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Late Friday night (June 17, 2011) a young reporter for the Desert Times tried to make a to-do out of nothing, posting a story entitled Something odd afoot on @CalFireNews Twitter account, which began:
We were surprised to get an odd string of messages from Cal Fire last week — including one about cracking open a beer and another chatting about Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.
Oh dear, the young reporter failed to investigate. If she had (say by clicking on the link at the @CalFireNews twitter homepage), illustrated to the left, she would have found that @CalFireNews also has a website, and that website prominently displays the message:
CAL FIRE NEWS IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH CAL FIRE AND CONTAINS UNOFFICIAL FIRE AND DISASTER INFORMATION, NEWS, AND EDITORIAL OPINION
*INFORMATION PROVIDED RAW MAY NOT BE TIMELY OR UPDATED REGULARLY*
The young reporter could have used another tool, http://howlongontwitter.com/, and discovered (as I did, it only took a few seconds) that @CalFireNews has been on twitter since October 24, 2007; that @Cal_Fire and @CalFire_PIO (the official California Department of Forestry twitter accounts) had been on twitter since February 18, 2009; and neither of the official counts are very active.
But she didn't. Instead she went on to write
@CalFireNews has posted nearly a whopping 50,000 tweets on Twitter so far.
Not so fast, says the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“That twitter acct is not run by us,” @CALFIRE_PIO, a spokesman for the fire department, told us via Twitter.
The Twitter profile offers no hint to @CalFireNews' real identity.
We're still waiting to see if the state will do anything to reclaim the Twitter name to protect its reputation — and the thousands of followers duped into reading its posts.
The only person duped is the naive (and, as least as far as investigative reporting goes, not very adept) young reporter. She also needs to learn the difference between anonymity and pseudonymity.
update: that "whopping" 50,000 tweets works out to about 38 tweets a day. I know @CalFireNews has exceeded that daily average in an hour when there is important breaking news...like earthquakes or major fires.