A tale of two Twitter hoaxes

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Because no one can stay off their Internet over the holidays, this weekend America was captivated by not one but two highly entertaining Twitter-based fights.

The first feud that captivated a turkey-addled nation was between The Bachelor producer Elan Gale and a woman he called “Diane in 7A.” According to Gale, Diane was extremely rude to her flight attendants, acting like she was the only person stressed about flying on Thanksgiving. Offended by her churlish manners, Gale responded by sending her mean notes and tweeting her increasingly flustered responses. He said she slapped him in the face when they got off the plane.

The Internet was intrigued by this foul-mouthed crusader for etiquette. Buzzfeed posted an article about the spat with over a million views. Some people applauded Gale’s antics. Others people pointed out that telling a stranger to eat your genitals isn’t a super-productive (or funny) way to get them to be less rude. 

Gale wasn’t the only mischievous white man stirring up Twitter trouble. Comedian Kyle Kinane discovered a flaw in Pace Salsa’s Twitter account: The account automatically favorited any tweet that mentioned its product, even if the tweet was astoundingly negative. Kinane unleashed a series of insulting tweets and Pace continued to favorite them.The Pace Twitter handle started direct messaging him, asking for respite from his torrent of anti-Pace tweets. Kinane took screenshots of the exchanges and posted them, inciting more desperate responses from the harried Pace team. At one point, they said “blackmail for salsa is still blackmail.” The employees operating the Pace account seemed to have a power struggle resulting in one being sent home:

Then the account was shuttered, and Kinane appeared triumphant. The Internet was generally pleased that a funnier feud had supplanted Gale and Diane’s battle as the week’s Twitter beef. 

Both incidents were notable for how straight-up cartoonishly ridiculous the antagonists acted, which makes sense, because it turns out neither Diane in 7A nor the hapless Pace Salsa team were real. Just like the Jimmy Kimmel “worst twerk ever” girl, these spats did not develop authentically with the help of social media. 

Gale revealed that Diane was made-up early this week (through a tweet, of course).

This should surprise exactly no one, as Gale is the producer of an almost insultingly fake reality show, and he already pulled a stunt like this before, live-tweeting a date that never happened. His last fake live tweet was in 2012, which is so long ago in Internet years that many major news publications believed him this time around, despite a suspicious lack of evidence that Diane existed beyond Gale’s Twitter feed. 

Kinane’s salsa fake-out was more of a Catfish situation, if you can catfish someone into thinking you’re a corporate bot. Comedian Randy Liedtke created a fake Pace salsa account to prank Kinane — the actual Pace salsa had nothing to do with it. 

It’s easy to play around with narrative, using social media to tweak reality — and the “echo chamber” element of places like Twitter make it easy to turn a prank into a viral hoax. It doesn’t help that many digital media outlets adopt a “publish-first, ask-questions-later” outlook (something I’ve been guilty of before — it’s endemic to fast-paced online publishing). These hoaxes, as goofy as they were, can serve as a reminder that it’s better to confirm a story before publishing or sharing it. And also that the wild world of Twitter cannot be trusted. 

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