Making Sense of the Sarah Phillips Scandal

May 4, 2012


For those of you just tuning in, the Sarah Phillips scandal coming out of ESPN is a whirling dervish of insanity that has rocked the media world.  If you want the full recap CLICK HERE for a sequence of events through Awful Announcing.  Now, this just covers the Twitter scam part of this odd, bumbling tale.  If you wish to read about the part where she scammed the Worldwide Leader, Deadspin broke the story, and you can get there if you CLICK HERE.

At first, my reaction to this whole mess was based purely on confusion.  Well, SOMEBODY was writing it.  It’s not like a computer just generated bets and inserted potential humor.  If the content was good, does it really matter who wrote it?  In today’s media world, where bloggers can login with anonymous user names and write countless articles on any subject imaginable, does it really matter if her name is Sarah or Emily or Jennifer or Suzy?

The answer to that question proved to be a little more complicated than I originally figured.

The Sarah Phillips scandal isn’t a failure of the web or modern media as a whole.  Or maybe it is.  Given how prevalent the modern Keyboard Warrior is across the Internet, it seems many of us have been lulled into a false sense of security.  After all, the very accounts that Sarah Phillips and her cohort, Nilesh Prasad, were trying to scam on Twitter weren’t based on reality.  In fact, accounts that we all know and love, such as Fake Jim Leyland, Fake Nate Wolters, Phil Coke’s Brain, and even Condescending Wonka are popular simply because they aren’t real.  They’re created and popularized by and for our modern imaginations.

We look at a Fake Jim Leyland and don’t pay it any mind because it’s intended to be funny.  We don’t take it seriously.

However, when we see somebody write for a website under their real name, we are instantly disarmed.  In the age of user names over real names, we feel comforted by the images of a real person with a name and face clicking away on their keyboard.

So when Covers saw the opportunity to possibly get an attractive female member of their website to write some intellectual sports betting content for their website, their editors figured the same thing.  Even when photographs apparently didn’t line up, the image that she was a real human instead of a faceless name helped disarm them.

As the Phillips identity was established, the pair ran an internet scam to take over popular Twitter and Facebook memes, because clicks equals money.  It means more redirects, which means more ad revenue.  By selling shares of a website that never exist, they essentially purchased the accounts without attempting to give anything in return.

Then ESPN committed the same mistake that Covers did.  Editor Lynn Hoppes came calling, because Sarah Phillips was just too good to be true.  Another guy with gambling knowledge doesn’t draw many clicks.  After all, what makes him so special?  A FEMALE with in-depth sports knowledge and a dash of charm was just too good to pass up.  The presence of a real name and a cute photograph was enough, and soon, ESPN was ensnared.

Not only was the web scam going on, but Phillips likely wasn’t even the one writing the articles.  So two scams, more or less.

The problem isn’t that ESPN allowed “Sarah Phillips” to write for them without ever meeting her.  The problem was that they didn’t work to establish her identity or credibility.  Apparently, no background checks were run and no real interviews were conducted.

That’s all good and well when you’re an average joe writing for an average blog.  If you’re ESPN, credibility and reliability are everything.  That’s why the network needs to work hard to establish web personalities, like fantasy expert Matthew Berry.  When they hired him to head their fantasy department, ESPN put him on TV regularly, plugged him through the web, and linked all of their important fantasy games to him.  It gave him credibility.  You could see him.  You could trust him.

It seems in the age of the Keyboard Warrior, the big network has grown soft once again.  The tale of the Sarah Phillips scandal serves as a stark reminder to all of us in the media.  Your outlet is only as credible as the people working for it.  If the people working for you are fake, don’t ever expect to be taken seriously.

As a reader, you need to hold what you read in the same regard.

The content is only as real as the author.  That’s my final answer.


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About mattpocket

I am the Sports Director at 88.3 FM WXOU Radio, out of Oakland University. I am the play-by-play voice of the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. I've been to two NCAA Tournaments, been heard on ESPN, and won 9 Michigan Association of Broadcasters Awards. Follow me on Twitter. @cornerpocket422 You can tune in to The Corner Pocket every Friday from 3-5 pm with my cohost Bryan and Everson and myself, featuring the best guests, such as Dave Birkett, Jim Nill, and Bruce Buffer.

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One Comment on “Making Sense of the Sarah Phillips Scandal”

  1. Stefan Jagot Says:

    Noted: Sarah Philips will always be welcomed at The Farm Club.


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