports fan that are out there?

SEAN: We’re looking at ones like they were talking to @notbillwalton. @OhWonka is another one and there’s another one, NBA Memes, which is now up on Facebook and it would post funny pictures with comments and have a bit of a joke around the NBA players, and what they were able to do was to one either gain access to some of these accounts. The NBA Memes one was funny in a sense they then told the guy, ‘Look, what we’ll do is pay you for amount of views.’ Every time a post gets a lot of likes we’ll get advertising and we’ll pay you, and they promised this 19-year-old college student the world, and he saw the dollar signs, but then he said, ‘Oh, but there’s legal issues. What we need to do because you’re using Getty’s images and they’re going to charge you a $1,000 an image, you’re going to get sued! ‘ And then they gave him this story that they tracks it all by IP addresses, so that’s how you are uniquely identified on the Internet, and they said, ‘But if you transfer the excess of the page to us, we’ll say that the IP addresses originate out of Bristol,’ which is headquarters for ESPN. And then why bother suing ESPN because ESPN is too big, and this poor guy believed them and handed over, added them as admins to the page, and this is a page of 300,000 Facebook fans.

FRANK: It’s a huge database.

SEAN: So it’s a huge database, and as soon as they did that he was removed as admin and lost complete control of the page and they effectively then said, ‘Oh, we’re closing NBA Memes. Please come over to the Sports Comedy Network. We’ve moved,’ effectively trying to siphon off a fair portion of his fan base across, so this poor guy who had built a bit of a comedy page leveraging off of the NBA players and things like that had lost his page.

FRANK: How did ESPN respond to all of this?

SEAN: Well, so this all came about when Deadspin, which is another website, did a bit of an expose on Sarah Phillips and started to expose all of this stuff where she was approaching these parody accounts and trying to bring them all in halves to become this Sports Comedy Network.

FRANK: She was basically harvesting other people’s ideas.

SEAN: Harvesting and recruiting all these people’s accounts under the guidance of we’re going to set up this company and because our work at ESPN, ESPN is going to buy It, so she was at the, you know, shilling the ESPN brand without anyone’s knowledge. Again, there are still big question marks whether this Sarah Phillips is actually a person or whether it’s just another fictionally fake account. So it’s an identity theft thing so if that’s the case the poor girl whose photo it is, you know, there might be people who eventually might see here and say, ‘I know you, you’re Sarah Phillips. You’re the one who was trying to get, and you know, in other words…

FRANK: She’s studying medicine in Wisconsin or something like that.

SEAN: Exactly…

FRANK: There’s nothing about it.

SEAN: Yeah, they just grabbed the photo from some poor girl’s Facebook profile, so it’s just a strange scenario. I mean Twitter specifically allows parody accounts.

FRANK: And there’re some good ones. I mean even in the Australian space, the Dennis Cometti one. He’s hilarious and the Caroline Wilson one, Carowhine has had some great moments, as well.

SEAN: And the thing is and it is quite frustrating if you’re not on Twitter and you don’t want to be and you see this account you can go, ‘Oh, they’re impersonating me.’ The thing with Twitter is it actually allows, and if you say in the profile this is a parody account and you’re not trying to pretend and impersonate them, they’re OK with it because, obviously, but it’s a bit too hard, I guess for Twitter. They just sort of shrug their shoulders and say look we’ll put this policy in place to cover that and for the most of it when people have the name, you know, @NotBillWalton, you just sort of know it’s not Bill Walton.

FRANK: And if you don’t realize that by that stage you’re the one with the problem.

SEAN: Yeah, exactly, so you know, I think @FakeShaneWatson is quite humorous.

FRANK: He had some good moments.

SEAN: He had some good moments, and it’s sort of like…

FRANK: Sleeping with the lights on and watching out for the ghosts.

SEAN: Yeah, exactly, and I think Shane Watson sort of just goes, ‘Well, I don’t need to be on Twitter. I won’t be as funny as @FakeShakeWatson, so you know, if you can have a laugh at it and everyone can see it for what it is, but yeah, sometimes the parody accounts can go a bit haywire and you’ve got to be careful, but it is funny how many people get sucked in to thinking that fake accounts are real in some instances. But, yeah, it was just funny to see…you know you can’t believe everything you read on the incident I guess is probably the moral to the story.

FRANK: Just another cautionary tale. Did ESPN finally cut ties with this Sarah Phillips?

SEAN: Yes, pretty quickly after the Deadspin article they cut ties with her, but, you know, if you go to ESPN, all of her articles are still there and there are still references to all the stuff that she’s done.

FRANK: It would seem Current Affair would be after her, get Martin King to put his foot through their front door.

SEAN: I would like to see Martin King fight because, again, it’s a virtual person. It’s a Twitter account, so it is a strange one for them to go through.

FRANK: Have you got a podium for us this week? Have you got a podium of fake accounts?

SEAN: Well that’s the thing. You know we had a few and I should not knock Bill Walton. He’s very funny as a…

FRANK: Tell people who Bill Walton is, or not.

SEAN: Bill Walton is an NBA great Hall of Famer. He played with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Celtics and now he’s an NBA broadcaster. And he’s a Grateful Dead fan and he’s a hippy and the account just pretty much…

FRANK: So much to work with.

SEAN: It is. So much to work with and pretty much now, I agree, the Dennis Cometti one is very funny, but, yeah, there’s a lot out there. You just got to be aware that they are just fakes and it’s just a little bit of fun.

FRANK: And today tell people where they can find you, the real Sean Callanan.

SEAN: Yeah, the real Sean, I haven’t got a fake account. If anyone wants to do a parody account go for your life. It’s at @seancallanan @SportsGeekHQ.