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Italian Uses Twitter to Spread Fake Death Rumors, Exposing Social Media’s Fragility

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Tommasso Debenedetti, an Italian, has used fake tweets to “kill” celebrities including Pope Benedict XVI, Mikhail Gorbachev and Fidel Castro. He is globally notorious for such false tweets, and says that he is only doing this to expose careless journalism through this social media site.

The latest celebrity victim by Debenedetti is JK Rowling, the popular British author who wrote the Harry Potter books. Debenedetti created a fake account of John Le Carre, also a writer, and used this account to announce Rowling’s death.

Debenedetti teaches literature at a Roman school. This 40 year old told AFP during a phone interview that “Death works well on Twitter.”

Debenedetti’s fake Le Carre account had 2,500 followers including those from respectable media outlets in various countries. When he saw that he had this many followers, he opted to make the fake John Le Carre say that JK Rowling has passed away.

Tommasso Debenedetti uses Twitter to spread false tweets of deaths of famous celebrities, illustrating the vulnerability of social media and how local media use it for information without validation. (Image: via fasttrack.hk)

Tommasso Debenedetti uses Twitter to spread false tweets of deaths of famous celebrities, illustrating the vulnerability of social media and how local media use it for information without validation. (Image: via fasttrack.hk)

This fake tweet had hundreds of retweets. A news television program from Chile even broadcasted the fake news as factual information.

Debenedetti said that his primary objective is to “show that Twitter has become a news agency – the least reliable in the world.” He adds that journalism is fueled by speed, and fake news tends to spread very rapidly. Furthermore, he stated that rumors become credible because of these retweets.

Eventually, Debenedetti adds that the original source of the false news gets forgotten. His notoriety in the Internet includes, according to him, forcing Federico Lombardi, spokesman of the Vatican, to refute the false tweets of the pope’s death

Debenedetti also claimed that prices had gone up because of his false tweet regarding President Bashar al-Assad’s death, President of Syria. Furthermore, he claimed that because of the rumor he started regarding Gorbachev’s death, someone updated the Soviet leader’s Wikipedia page.

After an hour of posting one of these fake death tweets, Debenedetti comes out and announces that he started the “game.” He says that he “only target leading figures who have all the means at their disposal to respond very quickly.”

He said that this is a lesson for all journalists, to be more judicious and making all the essential confirmations before publishing the information in internet websites, local radio and local media.

He said that social media is very fragile, and that “anyone can be anyone.”

Furthermore, Debenedetti is also engaged in creating fake Facebook pages for famous writers, including Mario Vargas Llosa and Umberto Eco, making these writers say quotes that they never said.

He also created various fake interviews with popular writers which he claims to have been used by media as if they were real. This includes a fake interview with Philip Roth, making the author say negative comments towards President Barack Obama, which were quoted in several media outlets.

 

About Neal Alfie Lasta

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