When Deadspin broke a story about ESPN contributor Sarah Phillips allegedly being involved in Internet scams and perhaps even using a false identity, it sent shockwaves through much of the sports media world, and Phillips lost her job soon after. Further investigation suggests there's a lot more going on here, including Phillips' apparent connections to a series of fake celebrity Twitter accounts, her connection to the shadowy man by the name of Nilesh Prasad, her alleged attempts to purchase others' Twitter accounts and buy followers and the grandiose promises she reportedly made to sell others on working for a sports humour site. It's obviously going to take some time before the full details of Phillips' story come out, but one thing already seems clear; ESPN and other sports media outlets are likely to be more careful with their hiring procedures going forward, and some will undoubtedly argue that all of their hirings should be made face-to-face. Is that entirely necessary, though?
After the first Deadspin story initially came out, an element that seemed to suprise many people was that no one from Bristol had ever met Phillips in person. For some of us, though, that's not all that unusual of a situation. Technology's at a spot where very little business has to be handled on a face-to-face basis, and that leads to an environment where large numbers of us work from home and don't typically interact face-to-face with colleagues or others in the industry. That doesn't mean such interactions aren't a useful thing (and indeed, they're a major selling point of conferences such as Blogs With Balls), just that they aren't necessarily required for a media business. With the vast majority of people, that's not a problem, but some would say it may have provided a way for Phillips to sneak in.
The thing is, though, tricksters and con artists can show up in any forum. Consider Frank Abegnale Jr., the man Catch Me If You Can was based on; he took particular advantage of face-to-face interactions, posing as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer amongst other professions. On the writing side, there are such people as Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass who created stories out of whole cloth; face-to-face interaction with their employers didn't keep them on the straight and narrow. The moral of the story is that regardless of the profession, the approach, or what's at stake, you're likely to find scammers of one variety or another anywhere, and we've even seen some similar Internet scams out there with people adopting popular personas then begging for help. The Phillips story is just remarkable because she took an unusual tack, and because she wound up working for the Worldwide Leader.