News Fakers: Twitter troll apologises for posting fake hurricane Sandy news

Hurricane Sandy: this scary looking shot of high seas surrounding a wave-battered Statue of Liberty turned out to be production art from the disaster movie 'The Day After Tomorrow'A hedge fund analyst in New York City, Shashank Tripathi, apologised last night for posting fake Hurricane Sandy news updates on Twitter. Tripathi who uses the Twitter handle @ComfortablySmug sent out a series of fake tweets claiming more dire news about the storm hitting New York City.

One tweet about a floor of the New York Stock Exchange being flooded was widely retweeted. He also falsely claimed that an energy company, Con Ed, was cutting services to all of Manhattan.

The fake Tweets were not an isolated incident. Fake pictures were also rife. The image here? That’s not from Hurricane Sandy. This scary looking shot of waves battering the Statue of Liberty turned out to be production art from the disaster movie ‘The Day After Tomorrow’.

In a fever pitch environment rife with fears for personal safety and property fake reports can, as they were, be quickly seized upon.

So much news pumped out on Twitter is quickly retweeted without being checked for its authenticity.

While much of it is honest and traded with the best of intentions you occasionally get instances like these. At other times people just makes mistakes.

Piers Morgan was one of those to share news about the New York Stock Exchange being flooded.

CNN forecaster Chad Myers mentioned the flood report to Morgan’s programme. The Weather Channel also jumped on the story and aired it. The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang also retweeted.

In all @Comfortablysmug’s report was retweeted more than 600 times as the story had made the leap from social to main stream media.

Verifying social news

With so many getting their news from Twitter and other social media sources during hurricane Sandy it almost suggests a place the new for accredited tweets. That is those that have been verified and fact checked and are not just rumours  but rather verified news.

How often have you read inaccurate reports on Twitter? A case in point being that of Colonel Gaddafi in the final days of the Libyan uprising. At one point he was both a live and dead as rumours flew around the social web. The same with the London riots last year. False rumours spread wild and fast on Twitter.

At the Atlantic @alexismadrigal has something to say about photo verification (HT @graemewood).

Photos of storms and flooding are popping up all over Twitter, and while many are real, some of them — especially the really eye-popping ones — are fake. 

This post, which will be updated over the next couple of days, is an effort to sort the real from the unreal. It’s a photograph verification service, you might say, or a pictorial investigation bureau. If you see a picture that looks fishy, send it to me at alexis.madrigal[at]gmail.com. If you like this sort of thing, you should also visit istwitterwrong.tumblr.com, which is just cataloging the fakes.

The fakes come in three varieties: 1) Real photos that were taken long ago, but that pranksters reintroduce as images of Sandy, 2) Photoshopped images that are straight up fake, and 3) The combination of the first two: old, Photoshopped pictures being trotted out again, from the Atlantic.

Prosecuting trolls

It also raises the question about what if any legal action you take again these people?

We have seen trolls arrested for sending malicious reports on Twitter.  During the summer Olympics Dorset Police arrested a teenager after 18-year-old diver Tom Daley received a series of abusive messages on social networking site.

He was later cautioned and sensibly released.  Not for student Liam Stacey who was jailed for 56 days after he posted racist tweets about the Bolton Wanders player Fabrice Muamba after he had a heart attack on the pitch during a Premier League game against Tottenham Hotspur on Mach 17.

However, is sending false news reports and spreading fear a bigger crime? One that deserves punishment. It is so difficult to judge these things.

The likelihood is that Tripathi might have continued if Buzzfeeds Jack Stuef had not exposed @ComfortablySmug’s Twitter account, which remained silent after he was outted until Tripathi posted his apology.

More fake news 

According to The Washington Post @Comfortablysmug wasn’t the only one slipping fake news into the social web. Fake photos like the ’The Day After Tomorrow’ shot were apparently rife:

“Altered photos purporting to be snapshots of the storm also flooded onto Twitter and Facebook feeds and such photo-sharing sites as Imagur and Instagram. There were several of scuba divers purportedly swimming in the flooded New York City subway system. Others featured sharks. A photo of a submerged McDonald’s looked like evidence of catastrophe; it was, in fact, a still from an art installation. 

“Some of these were passed off by the news outlets as the real thing. The Post, for example, briefly posted on its website a solemn and dramatic photo of soldiers at attention guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery despite Sandy’s pelting rain. Unfortunately, the photo was weeks old; it had been taken in September during a summer shower. Alerted to the actual timing by the 3rd Infantry Honor Guard, The Post quickly removed the photo from its storm blog.

“There’s a cottage industry [of fakes] out there,” said T.J. Ortenzi, the Post social-media producer who posted the soldier photo and then removed it when he realized the error. “Trolls are part of the culture of the Internet. Some people get a kick out of spreading this stuff,” the Washington Post reports.