The local media has unearthed evidence that they say proves the FC Barcelona board is ultimately behind a secret social media campaign which attacked, among others, current stars Lionel Messi and Gerard Piqué.
Other posts targeted club icons like Pep Guardiola, Xavi Hernández and Carles Puyol, while others went after presumptive nominees for club president such as Víctor Font, Joan Laporta, and Agustí Benedito, as well as local political and business leaders.
The campaign’s goal, it seems, was to defend club president Josep Maria Bartomeu and attack whoever was being an inconvenience to him. It was overseen by I3 Ventures, a company that received almost a million euros from the Catalan club.
Barcelona has not denied the payment, though they insist it was for analytics only, and not for creating those posts.
Let’s dive deeper into the evidence used by radio station Cadena SER to make the allegation.
First, one of the pages is a Facebook account called “Respeto y Deporte.” This page has an associated website, respetodeporte.com. The site is owned by I3 Ventures.
PRIMERA PROVA— La Llotja del Què t’hi Jugues (@LaLlotja) February 17, 2020
L'empresa I3 Ventures nega que els comptes "no oficials" que hem explicat aquest matí siguin seus
@LaLlotja pot confirmar que el web https://t.co/wP8dmYGNTX, associat al canal de Facebook Respeto y Deporte, és propietat d'I3 Ventures pic.twitter.com/0yJr1jBLUy
Second is a report published by a company called Nicestream, who has the same person in charge as I3 Ventures. This report, obtained by Cadena SER, was prepared for Barcelona specifically. Barça have admitted that this report was created for them, according to the media.
In this report, six Facebook pages are highlighted: Respeto y Deporte, Sport Leaks, Alter Sports, Justicia y Dialogo en el Deporte, Jaume un Film de Terror, and Mes Que un Club. Interestingly, data (such as the number of impressions) usually only available to the administrator of the page is shown.
These pages were the ones who, on occasion, attacked the famous people mentioned earlier. However, the pages were not only publishing this type of content, but all kinds of content related to sports. They frequently praised Messi, as well. However, they seemingly crossed the line at times and attacked Messi.
Barcelona admitted paying I3 Ventures, but said the company had no relation to the pages. In a statement, they said they would cut ties with I3 if there was proof of a link between the company and the pages. Since then, Barcelona have disconnected themselves from I3, perhaps in recognition that the company was indeed behind the pages.
The websites belonging to I3 Ventures and Nicestream went down shortly after the report came out, and the pages went silent for hours as well.
More evidence: the page creation date of Respeto y Deporte.
On October 18, 2017, Barcelona announced they would unveil a tifo that said “diàleg, respecte i esport” for a UEFA Champions League game. The tifo was eventually used in late December of that year.
The page Respeto y Deporte was created exactly one day later, under the name “Diálogo, respeto y deporte,” which is the same message, but in Spanish instead of Catalan.
Absolutely shameless.— Luis Mazariegos (@luism8989) February 18, 2020
On October 18, 2017, Barcelona announce plans to unveil a display that says "diàleg, respecte i esport"
On October 19, 2017, the page "Respeto y Deporte" managed by I3 is created under the name "Diálogo, respeto y deporte" (same but in Spanish) pic.twitter.com/aG4Cd8z8WC
Respeto y Deporte lists their origin as April 2014; however, this is a date that can be set by the page administrator. The actual date it was created was in October 2017, and we know this only because Facebook unveiled a new tool in July 2018 that allows people to look at the original creation date and original page name of any Facebook page. Meaning, the administrator perhaps thought no one would know about these similarities with Barcelona’s official messages.
Barcelona said they were not aware of any links between I3 and pages such as Respeto y Deporte, and that the first they heard of it was through the media. They also deny paying anyone to make posts attacking people such as Messi.