Don't forget to click before you share

Like millions of people around the world, I tuned in for the American Presidential Debate yesterday. And like a huge number of people my attention was split between two screens - the TV coverage and my twitter feed. And while Trump's claim that he had the best temperament raised eyebrows, it wasn't the candidates who annoyed me the most, but countless people falling for one of the easiest debate hacking tricks out there.  


The mini-controversy began when Trump denied saying the Chinese created global warming for political purposes. As you'd expect, Twitter was quick to correct the Republican nominee with countless people sharing the tweet where Trump said exactly that. 

The flurry of tweets, gifs, jokes and retweets continued, which is when a sneaky little trick popped up. Twitter user Juan Vidal posted that he had tried to retweet Trump's climate change tweet, only to receive the error message the tweet could not be found. Juan's tweet, which has since been deleted, was shared at least 35,000 times, with journalists, celebrities and armchair critics quick to share the news Trump's supporters were deleting the tweet. 

But for anyone who took the time to click and check it quickly became apparent that Trump's tweet was still there, it had not been deleted and thousands of people had been duped. There is plenty of speculation that the screenshot is doctored, but Juan claims he took a screenshot and it must have been a glitch. Regardless, some enterprising twitter users capitalised urging others to spread the misinformation. 


Considering the emphasis on fact checking during the debate, the fact so many fell for this basic debate hacking trick is darkly amusing, but not surprising. Twitter is at its best during big events like this, but the pressure of following the debate while coming up with clever responses and the perfect gif means facts are often left behind.

What is concerning is the number of journalists who fell for the claim. Instead of checking the facts, or verifying the claim they hit the retweet button. While some have deleted the tweet that helped to fuel the misinformation, very few have admitted the mistake or tried to correct the record. Buzz Feed, however, did its bit.  

Today, the twitterverse has moved on with the focus currently on the hashtag #TrumpWins. And in this campaign it is unlikely the false claim Trump's team were deleting tweets has had a big impact on the result.

But in smaller campaigns, like Australian local, state of federal elections, this kind of misinformation can have a big impact. While politically active people are engaged daily on Twitter bantering back and forth about different policies, the majority of people only tune in during big events. As the presidential debate showed, the online commentary provides activists with an ideal opportunity to hack the debate. A local candidate branded by misinformation will find it hard to clear their name - particularly when journalists don't believe it is worth their time to admit their mistakes.

Of course if you care about facts, you can easily avoid the shame of spreading misinformation by simply clicking and checking before your retweet. And then treat yourself to a little shimmy because you are right! 

TwitterKate Wilson