Enough Already! 7 Twitter Hoaxes and Half-Truths

Twitter overflows with rumors about false emergencies, deaths and more.

ByABC News
January 14, 2010, 6:01 PM

Jan. 15, 2010— -- Do you believe everything you read on Twitter?

You shouldn't.

Despite the micro-blogging site's many successes -- as a lifeline during emergencies, a direct line between the famous and their fans and an open line for anyone with something to share -- Twitter's instantaneous nature can make it all too easy to pass along fiction as fact.

Breaking news flies on Twitter, but though it may be first and fastest, it often can be false.

"If you see something that's big news, the impulse is to re-tweet it. And if it's outside your niche, you might not do the homework you'd typically do before re-tweeting," said Adam Ostrow, editor in chief of social media blog Mashable.

People build credibility in certain areas, he said, so their followers on Twitter learn to trust the information they send out and blast it out again to their own followers (or re-tweet it). Even when the information is false, it gets multiplied time and again.

By the time the source is identified, the hoaxer found out or the rumor quashed, it's too late. The misinformation has spread far and wide, often causing much ado about nothing.

Take this week, for instance. On Wednesday afternoon, word quickly spread on Twitter about chaos and confusion at New York City's Grand Central Terminal.

By 5 p.m., on a wave of tweets about how the terminal -- a hub for both commuter trains and local subways -- had been shut down or evacuated because of a suspicious package, "Grand Central" shot to placement among Google's top trending terms.

But a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said though a suspicious package had been identified near a subway track around 1:30 p.m., the situation was cleared within an hour and the terminal never evacuated.

On Wednesday night, Twitter users got busy again, sharing news that American Airlines was offering free flights to Haiti for doctors and nurses involved with relief efforts. The tweeted – and re-tweeted -- message included the phone number for the Haitian Consulate in New York.