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I Unleashed A Super Bowl Troll And I’m Sorry

UPDATE (Feb. 25, 4:58 p.m.): Since publication of this post, the Last Man organizers have acknowledged that their database did not include one contestant who was still viable in the competition. She has since been eliminated, but the numbers in this post would be slightly different if the database had been correct at the time of publication.


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I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. — Oscar Wilde, “The Importance of Being Earnest”

There are some people out there who can’t leave an iced-over puddle unstomped, a freshly poured slab of concrete unmarked, or innocence unspoiled.

On Tuesday, we published a story about a competition called Last Man, a challenge to see who can be the “last” American to still not know who won the Super Bowl. More than two weeks after the football game, 29 of the initial 199 Last Man players remained, and the competition had largely gone stagnant.

But then a reader of my piece started targeting the remaining players. By the end of Tuesday night, 28 percent of the remaining competitors had been taken out, leaving only 21 players.

libresco-lastman2-1

Mea culpa!

The assassin’s murder weapon was Twitter, that scourge on the ignorant masses. By creating an account with the Twitter name “[team name redacted] Won SB 50,” the assassin was able to force what Last Manners call “The Knowledge” (aka who won) upon unsuspecting players through favorites and replies. He took out as many people in eight hours as had been eliminated in the entire second week of the competition.

The Last Man Twitter account, which had announced on Sunday that active coverage of the survivors would be winding down, sent out a warning to “go dark like it’s post-SB week again.”

I had to know what would lead someone to become a Last Man assassin (and see if I could assuage my own guilt), so I used his medium of choice to get in touch. Over Twitter DM, the assassin declined to offer his full name but confirmed that he was a man who had seen my article, wanted to see how many players he could take out and made the Twitter account as “a spur of the moment thing.” He said that spoiling the result seemed like fair game, as he felt the players should have expected that this could happen. (Someone pulled a similar stunt last year.1)

But the reactions of eliminated players on Twitter, some more profane than others, have given the anonymous assassin pause. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel bad,” he told me. There hasn’t been a death recorded in the Last Man database since 9:43 p.m. on Tuesday, and the assassin’s Twitter account doesn’t appear to have taken any additional action since earlier that afternoon. On Wednesday, he told me that he won’t be collecting scalps next year. Nor will he be competing himself: He’s a fan of football and acquired The Knowledge the conventional way, by watching the game.

Footnotes

  1. Without my involvement!

Leah Libresco is a former news writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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