Shouting Flood In A Crowded Twitter

Comfortablysmug nyse tweet When Twitter user @comfortablysmug starting spreading false information last night, Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski went after him – first by tweet, then by tumblr:

[I]n the chaos around Hurricane Sandy, [@comfortablysmug tried] to trick his media followers, and their followers and readers in turn, with fake news. He reported, falsely, on a total blackout in Manhattan, on a flood on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and other things that didn’t happen. Two of his tweets garnered more than 500 retweets. One drew a rebuke from ConEd’s official Twitter account. Twitter’s self-correction mechanism — rebukes and rebuttals from knowledgeable sources — shut down each rumor, but not until at least one, the flood claim, had bled widely into the television media.

Today, Jack Stuef exposed the Internet villian:

What leads a person to do such a thing, which his critics have likened to shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theater? It’s unclear. But perhaps it has something to do with the nature of anonymity. If there are no consequences for posting false “BREAKING” news, there’s an incentive to do it to an accumulate a large audience.

What @comfortablysmug didn’t count on, apparently, was losing that anonymity. Based on photos he censored and posted to the account but I found unedited elsewhere, @comfortablysmug is Shashank Tripathi, a hedge-fund analyst and the campaign manager of Christopher R. Wight, this year’s Republican candidate for the U.S. House from New York’s 12th congressional district. FEC documents show Wight has paid Tripathi thousands of dollars this election cycle as a “consultant.” @comfortablysmug has been a vocal supporter of Mitt Romney and posted tweets suggesting he attended this year’s Republican convention. He’s listed here by a local Republican group coordinating volunteers for a Romney phone bank.

John Herrman considers the debunking of such falsehoods proof that Twitter is trustworthy overall:

Twitter beckons us to join every compressed news cycle, to confront every rumor or falsehood, and to see everything. This is what makes the service so maddening during the meta-obsessed election season, where the stakes are unclear and the consequences abstract. And it’s also what makes is so valuable during fast-moving, decidedly real disasters. Twitter is a fact-processing machine on a grand scale, propagating then destroying rumors at a neck-snapping pace. To dwell on the obnoxiousness of the noise is to miss the result: that we end up with more facts, sooner, with less ambiguity.

… The first draft of the popular history of 9/11 was written on live television by a group of exhausted, horrified and often isolated TV reporters. Misstatements, confusion, and some of the messier stages of live reporting, filtered across the country by phone, email and word of mouth without context. Much of the raw materiel of the “9/11 truth” movement is rooted in sloppy early news reports. Some of most insidious myths about Hurricane Katrina were seeded the same way.