Security uses social media to capture football fan for "thought crime"? Not!

When is a "thought crime" not a real crime? Never, particularly when it never really happened.

screen shot 2015 01 06 at 4.52.50 pm

Last weekend Jake Berlin, a fan attending the Pittsburgh Steelers game, posted on Twittre (@RLBRLN) that if he got 400 re-tweets he would run onto the field (in fact he got 6,400 re-tweets).  

He then tweeted that someone had “tagged the Steelers” (I have no idea what “tagged" means in this context) and implied security had caught him and was ejecting him from the stadium. This second tweet was accompanied by another selfie and showed a guard beside him (this one got 5,100 re-tweets).

Jake Berlin

Many media outlets, both large and small, jumped on the bandwagon of “everyone is watching everyone” and concluded that what some referred to as Berlin’s “thought crime” had been picked up by stadium security monitoring social media and had then taken preventative action in some sort of real world “Minority Report” pre-crime enforcement. Alas, and as you might have guessed from my tone, the whole event was a charade.

Yes, Berlin did, in fact, post those tweets but the second one was completely bogus and in the selfie he was merely beside a security guard rather than in his clutches. And to ice this particular media cake after posting the second tweet Berlin returned to his seat to watch the rest of the game.

Berlin, it turns out, owns an entertainment company called "RealBerlin Entertainment" (, which is now “Under Construction” promising “a one of a kind approach to the entertainment industry”).

Berlin has since posted an explanation of his punking of the media with an air of “gotcha!” smugness that is annoying and undeserved. Why annoying and undeserved? Because, in reality, Berlin simply got lucky; I find it very hard to believe that he knew, in advance, what the outcome would be or even could be. 

Interestingly those in the media who got on the story later, after it was revealed to be a hoax, formed a “let’s beat on the chumps who got taken in” brigade, radiating their own unwarranted brand of smugness. The truth is had they been hungry for “news” like their journalistic brethren and caught the leading edge of this tale they would have mostly likely also have been taken in.

So, how was the media duped? Or perhaps more accurately, how did the media dupe themselves? Other than the desire to find a “hot” cyber story which is always good for page views, the tale had “believability” bequeathed by what we now know about surveillance by the Feds. Could security at a football stadium be that technically proficient and capable of looking in social media to detect potential trouble? I seriously doubt it, at least as of today (as of tomorrow, perhaps it won’t be so unbelievable). 

The reality of today’s journalism is that we, the public, get what we ask for. We want entertainment, immediacy, and celebrity along with fear, outrage, and horror. We want the seamy side of everything up to the minute with without caring whether it's researched and analyzed. And the media generally obliges with content that is not only wrong but endures way beyond the time it’s assessed to be bogus because corrections don’t gather page views. There’s no glory in a mea culpa.

So, well done Mr. Berlin even though what you did wasn’t “a one of a kind approach to the entertainment industry” or, in reality, even that novel. What it really was was click fodder and if you can keep pulling that off that kind of thing then RealBerlin may have a bright future. Journalism, not so much and that's not journalism's fault.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.