Don’t Believe Everything You Read – On Twitter
April 25, 2013

Don’t Believe Everything You Read – On Twitter

It only allows for 140 character messages to be posted. Yet a fake tweet sent stocks diving this week by 1,000+ points briefly on news that the White House had been attacked and President Obama was injured.

If you heard that from a colleague at the water cooler, wouldn’t you try to verify the facts? Apparently investors reacted first and asked questions later.

The reason this happened is that the tweets came from the @AP account, which is the official Twitter feed for the Associated Press. In other words if you can’t trust the AP who can you trust? Twitter is now responding with a two-factor authentication system that could help reduce that this could happen again.

The question to ask is really why investors didn’t use a two-factor verification system as well. Was CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, etc. reporting that there was an attack? Could any second source be found?

Of course, this was the AP. And while there is some debate on whether AP and the media as a whole might have some bias, when it comes to breaking news it can generally be believed. Except when its not.

This comes as CBS had its official accounts hacked last week by the so-called Syrian Electronic Army (SEA). The Syrian Army has also claimed responsibility for taking over Twitter accounts belonging to the BBC, NPR and Reuters.

Given that hacking of Twitter accounts is not really unheard of, why would people jump to conclusions? Perhaps it goes back to what showman P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

And yet even there we have a problem. Everyone knows that P.T. Barnum uttered those now infamous words, right?

Well, not really.

As notes:

“P. T. Barnum is most often associated with the circus sideshow and the display of freaks. While this is true, he is also the founding force behind one of America’s most famous circuses: Barnum & Bailey Circus. Barnum is also affiliated with the famous quote “There’s a sucker born every minute.” History, unfortunately, has misdirected this quotation. Barnum never did say it. Actually, it was said by his competitor.”

The words were uttered by David Hannum, the rival – and this incredible story revolves around what turned out to be two fake “giants” that each was presenting to the public. Hannum, who actually believed his fake giant to be real, uttered the phrase as people were still flocking to Barnum’s (equally fake) giant.

In other words, there are suckers born every minute, and in a way Hannum was one of them!

As for Twitter, we should step back and remember that tweets had reported that Barack Obama had died, along with Aretha Franklin, Eddie Murphy, Billy Cosby and many other James Woods.

Even actual news about a real death can lead to confusion on Twitter.

The hashtag #nowthatcherisdead on the micro-blogging site was meant to read, “Now: Thatcher is dead” and was reference to the recent passing of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Some people read it another way, “Now That Cher is Dead” and were convinced that singer/actress Cher had died.

So while someone may have said at some point that there is a sucker born every minute, perhaps it is best to take to another old adage, but with a modern twist: don’t believe everything you read on Twitter.

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer and has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and the fitness sports industry for more than 15 years. In that time his work has appeared in more than three dozen publications including Newsweek, PC Magazine and Wired. His work has also appeared on,,, and Peter is a regular writer for

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