Twitter's White House bomb rumour spooks markets

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It can only be a matter of time before Twitter is banned because of the potent threat it represents to Western civilisation. Recent events have shown that the social media network can be far more than just a medium for posting libellous tweets about peers.

A rogue tweet purporting to be from the AP press agency “reported” that two explosions had hit the White House and that President Obama was injured. The tweet managed to wipe $136 billion off the value of shares Admittedly the crash was a temporary blip that lasted a matter of minutes, but it demonstrated the capacity of a Twitter rumour to cause widespread panic.

AP's White House reporter Julie Pace quickly quashed the rumour, although as journalists were standing in the White House when she told them, it was obvious it was false. “It appears as though AP’s Twitter account has been attacked,” she said, “so anything that was just sent out is obviously false.” The White House press secretary Jay Carney said: “I appreciate that. And I can say that the president is fine, I was just with him.”

Whether the rumour comes into the category of cyber-terrorism is a matter for debate,although responsibility was claimed by the Syria Electronic Army, apparently supported by Bashar al-Assad. In the UK, issuing Twitter threats, however facetious, can result in prosecution, although spreading false rumours is something of a grey area.

Twitter users followed up with the kind of weak jokes that characterise the platform, although the incident has serious implications. The rumour's instant impact on the markets will also have demonstrated to astute technical and financial minds a way of making billions on stock prices simply by combining a fake Twitter rumour with some perfectly-timed buying and selling. It's fortunate that financial people are such scrupulous pillars of probity. Oh, wait . . .

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