#BBCtrending: How I posed as a football journalist on Twitter and fooled the world

  • 1 February 2014
Sam Gardiner at New Broadcasting House in London

A schoolboy from North London fooled the world into thinking he was a football journalist, gathering more than 20,000 followers on Twitter. Here, he tells BBC Trending radio how he did it, and why.

Sam Gardiner did imaginary interviews with football players, asked his followers for questions, and then made up imaginary answers. He invented rumours of imminent transfers, pretended to be reporting live from stadia, and gathered a following of more than 20,000 people on Twitter - including countless sports journalists and a number of footballers. And all from his bedroom in High Barnet.

"My motive wasn't to deliberately mislead people, my motive was to air my opinions on the biggest possible platform, and to flood them around the world," he told BBC Trending radio. Fed up with being a teenager who no-one takes seriously, he began - aged 16 - to pose as a football scout turned journalist by the name of Dominic Jones, borrowing a profile picture he found online. His big break came in November 2012 when he correctly predicted the sacking of Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo - the day before it happened.

His alter ego was soon rumbled. Undeterred, he simply changed his Twitter picture, name and bio - taking on the invented persona of Samuel Rhodes, a blond-haired, blue-eyed, chisel-jawed freelance football journalist writing for prestigious publications including the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times. He set himself a target of 50,000 followers and honed a sophisticated social media strategy. He studied how journalists who are successful on Twitter tweet - a mix of wit, opinion, rumour and statistics, he says - and emulated this. He would tweet at peak times, send out teasers 30 minutes ahead of time and engage with his most high-profile followers.

Image caption This was a profile picture of @SamuelRhodes_ sourced from the internet

Gardiner was rumbled in early January by his ostensible employers. A real football correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, Mark Ogden, tweeted: "Just to confirm, @SamuelRhodes_ does not work for the Telegraph, so disregard anything he tweets. No idea who he is." The @SamuelRhodes_ Twitter account is now suspended, although Gardiner is still tweeting about football and other things at @samgtheman. He has 150 followers.

Sam Gardiner was a guest on BBC Trending radio, which airs on BBC World Service every Saturday from 11:30 GMT. You can listen to the programme here, and subscribe to the free podcast here.

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