There was a time when to break a news story it required multiple legitimate sources or catching someone in the act. In today’s world, thanks in large part to social media platforms like Twitter, that is not the case (Roseanne Barr, I’m looking at you!). Anyone anywhere can put out a story and potentially ruin someone’s life and no matter what happens afterwards people will still believe it. Social media has allowed for the mass dispersal of information and not all of that information is true but weeding out the fake from the fact is not always easy to do.

For the following piece I offer this up in the interests of full disclosure: I am a huge baseball fan and a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I’ve been a fan since elementary school so I can’t really leave them now.

What happened on Twitter

Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco came back to his locker after batting practice on May 15 prior to their game against the Chicago White Sox and found his phone had blown up. 20 missed calls and 50 text messages. Had a relative died or was there some sort of emergency? No, at least not for anyone else.

It turns out that a tweet was circulating on the Internet saying that Polanco was about to be suspended for 80 games due to a violation of Major League Baseball’s performance enhancing drug policy. The tweet came apparently from ESPN and the baseball world was already abuzz about the suspension for PEDs of Seattle Mariner Robinson Cano from earlier that day. Polanco was about to be next it seemed.

Red flags that went unnoticed

There were red flags on the tweet (pictured in this link). Pittsburgh was spelled wrong and the word games was omitted. Things that any proofreader at the multi-billion dollar corporation that is ESPN should have and would have caught. It was liked over 100,000 times and retweeted over 40,000 times by the time it was brought to Polanco’s attention. The tweet about Cano only had 2,100 retweets and 4,200 likes and the tweet came from SportsCenter not ESPN. Cano, being a former New York Yankee, is certainly a more popular player and would have generated more buzz.

Would anyone have believed Polanco?

There was one problem, Polanco was not going to be suspended for 80 games but his parents in the Dominican did not know that and when he spoke to them on the phone they were crying. Some of his friends wished him well and told him they would stick by him unaware that it was a hoax. Polanco certainly would have been aware as MLB’s drug policy allows for an appeal so a failed test would not have come out of the blue though Polanco would have not been the first player to claim hoax as well. Sure his numbers were not good but he isn’t the first warm weather-born player that has struggled in the colder months of the baseball season.

Why Polanco? No one really knows. At the time of the tweet the Pirates were sitting in first place in the National League Central but Pittsburgh is not the biggest baseball market. Besides the typos the number of likes and retweets seemed to say it was a hoax. PEDs are rampant in the Dominican Republic, home to both Polanco and Cano. Fellow Dominican and fellow Pirate Starling Marte was hit was a suspension the previous year. Polanco and Pittsburgh seemed to be an easy target probably because the Pirates do not draw the national attention the same way the Steelers and Penguins do. Perhaps because of that a lot of people do not know how to spell the city name correctly to begin with.

Who would have done this?

Was it a vengeful Cubs fan trying to stir pot or maybe Anthony Rizzo himself trying to put a rival through something bad (if so it failed and he tried to take matters into his own hands or feet a bit later)? Was it a rueful Cardinals fan angry that their season is not going well? Could it have been a jealous countryman or someone who believed Polanco owed them something? Was it a crazed White Sox fan trying to throw him off his game? Who knows? Either way he went 2-4 with 2 runs scored and an RBI in a 7-0 Pirates win so it didn’t seem to affect him too much and it was sorted out with the local media that day. Pittsburghers after all know how to spell their city’s name.

So, in today’s world of instant news/instant gratification what can you do to avoid something like this? In this case it is hard but yet not impossible. The tweet seemed legit, what with it supposedly coming from ESPN. The hoaxer did an excellent job making it seem legit. If there had been no typos this could have been a major PR fiasco for Polanco. If people would have also taken a moment to verify the story (no announcement coming from either MLB or the Pittsburgh Pirates regarding the issue) they may have found that this was a hoax and fake news and it would have gained little traction. The only question is, what jagoff did it?

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