The Washington Post

The NBC News Twitter hack — or, how not to yell ‘Fire!’

The hack (by @S_Kiddies) was quick and over in a few minutes.

But first it unleashed three devastating tweets, including messages such as — “Ground Zero has just been attacked.” “This is not a joke, Ground Zero has just been attacked.”

It was the horrifying news that brings the awful first instant of reaction, the iron fist clenching in your chest.

But it was the wrong crowded theater to try yelling “Fire!” in.

Twitter, today, hit 100 million users.

You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool 100 million people who are all looking at the same thing, unless you’re Criss Angel.

Once, Orson Welles could get on the radio and read the “War of the Worlds” and ignite panic among listeners who mistook the H.G. Wells classic for a newscast. News came from the top down.

Now, with Twitter, you hear accounts from all sides. A civilian describes a helicopter over Osama’s compound before the raid begins. Stories break in thousands of tiny ripples, seldom in one giant wave.

And so within minutes, the false breaking story cracked. “Is this true?” people asked. “I didn’t see anything.” Other accounts came forward to explain that the rumors were the result of hacking.

Everyone leaped to pronounce the hackers despicable cowards. There is nothing brave or edgy about yelling fire in a crowded theater.

Especially in a theater filled with enough people to notice that there was no fire.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


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