Scandalum ex nihilo: the Internet & Alabama

“Not everything you read on the Internet is true.”—Nick Saban (from his book How Good Do You Want to Be?: A Champion’s Tips on How to Lead and Succeed at Work and in Life)

Nick Saban has been the victim of an Internet hoax or two. In his 2005 book he talks about an Internet posting that alleged Saban had made negative comments about the Alabama Crimson Tide while a coach at LSU. The alleged speech circulated broadly, and ruffled a few feathers. As Alabama’s head football coach, Saban encountered another Internet hoax that made its way into print via a newspaper columnist in Louisiana.

Both instances show the power of the Internet—it is an entity unparalleled in its ability to spread libel, rumor and innuendo.

Most troubling is the Internet’s ability to create trouble from nothing—a creatio scandalum ex nihilo, if you will.

Over the last week, Auburn message boards have been aflutter with charges that Alabama is facing NCAA troubles over recruiting violations. It wouldn’t be a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday without such charges; however, the specific allegation that the University of Alabama had received a second letter of inquiry from the NCAA gained traction on the Internet, and with callers flooding talk radio.

The allegations prompted the Tuscaloosa News to make an open records request over the potential NCAA letter.

This prompted a statement from the University denying any such letter existed. The University and sources within the University denied any NCAA inquiry or notice of allegations. The University also denied disassociating any athletic boosters in the last year, something the Tuscaloosa News pointed out was, again, “contrary to Internet and other rumors.”

Since Pat Dye asserted his suzerainty in Auburn, allegations against Alabama have become louder and more numerous.

Coincidence?

Or is this part of a concerted strategy?

If it is a strategy, Alabama made it easier for baseless allegations to gain traction because of its secrecy in the textbook case. Now every senseless rumor could be reasonable because not many people know what is going on within the Kremlin, errr, I mean the Politburo, errr I mean the Capstone.

The recent spate of recruiting rumors showcased how the Internet and talk radio can spread false allegations about Alabama. The number, specificity and persistence of the rumors tend to indicate it was akin to an old whispering campaign to undermine Alabama’s successes of landing another top ranked recruiting class, and having its annual A-Day game televised on ESPN.

In political campaigns, the GOP and Democratic Party email out talking points on a daily basis; these emails serve as a blueprint for how rank-and-file party members can spread the larger party message on talk radio, letters to the editor and online. Football fans operate in a similar, though less efficacious manner. Without the need for any instruction, fans who read Rivals or Scout or similar type message boards, will spread the latest slander as fact—all it takes is a plausible slander, and someone with some connection (even a fantasy connection) to the school’s insiders as the originator/poster.

Internet rumormongers have been known to go so far as to subscribe to rival message boards (like TiderInsider.com) and post messages alleging problems. This planted message is then repeated on other sites, where the poster can easily preface their rumor by saying, “I just read on Tider Insider that the NCAA is looking at the type of toilet paper being used by Alabama athletes!”

But a more pernicious problem is how fan sites like Rivals and Scout fuel negative stories about the competition. Last year at the SEC Media Days in Birmingham, I watched as an Auburn Internet site used every opportunity to ask questions about off-the-field troubles at Alabama. It was a powerful way to shape coverage of Nick Saban’s and the Alabama players’ day in Birmingham.

Why would an Auburn site ask negative questions to Tide players? Why quiz Antoine Caldwell on the matter unless you are playing to your base?

It was the Auburn corporate message on display at SEC Media Days—it attempted to paint a picture of an out-of-control Alabama and a firmly in control Tommy Tuberville. It was PR at work; it was PR enabled because the Auburn beat reporters display an inordinate amount of groupthink—there are only a couple who stray from the corporate line, while the rest feed the sheep.

Why would fans be any more responsible than these “professionals?”

They wouldn’t be. Saban in his 2005 book warned about how “communication without accountability can be dangerous.” These dangerous effects include damage to reputations and harm to recruiting, according to Saban.

