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Catfishing the Banner Chasers

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How an exercise in the power of the internet and the vitriol of fandom became an interesting social experiment - and a phenomenal prank.

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As anticipation grew with the potential release of the NCAA's amended notice of allegations against the University of North Carolina, Twitter became a repository of punches and counter-punches as partisans on both sides of the blue divide took 140-character shots at each other. Over the past few months, Twitter accounts with the handles of Bluedevilicious and Cheating Blue Ram became two of the de facto leaders of the crucify UNC movement. Those two accounts in particular posted data and screen caps from various parts of the Wainstein Report and other data sources in their chase for harsh punishment for the Tar Heels. Meanwhile on the Pack Pride message boards, emboldened by their role in exposing portions of the UNC troubles, a poster known as Manalishi attained legendary status for his apparent insider knowledge and predictions into Carolina's ongoing NCAA issues.

In the past two weeks, however, the ABC and banner-chasing masses were whipped into a froth as word began leaking out that the forthcoming amended NOA was going to be catastrophic for UNC. The delay was attributed to the NCAA requiring UNC to re-certify athletic eligibility going back well over 25 years. WuffLoons and other fanbases began to believe that the 2005 NCAA title banner was coming down, and that the 2009 and even 1993 titles were almost certainly going to be vacated as well. The athletic department was going to face massive penalties and possibly a post-season ban across all sports. The five allegations in the original NOA were going to be expanded and a sixth - specifically including men's basketball, would be added. Justice for the cheaters would be coming, and that right soon, hoped ABCers and banner chasers.

Among the biggest sources of this new-found hope was an "insider" who claimed to work in compliance at a Power 5 school. Going by the handle @RCCPMD, this "insider" sang to the hallelujah chorus about the depths of UNC's transgressions. He referenced his experience in college athletics, spoke the language of NCAA compliance, and at the end claimed to have seen screenshots of the amended NOA with the pertinent NCAA bylaws cited. Despite having a brand-new Twitter account and an egg avatar (the universal sign of Twitter newbies who are usually discounted as kooks), RCCPMD was given complete credibility and primed the hopes of rival fanbases to a fevered pitch.

The only thing was, RCCPMD was a complete fake. He was the creation of a voracious UNC supporter who catfished rival fanbases, their biggest Twitter and message board voices, and appears to have snookered Darth Kane himself, Dan Kane of the Raleigh News and Observer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was in on the whole thing. RCCPMD had approached me and a couple of other UNC folks through another handle, Edmond Dantes, the protagonist of Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo who was both a master of disguises and was wrongly accused. Dantes laid out his entire plan to plant disinformation within the anti-UNC camp about the forthcoming NOA and once the real NOA was released, he planned to change his Twitter name to "Count of Monte Cristo" and reveal the ruse. And on Monday, as the amended notice of allegations was released, that's exactly what happened as RCCPMD became the Count and weeks of ABCer hopes began to unravel.

Also in the interest of full disclosure, I have no idea who Edmond/RCCPMD/Count is. He has worked tirelessly to protect his anonymity, and given that he pretty much pranked an entire fanbase, it's probably a pretty smart idea.

It's a pretty interesting social experiment how this entire thing went down. It is a study of vitriolic fandom, the power of social media, and the confidence of talking the talk and walking the walk. Edmond created a Twitter account with clues that might be confused with a person who actually works in compliance at a large university. He started dropping nuggets about compliance and his thoughts on the UNC scandal. Soon after, he began to be followed by and included in discussions with banner chasers and ABCers. As he upped the ante on possible NCAA bylaw violations and repercussions for UNC, he developed credibility among the ABC community until the big dogs started coming on board: guys like Bluedevilicious, Cheating Blue Ram, UNC Meme, BDevilU, and the Pack Pride legend Manalishi.

Soon after Edmond (as RCCPMD) and the big dogs began conversing, he was brought into the inner circle. The direct messages on Twitter started flying back and forth and Edmond ramped up his disinformation campaign. He began putting out specific items about how the NCAA was adding a sixth allegation and that men's basketball would be named specifically. He also suggested the delay in the NCAA's response was because they were reviewing the eligibility of almost every athlete for nearly 30 years. In particular, he planted the idea that the NCAA was looking back to 1989 for eligibility, which would certainly put the 1993 title at risk. Moreover, he claimed to have screenshots of the amended NOA.

Slowly but surely State fans and ABCers started tossing around those talking points: a sixth allegation in the NOA, men's basketball specifically named, two and possibly three banners in jeopardy, and eligibility questions back to 1989. Next came the double play of all time - Manalishi posted some of RCCPMD's misinformation on a Pack Pride board as from an "NCAA source", and then Dan Kane himself reached out to RCCPMD via direct message on Twitter.

With Monday morning's announcement that UNC had received an amended notice of allegations, rival fans were ready to see the hammer fall on the Tar Heels. Instead the updated NOA seems to go much lighter on Carolina than the original. There is no sixth allegation; the first allegation is now pretty much confined to women's basketball and football and men's basketball have been removed completely; and the period of time of concern to the NCAA has been reduced from 10 to 6 years. In other words, pretty much the opposite of what RCCPMD had been saying. And after the new NOA was released, this happened:

The Count revealed himself with a picture of the championship banners in the background. Meanwhile he had some harsh words for the victims of his ruse:

Ouch. That was straight fire.

In the course of just over two weeks, an anonymous person tweeting from a brand new, unverified Twitter account, worked his way into the inner circle of those at the center of trying to bring UNC down based on little more than an apparent knowledge of NCAA bylaws and speaking the language a certain group of rabid fans wanted to hear. Whether or not you enjoy the schadenfreude of seeing disappointed WuffLoons or Pack Pride message boards in nuclear meltdown, it is fascinating to see how information (or disinformation) spreads in the digital age and how, as Brian eloquently put it,  in this day and age we filter out anything we don't like and accept what confirms our biases. Given the current state of politics with the presidential race and here in North Carolina with HB2, that has been proven more than ever. In fact, the Count himself summed it up like this:

After this level of pranking it will be curious to see how well people vet their sources on this and other issues going forward, or will they simply continue to find the voices in the cacophony that support their already made-up minds?

Still, you've gotta admit, as a UNC fan this was doggoned funny, and I was glad to have been in on the prank.