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Posted at 10:19 AM ET, 08/15/2012

How to kill someone on Twitter

When it comes to fake deaths, there seems to be a formula for how to lead the world to believe, via Twitter, someone has died when they’re still very much alive. (KIMIHIRO HOSHINO - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

A tweet from a bogus account said that the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was dead Tuesday, sparking confusion and propelling Thatcher’s name to Twitter’s list of worldwide trending topics. But Thatcher wasn’t dead. She was just the latest newsmaker to be “offed” by rumors that are easy to spread and hard to dispell in a land of one-click retweets

If you want to “kill” someone notable on Twitter, Thatcher’s premature and entirely fake death offers a perfect step-by-step guide for how to do it.

Step 1: Create a fake Twitter account

To increase the likelihood that people will believe you, pretend to be a news organization that might be based in the city where your intended victim lives. Since those Twitter accounts will likely be taken (if they aren’t, you’re impersonating the wrong news agency), create a name that’s a variation on the title of your company, like @OfficialSkyNews.

If you don’t feel like impersonating a news brand, impersonate an official or a famous person. Last time Twitter “killed” Thatcher, someone used a fake Twitter account for Carla Bruni.

Step 2: Make your fake account look legitimate

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 2005.µ (CHRIS YOUNG - AP)
This isn’t rocket science, it’s social media. Your logo should be the same as the news account that you’re pretending to be. This is important becuase once you publish your bogus tweet, Twitter’s API does the heavy lifting. It will allow your message to be beamed across the Internet and the only bits of information folks will see is the death notice you drafted, your username, and your logo. Your message could be debunked with a few simple clicks, so you need to have a plan in case journalists or Twitter users muster up enough curiosity to click on your username and evaluate the credibility of your fake Twitter account.

You can make the account look more legitimate by having followers. The account behind this Thatcher hoax amassed more than 32,000 followers before publishing word that the Iron Lady had kicked the bucket. You can buy yourself some followers over at Social Media Corp. Status People’s Ben Archer documented how easy it is to buy followers. He purchased 1,000 followers for just $10 (and promptly created an app to expose this practice). It’s unclear how @OfficialSkyNews got all of its followers, but this graph shows that the most dramatic growth in followers happened over just a few days in June.

New York Times Social Media Producer Daniel Victor created a chart on that illustrates @OfficialSkyNews's spike in Twitter followers.
Step 3: Strike!

Don’t let the facts get in the way, you’ve built a perfect way to deliver fake news. Just make sure that your victim is someone relevant like Jeff Goldblum, Tom Cruise, Will Smith or Kris Jenner. Your chances of making this person’s death a viral success depend on the power of Twitter’s ability to amplify your message. For your sake, let’s hope a journalist retweets this. If you’re lucky, this will become a worldwide trending topic and people will be talking about you for minutes. To make your rumor even more believable, you should also consider killing your unwitting subject on Wikipedia.
These were the worldwide trending topics on Twitter when "news" of Thatcher's death went viral.

Step 4: Retreat

Once you’ve got the Internet buzzing, it’s only a matter of time before people start asking questions. Avoid answering questions and try to cover your tracks by changing your username like @OfficialSkyNews did.

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By T.J. Ortenzi  |  10:19 AM ET, 08/15/2012

Categories:  Business, Technology, #Quirky

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