Why the latest ‘Carlos Tevez slams Chinese football’ stories sum up everything that’s wrong with clickbait fake news
Big-money Argentine flop’s latest ‘controversial comments’ are out-of-context remarks from an interview done in May – but who cares about that when there are page views to be counted?
“Carlos Tevez: Chinese players ‘aren’t skilled’ and ‘even in 50 years, won’t compete’” – The Guardian.
“Carlos Tevez hits back at the Chinese Super League after being told he is too ‘unfit’ and ‘overweight’ to play” – The Sun.
“Carlos Tevez risks wrath of Chinese football fans with scathing attack” – Mirror.
A brief selection of the countless headlines enticing you to click and find out more about the “€800,000-a-week Argentine misfit’s” latest China controversy.
They could be found in any language you like on Thursday and Friday from Buenos Aires to Beijing to Brisbane, as every website with an interest in page views (all of them) picked up on a story guaranteed to attract football fans’ eyeballs.
First prize went to Deadspin, the US sports blog: “Now Carlos Tevez Is Just Openly Talking Sh*t About Chinese Soccer”.
Tevez’s “explosive” quotes about the rubbishness of Chinese football and footballers were guaranteed clickbait gold – especially as the former Manchester United and Juventus star has been hopeless at Shanghai Shenhua, managing just three goals in 13 appearances while earning perhaps €25 million.
“They are not naturally skilled in the same way as South Americans or Europeans, players who learn football from childhood,” Tevez said in his “vicious blast”.
“I think that even in 50 years this soccer won’t be able to compete,” he added, at least according to the translation from SFR Sport, a French TV station that tweeted a video clip of the interview.
A terrific new twist in the Tevez-China soap opera – just a few days after Shenhua’s new manager said the striker was too fat to play.
Just one problem: the quotes are heavily edited and translated for controversial effect from a frank interview that Tevez gave in May about his struggle to adapt to life in China.
Many of the outlets rehashing the quotes this week even ran stories back then based on the original interview.
— SFR Sport (@SFR_Sport) September 19, 2017
As far as I can tell, this is what happened: Tevez speaks to La Casa del Futbol on South American broadcaster Movistar+ in May.
On Wednesday this week, SFR Sport, a French TV station, tweets a clip of the interview to their 107k followers to plug their show Breaking Foot, without attribution to Movistar+.
That tweet hits the top of Reddit’s popular soccer forum on Thursday, headlined “Carlos Tevez to French media: ‘Chinese players are not naturally skilled like South-American or European players. Like players who learned football when they were kids. They’re not good. [ ... ] Even in 50 years they still won’t be able to compete.’
Waking up and checking social media, UK journalists hurriedly rush out their “TEVEZ SLAMS CHINA” stories, based on the SFR tweet and Reddit headline.
Chinese media picks it up from Europe and on Friday Shanghai Shenhua are forced to issue a statement defending their man.
It’s modern journalism in a nutshell, where context, provenance and accuracy are far less important than being first with the clickbait headline.
(And I’m in no position to preach, having had my own “TEVEZ SLAMS CHINA” story ready to go before realising the story sounded familiar.)
From the West to the East, it continued to grow legs.
Tevez’s Chinese translator, Wang Kan, headed to Weibo to point out that Tevez was really saying that Chinese kids are not as talented as their European or South American counterparts because they don’t play all the time.
In the original interview Tevez finishes that sentence about “lacking technique” by saying that “this might improve in future with the new regulations the government has brought in” to get more kids playing – SFR conveniently omitted that.
No Chinese football fan would disagree with Tevez – it’s a simple fact – and most comments on Chinese sites were of the “He’s quite right,” and “Yeah, no duh,” variety.
Shenhua called it a “slander” of a translation and said SFR had added “oil and vinegar” to “deliberately distort” his meaning.
It’s worrying when you find yourself wholeheartedly agreeing with a Chinese organisation’s opinion of Western media.
Maybe SFR provided proper context in the segment on their show – but of course no one, including myself, writing the “TEVEZ SLAMS CHINA” stories had seen it.
Now with French, and then Chinese, subtitles and graphics superimposed pic.twitter.com/6BKmDWS7wn
— James Porteous (@JamesPorteous) September 22, 2017
The SFR clip was in turn reuploaded by Chinese sites, with Chinese subtitles and logos now superimposed on top of SFR’s own superimposition on the original Movistar+ video, so that Tevez’s face was hardly visible and viewers were getting the “scathing attack” twice-removed.
Click now, check facts later, if at all: modern journalism in a nutshell, Carlitos. Ah well, at least he has a Scrooge McDuck-style vault of cash in which to console himself.