A fake in 140 characters: How not to get tripped up by hoax Twitter accounts
As if having to sidestep scads of fake news stories on the Internet isn’t stressful enough, it’s important to remember sometimes the fabrications can come in just 140 characters.
Things are not always what they seem on Twitter. Be warned, a rash of websites allow people to generate falsified tweets for just about any account.
CNN anchor Jake Tapper got caught up in the game on March 8, when a Twitter user first accused him of tweeting that the federal government should assassinate WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, then saying Tapper deleted it.
Several users took the tweet at its word, deriding Tapper by tweeting he was "demonstrating what today's media is really about" and "screen shots are forever!"
A few hours later, Tapper took to his own Twitter account to tell his followers he hadn’t tweeted it, in case they hadn’t already guessed that. (Tapper previously had been the target of an Internet rumor that he had been recorded making a racist tirade, but it was actually an old recording of Dog the Bounty Hunter.)
Twitter and Facebook try to cut down on imposters by verifying that members of the media and public figures are who they say they are. These verified accounts are characterized by a blue checkmark by the handle.
But a recent Stanford study showed that only a quarter of students in a 2016 study even knew what the checkmark meant. (More than 30 percent of students show two different Facebook posts, one the real Fox News and one a fake Fox News account, argued in favor of the fake account because they found its graphics were more convincing.)
That’s obviously creating problems.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow had to tell followers on Jan. 23 that she actually hadn’t advocated assassinating President Donald Trump.
House Democrats including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Elijah Cummings of Maryland were fooled earlier this year by contrived tweets that were from a fake account purporting to be former national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn.
Journalists get fooled, too, as shown in December when several members of the media in December retweeted a fake account pretending to be ExxonMobil CEO and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly has been copied by a fake Twitter account since 2015. O’Reilly’s doppelganger made major waves on Dec. 2, 2015, when it tweeted out this post allegedly about the shooter in the San Bernardino shootings happening that same day.
Fake O'Reilly tweet
Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were the perpetrators killed in a shootout with police, but the troll account’s assertion caused at least some confusion online.
Copying O’Reilly’s real account details such as his mugshot, the fake profile even appeared to use his official Twitter handle of @oreillyfactor — although without his blue verification checkmark.
There was one minor difference, however: One of the lowercase "L"s was actually a capital letter "I" instead.