Late last night Twitter was rocked with scattered claims of gunfire at the house of actor Stephen Collins, who is facing accusations of being a pedophile after a recording emerged of him allegedly admitting as much during a therapy session. “Stephen Collins has committed suicide,” Twitter collectively concluded, in the time it took his name to become a trending topic. Earlier in the day, in much less tragic and less consequential news, Twitter exploded with the news that Ray Allen had signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers. What do these two disparate storylines have in common? Nothing, except that they both proved to be untrue.
Why do Twitter users keep falling for such misinformation? Part of the answer may be the anonymized equal footing in which all users on the rapid fire social network are given. One “news outlet” no one has heard of can tweet a fake headline and it’ll be retweeted into oblivion before it occurs to anyone to check the veracity of the source. The other reason is that regardless of the medium, it’s always been comparatively easy to sell people on false stories that sound true.
If the accusations against Stephen Collins are indeed legitimate, his life is effectively over; that made it easy for Twitter to accept the premise that Collins had committed suicide. And if Ray Allen plays anywhere this season, it’ll be with his pal LeBron James and the Cavs. So Twitter keeps falling for these stories, even as it scrapes at the credibility of anything being posted on the social network.