Hundreds if not thousands of people in Cyprus were left shocked for a brief while on Monday after hearing that former President George Vassiliou had died, until it emerged that the news, which was picked up by the media, had come from a fake twitter account.
What’s worse is that the fake account had been set up in the name of the new Justice Minister Emily Yiolitis just hours after she was sworn in. Reports said the fake account had been on Twitter for more than 24 hours. The culprit had tweeted out in English: “Urgent. The former President of Cyprus George Vassiliou has died. An official announcement will follow.” There was a photo of the former president underneath.
Yiolitis seemed to have been alerted quickly and sent out a tweet of her own in Greek roughly translated as: ‘Shame. I have no words’ and apologising to Vassiliou and his family. It’s hard to know how many times the message was retweeted and how far it went. A search for the fake account turned up nothing and it seems it was deleted.
While Twitter can be a useful tool for politicians and others to get their message out, it is also a cesspit of sick-minded people. There is nothing worse than falsely tweeting out that someone has died and causing immense distress to family and friends. One commentator on our own site said she had texted Mrs Vassiliou with condolences. It was unlikely she was the only one.
It must also be unimaginable for the new minister that her name was used in such a manner. It is a massive violation of her privacy.
The deputy ministry for digital innovation might want to quickly arrange for all of our ministers and politicians to receive the blue checkmark on Twitter, which shows that an account has been verified by the platform and that the person tweeting is who they say they are.
President Nicos Anastasiades, with some 95,000 followers, has the blue checkmark next to his name but not all of our political personalities do.
This is even more important when it comes to media following these personalities because as we saw on Monday, fake news can cause immense distress. Unfortunately, the speed of tweeting has made it the go-to site for up-to-the-minute news, or in this case, fake news.
Without the checkmark, there is often no way of knowing whether a tweet is really coming from a government minister or not, and especially when the minister was only sworn in hours before.
Hopefully, the culprit will be caught quickly and shown the full force of the law. Perhaps they should not have messed, of all people, with the justice minister and with a former president when it came to executing their sick prank.