Every other day, Twitter throws up some Hitler Diaries-style hoax that gets swallowed whole by whoever happens to be online at the time, then vomited back up again, minutes later, in a slurry of sorrys and mea culpas. The most common genre of collective gullibility is the celebrity death. Among the stars to have been bumped off briefly by Twitter, then quickly and apologetically resuscitated, are Eddie Murphy, Barack Obama, Lady Gaga, Jon Bon Jovi, Chuck Norris, Hugo Chavez and Madonna.
Now add to that list the acclaimed filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, news of whose demise was announced by a fake Spanish government account soon after 4pm yesterday afternoon, loudly lamented by the movie-loving Twittersphere for about 10 minutes, and then swiftly retracted by all and sundry, once they realised this was the same fake Spanish government account that recently tried to kill Antonio Banderas.
Twitter has hastened the mad dash to be first, to get the exclusive, to be the one who writes "BREAKING" in front of their latest tweet and actually means it.
On the other hand, is 10 minutes so long? As a resigning politician might say, mistakes were made – but Twitter helps to correct those mistakes almost instantaneously. The social network is a vast, fact-checking machine. News isn't just broken there; it's challenged, verified, sub-edited. In the long run, a moment's embarrassing error just emphasises the value of considered reporting.
As long as unconfirmed tweets come with the disclaimer "unconfirmed", Twitter is a macrocosm of the newsroom. Rumours swirl, but by the end of the news cycle, the truth tends to come out. April Fool's Day is a week tomorrow. Be on your guard for gags, hoaxes and Spanish celebrity deaths.