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Twitter and the Ever-Widening Agent Probe

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I don't follow any of the UNC players on Twitter. Mostly because despite the fact they attract lots of UNC fans as followers, the athletes mostly seem to use it as any other college students do, for their own entertainment amongst their friends. I'm not a college student, I'm not their friend, and it just seems intrusive for me to insert myself into that. Couple that with the temptation to blog about what 18 to 22 year-olds text out on the spur of the moment, and I'd prefer to just keep my distance. So I do.

It's interesting then, that I've gotten almost all my information on the investigation into agents at UNC – an investigation that has widened to include South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia and has now drawn in the NC Secretary of State and Senate candidate Elaine Marshall – from Twitter. In fact the entire investigation may have started with a tweet by Marvin Austin on May 29th, and since then every reporter and blogger has been pouring through tweets and tweet-photos looking for anything. But not only that, almost all the reporting is happening on Twitter. ESPN's Joe Schad is almost reporting exclusively by tweet, often six or seven at a time; most news reports and blog posts are just compendiums of the previous couple of hours of the author's feed.

There are a couple of downsides to this. Almost nothing is verifiable in 140 character-chunks; while you can pretty much trust someone working for ESPN, every rumor is being picked up and shuffled around, tweeted and retweeted until it's removed from context. There's also the problems that arise when a bunch of middle-aged reporters dive into the offhand comments of a college kid, months after the fact. The above-linked tweet struck me at the time as a reference I just didn't get (Marvin Austin doesn't strike me as the kind of guy to spontaneously rhyme a tweet) and sure enough, it turns out to be a RIck Ross lyric – Ross's flow, alas, being too much for even the Google to chronicle.

But Twitter is all anyone has at the moment. UNC and the players are sensibly not talking, and the NCAA will take its time in determining what happened and what the punishments may be. Remember though, cameraphone shots only tell a small part of a story, and well, there's a reason the NCAA compliance office isn't releasing it's findings in 140-charcter bursts.