Tuned In

Fox News Hoax Attack Shows Need to Treat Twitter As Serious News

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The 4th of July tends to be a slow news day, but that wasn’t the case on Fox News’ politics Twitter feed—for all the wrong reasons. Early in the morning, a hacker group commandeered the account and posted a series of hoax messages indicating that President Obama had been assassinated in Iowa. (The President was not in fact even in the state at the time.)

Perhaps as disturbing as the eerie stream of messages is the fact that the obviously false tweets remained up for ten hours—although they generated considerable notice from readers who passed them around on Twitter and reported them. (I saw the tweets while checking Twitter riding home on I-80 yesterday morning.) And the follow-up reports with Twitter and Fox are short on details as to exactly why.

As anyone who runs any business in America knows, July 4 is generally a time when you’re running a skeleton crew, and it’s possible that the reaction was so slow because (on Twitter’s end or Fox’s or both), responsible people were simply not available (or paying attention) right away.

Whatever the indication, the incident is an example not just of the dangers of hacking (it’s the latest news hack including, for instance, an earlier hack of PBS’s news website) but of the fact that Twitter is a real news outlet now—and needs to be treated as one.

One of the charms and advantages of Twitter is its casualness and immediacy: it’s simple and fast to update and tweet out information. But just as you wouldn’t leave the network control room unguarded over a slow holiday weekend, so does a news outlet’s Twitter operation need to be tended to—by the staff of the news organization and by whatever support staff are needed at Twitter to rectify hoax attacks.

[Of course, the moral fault lies with the hackers, and that problem is not going to go away—but the responsibility lies with news outlets to monitor their feeds, and Twitter—or any social service that would be a news medium—to act quickly to fix problems.]

Whoever left the job unstaffed—at Fox or Twitter or both—showed the vulnerability of not treating a 24/7 news service as, well, a 24/7 news service. News doesn’t sleep; neither, apparently, do news hackers.