Just a decade ago (or two at the most), an event only became news if it was endorsed by a traditional news organization, say CNN, ABC, the BBC or Reuters in the English-speaking world. But times change. Impulsive online clicks have replaced cash payments for the paper at the local newsstand. And social media does the rest free of charge, which means that all excesses are tolerated.
Judging by the number of website clicks and likes on Twitter and Instagram, on Thursday it certainly looked like Manchester United was about to be acquired by Spain’s Amancio Ortega, founder of the Inditex group (which includes the fashion brand Zara) and one of the wealthiest men in the world.
It was fake news. There is no such interest and never was, as Inditex sources later confirmed. It is even questionable whether the founder of Inditex is even a fan of soccer in the first place. Despite his billionaire status, Ortega, 86, is more readily associated with games of domino played in humble taverns with local residents in Sanxenxo, in his native northwestern Spanish region of Galicia.
The “story” was broken on Thursday afternoon by the Manchester Evening News on its website, which ran the following headline: “Zara founder Amancio Ortega registers interest in buying Manchester United.” The story went on to claim that “it is understood he has informed senior executives of his interest in United.” The article did not cite any sources to back up such an exclusive.
And so a local news outlet with a modest circulation triggered a bombshell in just two lines – the rest of the article was background information on Ortega easily available on Wikipedia.
But none of this matters. In the online world, the news is part of the metaverse, and that in itself is enough justification, regardless of whether the content has a factual basis or is pure fiction.
The “exclusive” was quickly picked up by the British tabloids – which have millions of readers – and from there, it found an echo in Spain’s four most important sports publications: Marca, As, Mundo Deportivo and Sport, as well as general news outlets.
The subsequent denial by spokespeople for Inditex and Amancio Ortega became another news story in itself. This is how things are in the online universe, where the pretense of depicting reality is a mere excuse to rob the reader’s trust.
The reason behind this incident is simple: opportunity. Manchester United is England’s most prestigious club, but it has been in decline ever since the veteran Alex Ferguson left management in 2013 after almost 30 years at the helm. And if we add the recent announcement that Cristiano Ronaldo is leaving the team that catapulted him to fame, plus the current interest in the ongoing Qatar World Cup, the media bubble will be better understood.