Is it coincidence or concerted strategy? If it isn’t a concerted strategy, it probably should be. With millions on the line, not to mention pride, it would be naive to ignore the Internet as one theater to wage war on Alabama and Nick Saban. How does Alabama respond? The open refutation of the rumors was a positive, and necessary step this time. But does Alabama have a long term strategy for dealing with the significant amount of Internet lies?

Note: I wanted to thank Eight In the Box for an insightful discussion that got me thinking once again about the rumors in light of the Internet and journalism.

10 Comments

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  1. 1
    finebammer

    never more true than today’s world:

    it’s not reality but PERCEPTION of reality that counts.

    “If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

    morpheus

  2. 2
    E. G. White

    Cappy, I’m glad to see that you have finally addressed an issue that gives me ulcers. The unmittigated trash that is spewed across the internet against Alabama is what makes my responses so vile. I have been banned by many of our rivals sites and not always for profanity. On the contrary, sometimes for saying far less inflamatory things about them then they say about us. Now I just get it off my chest as soon as I log on and keep it up as long as they let me, and the hell with em! As you stated there is no accountability on the internet, and Bama being a favorite target of bloggers from every competative school in the SEC and also around the country – has to absorb the inuendos, false information from documents supposedly retrieved from legitimate internet sites, fantasy information fabricated from imagination, predjudiced information, down right lies, and hate. When there is as much hate, jealousy and fear out there as there is for Bama, it creates a festering cesspool in which thrives the most radical, irresponsible, vindictive, anti-social, hateful, lying trash imaginable. And everyone of them is protected by the internets veil of security and invisibility, which allows them to post their tirades with total impunity, and the same and even less radical sheep read this trash thrive on it, believe it, take it for gospel and start repeating it. It’s a monster that feeds on itself and grows geometrically. This is what happens when there is insane hatred and jealousy as there is toward the University of Alabama. There are irresponsible people at a few SEC schools who have apparently made it their lifelong goal to defame and or destroy Bama. There are wealthy boosters at these schools who have and will pay athletes to fabricate lies against the University of Alabama – reference the Jene Jelks case. These people no doubt have bribed members of the NCAA. Among others, reference 2 SEC school changing grades and crediting courses not taken and having it swept under the table. Both situations much more serious than Bamas textbook problem. It’s easy to determine that the vast majority of these morons are below the age of 20. However in almost all cases they are pre Bear Bryant and pre scholarship limitations and forced parity. People aged 50 and above don’t have that unjustified, radical hatred and desire to do harm to another institution over sports rivalries. They basically respected the accomplishments of their rivals – at least until gameday. Alabama always respected Notre Dame, Michigan, Penn St., Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, USC and Tennessee as competative dynastys. The other SEC schools knew they had to be measured against Bama in the South. They did things like paint their names on their opponents field, steal mascots, or in Auburns case grease the tracks for the Georgia Tech train so that it slid right through town. But unlike many other fine coaches, Bear Bryant didn’t outlive his coaching career to continue his legacy to the current generation. These snot nosed brats have no respect for the unmatched tradition that it took Bama 100 years to create. They cannot begin to understand the pride that Bama fans have and deserve, or the respect that we expect. They all think we are vain, cocky, crooked assholes, mainly because of Albert Means. An example of their sociopathic and unjustifiable behavior toward Alabama is the fact that Auburn is the 3rd most penalized school in the country and yet you never hear them being called cheaters or criminals or having others in the SEC plotting or praying for them to get the death penalty. I’ll wager that their daddys and grandpas would be ashamed if they knew what their kids were posting on the net. I just wish someone with more national coverage than the Capstone Report would thuroghly address this very serious problem. As much as I hate to think about it, there is little doubt that internet abuse is eventially going to lead to total government control of it. rtr.

