Bogus Rumours in Professional Hockey

Since we’re in the midst of the NHL off-season, there are plenty of rumours and gossip circulating, which is no surprise since one of the biggest by-products of professional sports is speculation. We don’t know what will happen next and watch games to find out. The off-season is never dull, especially in Canada, with the draft being held, followed by the start of free agency. Both events are surrounded by rumours of player movement and team strategy before the season starts in October. Add to the fact that the Collective Bargaining Agreement between league owners and players has expired, putting the 2012/2013 season at risk, and you have quite the speculative content available for consumption.

Jonathan Willis of the Edmonton Journal’s Cult of Hockey blog recently compiled a list of some very bogus hockey rumours an individual had tweeted. These included rumours regarding where players were going to sign and claims to have “insider” information. I definitely understand Jonathan’s frustration with these bogus rumours that really are wild guesses with no supporting evidence. What bothers me most is that these Twitter accounts and websites receive an incredible amount of visits and paying subscribers, even after they’ve been consistently proven wrong a hundred times. I think Jonathan is doing the right thing by bringing to light the absurdity of these rumour websites. As fans, we get so caught up in speculating what will happen next that we search for any piece of information to keep us up-to-date. Plus it is quite comical when you read these tweets after news has officially broken to see how far off the “insider” was.

I do, however, disagree with Jonathan’s statement that these fake insiders could potentially ruin the reputation of other new media sources. There are some very talented writers, who aren’t part of the traditional media outlets, and who discuss rumours, that still produce high quality content using new media. I would argue that these individuals do not have to worry about their mediums being sullied because of fake “insiders”.

Let me start by saying that rumours do in fact play a big role in professional sports, but an even bigger role in society. In order to survive, human beings must be able to work with one another. Our ability to communicate plays an integral role in not only meeting others, but to exchange ideas and information that is  necessary for our survival. Psychologists have determined that engaging in gossip is a biological instinct as it develops our social networks, from which we can  benefit from (Dunbar, 2004). Rumours exist within professional sports for fans to speculate, but also to connect with other fans and exchange ideas and opinions.

But lets not forget that rumours are also spread by the all producers of media content. This would include not only fans who can create a wide array of content online, but also the traditional media outlets and the National Hockey League. The tools to create, share and consume content have become easier to access and use, allowing anyone with a computer device and basic software to become producers and exchangers of content. The interaction between media producers and consumers is what Henry Jenkins refers to as a “participatory culture”.

…audiences, empowered by these new technologies, occupying a space at the intersection between old and new media, are demanding the right to participate within the culture” (Jenkins, p. 24)

It’s in this participatory culture that fans can mash-up hockey highlights with their favorite music, photoshop NHL players with Star Wars characters and analyze hockey data to project player and team performance. Fans can be more than consumers and apply their own experiences to different artifacts to create new content. But also capitalizing on the participatory culture are fans who pretend to be insiders and spread false and baseless rumors. This type of content could change a person’s perception of all online content, but what Bruns (2008) found examining social media applications such as Wikipedia and blogs was that an individual’s online credibility was solely determined by their own content and online behaviour.

Before anyone blames the technology for enabling people to spread lies, remember the benefits of having these tools available. The majority of modern communication tools are equipped with collaborative functionalities that can quickly shoot down rumours just as fast as they can spread. One study lead by Farida Vis of the University of Leicester found that Twitter was able to refute false rumours surrounding the 2011 London riots. Since more people are online participating in the construction of culture, there are more people to verify the content and make a contribution as required. It really is up to the reader of the content to determine the value of it and if its worth sharing with others.

Rumors and gossip will always have a place in professional hockey, as a result of the speculative discourse driven by both the NHL and its fans. Communication tools, relied upon by our biological instincts to exchange ideas and experiences, amplify the gossip related to the game. As participants, we can become players in the development and distribution of information regarding hockey, but it’s up to us to take a proactive approach in deciding what and how we consume content. Regardless of the bogus content and subscriptions these fake hockey “insiders” receive, others who use new media to produce and share content can rest easy knowing their reputations are tied to the quality of their own body of work.

Dunbar, R. (2004). Gossip in evolutionary perspective. Review of general psychology, 8, p. 100-110.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.

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