Careless Tweets, Public Celebrity Figures, and the Decline of Critical Thought
This is not a geeky post, but I find myself irked enough by the circumstances of this particular event to want to vent and further elaborate on some thoughts I put on Twitter.
This is essentially the tale of three people: an anonymous person, a news reporter, and a Philippine celebrity/socialite/columnist who shall not be named.
In the Philippines, there is a national lottery whose grand prize had recently reached 741,000,000 pesos (a little under 17 million US dollars). The anonymous person mentioned above won that lottery. The reporter wrote an article on the piece for a local newspaper, not knowing that he would wake up the next day in the weirdest way.
You see, the celebrity in this tale, through some strange twist that has yet to be fully explained, mistakenly thought the reporter who sent in the draft to the newspaper was the winner, and tweeted the reporter’s name as the winner to his followers, who then spread the word, allowing a small mistake to snowball into a potentially dangerous situation.
The repercussions of the celebrity’s act are as follows, taken from this write-up by the reporter himself:
What was appalling was the hundreds of people falling for the false information. They even set up a fan page on Facebook encouraging me to spend the money wisely, while not taking seriously the clarifications from the Inquirer Twitter account (the newspaper that the reporter works for) and “Mr. Bigshot socialite” [Last Name Redacted] himself.
My mother called me up Tuesday afternoon saying the classmates of my sisters appeared to be convinced that I won the jackpot, no matter how much they denied the information.
With the desperate times as indicated by the surge in petty crimes in the streets, I feared for our safety.
I commute to work from our house and the dangers of public transport are as obvious as the color of the sky. My family, likewise, does the same.
I’ve taken precautions to salvage what was left of my identity in my social networking accounts, claiming a copyright infringement on my part for the unauthorized use of my name on the Facebook pages (including the one that’s supporting me for the sake of a level playing field).
There are two added wrinkles to this story.
The first wrinkle is that the celebrity has already apologized for his careless tweet, but responds to certain tweets sent to him at times by adding stupid (in my opinion) hashtags which read somewhat condescendingly towards his detractors or makes fun of the situation at points. For instance, the hashtag #sorrypotaolangnagkakamali loosely translates to “I’m sorry. I’m only human and make mistakes.” A tweet after the apologetic retractions noting that someone has won the jackpot has the hashtag #nagtagonasiya (He’s gone into hiding) which makes it seem as if he’s not sincere or making light of the repercussions of his actions.
In addition to the fear that has crept into the lives of the reporter and his family, I can only imagine the anxiety coursing through the actual winner’s mind. As of yet, no one has come to claim the jackpot.
The second wrinkle to this story is the simple realization that people (including myself at certain times) can be so swayed into believing words crafted with presence of someone whom we respect or idolize (or in the case of Twitter, literally follow) that we have a tendency to not check the facts. For one thing, I don’t think any lottery company would ever divulge the name of a winner for security reasons. Furthermore, very few people probably tried to ask what the celebrity’s source was after reading his tweet.
It’s a cautionary tale, to be sure, and it’s one that reminds me to keep my guard up when faced with the deluge of information available from various sources in this day and age. I certainly hope the celebrity, the celebrity’s source (if one exists), and the people who are still of the belief that the reporter won the jackpot can realize the need for critical thought and examination in this day and age.