February 23, 2009
"Wade Redden looks disinterested, worn down and flat out terrible against the Leafs tonight. Or, as he calls it, 'playoff form.'" - "Brian Burke" on his Twitter parody feed.
Sean [last name withheld] is a 33-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs fan and blogger for the Leafs site Down Goes Brown. For just over a month, he's also been "Brian Burke" on a frequently hilarious Twitter parody of the Leafs and the NHL.
The first indication that this may be a blogger and not, in fact, the veteran hockey executive and current Leafs general manager can be found staring readers in the face from the top right corner of the page: Where the URL of Sean's blog and a "bio" that reads "yes, it's a parody" is located.
If that isn't enough to validate that this is, in fact, not Brian Burke, then a quick glance through the "Tweets" would do it. One assumes the Leafs general manager wouldn't be giving out the ATM passwords for beat reporters or writing items like, "After the game, the Pens called and offered Crosby and Malkin for Schenn. Told them to call back when they were willing to offer fair value."
This morning, Sean went to check his email and discovered a dozen messages all mentioning the Globe & Mail in Toronto. Columnist David Shoalts had not only written about Leafs Nation being "a-Twitter" over the fake "Brian Burke," but reached out to Burke himself to clear up any misconceptions over what is, without question, an obvious parody.
Twitter allows its users to send and read short posts, functioning as a message board for those who think, for some unfathomable reason, their random thoughts need to be inflicted on others. Someone signed up with Twitter under Burke's name and posted a number of remarks insulting to other people in the hockey world. Burke said in an e-mail message on Sunday night that he had nothing to do with the messages and the Leafs have issued a complaint to Twitter about the imposter.
Sean was stunned to the point of incredulity.
"The post missed the point of the whole thing so badly, you kind of have to wonder if it's actually intentional; an example of trying to go out and create a little controversy where there isn't one," he said.
"The part that makes me laugh is that he actually got Brian Burke to confirm that it wasn't him. I can't shake this picture of Brian Burke -- 10 days before the trade deadline, one of the most important weeks of his professional career -- and he has to respond to these email inquiries from a Globe reporter."
As Leahy blogged about over the weekend, the "Brian Burke" (notice the quotes used here and in the original story) Twitter feed has become a minor sensation, both for its sharp insight and wicked humor.
What it isn't, Sean from Down Goes Brown said firmly in a telephone interview today, is an attempt to trick anyone into believing he is actually the Leafs GM.
"One of the things that bugged me about the Globe and some of the posts that have come up this weekend is the implication that there's a shadowy person on the Internet who, under the cloak of anonymity, is impersonating Brian Burke," he said.
"You go to the Twitter feed, and there's a link to the blog right on there. You can e-mail me and find out who's writing it."
There have been Twitter feeds in the past that have blurred the lines between parody and whether a real individual was using the service to reach out to fans. The NHL had to come forward and announce that a "Wayne Gretzky" feed wasn't actually The Great One.
Shoalts wrote that the Leafs had "issued a complaint to Twitter about the imposter." Sean said Twitter hasn't contacted him with any complaints as of this morning,
"The thing is that Twitter, in their terms of service, is actually very clear on this whole issue. They specify that an impersonation account is a violation of the terms of services, and that they can suspend the account with no further questions asked. But they make a specific exception for parody, and the test that they apply is whether a reasonable person would understand that it's a joke," he said.
Indeed, Twitter has anticipated that its publishing platform may be used for satirical purposes. From Twitter Support:
What is Impersonation?
Pretending to be another person or business as entertainment or in order to deceive is impersonation. Non-parody impersonation is a violation of the TOS, specifically article 4 which states:
4. You must not abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate other Twitter users.
The standard for defining parody is, "would a reasonable person be aware that it's a joke." An account may be guilty of impersonation if it confuses or misleads others-accounts with the clear INTENT to confuse or mislead will be permanently suspended.
"I have a hard time believing anyone can look at the feed, spend more than 10 seconds on it and [not] know that it's not the real guy," said Sean.
The "Burke" Twitter has been going on for just over a month. It was born on the popular Toronto Maple Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets as a fan post.
