Today on the website Gigaom Mathew Ingram wrote about journalists getting deceived by Twitter hoaxes and what kinds of responsibilities the perpetrators of such hoaxes must bear. For an example, Ingram pointed to the recent case involving reported producer of ABC’s “The Bachelor” Elan Gale, who was the architect of an elaborate Twitter hoax that took place over the recent Thanksgiving holiday and that was covered on websites such as BuzzFeed.
As reported on BuzzFeed, Gale reported on Twitter that there was a openly frustrated female passenger on his flight (see below).
To help soothe her nerves, he reported to send her a class of wine.
Several tweets later, Gale reported getting into a spat with the woman, who “fought back.”
The problem was, none of it was true. When Ingram broached the subject with Gale, Gale responded by suggesting that he bore no responsibility for how true the argument was and for media outlets such as BuzzFeed to report on it. In a tweet exchange with Ingram, Gale said:
I would argue that veracity is wholly relevant, and that given his flippant treatment of the truth that society itself was harmed. Consider Thomas Aquinas’ conception of what constitutes the act of lying: “if these three things concur, namely, falsehood of what is said, the will to tell a falsehood, and finally the intention to deceive, then there is falsehood–materially, since what is said is false, formally, on account of the will to tell an untruth, and effectively, on account of the will to impart a falsehood.” In other words, if you say something that is not true; if you have the desire to say something that it is not true; if you have an intent to deceive by saying something that isn’t true, then you have quite simply lied. Gale more or less admitted that the story wasn’t true; in doing it in the first place we can assume that he had the desire to perpetuate a falsehood and in doing so, expressing an intent to deceive.
The problem with this is that the effective operation of society itself is predicated on what Aquinas might term “personal authenticity;” that is, a willingness to be truthful with one another. Gale seems to excuse his lie because he is a guy “who has been writing joke tweets for four years.” If so, then how does he explain the thoroughness of his hoax: The use of different handwriting styles on the “different” notes; the numerous photographs that were tweeted; his purported physical altercation with the woman; that the hoax seemed to involve at least 45 tweets (based on BuzzFeed’s reporting). If Gale was under the impression that followers were to read along in curious suspense and not think that this was actually real, then he has problems that trump being a Twitter hoaxer.
In his article, Ingram states that news outlets must—in this day and age of easily accomplished deception—responsibly vet Twitter and other forms of social media exchanges for their veracity. That’s certainly true. But how are they to do that?Because it’s difficult to identify such things as deceptive tweets, those who perpetrate these kinds of deceptions must take responsibility themselves. Perhaps what Gale did was entertainment; but if he did it knowing that he’d catch unaware followers in his web of deception, then what he did was patently wrong.