Skip to main content

The power of one wrong tweet

Heather Kelly, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A fake tweet can spread across the social network and into the real world quickly
  • One tweet from a hacked AP account resulted in a dip in the stock market
  • There is no way to edit or take back a tweet and deleting is ineffective once it is in the wild

(CNN) -- Misinformation can spread quickly on Twitter, each retweet exposing it to wider audiences and even resulting in real world impacts.

On Tuesday, hackers took over the Associated Press Twitter account and falsely claimed that there had been explosions at the White House and that the president was hurt. The tweet was up for a few minutes and retweeted more than 3,000 times before Twitter took the account offline.

The AP immediately confirmed the news was not true, but the tweet was up long enough to send a shudder through the stock market, which plunged 143 points before recovering.

Real tweets have the power to end careers, cause diplomatic tensions, fuel a revolution and find a kidney. Fake tweets can have the same ripple effects, and damage control is difficult. There is no way to edit or append a correction to a tweet, and once it has been retweeted, those 140 characters take on a life of their own. A follow-up tweet with the correct information might not be seen by the same people.

Tracking tragedy on Twitter
Social media during a disaster

"You want to respond as quickly as possible. Deleting the tweet is a good approach, but even if you delete it it's obviously already out there," said social media expert Krista Neher.

The AP incident is not the first time a tweet has influenced markets. In August 2012, an Italian journalist set up a fake Twitter account for a member of Russia's government and tweeted that the president of Syria had been killed, causing brief fluctuations in the oil markets. The journalist was an experienced Twitter hoaxer, having previously posted fake tweets about the death of the pope and Fidel Castro and established a number fake accounts for world leaders. He claimed he did it to prove how unreliable social media is for getting accurate news.

A tweet doesn't just trigger financial panic, it can also strain diplomatic relations, as the U.S. Embassy in Cairo found out in April when the official Twitter account posted a link to a Daily Show segment critical of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.

In March, someone posing as the U.S. ambassador to Moscow tweeted a criticism of the Russian presidential election process, which was picked up by the news media in Russia before it was revealed as a hoax. The U.S. government responded with official statements in both incidents.

"The speed at which information spreads is so much quicker than it used to be, and Twitter is such a big part of that," said Neher.

That was painfully evident late Thursday night during the manuhunt in Boston. A tweet mistakenly named a missing Brown University student as one of the suspects. Twitter latched on to the name and many users assumed it was true even though it hadn't been confirmed by authorities.

A faulty tweet also can have a negative impact on community or a family. Late last year a New Jersey teenager posted a plea for help on Twitter saying there was an intruder in her house and asking people to call 911. The tweet went viral as friends and strangers expressed genuine concern for her safety (though no one on Twitter actually called 911).

But it was quickly discovered that there was no home invasion. The teen had run away from home and was later spotted on security cameras buying a train ticket to New York City.

The fast-moving, viral nature of Twitter has its perils, but it can also be used for good. Twitter highlights the impact of single tweets in its Twitter Stories series, tracking Tweets that go viral and result in positive impacts and happy endings.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:48 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Imagine if going through airport security was just a matter of walking past a stretch of wall.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
From spotting allergens to counting calories, technology can lend a smart hand in the kitchen.
updated 9:26 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Meet the 'Flavour Conductor', a magical instrument that took 10,000 hours to build and can change the taste of your drink through the power of sound.
updated 12:09 PM EDT, Wed September 3, 2014
Mogees is a technology that turns any object into a musical instrument, by converting the vibrations you make when you touch it into sound.
updated 9:06 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Scientists are attempting to harness the power of a star by mirroring how the sun produces heat and light. CNN's Nick Glass reports.
updated 7:37 AM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
Neil Harbisson is the world's first legally recognized cyborg. He has an antenna implanted into his skull that gives him the ability to perceive color.
updated 12:18 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Move over, hoverboard: new technologies promise to make everything float free through levitation.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Getting a foothold on the property ladder can be a challenge, and the prospects for many of us have been battered by the global recession.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
It's like a chair that isn't there, but magically appears whenever you need it. It's called the Chairless Chair. Find out how it works.
updated 5:39 AM EDT, Fri August 8, 2014
Engineer Alan Bond has been developing a new concept for space travel for over 30 years -- and his creation is now on the verge of lift off.
updated 8:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Crumbling buildings, burnt-out PCs, and cracked screens -- a new generation of "self-healing" technologies could soon consign them to history.
updated 5:09 AM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
Discover a dancing cactus field, basketball on the Hudson River, and mind-bending 3D projections on robotic screens.
updated 1:07 PM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
Would you live there? Design student Peter Trimble says it's actually a surprisingly good idea.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Wed May 14, 2014
Alpha Sphere
Singing Tesla coils, musical ice cream, vegetables on drums... and this ball? Find out how "hackers" have created a new generation of instruments.
updated 12:43 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
Technology has long learned from nature, but now it's going micro. "Cellular biomimicry" sees designers take inspiration from plant and animal cells.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Forget wearable tech, embeddable implants are here. Learn more about the pioneers who are implanting devices into their bodies.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
A visitor of the 'NEXT Berlin' conference tries out Google Glass, a wearable computer that responds to voice commands and displays information before your eyes. It is expected to go to market in late 2013.
We know how wearable tech can enhance our fitness lives but there's evidence that its most significant application is yet to come: the workplace.
updated 4:13 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Samsung's research unit announces new way to synthesize graphene, potentially opening the door to commercial production.
updated 8:15 AM EDT, Mon March 31, 2014
iRobot, creators of vacuuming robot Roomba reveal how they learned from secret experiments -- in space travel, minefields, and toys.
updated 12:23 PM EDT, Fri March 28, 2014
A light-bulb glowing in middle of a room with no wires attached. "It's the future," says Dr Katie Hall.
updated 11:26 AM EST, Mon March 3, 2014
Knee replacements that encourage cells to regrow could soon be manufactured -- by spiders. Find out how.
updated 9:03 AM EST, Fri February 14, 2014
Meet Chuck Hull: the humble American engineer who changed the world of manufacturing.
updated 9:48 AM EST, Thu February 6, 2014
The key to self-knowledge? Or just the return of the phony "mood ring"? Check out our top mood-sensing technology in development.
ADVERTISEMENT