In the age of social media rumors, flat out falsehoods are dispensed like candy from a broken vending machine. It’s as if the untapped Machiavellian potential of the human species took shelter in the Internet and rather than seeking political power or wealth settled for filling our all too trusting brains with tall tales and cockamamie conspiracy theories.
Often the stories that dupe us are laughably inconsequential. If someone wants to believe that Elan Gale had an epic argument with a nonexistent airplane passenger in defense of mistreated airport employees, or that 50 Cent’s face mysteriously appeared on a nun’s taco in mid bite (OK, not really a hoax… yet), society will march on unscathed, indifferent to such ridiculous distortions of the truth.
But with so much pop cultural inanity saturating our newsfeeds it’s easy to forget that high-speed information passed along on iPhones can have a serious impact on everyday life – and not just for politicians who misguidedly showcase their genitals on the internet. Remember when the misreading of a single tweet commemorating the Yom Kippur war inflated global oil prices? The oil industry certainly does.
The fact of the matter is that the same media used to dish out the latest gossip on Justin Bieber can become a hulking nightmare of internet epidemiology; viable, viral, and sometimes unabashedly vicious. Here are 3 of the most insane examples of the very real and very disastrous potential of Twitter and social media at large.
3. Twitter Hackers Temporarily Send The U.S. Stock Market Into Chaos
Despite being exposed as financial wolves in Armani sheepskins, the lords of Wall Street have long been viewed less like the fallible humans they are and more like wizards with money coursing through their magical veins. And in a way it makes sense. After all, can you bolster and bust economies by merely buying and selling invisible slices of someone else’s property? But that luster rapidly fades when people discover that something as simple as a Twitter hoax can steer the stock market toward calamity like an iceberg-hungry cruise ship.
This startling revelation occurred in April 2013 when hackers calling themselves the Syrian Electronic Army commandeered the Associated Press’s Twitter account. Determined not to waste an opportunity for nationwide trolling, the hackers posted a fake story claiming that President Barack Obama had been injured after explosions rocked the White House. The response in the financial world was as rapid as it was jarring. The Dow Jones industrial index plummeted 145 points and a whopping $200 billion evaporated from stocks across the board as investors basing their trading decisions on Facebook and Twitter updates jumped ship like prescient rats.
Fortunately the White House no longer communicates with snail mail, and a quick tweet afforded Wall Street a gargantuan sigh of relief. However, the financial world has been left with the unease of witnessing its own detrimental haste, now realizing that a single bogus story online might have the capacity to tumble entire economic empires instantaneously.
2. A Series Of Fake Tweets Leads To Real Car Crashes And Terrorism Charges
No matter where you reside in the world, the notion of someone hurting your loved ones is never to be taken lightly. But in crime-plagued Mexico, where drug cartels habitually rain down crimson death on the innocent, that thought is a bitterly real threat. So it stands to reason that in such a combustible environment people would be especially cautious about posting reports of violence. However, it stands to reality that some people check their reason at the Twitter login page.
Two of those people were school teacher Gilberto Martinez Vera and radio presenter Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola, who tweeted panic-inducing rumors that armed killers were mowing down and abducting schoolchildren in the city of Veracruz. Phone services collapsed under the strain of worried callers, and parents embarked on a frenzied dash to rescue their children, resulting in 26 car accidents before the falsehood of the Twitter postings was eventually uncovered.
After being apprehended by the police, the two individuals responsible for all this delirious mayhem faced charges of terrorism. They claimed to have been simply retweeting rumors they they themselves encountered online, despite the fact that one of the culprits claimed in a tweet to have second hand knowledge of the fabricated attacks from a relative. But in the end, the pair’s plea of well-intended destruction paid off and swayed the courts, and their charges were dropped. If nothing else, hopefully this incident will convince other almost-terrorists out there to show greater restraint before passing along incendiary messages.
1. Fake Social Media Posts From Pakistan Cause A Mass Exodus In India
People familiar with the bloody border dispute over Kashmir are probably also aware that geographical proximity hasn’t bred the best of friendships between India and Pakistan. So in 2012, after sectarian tensions between minorities and Northeastern settlers in the Indian city of Assam exploded into armed conflict, a number of Pakistanis watching the bloodshed from afar apparently saw an opportunity to sow seeds of mass disruption on the soil of a longstanding political foe.
Using various forms of social media to post threats and pass off victims of a Myanmar cyclone as casualties of violence, online instigators originating in Pakistan sent northeasterners fleeing in panic from the cities of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu in fear of gruesome reprisals for those who stayed. Thousands of people inundated the rail system in numbers reaching 800 at a time and undoubtedly left behind an economic hole that legions of workers previously filled. Amidst the chaos, isolated incidents of anti-settler violence erupted as several homes became targets of arson and one individual was assaulted with arrows.
Determined to stem the chaotic evacuation, the Indian government resorted to putting the internet on lockdown. Officials placed extreme restrictions on text messaging services and banned as many as 254 websites, breeding controversy over the state-mandated intrusion. This controversy was exacerbated when Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube among other communication platforms were also asked to provide confirmatory evidence of the source of the messages.
However, adding to the drama of the government’s crackdown, Twitter refused, prompting threats of legal action by the federal government and shedding light on the ever-delicate duel between the protection of free expression and the prevention of its occasionally destructive consequences.