Earlier this week, the Twitter feed of the Associated Press was hacked, and a fake tweet about President Obama being injured in an explosion at the White House was sent out. The AP quickly took down the account and announced that the tweet was false, but for a full two minutes, hearts beat faster, jaws dropped, and the stock market tumbled.
Any eagle-eyed editor, however, could tell from the form of the tweet that something was not quite right. Let's take a red pen to it and see.
1. A LACK OF ALL CAPS
In AP tweets about breaking news, "breaking" is always in all caps.
2. AN ERRANT CAPITAL
There is no good reason for "explosions" to be capitalized here.
3. CLAUSE ISSUES
Since a full independent clause follows the "and," there should be a comma before it. It's also strange that the clause before the "and" has no verb. The AP does sometimes use verbless clauses in its tweets, but to join a verbless clause to a complete sentence in this way is very strange. Here's how the AP usually does this kind of thing:
Two complete sentences should be joined with a semicolon.
4. "BARACK OBAMA" ISN'T AP STYLE
It is AP style to write "President Obama." They may occasionally use "President Barack Obama" or "Obama," but never "Barack Obama."
5. THAT MISSING PERIOD
There should be a period here or a colon followed by a link to a story. During breaking news, AP tweets do sometimes leave off the final period, but add this to all the other mistakes, and it looks very suspicious.
6. IT CAME FROM THE WEB
AP tweets are sent through the social media service Social Flow. The fake tweet was sent via the web.
7. SAYS WHO?
When something happens that thousands of people witness, like an earthquake, you might get a report that just tells you it's happening. But something that happens inside a building? Inside the White House? For that, you're definitely going to need an "officials say." "Officials say" or "police say" is even more necessary in cases where injuries are reported.
Meanwhile, the parody account @FakeAPStylebook took advantage of the situation to promote their own style advice:
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How U.S. special forces are preparing for the worst-case scenario in North Korea
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- I hate Ayn Rand — but here's why my fellow conservatives love her
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- The best online movies to watch this weekend
- The 11 worst fast food restaurants in America
- The danger of the Democrats' lack of desperation
- The biggest lesson Obama failed to learn from Bush
- The secret to Gabrielle Hamilton's amazing grilled cheese sandwiches
- Hey, Paul Ryan's new poverty plan isn't completely terrible!
Subscribe to the Week