Twitter is a lot of things, but where it consistently excels is as at being a petri dish to watch context collapse in real time. Take, for example, a very obvious joke turned nightmare scenario circulating credulously across the platform today via a celebrity news account.
The joke portion of our story begins over the weekend, with user @Julian_Epp inventing a new Twitter update out of whole cloth for the purpose of, you know, humor—a thing people still do on Twitter dot com from time to time, oftentimes with fake screenshots like this one.
If “Horse Girls For Bernie 2020" wasn’t enough to tip Epp’s hand, the follow-up tweet alleging the prior one had been shared in a DM by president Trump should have been. For reasons unknown, though, an account with considerably less following than Epp, which aggregates celebrity news, decided today to run with this “new feature” sans screenshot.
Folks seeing Pop Sirens’ claim, or users who sleepwalked into Epp’s original tweet, appeared to take it at face value, calling Twitter a “snitch” and suggesting everyone rely on screenshots rather than direct shares—which would solve the problem created by this feature if it actually existed. And just to be clear, it does not.
Some percentage of people will invariably be hoaxed by misinformation. But what makes Epp’s joke perfect fake-viral bait is that Twitter is precisely goofy enough to cheerfully roll out something this weird and invasive. As for why Pop Sirens opted to run this decidedly non-celebrity-news tweet, well, it’s a toss-up between being hoaxed themselves or cynically hoping to garner #engagement. (We reached out to whoever it is that runs the account but have yet to hear back.) Soon it won’t matter anyway, as we’re already well into the part of the content cycle where we all claim the fake thing is fake before forgetting it forever.
In what might be the funniest part of the entire affair, and a microcosm of Twitter’s attempt to moderate its platform, one of the replies came from product lead Kayvon Beykpour himself, who chimed in: “Just in case anybody is confused here: this is fake.” It has 75 retweets at the time of this writing; Pop Sirens’s received over 300—and @Julian_Epp’s joke received over 3,800.