"As a Leafs fan, there's not a lot to laugh about these days. What's the old saying? You have to laugh to keep from crying?" he said.
What Sean said is lost on many is that the feed isn't an attack on Burke; rather, the ficticious "Burke" is the curmudgeonly straight man for jokes about the Leafs and the rest of the NHL.
Gradually, Sean began to gain readers about five or six a day. ("It just sort of snowballed from there.") Over time, other blogs and message boards started getting in on the joke. Alanah Downey from Canucks and Beyond blogged about it in late January. As more links to the Twitter feed spread around the Web, Sean would see peaks and valleys of readership.
Now, with the Globe & Mail coverage and coverage around the Web, Sean has a growing following that comes with a lot more scrutiny.
"This isn't the direction that I wanted it to go. It was more fun when it was a smaller thing, with people passing links on," he said.
"The worst case scenario is that I go to make a post and I'm locked out. Which wouldn't be the end of the world."
The NHL has long been at the forefront of digital innovation, from videos on YouTube to social networking. If it's failed anywhere, it's in the humor department, as the blogosphere continues to churn out parodies and satire and frank editorial writing that the League (and its MSM partners) either misinterpret or generalize as being detrimental to the game.
Sean understands why what works on a Twitter feed might not work on NHL.com. "They're trying. A lot of this stuff is easy to do when you're some random blogger and you don't have a brand to protect. It's a little harder when you're the Toronto Maple Leafs or the NHL," he said.
As it stands, "Brian Burke" will continue to exist in the mind of Sean and on the Twitter parody.
So with the trade deadline nearly here, what does "Brian Burke" intend to do?
"I think everybody's gone," said Sean, channeling his alter ego.
"Everybody other than Schenn."
END NOTE: We've received dozens of e-mails this afternoon about a post Dwayne "Eklund" Klessel authored about Leahy's original "Brian Burke" Twitter story that published over the weekend.
Dwayne referred to Puck Daddy as "a web blog that calls itself a pro hockey site" and tattled to Leafs GM Brian Burke that Leahy's story had somehow "lent credence" to the idea that it was actually Brian Burke blogging on Twitter ... with posts like "ran into Eklund last night. He kept grilling me about trades and rumors. Finally I just paid him for the pizza and slammed the door." Uh-huh.
As some of you might know, we have some history with Dwayne, having authored a feature story for AOL Sports NHL FanHouse that explained his history on the Web; a story that had him threatening litigation behind the scenes to have it edited or removed from AOL Sports.
In his coverage of "Brian Burke" story, Dwayne claimed that Leahy "gave no indication to the readers" that the "Burke" feed was a parody. We understandably assumed that anyone who read the absurd "Tweets" from "Burke," or clicked through to the Twitter feed, would know that it was a parody. Then again, people pay for hockey rumors, too.
But the premise of Dwayne's argument is undeniably false and misleading. Every mention of "Brian Burke" in our story was between quotation marks, including in the headline. Dwayne removed those quotation marks when referencing our post on HockeyBuzz; altering our original content in order to present a false picture of our coverage to his readership and, in turn, an NHL executive.
That's rather libelous, in our estimation. We've requested he edit his post to reflect the true nature of our original work; we've yet to hear a response or see any clarification on his Web site.
As for his hysterical claim that "some mainstream media guy or team rep will cite this story as to why they believe that only mainstream writers should be granted credentials" ... I'll be sure to bring this up at the next Professional Hockey Writers Association meeting, and make sure the other members of that Association don't have any misconceptions about the "Brian Burke" Twitter feed or our coverage of it.
I don't intend to comment on this again here, because it's a cry for attention from a marginalized individual that deserves to go unanswered beyond some vital clarifications. My focus is on providing outstanding content for Puck Daddy's readership, not engaging in some concocted "radio war" with a has-been lusting after our Web traffic and your wallets.
Despite his slandering us to an NHL executive, we're content to let our reputation as a hockey blog speak for itself, and hope that Dwayne will do the same with whatever reputation he's invented for his pseudonym this week ...