Tweet Deceit

Twitter may be relatively high-tech, but the concept is simple enough: allow users to give real-time updates on what they’re doing or thinking for those who might care – all in 140 characters or less.

But it turns out Twitter has its share of fakers.

There's a report of Twitterers, apparently with self-esteem problems, who are gaming the system to pad the number of “followers” hanging on their every text.

Some celebrities, including 50 Cent, have virtual ghost writers who Twitter for them – even the President employs a social networking team to help him out, The New York Times reports.

Courtney Love apparently has no problem tweeting on her own, though her spelling -- and truthfulness -- are issues. She's the target of what's believed to be the first celebrity Twitter-related defamation suit, filed by clothing designer Dawn Simorangkir, a.k.a the Boudoir Queen. "oi vey don't f--- with my wardrobe or you will end up in a circle of corched eaeth hunted til your dead," Love reportedly tweeted in a rant spurred by a billing dispute with Simorangkir.

Meanwhile, Twitterers masquerading as celebrities abound. The Washington Post just outed the fake Christopher Walken – no doubt disappointing many who thought they were getting wisdom directly from the man in need of more cowbell.

The problem – if it is a problem – has spurred the creation of a website,, which strives to keep track of whether “celebrities” on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and other social networking outlets, are for real. But how can you tell how good their information is?

Things have gotten more confusing as celebrities and other public figures legitimately take to social networking to foster a direct relationship with fans. Jimmy Fallon used Twitter to help build an audience for his late night talk show. Lance Armstrong Twittered after breaking his collarbone.

Shaquille O'Neal is a proud Twitterer – Time magazine reports how the hoops star and two fans connected in a restaurant using Tweets (Note to Shaq: even at 7-feet-1, be careful – there are a lot of nuts out there).

Social networking is supposed to bring people together, and a blogging-on-the-go service like Twitter can be a valuable way to report news as it happens (even if the recent John McCain-George Stephanopoulus “Twitterview” was an ill-conceived experiment).

But the fakers out there show how easily Twitter can be manipulated by marketing types and pranksters.

While it all may seem silly to those who don’t actively social network, Twitter affects the flow of information far beyond its user base. Some 6 million people Twitter, and the microblogging tool’s influence outpaces its rapidly growing numbers. Facebook, whose recent in-flux redesign incorporates a Twitter-like real-time status update function, is expected to log its 200 millionth member this week.

The obsession with what we’re doing now, for better or worse, isn’t going away.

Users of new media should take heed of the oldest of old-media lessons: don’t believe everything you read – even in 140 characters or less.

Hester only has 83 followers on Twitter, but he's not losing any sleep over it. He's founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He also is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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