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Twitter to explain on Capitol Hill how their platform was used in Herald, fake tweet hoaxes

A logo adorns a Twitter sign outside of the company’s headquarters in San Francisco. Twitter is among major social media platforms that are coming under scrutiny on Capitol Hill to determine if they are doing enough to police for fake and extremist content.
A logo adorns a Twitter sign outside of the company’s headquarters in San Francisco. Twitter is among major social media platforms that are coming under scrutiny on Capitol Hill to determine if they are doing enough to police for fake and extremist content. AP

Officials from Twitter Inc. are going to Capitol Hill to explain how impostors could carry off a hoax to undermine the credibility of The Miami Herald and post fake tweets aimed at inflaming the public after the mass shooting at a Parkland high school.

The Twitter officials were summoned by the office of Sen. Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat who is the ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee.

“Officials from Twitter on Monday will be providing us with a briefing on how these perpetrators were able to use the company’s popular online platform to pull off this hoax,” Bryan Gulley, a spokesman for Nelson on the Commerce Committee, said in an email.

“As you’re now well aware, Twitter and other social media platforms — such as Facebook — have come under increasing scrutiny and criticism for not effectively combating fake news and extremist propaganda,” Gulley added.

The hoaxes came in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 massacre in which a teenage gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and killed 17 students and adults.

In one incident, a perpetrator used software to create fake tweets that looked like they had come from the account of Alex Harris, a reporter covering the tragedy. One fake tweet asked if the gunman was white, and another asked for photos of dead bodies at the school.

In a second incident a day or so later, a perpetrator again used a software tool to create a fraudulent Miami Herald story suggesting that a new mass shooting might be in the offing at a Miami-Dade County school. The fake story bore the name of a Herald reporter, carried the news organization’s masthead and used the same font for the type. It was passed along on Twitter and Snapchat, a separate social media platform.

The incidents raised concern about increasing attempts to discredit established media and sow public alarm.

“This hit a little too close to home,” Gulley said. “This is a first step … to see if there’s anything realistically we can do about it.”

Social media giants, like Facebook, Google and Twitter, are facing increasing pressure on Capitol Hill to halt the spread of extremist and false content. Last November, a Facebook executive said that 150 million people were exposed to Russia-linked propaganda during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Tim Johnson: 202-383-6028, @timjohnson4

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