Social media: 'Kobe Bryant' Twitter flap

August, 17, 2012
8/17/12
11:00
AM ET
Kobe BryantChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesAn imposter created a Kobe Bryant account on Twitter that attracted thousands of followers.
Kobe Bryant did not join Twitter this week, although an imposter had some users convinced otherwise.

An account purported to be run by the Lakers’ star and Olympic gold medalist attracted 10,000 followers in less than 24 hours. It spawned a #FollowMeKobe trend. An impressive start, the surge was still well short of the 35,000 followers the real Bryant amassed in the few short hours his official account was active after being prematurely launched last September.

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Fooling people has become more challenging as social media sites put safeguards in place and the masses become more social-media savvy. So how did the phony Kobe pull a fast one? Asked about verified status by fellow users, the fake handle addressed the lack of a telltale blue check by stating that his account was in the verification process -- even tweeting an apparent message from Twitter confirming the vetting. (The page also linked to a related Instagram account.)

In the end, @OfficialLaker24 didn’t make the cut. The fraudulent account was suspended after less than a day of operation. One clue the account was suspicious, Bryant’s first official foray into microblogging said he was planning to use the @kobebryant handle.



This example raises a question: How does Twitter verify athlete accounts? The straightforward question does not have a straight answer.

Twitter’s communications office said no one was available for an interview on the topic, adding that the answer was basically summed up on its FAQs page and referring specifically to the passage:

Twitter proactively verifies accounts on an ongoing basis to make it easier for users to find who they’re looking for. We concentrate on highly sought users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, advertising, business, and other key interest areas. We verify business partners from time to time and individuals at high risk of impersonation.

If that paragraph still leaves you scratching your head as to how exactly verification works, you’re not alone. The truth is, no set process seems to be in place. In speaking with social media sources and athletes, there seems to be little coherency as far as Twitter verification. The terms subjective and arbitrary came up.

In some cases agents, publicists or media relations people reach out to Twitter. In other cases someone from Twitter makes the initial contact. And on occasion, accounts are verified out of nowhere.

Having a high number of followers, especially a sudden spike, is an indicator that a sports personality might warrant verification. However, other athletes have been verified with fewer than 3,000 followers.

And verification isn’t just a one-and-done process. Users who switch their usernames/handles have to be reverified. Same goes for users who update the websites linked to their page.

As another red flag, some pointed to @OfficialLaker24’s tweet on the account’s verification status: “Just a send out to fans, i can't buy or make the blue check mark come any faster. But hang tight #muchlove.”

Those who have gone through with the account verification process might find that statement to be one of the most believable parts of phony Kobe’s Twitter narrative. While someone of Bryant’s status likely would be fast-tracked (or verified from launch), an often-heard complaint among athletes -- or more often their handlers -- is that getting an account verified can be an incredibly slow process. Although, according to at least one source, Twitter has improved dramatically on that front in recent months.

But the missing checkmark is not the only thing that tipped some people off. It was actually the addition of one. After all, do you really think Kobe Bryant is going to use this picture as his Twitter avatar?

Elsewhere in the social mediasphere

Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose joined Twitter.

The Olympics were deemed a social media success. More than 150 million tweets about the games were sent. Meanwhile Facebook saw more than 116 million Olympics-related posts and comments.

Khloe Kardashian Odom was named the WWE’s newest social media ambassador.

Got a story we should feature? Have a site we should check out? Who's on your must-follow list? Tweet me at @BurnsOrtiz. If your idea gets mentioned in this column, so will you. Follow Playbook on Twitter at @ESPNPlaybook.
Maria Burns Ortiz covers social media for ESPN Playbook. She began writing for ESPN.com in 2006, covering college soccer for ESPNSoccernet.

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