x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Twitter's Fools

It's no joke: Twitter is a tool that will fool even respectable newspapers, and not just the twits.

Fidel Castro just died. No, wait, it was Pope Benedict. Not buying that one? Would you believe that the filmmaker Pedro Almodovar kicked the bucket?

Never mind today's date, we don't think too many of our readers would be taken in by such tripe. There is a time-honoured tradition in the media to run a spoof story on April Fool's, one sterling example being a 1957 BBC documentary on spaghetti farmers in Switzerland hard at work harvesting noodles. That had some viewers phoning in to inquire where they could buy a spaghetti bush.

These days, however, sometimes the newspapers aren't even in on the joke. On Friday, The Guardian interviewed Tommaso De Benedetti, arguably the most successful Twitter hoaxer to date.

The Italian schoolteacher has conned all manner of respectable news outlets with his deceitful tweets (including about the deaths of the three luminaries mentioned above). Indeed, in mid-March, Mr De Benedetti fooled the The Guardian itself with a Twitter handle supposedly belonging to Syria's President Bashar Al Assad. It turns out that he has been impersonating famous writers and politicians for years.

Mr De Benedetti's defence is that he wanted to expose the weaknesses of traditional news organisations and how easily Twitter can mislead. On this April Fool's then, it would appear the joke's on us.