Correction: The article below incorrectly suggested that we know the tweet under discussion is a hoax. The kind of prediction made in Gio’s tweet is frequently the subject of the scams discussed in this piece, but we did not take the necessary steps to confirm that Gio intentionally perpetrated a hoax. This story was not up to our standards, and we deeply regret the error. The article’s text has been updated to properly reflect our uncertainty.
It sounds unbelievable, right? In 2014, some lucky Twitter user predicted the exact scenario that we saw play out in the 2016 World Series: a championship featuring the Chicago Cubs winning game seven in extra innings against the Cleveland Indians:
2016 World Series.— GIO (@RaysFanGio) November 4, 2014
Cubs vs Indians
And then the world will end with the score tied in game seven in extra innings #apocalypse
Gio’s tweet quickly went viral and garnered national media attention. But if you’re reading this, then despite the tweet’s accuracy in predicting the World Series’ gripping Wednesday night finale, the world hasn’t ended yet.
So how do we explain why the rest of the tweet is so uncannily on target?
There are two options: Gio’s tweet could be a remarkably lucky guess. But it could also be an example of a classic prediction scam.
The classic prediction scam: an easy way to con the gullible
Prediction scams are simple: you make a bunch of predictions and then delete the ones that are wrong after you get a hit on one proven right.
Two years ago, the same year Gio’s tweet was made, tech blogger Andy Baio predicted someone making just such a tweet. Baio noted that the internet makes this potential hoax easier than ever: Instead of interacting with thousands of different targets, all you need to do is post your predictions privately on social media, then go back and delete your mistakes.
Step 1: Flood your space with predictions. Eventually one of them will be right.
Way back in 2014, the owner of the @RaysFanGio Twitter account could have made a huge number of sports predictions on his little-watched Twitter account — much like hapless user @noah_Hiles95 is currently doing:
Ideally, if you make your predictions on a platform that allows for private posting, you could make them all private to avoid detection (as Noah Hiles couldn’t).
Step 2: Wait until one of the predictions is proven accurate, then delete the evidence of all your false predictions and advertise the successful one.
In June, Twitter conveniently gave us all the ability to retweet ourselves. That meant when the time came to announce his successful prediction, all Gio had to do, if he was running a prediction scam, was delete all of his old incorrect Twitter predictions and retweet the old successful one.
We can easily see that no one interacted with Gio’s tweet before October 21 of this year, around which point he apparently began retweeting and promoting it so much it garnered attention:
If I took a shot every time @RaysFanGio Rt'd his Indians/Cubs World Series tweet, I would have been dead by noon.— KS Thomas #ALLin216 (@KSThomas8) October 23, 2016
Granted, Gio didn’t wait until the end of the series to unleash his prediction, but it was close enough, and of course it bore the 2014 stamp of authenticity. His correct prediction landed him viral Twitter fame and several interviews with sports blogs and media outlets.
Confidence scam artists use this trick for everything
Not only is a prediction scam incredibly simple, but it can be applied to everything. Confidence artists often refer to it as a traditional stock market scam or “infallible forecaster” scam, but it has been used for many prediction-based scams beyond the stock exchange, namely in sports-related betting and psychic predictions.
In normal scam artist usage, the scammer volunteers free information in the form of a “prediction” to thousands of different targets. If you flood enough targets with enough predictions, a number of them will most likely be right.
From there, you winnow out all of the targets to whom you sent false predictions, then repeat the process. Once again, if you spread your net wide enough and send out enough predictions, a handful of them are bound to be right. So now the people you’re volunteering free information to will have not one correct “prediction” in hand from you, but two. Suddenly, you look like a benevolent mind reader. After funneling out all of the incorrect predictions, it will be easier than ever to approach those people to whom you’ve given two correct predictions in a row. Only this time, you make them pay for your third prediction.
This type of scam is also referred to as an “inverted pyramid.” In a pyramid scheme, the scammer continually expands the pool of targets so that money comes from new targets instead of from actual product sales. Pyramid schemes are generally never sustainable, but often allow the lucky few at the top of the pyramid to profit off the unwise investments of the many at the bottom. An inverted pyramid, then, works in exactly the opposite way: Instead of gradually expanding the number of targets, you narrow them so that the ones at the bottom — i.e., the handful with correct predictions — are the ones who wind up paying.
It’s easy to see how this kind of scam, especially in a stock market or betting scheme, can lead to considerable profit for the scammer and considerable loss for the victim. Here’s British magician and hoax revealer Derren Brown showing his own target how he managed to fool her in a horse-racing prediction scam (jump to 35:13):
Perhaps the easiest way to see the prediction scam in action is to look at self-proclaimed psychics. Every year, psychics fill their own websites with “predictions” for the next year. These work exactly the way other prediction scams do: If you make enough predictions often enough, one or more of them are bound to be right. As a bonus, psychic predictions, particularly in psychic readings, are usually vague enough that the person paying for the reading is able to interpret them in a way that feels accurate. And since we want to believe the psychic, we tend to exert selective memory, only remembering the vaguely accurate predictions and “deleting” the rest from our minds.
There is some legitimacy to the Cubs prediction
We all know that sports fans are a superstitious lot. This can make some of them a prime target for this kind of easy-to-pull prank. But predicting a Cubs win is a storied pastime that pop culture has been engaging in for decades. Back to the Future II and Parks and Recreation were each came the closest — the former was accurate within a year, and the latter hit it out of the park.
But as Parks and Rec co-creator Michael Schur pointed out, baseball pundits and gawkers have been predicting the Cubs championship for some time, with close observers noting their increasing quality and overall trajectory toward greatness.
In other words, smart observers like Schur and Gio knew that predicting a Cubs win, sooner rather than later, was one of the safest bets you could have made over the past few years. In fact, one high school student was so confident he allegedly made the 2016 Cubs victory his yearbook quote — in 1993. Now this is commitment: