Fidel Castro and Pope Benedict XVI are both alive, despite rumours circulated by Italian teacher Tommaso De Benedetti on social media that they had died.
De Benedetti has hoodwinked the world’s press more than once using fake Twitter accounts to announce the demise of some of the world’s famous people. Among De Benedetti’s victims are the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar and British author J K Rowling.
A schoolteacher in Rome, De Benedetti, creates fake Twitter accounts and uses them to disseminate the false news to show how unreliable Twitter is as a news source. De Benedetti’s sets up bogus accounts in the names of famous people and after the accounts gain a reasonable number of followers, uses them to tweet phony news about people’s deaths.
De Benedetti has not just confined his pranks to announcing spurious deaths. He has also set up Twitter accounts purporting to be those of the President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai and the President of Syria Bashar al-Assad. He then used them to tweet comments that were later attributed to the two leaders.
Journalists and ordinary folk have all been equally fooled by De Benedetti’s sham stories, which he believes illustrates the unreliability of social media as a news source. His hoaxes have led to false reporting, but they have also caused social-media users to take more care in verifying the authenticity of sources for stories in the fast-moving world of news reporting.