Before I really begin, let me clarify this: I am not saying that every fan-made page is a bad page. If you are reading this only to “hear” that my reason for not following many fan-made pages is because I think everyone runs a bad page, just stop yourself right there.
When I first started going onto social media, fan pages for things other than humans were unusual. I was about 13 when I joined Facebook and 14 when I joined Twitter, and like all young, inexperienced social media navigators, I made a few boo-boos along the way in blindly believing everything that I read and re-posting it for others to read.
Now that I have learned from my mistakes and gained valuable insight into “fact checking”, if you will, before I re-tweet or share anything, I am finding that a lot of people are being duped in the same way that I was, but they refuse to acknowledge it or don’t realize it, all thanks to pages (that take unusual liberties in their reporting and posting) that aren’t even officially recognized by the owners/trainer of the horses.
I’m sure many people have gotten request after request to join all these “racehorse fan pages” that have now become a social media norm. I get all kinds of requests on Facebook and I have a whole myriad of these fan made accounts following me on Twitter. They’re fun to an extent, as they post all kinds of pictures and keeps the fans informed as to what the horse is doing, when he worked out, when he’s racing, etc. I like pages like those and I follow them myself. However, that category is slim and very elite.
I am NOT a fan of pages that feel they need to speak in the voice of the horse. That is the one thing that immediately turns me away from a page: when I go onto their profile and they are speaking in first person. This is my stance on that: unless you’re the owner, trainer, groom, whomever associated directly with the horse, it is not your place to speak in first person. There are always exceptions, and I will concede that: I have seen many pages that speak in first person, but they relay pertinent information and they have permission from the actual connections to do so. However, I have also seen a fair share that are on the opposite end of the spectrum.
In many cases, I have seen accounts attack people with differentiating opinions but that is mainly isolated to Twitter. Many people will likely remember the “Palace Malice” account from a few months back. Maybe it started out as harmless fun, but the handle quickly became associated by many more for the bad attitude than anything else. There was a falling out as to whether or not the connections of Palace Malice knew what this user was saying as he hid behind the name of their horse on social media. Some said that they talked to the owner or that they talked to the trainer, and they didn’t like the account. Others claimed to have done the same thing and gotten an answer to the contrary. Back to square one we went. I, personally, was in the camp that believed that this kind of “parody” or “fan made” account should never have been allowed.
The danger behind allowing such accounts to exist is that many people don’t include “Fan-Made” or “Unofficial” in their page/account descriptions. This leads many people to believe that whatever information is coming through this line must be coming directly from the horse’s team, when that is often not the case. There is example upon example of when accounts took advantage of this “blind belief” and spread false information in a sad and desperate attempt to be popular. One account (who had “inside sources” at Lanes End) started the rumor that Zenyatta had given birth to a grey filly in March of 2013 when, lo-and-behold, chestnut colt Ziconic was born instead a few days later on April 1st. This created a media frenzy so great that it literally reached countries as far away as Japan and Australia in a matter of minutes and the entire world was suddenly re-tweeting this account and borderline stalking him for more information.
Only when official sources, like Bloodhorse and TVG, started contacting Lanes End to confirm that this was true, did the truth come out that it was all a lie. This, unfortunately, disheartened many fans that awaited so eagerly for this royal baby and caused Team Zenyatta an unfair PR issue to boot. While I won’t blame it all on the creators of these accounts (because people really should educate themselves about not believing everything you read), I am going to still be critical of those that take advantage of big names to become popular. Or worse yet, turn a profit.
There was a situation on Facebook a year or so ago when a fan page claiming to be Mike Smith of Zenyatta fame popped up and began offering items for sale to the followers. Something didn’t sit right with me about this page, so I followed it out of curiosity, but never purchased anything that they offered. Fans began to buy these things under the impression that it was going to be donated to charities and it even got to be pretty popular after some time. The only problem was when it was revealed to be a fraud. The actual Mike Smith (or concerned fans, the details vary from person to person) quickly had the page taken down and Smith has since started running his own official page.
To combat this, many racing operations like the Doug O’Neil barn have assembled their own PR team and created their own social media accounts. They have publicly stated that any page that was posting in the name of any of their horses was a fraud and that fans should immediately report it to Facebook for impersonation. I cheered on that move and I champion that action as well. It’s a lot of work to deal with social media accounts but if connections don’t want their horse’s name to become another “Palace Malice” situation, they NEED to watch what goes on in the social media realm and take control themselves. Some fans’ intentions are pure but others want a name to hide behind while they anonymously attack people and start rumors on the internet. The backlash won’t be directed at the trash talker behind the screen but rather at the horse’s team because many people will take it as them having these confrontations or posting false information.
Not all pages and handles are vicious. Some are borderline just made so that the author behind it can say that they run a popular Twitter handle or Facebook page. They don’t post anything relevant to the horse (for the horses that are alive) and 95% of all the interactions consist of “Follow (insert horse name)” or “Follow for Follow?” or some crazy abbreviation to the same meaning on other pages. That’s a waste of time to me and a waste of a name that could have been taken by fans that actually want to dedicate their efforts to posting information or news about that horse or used by the actual connections. My favorite are the pages where they most often start arguments among the fans as to which is “the best horse in history” a.k.a any memorial page to any great horse ever. Those are worse than the spam pages because it’s never an actual honest debate; it’s almost always a name-calling screaming match, and it’s an embarrassment to even read, much less be the moderator of that page.
Folks, I hate to say it this way, but 80% of social media accounts not run by someone immediately close to the horse are crap. They are only there for the authors to have a popular page or for them to anonymously stir-up trouble. If you want to raise your blood pressure, by all means follow these pages/accounts, but for those seeking information that is relevant and true; stick to the official pages/accounts, pages/accounts endorsed by the connections, or sources like the Bloodhorse. I have found that I get factual information a lot faster this way, and I’m not stuck having to apologize to people for spreading rumors and lies. Just say no, don’t follow these accounts, and maybe that’ll curb the vast reach of the rumor mill because that is the last thing horse racing needs. We don’t need to be People Magazine to be popular and anyone that endorses that kind of “fan interaction” is not a true fan of racing.