Not so long ago transfer deadline day and indeed the whole transfer window was dominated by the main news sources. The BBC had fun radio coverage and Sky Sports of course had the yellow ticker at the bottom of the screen. It was a fun distraction of a day that soon began to revel in its own importance.
Fast forward to the present day and transfer windows have become flooded with three letters that should fill the football fan with as much dread as V-A-R.
They are of course ITK, short for ‘in the know’ in relation to football transfers. Accounts on social media spring up faster than you can block them, claiming to know the inner-most desires of a footballer and the intricate details of the contracts that have been agreed.
Unfortunately, rather than harmless gossip and rumour, these have the ability to take a dark turn.
ITK: Pied Pipers
The process of becoming an ITK couldn’t be simpler. Find a captive audience and then tell them what they want to hear. Take this transfer window and Aston Villa. We have been slow (to say the least) in the market and as such there has been growing impatience with fans who know reinforcements are needed to avoid another relegation scrap.
With such supporters as the captive audience you have two techniques; prey on their fears or tease them with their wants.
The fear is easy, tell them that Jack Grealish is leaving. He is the best player, the talisman and as such will have been looked at by many other teams.
The fanbase also have him close to their hearts so naturally, any news regarding him is gobbled up. Just put out information saying he is staying and people will retweet, follow and like because you are giving them the good news or alternatively say in a cryptic manner he is gone, possibly accompanied by a crying emoji or gif.
People will then do the same out of fear and look for commiserations from others. The ITK has then achieved all he needs when the truth is they have just given both sides of the coin. Bad news Villa fans — ‘It’s heads’. Great news ‘tails never fails’. It’s as simple as that.
ITK: Dark Arts
There are of course many tricks open to abuse by the ITK’s.
Firstly, they can grow their accounts as normal people before making the transition to ITK. Begging for followers, promises of a follow back and even paying for followers on websites. Then, once a sufficient number has been reached they can begin the ITK game.
It may start small with the simple, “I’ve heard that Villa are after Player A”. Then throw out a vague price and wait for the comments and new followers to come in.
It gets even shadier if they use multiple accounts to generate the original likes and retweets. Before long a normal fan, starved of transfer activity will see the fake rumour, from an account with a healthy number of followers and some engagement on same.
Then they add their own and the snowball grows bigger and bigger.
Of course a broken clock is right twice a day, so the ITK will always hang their hat on any transfer speculation that comes to fruition. This is usually backed up after the event by suspiciously redacted direct messages from their ’Source’. The problem is that these are easily faked and there are numerous apps and sites devoted to falsifying direct messages and even text messages across all social media platforms.
A simply created backdated message after the event will lend false credibility to the ITK and suck in yet more followers. Technology has moved beyond photoshop and “how many fingers” Stuart Downing and Andy Carroll had in that infamous photo of the pair holding a Liverpool scarf.
What is the Endgame?
With these accounts established, the normal person has to ask what the endgame or motivation is for these people? The answer can only be self-serving.
They aren’t providing an important service to supporters, they are growing these accounts presumably to satisfy their egos, become ‘influencers’ or for financial gain.
By enlisting other high-profile users with multiple followers, a simple retweet or comment can game the system and grow both accounts. It’s a simple win-win for the wannabe influencer(s) and a loss for anyone that thought they were getting inside information.
You have to ask yourself what you would do if you were in a situation with actual information? A situation which many of us may accidentally find ourselves in?
For instance, I had team-mates who happened to be on holiday at the same resort as Ashley Young just before he moved to United. They told me that Young was leaving Villa. That was it, no details of contract, where he was going or anything else, and yet I didn’t dive straight onto social media to share it with the world.
Think of the person who photographed Fabian Delph when he was having the Man City medical. It was a simple social media user who found himself in the situation and shared it.
These are the real snippets of info that break and go viral, not the musings of some bedroom manipulator of people’s emotions.
These stories and information will break and normally through the usual channels, not the accounts of recently active people on social media.
Be patient out there and more importantly, before engaging with any of these accounts, ask yourself what they have to gain from sharing this news and if you want to help them accomplish it.
Remember what happened to the rats that followed the Pied Piper.