Social Media

From Newspaper Hoaxster to Twitter Hoaxster

A bridge between Old Media fake news and New Media fake news


As aggravating as the media flurry over "fake news" can be, it has had at least one clearly positive effect: We've gotten to read a bunch of entertaining profiles of online hoaxsters. The latest to reach my eyes is The Washington Post's piece today on Tommaso Debenedetti, the Italian man behind this admittedly inspired bit of fakery:

That wasn't Debenedetti's first counterfeit Twitter account: He has created phony feeds for everyone from Don DeLillo to Bashar al-Assad. He has also managed to trick various media outlets into falsely reporting that one celebrity or another—Cormac McCarthy, Pedro Almodóvar, Pope Benedict XVI—has died.

But this isn't merely another lesson in the dangers of believing everything you see on social media. It's a bridge between Old Media fakery and New Media fakery. Until 2010, you see, Debenedetti was a professional journalist, a man who published a series of interviews with a series of eminences in a series of newspapers until someone figured out that he was making them all up. Having been exposed as a fraud, he dropped the reporter act and made fraud his art form.

Compare his earlier career with his current antics, and you'll discover another lesson: While it may now be easier than ever before to spray lies into the noösphere, it's also easier than ever before to trace and debunk them. It didn't take long, after all, to confirm that his Paglia persona was a prank. Some of his other deceptions have lasted longer, but then, so did his newspaper career.