A fake Super Bowl story reached a sports blog, a former NBA player, and multiple radio stations

Fake news: Super Bowl edition

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

A fake story from a major fake news website claiming that a lawyer for the NFL had been murdered after exposing supposed wrongdoing by the football league has been shared by a sports gossip blog, a former NBA player, and multiple radio stations, in addition to multiple other websites that are promoting it as real.

On January 29, YourNewsWire published a made-up story alleging that an “NFL entertainment lawyer” who had supposedly told reporters that the upcoming Super Bowl (Super Bowl LII) between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles would be “rigged” had been “found dead in New York City” in a “gangland-style execution.” The website also claimed the story had been “scrubbed from the internet” and fabricated an image of a New York Times article reporting the incident (no such article ever existed, and no such person listed in the byline in the image works at the Times). As fact-checker Snopes noted later that day, the NFL employs no such lawyer and no such person was found dead. The fact-checker also noted that the fake story appeared to be piggybacking off of a satire Facebook page that posted a hoax video claiming the NFL admitted it rigged games (which had seemed to fool many, such as some radio stations, including an ESPN radio affiliate, and an Alabama news anchor).

The fake story has since spread, reaching multiple websites, with almost 31,000 Facebook engagements combined, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. One of those websites includes the sports gossip blog Terez Owens, whose content has previously been picked up by multiple news outlets. Versions of the fake story have also been pushed by Frank Drake, a former Republican congressional candidate who ran against Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) in 2016, and by former NBA player Charles Oakley.

Thanks in part to Terez Owens, the fake story also spread to radio stations. Hosts from CBS Atlanta sports radio station WZGC, reading parts of the fake story aloud, said the story had “conspiracy theorists running amok,” adding, “rightfully so.” Host Scooter McGee of Colorado radio station KFKA also read parts of the fake story on air. The hosts of a show on Burbank, CA, radio station KFI AM read much of the fake story aloud and called it a “big story” and wondered “why this story isn’t bigger.” (The hosts in a later segment acknowledged their discovery that the story was “B.S.” and “fake news” and apologized for sharing it.)

The fake story is just another example of how hoaxes from YourNewsWire can spread; the website, which regularly makes up stories, featured some of the most viral fake stories of 2017, according to a BuzzFeed study. It is also yet another example of how fake news websites will try to exploit news events for clicks, and how effective these fake stories can sometimes be at fooling people.