How One Well-Connected Pseudonymous Twitter Spread Fake News About Hurricane Sandy
by Andrew Kaczynski
The twitter user @comfortablysmug is one of a handful of pseudonymous Manhattan professionals who keep their widely-followed Twitter voices separate from their careers. His bio describes him as “My Interests: Finance, Gin, Politics, Books, Food, Fine Clothing, Meeting Strangers #Mitt2012” and links to a Romney campaign donation page of the sort that credits bundlers for the cash they’ve brought in.
His 6,000 followers include political and business reporters, and he’ll occasionally tweet of getting a drink with Business Insider’s Joe Wiesenthal; once with BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith.
And in the chaos around Hurricane Sandy, he veered into new territory: Trying to trick his media followers, and their followers and readers in turn, with fake news. He reported, falsely, on a total blackout in Manhattan, on a flood on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and other things that didn’t happen.
Two of his tweets garnered more than 500 retweets. One drew a rebuke from ConEd’s official Twitter account.
Twitter’s self-correction mechanism — rebukes and rebuttals from knowledgeable sources — shut down each rumor, but not until at least one, the flood claim, had bled widely into the television media.
@comfortablysmug didn’t respond immediately to an inquiry, via Twitter direct message, as to his motives.
I’m curious to know in what world does any sort of “self-correction mechanism” actually exist on Twitter, as the updates were flying so quickly last night that it was nearly impossible to focus on one actual piece of information, whether it were true or not. Not to mention the fact that most people were getting their “news” from non-reporters who were just repurposing rumors they saw on Twitter rather than, say, the New York Mayor’s Office or ConEd’s Twitter accounts. I think it’s entirely too early to tell what the true fall-out from this sort of mess truly is, but of course I think most people (read: people not in the media, because they exist!) don’t really give two shits about a quick think-piece about the reach of Twitter and other forms of social media when, you know, a lot of them still don’t have power and can’t read Tumblr.