If ‘controvassy’ is the lifeblood of the Premier League, the GAA has long gorged on rumour and hearsay, writes Larry Ryan.
Did you not hear about yer man?
There can’t be a club in the country without a former minor star seemingly gone off the rails altogether since he got involved with a married woman from in around the town. Nor an inter-county camp that hasn’t leaked graphic accounts of “murder inside in training” after a championship defeat.
Dónal Óg Cusack, who featured in one or two rumours in his day, told in his autobiography that the Cork hurlers of his time had an unwritten rule to tell each other whenever one of them became the latest to power the mill.
Further back, in his book, Nicky English marvelled at the pace with which false whispers made their way around the Tipp grapevine.
Maybe it is the lack of a transfer market that intensifies the need to find gossip in other arenas. Though there are always one or two transfer rumours on the go too, if all else fails.
When we hear about The Sacrifices of, and The Demands on, the County Man, we are not always sympathetic but this might well be the area where we can have most sympathy; how he is at the mercy of every chancer anxious to be seen as in the know.
Especially now the potent combination of WhatsApp and Facebook, and, to a lesser extent, Twitter has supercharged the speed and reach of the mill. In his book, Cathal McCarron explained well the power of going viral.
“Whoever it was, or whoever posted the video on social media, those first taps on the screen of a phone or a computer were like detonating a massive explosion. It was trending on Facebook and Twitter. Every football team in the country was apparently sharing it on their WhatsApp group.”
There is a keen suspicion of the media in many sections of the GAA but the stories talked most about this week will never reach any newspaper. And were probably spread by some people who might otherwise be complaining about media scrutiny of amateur players.
One potentially defamatory tale was copied from a WhatsApp group, then posted to a GAA Facebook group which has 190,000 followers. The post attracted 1,000 likes and 800 comments in 24 hours and was still online three days later.
All of those views and likes and comments will have earned advertising revenue for Facebook, though there is little prospect of convincing a court that Facebook is a publisher responsible for the content. Little prospect that an organisation shutting down newspapers daily with its grip on the global advertising market will be asked to stand over the story.
When a Syrian refugee attempted to sue Facebook in Germany this year for allowing the spread of insinuation that he was a terrorist, the court dismissed the application, concluding Facebook is “neither a perpetrator or participant in the smears” and that the blame lay with people who shared the ‘fake news’.
Computer scientist Filippo Menczer, who designs algorithms to track political messaging on social media, doesn’t entirely agree. He told PBS: “Blaming readers for spreading fake news from a cognitive perspective is somewhat equivalent to blaming a baby for soiling itself. They can’t help it.”
Menczer has watched ‘fake news’ grow from an online trickle in 2010 through a surge of Ebola-related stories in 2014 to the political weapon it is today. Next season, he might be a Sunday Game pundit.
In the German case, Facebook lawyer Martin Munz told the court that with a billion pieces of content uploaded every day, it would need a “miracle machine” to check the validity of everything.
But not everything gets 1,000 likes. Seemingly, an organisation that booked revenues of €7.9bn in Ireland in 2015 — paying €16.5m tax — can’t be expected to employ the resources needed to verify a viral post.
Of course this isn’t just a GAA problem, or a new problem. In 1968, Joe Dolan placed an ad in New Spotlight music magazine looking for information on the rumours being spread about him.
Earlier this year, a Donegal couple were awarded €30,000 in damages against a neighbour who defamed them on Facebook, with the court unwilling to regard the gossip as an infant unable to wipe their arse.
One or two more similar judgments might focus minds on WhatsApp.
In the meantime, we marvel again at Kilkenny, where they seem to keep a lid on most things. In his book Fields of Fire, Damien Lawlor described the circus of recrimination and rumour that dogged most hurling counties.
“Counties saw that just one high-profile defection, one big name shown the door, one drink-fuelled night out, one difference of opinion between players and officials was sometimes enough to sink a season and leave wreckage washing the shore for years afterwards.
“But Kilkenny munched popcorn and grew stronger while watching the soap operas unfold as county after county washed their grubby gear in public.”
When a story did leak from Noreside and journos landed sniffing, they got no encouragement.
As Lawlor put it: “After a day or so of trying to put flesh on the story, the press pack grew tired of hunting for scraps and, with nobody in the county willing to feed their frenzy, threw away the carcass and left town. The storm quickly passed.”
It could be Zuckerberg and the lads in Palo Alto wouldn’t dare defy Cody if he rang up demanding the plug be pulled on a story he didn’t like.
Or maybe Kilkenny folk have enough sense and respect not to soil their own doorstep.
Food for thought
The Sport Ireland report into the Brendan O’Sullivan case has confused some and annoyed others. But maybe some curious minds were put at ease.
There were some sceptics last year when the GAA and GPA announced the new nutritional allowance for players of €1.2m, a potential annual payment of €760 per player.
There was some sniffing and whingeing at the time and wondering what lads will be spending that on. But now we see the list of substances — Augmentin, whey protein, Pharmaton, pre-fuel, caffeine tablets, caffeine gel, vitamin C, Krill Oil and Magnesium — it takes to come off the bench in a league final.
Even if county boards are footing most of the bill, those are expensive fuel tanks to fill.
Beware Madrid and Juve, a Champions League medal is no protector against fake news. Benni McCarthy is the latest victim, after reports circulated in his native South Africa the former Porto man had died in London.
As if to back Mark Zuckerberg’s contention Facebook can also be a force in the battle with misinformation, Benni took to the social network to announce he is alive and well.
Meanwhile, Bogdan Dochev is, however, dead. The Bulgarian linesman got the best send off an official can reasonably expect if their departure makes BBC headlines. “Assistant referee who failed to spot Diego Maradona’s Hand of God goal dies aged 80”.
Heroes & Villains
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
The great survivor produced a Wembley masterclass to keep the wolf from the door one more time.
Gats and the guys doing us proud so far, mastering a rousing version of that versatile anthem of northern hemisphere unity, The Fields of Athenry.
Great idea for a worthy cause with the Camán Till Dawn puckathon tomorrow (www.facebook.com/camantilldawn).
HELL IN A HANDCART
Canned the European Football Show, a rare oasis of considered calm in their schedule.
Aston Villa chief banned for wondering on Twitter of poorly performing referees were “disabled”, a theory he later described as “an honest mistake”.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved