This is how the fake Matt Patricia burner account, @EddyPLionsFan, came to be

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
 
| Detroit Free Press

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It all started as a lark one day in September, when Dylan Cardwell was scrolling the internet, reading stories about then-Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien’s alleged burner Twitter account.

Cardwell was convinced O’Brien had a burner, or someone close to him was running the account, like what happened to former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Brian Colangelo in 2018.

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O’Brien’s alleged secret Twitter handle — @4Jacko69 — was a combination of Deshaun Watson’s uniform number, O’Brien’s son’s name and O’Brien’s year of birth, and the account offered staunch defense of the embattled Texans coach.

“I was a true believer,” Cardwell told the Free Press late Wednesday night. “I thought it was Bill O’Brien and Adam Gase behind (his alleged burner account), so I was curious to see how easily it would be for someone to make a burner account for someone famous. And as I found out, it’s pretty easy with a little planning.”

Cardwell figured he needed “a coach that was generally not liked” by his fan base “and one that I knew could potentially be fired in the season or after the season,” so his personal social experiment would not have to run indefinitely. 

[Lions’ decision to clean house was easy. Now the real work begins ]

He settled on former Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia, did a little Wikipedia research, created an imposter account and bio that poorly disguised his fake identity — he claimed to be a married father of three, like Patricia, and a tech nerd, playing off Patricia’s engineering background, and used the handle, EddyPLionsFan; Patricia’s middle name is Edward — and went to work subtweeting Lions beat writers and fans in order to get noticed.

“Coach Patricia does a great job managing injuries when he’s allowed input,” read one tweet.

“The team will look very good this year they’re very fortunate to have a coach like coach Patricia leading them,” read another.

A handful of fans replied to EddyPLionsFan’s tweets, noting how ardent his support was of Patricia, with several even suggesting he might be Patricia’s burner account.

After a night of tweeting Sept. 3, Cardwell, a 20-year-old Los Angeles Rams fan who lives in West Jordan, Utah, and has no affiliation with Patricia or the Lions, went silent on his EddyPLionsFan account — until last week when the Lions fired Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn.

The account suddenly went to great lengths again to defend Patricia, and this time more people saw his work.

The Big Lead wrote a story suggesting the account could be Patricia’s burner account. Barstool Sports caught wind of the story and wrote its own. Deadspin did, too. EddyPLionsFan even got a mention on The Ringer’s podcast.

On Wednesday, Cardwell tweeted video of him switching from his regular Twitter account — @TheRamsReportIG — to the EddyPLionsFan one, showing he was behind the burner that had plenty of people in Detroit and on social media wondering whether Patricia or someone close to him was defending his work on Twitter.

“I honestly was not expecting to do as much as it did,” Cardwell said. “Honestly, like I thought there would be something like mainly just within the Lions fan base, there would be a little bit of chatter. … It really got a lot bigger than I had anticipated. It went from, in just a little over a day, it went from one follower to now we’re at like 2,500, I think. So definitely unexpected.”

[ Yes, Patricia’s Lions tenure was as bad as you think ]

Cardwell said his intentions were only “to see if I could do it” and “get a few laughs,” and he decided to end the hoax when it garnered widespread attention and at least one death threat. Cardwell said one Twitter user replied to one of his as-Patricia messages saying, “if he ever sees me in person he will shoot me.”

“There was several people telling me that I suck, that I ran the organization into the ground, that I should never have a job in football again,” Cardwell said. “And then there were a few other people who, honestly I think were just angling for a response, but they were very supportive in saying that I had done the best that I could. I did have a lot of potential, they were excited for me getting hired from the Patriots. And then there were a few pretty nasty ones, including violence, death threats, but that’s as you’d expect from Twitter.”

Though the EddyPLionsFan account remains active, by late Wednesday night it seemed clear the account has no ties to Patricia as its content had taken a more satirical form.

Cardwell said he learned a valuable lesson from his burner account impression, one that makes him now doubt the legitimacy of other of the alleged burners that belonged to O’Brien and Gase.

“It definitely makes me think that it’s probably not them,” he said. “But learning about the psychology of all of it that if there’s one person that has some sort of following that says, ‘Oh, this is definitely so and so, then more and more people will believe it.’ And people love conspiracy theories, and this was just another chance for people to get another outlet of that, I guess.”

Still, Cardwell said his days running fake burner accounts might not be done.

“Who knows? Next year when there’s a whole new batch of head coaches on the hot seat, I might get a Round 2,” he said. “I did learn a few things. I definitely underestimated the investigative availability of people. I left too many bread crumbs that a lot of people doubted it right away.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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