Today's Twitter Hysteria Says Patrick Swayze Has Died; He Didn't

Patrick Swayze is alive and well, his spokesman has confirmed. How did false reports of his passing consume the internet for several hours today? Through the false rumor's vehicle of choice: Twitter.

Today's Twitter Hysteria Says Patrick Swayze Has Died; He Didn't

Initial reports, as well as the statement from Swayze's flack, falsely blamed a radio station in Florida. But it turns out that station reported no such thing, as reported by Matt Cherette of gossip site Oh No they Didn't, who pins blame on BNO for "breaking" the story on Twitter. (Update below.)

There's no question the story spread quickly there (see screenshot at left). Or that it spread widely on email, where we got a tip, or on the Web.

But there's something about Twitter. Just last week it was the hotbed of a gay-marriage hysteria that fooled even the Los Angeles Times. A month earlier, it was #amazonfail, outrage over a gay-book ban that wasn't. (Although, repetition on Twitter is so powerful that there are some who still think there was something to that.)

Today's Twitter Hysteria Says Patrick Swayze Has Died; He Didn't

To a certain extent, this is because Twitter is becoming the mass internet broadcasting technology of choice. Oprah's on it! And so is every fake-news patsy with a BlackBerry or netbook.

But the service also makes it especially hard for slightly more discerning readers to see where information is coming from. Twitter streams of widely varying credibility all live under the same namespace, "twitter.com/." And with only 140 characters at their disposal, users turn to URL-shortening services that further obscure sourcing.

Eventually, people will learn to be no more idiotic within Twitter than they are on media they understand better, like blogs, email or the Web as a whole. Sadly, that's not saying much. And it's not likely to happen anytime soon.

UPDATE: News accounts blame a different KISS station, Jacksonville's 97.7 FM, for sending out the initial Swayze rumor on Twitter.