BREAKING: This Might Be False

By Barry Hott This never happened

"BREAKING: Confirmed flooding on NYSE. The trading floor is flooded under more than 3 feet of water" is the tweet that fooled many, including The Weather Channel and CNN into thinking the stock market floor was flooded. It was not. There are plenty of articles about how someone caused panic by posting fake "breaking" news, but the truth is that anyone who retweeted his claims is just as guilty.

Hurricane Sandy struck the east coast hard with power outages, floods, downed trees, destroyed homes, and false information via Twitter. As Sandy approached the New York area, the fake images started rolling in. Images of a 2003 cyclone in Australia, a French art installation, and plenty of Photoshop jobs went viral around the world, with few people raising questions. Many blogs and news outlets began debunking the fake photos, but the damage was already done. Thousands of people believed the images were real. And why shouldn't they? They were shared by someone they trust, and why would that person lie to them?

The problem with social sharing is that people will share an image that is shocking or jarring, regardless of its source or authenticity. As a person or a brand, the people that follow you on Twitter likely respect and trust you and you must be responsible when you go to share something with them. If you choose to share an image because it looks cool or is shareable, your followers or fans might believe it to be real, even when you know it's clearly fake. Your credibility is at stake, don't risk it by sharing from a source that you don't trust or haven't verified.

Until there is a reliable way to quickly verify sources, you must remind yourself to question what you're reading. Try to trust sources you know and are familiar with, but also be aware that accounts can be hacked or otherwise compromised. By doing this you gain your fans' trust and add more value to everything you share with them.

Do you check sources before retweeting?