A couple of hours ago, the @wendi_deng Twitter account – believed to be the account of the wife of media mogul Rupert Murdoch (yes, the one who saved his face from being pied) – revealed something even Twitter and News International didn’t know at one stage: it’s not really her.
I came across her account yesterday after several people on my Twitter and Facebooks treams suggested I follow her, after her public chastising of her famous husband for posting an allegedly inappropriate tweet (Rupert himself has only been on Twitter for a few days).
Several major news organisations reported on that incident, and the fact that the “inappropriate” tweet was actually removed by Rupert, made the account appear legitimate.
Indeed, even the folks at Twitter got caught up in the hype and “Verified” her account, by putting a big huge blue tick next to her username – something usually reserved for major personalities who are sometimes get confused by accounts of impostors (or spoof accounts).
As I write this, the interwebs is buzzing with the news that the account is fake. The verified logo has been removed and the person behind the account has publicly acknowledged that she (or he!) is not the real Wendi Deng.
The tweet goes:
“Hello Twitter. As News International has finally come to their senses, it’s time to confirm that yes, this is a fake account. I’m not Wendi.”
There is also a lot of backlash about the person misleading the public, to which s/he is justifying as just having some “fun”.
I’m less concerned with his/her intention; rather, I wonder what implications this incident has on journalists who have in the past relied on the Verified accounts to assist in their reports?
It is not a new (well, relatively) phenomenon that journos and bloggers have relied on such accounts to write their stories (even sometimes using them as statements). In some cases, personalities have turned to Twitter to make announcements and respond to news reports about them.
How can we now trust that Twitter will get it correct considering the fact that – and this is according @wendi_deng – there was no attempt at verification from the actual person who owns the account (in this case, that is)?
S/he claimed in a Tweet:
“And you have to wonder even more why Twitter verified this account for a full day. I never received any communication from them about this.”
According to Twitter’s help page for Verified Accounts, “Any account with a Verified Badge is a Verified Account. Twitter uses this to establish authenticity of well known accounts so users can trust that a legitimate source is authoring their Tweets.”
The site doesn’t mention what the verification process is like(although, previously, though a beta programme, users can apply to be verified).
There is a big gap in that trust now, and I think journalists would have to go back to old methods of fact-checking, or at least find new ones, to prevent stories from major news organisations like this one about Wendi Deng flirting with Ricky Gervais, or this one about her ticking off her husband from being published.
The Financial Times’ Tim Bradshaw (if it really is him), just sent out a tweet that reads:
“Twitter PR: “can confirm @wendi_deng account was mistakenly verified for a short period of time. We apologize for the confusion this caused”
Nothing yet on @Twitter or the official Twitter blog. And “mistaken” is not good enough an excuse, I think. Twitter will need to explain themselves more, and well at that, to regain that trust.
p/s To be fair, some journalists did do extra fact checking, despite the Verified status. Apparently, even News International didn’t know it was’t the real Wendi Deng. BBC’s Ross Hawkins (allegedly, in the spirit of this post) tweeted saying:
“The @wendi_deng twitter account is NOT genuine. The News Intl s/person who told me it was last night has just called to say she was wrong.”