Twitter tends to just keep proving that it is a vehicle for the promotion and/or furtherance of mass stupidity. That was well-illustrated on July 12/13, 2009.
Two trending topics popped up – ID LIC and 72B381. Here is a typical tweet containing both:
**AMBER ALERT****3 YR OLD GIRL WAS TAKEN BY A MAN DRIVING A NEWER SILVER TRUCK IN IDAHO FALLS,ID LIC. PLATE #72B381. PLZ RT
That “PLZ RT” stands for “please re-tweet.”
And oh yes, the masses obliged. They re-tweeted like crazy.
The impulse was understandable. I certainly felt it. Then, just as I was cutting & pasting to re-tweet the message myself, I thought, ‘hey, this IS Twitter, after all. What if this is bullshit?’
So I googled. And got this, from the often-reliable and under-appreciated About.com:
It’s a veritable case study on how rapidly hoaxes can mutate and spread via social media.
An unofficial Amber Alert that apparently originated in Salt Lake City on Sunday night crisscrossed the country at lightning speed over the following two days, convincing well-meaning text messagers and Twitter users from Maryland to California that a 7-year-old girl in their state had been abducted by a man driving a silver truck with the license plate number 72B381…
The About.com article was written in February, 2009. Check out the anonymized (to save him some embarrassment) screencap of a tweet about the Amber Alert – it’s dated February 12.
I really wanted to be sure that the Amber Alert wasn’t some sort of stunning coincidence, so I went to the most reliable source for Amber Alerts I could think of – the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. There were several current Amber Alerts as of late Sunday night, but none of them had anything to do with license plate #72B381.
Forwarded via AOL
Twitter is a lot of fun and I enjoy it. I like sort-of meeting people there. I am always grateful when I get new followers or find someone interesting to follow. But I’m starting to believe that the flipside of Twitter’s news-gathering wonders is its resemblance to those AOL e-mail forwards your granny or Aunt Lucy keeps sending you every fortnight or so. Old bullshit can be miraculously recycled via Twitter with the change of one detail and an all-caps plea to “PLEASE RT.”
The MSM who have wholeheartedly embraced Twitter and helped it become a juggernaut seem weirdly blind to this ridiculous and embarrassing aspect of using the micro-blogging site.
That’s why I remain devoted to merely using it to tweet about things like my vacation, and all the shirtless rednecks on scooters I saw there.
Aunt Lucy never sent me a flag-waving forward about that, just those fat twins on motorcycles.