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Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Storm of Misinformation

Previous posts have discussed how the Internet can accelerate the flow of misinformation. See the site "Is Twitter Wrong?"

A previous post noted fake pictures of the dead Osama bin Laden. More photo trickery blew in with the hurricane. At Salon, Laura Miller writes:
Even before Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, the bogus photos began to circulate on Twitter and Facebook, with several getting picked up by professional media outlets. There was a ‘shopped image of the Statue of Liberty with an ominous cloud swirling behind it and a perfectly legit photo of Midtown Manhattan menaced by a similarly dark cloud — although that picture was snapped over a year ago. An inspirational image of servicemen guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier turned out to have been taken on some other, more ordinary rainy day.
Added to the mix as the day progressed were raging rumors, many of which turned out to be true, about water-filled subway tunnels,mysterious explosions and the devastation of swaths of the Rockaways. However, some of these stories — of an impending Manhattan-wide power shutdown and the flooding of the stock exchange, among others — turned out to be fake, the work of a Twitter habitue who posts under the pseudonym @ComfortablySmug. He was later revealed by BuzzFeed to be Shashank Tripathi, a hedge-fund analyst and campaign manager for Christopher R. Wight, a Republican candidate for the House of Representatives.
 Paul Farhi writes at The Washington Post:
In the Twitter age, bad news travels fast. Even when the bad news isn’t really news at all.
Such was the case at the peak of the storm’s wrath Monday night as rumor and fallacy swirled like autumn leaves. Around 8 p.m., as Sandy was belting New Jersey and New York City, a tweet appeared: “BREAKING: Confirmed flooding on NYSE. The trading floor is flooded under more than 3 feet of water.”
It’s unclear whether the tweet, which came from the account of someone screen-named “Comfortablysmug,” was the first public report of a potential disaster at the world’s largest stock exchange, but it was the most influential. In the globally linked game of telephone that is social media, Comfortablysmug’s report was retweeted more than 600 times, reaching millions of people. Among those in the retweet chain: The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang.
And soon, the story had made the leap from social media to the mass media. CNN forecaster Chad Myers mentioned it during Piers Morgan’s program, drawing expressions of amazement from Morgan (“Wow!”) and Erin Burnett (“Incredible”). The Weather Channel also aired a version of the story.
Except no such thing had happened