Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

The Case of the Unfortunate Underscore: How Twitter Verified the Fake Wendi Over the Real Wendi

I went all Encyclopedia Brown yesterday after I and many others had been led astray by an account — @wendi_deng — that Twitter had verified with its famous blue check mark over the holiday weekend as that of Wendi Deng Murdoch, the wife of News Corp. head honcho Rupert Murdoch.

(Yes, the Murdoch who bought Dow Jones, which owns this site!)

As it turned out, it was not Wendi Deng Murdoch’s real account, but a fake one created by another person — unlike the one her husband recently opened, which is indeed that of the media mogul.

In the wake of the revelation — which got the kind of attention usually reserved for a major hurricane’s landfall — Twitter was not forthcoming about how that snafu occurred in its verification process or how that process even works now.

So, because I am obsessive complusive about having to make corrections after being told something is true when it is not, I got to sleuthing for the Bugs Meany of the situation.

As it turns out, according to sources close to the situation, it was a crime of punctuation — specifically an underscore that should not have been there.

Let’s back up first: Sources confirm that Wendi Deng Murdoch has indeed had a Twitter account — @wendideng — that was opened last summer. It was mostly used in connection with a movie she was a producer of, “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.” She tweeted from the account, which had the screen name Wendi Murdoch, less than a dozen times.

When her husband recently decided to take up tweeting himself, with some amount of gusto, Twitter co-founder, creator and product guru Jack Dorsey personally helped make sure Rupert Murdoch’s account was verified.

Even though Twitter’s public “verified” program beta — to help battle fake accounts — was phased out, the communications company still does it for high-profile people, mostly celebrities or other brand names.

Murdoch certainly qualified as a famous personage and Dorsey even confirmed the News Corp. head’s arrival in the Twitterverse with his own tweet last Saturday.

As a courtesy, Twitter also moved to verify Murdoch’s spouse’s account and that is when an apparent Internet copy-editing scandal was born.

Since the information exchange was done over a hurried holiday weekend, several sources on both sides said there was a miscommunication and the company mangled the @ address it was told by Deng’s assistant. Mistakenly, Twitter apparently thought that the correct account was the one with the underscore and not the one with no space at all.

Unfortunately, the underscore Wendi account was the faux one created by a British man having some fun spoofing the famous Deng, who still had the no-space one for reals.

It’s kind of like a digital version of one of those switched-at-birth plots, except sillier and even more entertaining.

Thus, carrying the distinctive blue check mark, everyone assumed Twitter had verified the right one, until it was soon pointed out by News Corp. and even the fake Deng that it had not.

Awkward!

Twitter then released a statement admitting the obvious, the fake Deng enjoyed basking in the worldwide attention and the still-verified Rupert Murdoch had lobbed some much-noticed tweets (as you can see here, in case you are not one of his more than 101,000 followers).

As for the real Deng? She suspended her account.

For now, at least. Sources said she is likely to come back to Twitter and is still a big fan of Dorsey and the service.

Case, um, closed. (I hope.)


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald