lorida Sen. Bill Nelson said Thursday that Twitter is taking steps to guard against the kind of fake tweets that hit The Miami Herald last month, but that “a lot more has got to be done.”
Nelson called for a technical summit, led perhaps the Federal Trade Commission, to “get all of the relevant companies in the same room and talk about this problem with a collective sense of urgency and come up with some solutions.” Such a summit should include social media platforms, digital content companies, software developers, news organizations and government agencies, he said.
However, the Twitter executives who met with Nelson Thursday declined to identify those behind the hoax, which came shortly after the Feb. 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.
In the aftermath of the school massacre, a perpetrator sent out tweets containing manipulated images purporting to be tweets from a reporter at the Herald. The fake tweets appeared intended to rile the public, asking the race of the gunman and seeking photos from the scene.
The Herald reporter, Alex Harris, notified Twitter in the late afternoon of the fake tweets and received a response from the company at 5:23 p.m. that it would look into the matter. Over the course of the evening, other fake tweets went out at 8:25 p.m. and again at 10:50 p.m.
According to the Twitter executives, the 10:50 p.m. fake tweet was seen only by 600 people. Harris posted her own tweet at 10:52 p.m. decrying the “doctored versions of tweets I sent while trying to tell the stories of victims and survivors.”
Nelson said Twitter executives told him the company’s algorithms elevated the visibility of Harris’s last response so that 600,000 account holders saw it. He said the hoax could have gone uncontested for many hours if it weren’t for the reporter’s quick response.
“What if she had been asleep and didn’t see that until the next morning when she’s drinking coffee?” Nelson asked.
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