  3. 3
    BamaBrando

    This is old news by now. Auburn people always like to try to spread rumors of their wishful thinking. A majority of the ones that I know personally have always had a very black and white perception of Alabama and Auburn. Alabama is always as portrayed as the evil overlord and stands for all things bad, and Auburn is the equated to what is good and just in the world. Even Navid Nousel, the former Auburn AD, even equated Bama as being the Nazis and Auburn was like the US in trying to rid the world of them. The truth is, as football programs go, Alabama and Auburn are a lot alike. It is just that Alabama has a more impressive resume and has done more with its opportunities than Auburn. But who is to let reality get in the way of Auburns perceptions? It sure isn’t the fanbase, which has got to be one of the delusional in the country when it comes to how they feel about Bama.

  4. 4
    julio

    EG, you really make this too easy. You post a rambling dissertation complaining about rival fans posting rumors and trash about your beloved crimson tide, then add this lovely little snippet: “The unmittigated trash that is spewed across the internet against Alabama is what makes my responses so vile. I have been banned by many of our rivals sites and not always for profanity.” Are you so freakin’ stupid that you don’t realize you just admitted to doing the exact same thing you’re whining about? Geez, you even admit you’ve been “banned” from posting on websites. I gotta hand it to ya, EG. Most people would have far too much pride and self respect to admit something that creepy.

    Cappy, please don’t ban EG from posting here. He is a perfect representative of the Bama Nation and all she stands for.

  5. 5
    Auburnisajoke formerly the fan known as Ballplay Indian.

    E.G. Who has time to read that freekin novel you just posted. Dont you realise that the majority of us Americans have A.D.D. and dint make it throught the first chapter ? Any how. Go take a prozak, or maybe a midol. That would probably do you a little better. With the way that you rant on, I just about can guaruntee that you have a little dorky Hitler mustache.

    Cap , I do have to agree with the heart of your article. People put way to much stock into net rumors. I seriously doubt that any real NCAA investigator even looks at the boards. They would be crazy if they did.

  6. 6
    E. G. White

    Julio you are the epitamy of a barner dumbass. Like all of your kind, you just pull incomplete phrases out of someones post and change it around to fit the warped crap that you want people to believe! The difference in my tirades and yours, and ballplays and Calhoun Tigers and others like you, is that I’m telling the truth, or defending Bama against slander and aggresive attacks – and I don’t attack another university with slanderous lies or wish their sports programs harm! You people are just baseless pieces of shit! Ha! where does a barner piece of crap like you get off telling Cappy ban or not to ban me! Go away cow humpers!

  7. 7
    E. G. White

    Yeah Ballplay you definitely have something! Whether it’s A.D.D. or A.I.D.S. or Syphilis of the brain – you definitely have a serious problem! rtr!

  8. 8
    julio

    EG, just a couple of pointers:

    1. If you’re going to post a whimsical sentence wherein you call someone a dumba$$, you really should make sure that the words contained in your futile insult attempt are spelled correctly. Otherwise, you’ll just prove what everyone already knows: that you are the “epitome” of uneducated, ignorant bammer rednecks.

    2. You really should get your cousin/girlfriend to review your posts before you submit them to save you some embarrasment. That way you wouldn’t do stupid things like admit in one post that you have been banned from posting on rivals’ websites, then saying in your next post that, “I don’t attack another university with slanderous lies or wish their sports programs harm”. I guess you got banned for being too nice and cheerful, huh?

  9. 9
    Auburnisajoke formerly the fan known as Ballplay Indian.

    Eggwhite is a doosh. Plain and simple. he is the green fly circling the turd.

  10. 10
    OMNIPRESENT aka 36 - 0

    The reason they dont have this on a national BLOG is because contrary to what you think Bama is not the only game.
    These thing go on around the country. Its not a plot against Saban and uat. E.G. is an idiot and a SABBATARIAN….
    And a testimony to bammers and the worship of Saban! And mind you he was the first to start throwing at other peoples windows…Im just saying…

    WPB!!!

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