When Twitter gets it right, it beats all the major news gathering organisations to the punch with the really big news. I heard about the Haiti earthquake first on Twitter, and it took a fair while for the traditional news networks to catch up. But what happens when Twitter gets it wrong?
Well you get silly rumours such as the death of Johnny Depp becoming the hottest trending topic, as has happened overnight. The trouble being, because Twitter is getting a reputation for breaking big stories so quickly, people are starting to believe whatever is trending. So when right at the top of the trending list is 'RIP Johnny Depp' and this links to thousands of tweets saying things like "OMG NOOOO, JOHNNY DEPP DIED???" and "Johnny Depp is really dead" which in turn link to a news story reporting the car crash which killed him, well, the thing takes on a momentum that is hard to slow down.
But the person who tweeted "Johnny Depp cannot be dead. No. Just no. I won't believe it until I see it properly" was right. You should treat Twitter as the Chinese Whispers of news, lots of reports that could be breaking a major news story but not the actual source of the story itself.
My wife is a woman so perhaps it should come as no great surprise that she fancies the pants off of Mr Depp and ordered me check it out when she heard that he was dead. Thinking that the whole car crash story rang a bell it really didn't take me that long to Google it back to a hoax which first saw light of day way back in 2004 when someone published a mocked up fake CNN story on an Angelfire web community page. You can still see the original hoax story here.
That hoax stated that "Johnny Depp's car was found along side a road outside Bordeaux, France, with the guard rail embedded deep inside the car. A tourist was driving down the road when he saw a car wreck alongside the road. He stepped out and tried to see if anyone was in there while his wife dialed the police for help. To his dismay, he found the a body in the car among liquor bottles. The police arrived at the scene shortly after and pulled out the body of the former actor, Johnny Depp. The police suspect that alcohol was the cause of the accident".
All of which sounds kind of believable, right? Wrong, at least if you read on and see the next paragraph talks about "A source with the British embassy said the entire expedition group is to fly back to London on Friday" and continues with "Among the cavers were four members of the British Navy". All of which proved quite quickly that it was just a bit of very sloppy cut and pasting over a genuine CNN report, but one which caught enough people out not so much because everything online has to be true but rather because they wanted to believe and in so doing be part of the early adopter grieving group for want of a better term. This kind of hoax relies upon the need to be part of the group, to belong to a community no matter how sad the reason for belonging might be.
Which brings us back to Twitter, the ultimate news buzz community of the moment. Where better than to kick start such a hoax, albeit a 5 year old one?
So, just for the record: