Because people are irredeemably stupid and nobody pays attention to anything, thousands of Twitter users rejoiced today at the news that the California Supreme Court just overturned the state's gay marriage ban. One year ago.
This will be studied by sociologists and anthropologists for years to come. At roughly noon today, someone "Tweeted" the news that the California Supreme Court had overturned the state's ban on gay marriage, supplying their "followers" with this Los Angeles Times story as proof. The story, as anyone who can read can see, is dated May 16, 2008, right there at the top, and was written back when the California Supreme Court did, in fact, find that gay couples have a right to marry under the state's constitution and, vitally, about six months before California voters amended the state's constitution to re-ban gay marriage.
But Twitter doesn't sweat the details! Thousands of users "re-Tweeted" it or whatever, and before you know it, the Los Angeles Times' own fucking Twitter feed was sending the gay marriage news out to its 19,700-plus followers. Gawker alum Ana Marie Cox was hearing the news in her Air America Radio studio (and realizing it was false). The New Yorker's Tad Friend was celebrating the news. People were literally writing that they were crying at their desks at the news that gay people can get married in California now, when they in fact can't, because no one—not even the intern in charge of the Los Angeles Times's Twitter feed!—actually read the goddamn story.
So how did it happen? Twitter's time-stamping is fuzzy, so it's impossible to locate the original offending Tweet with precision. But Gawker's candidate for Patient Zero is Meredith Modzelewski, the Brooklyn blogger whose Tweet about the story showed up earliest in Twitter's search results. Interestingly, Modzelewski linked to a now-dead ABC News story, not the L.A. Times piece.
Contacted by Gawker, Modzelewski says—ironically—that she first heard the fake news through a pre-Twitter mode of communication: "From a friend" who in turn had read about it on someone's Facebook page. The fact that Modzelewski first came up with an ABC News story, and that it later became an L.A. Times story—not to mention the fact that it's the one-year anniversary—indicates that an orchestrated campaign was underway to spread the news. Modzelewski may have just been among the first people to bring it to Twitter.
So she "Tweeted" it and the next thing you know it's a Twitter shitstorm and the L.A. Times is embarrassingly "Tweeting" that it's earlier "Tweet" "does not reflect any new news" and linking to it's "full, current Prop. 8 coverage." This is what happens when you communicate 140 characters at a time.