A fake Twitter account claiming to belong to the Russian Minister of Internal Affairs Vladimir Kolokoltsev prompted a major internet storm on Monday, after it sent out a series of tweets announcing the death of the current President of Syria Bashar al-Assad. The news spread quickly and caused a spike in U.S. trading, with sweet crude rising up to $91.99 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange and continuing to soar on Tuesday.
The first tweet to come from the account @MiniInterRussia read:
"ATTENTION. RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR IN DAMASCUS REPORTS THAT PRESIDENT OF ARAB REPUBLIC OF SYRIA BASHAR AL ASSAD HAS BEEN KILLED OR INJURED."
It was followed by two other tweets, including one in which the Russian government "confirmed" Assad's death. Various Twitter users picked up on the news, which was later revealed to be an hoax. The last tweet to be sent out from the account said: "This account is an hoax by italian journalist Tomasso De Benedetti [sic]." The Russian Interior Ministry also released an official statement dismissing the news and the existence of any official account belonging to Kolokoltsev.
Twitter hoaxer Tommaso De Benedetti has made it his mission to unveil the problems communication in the world of new media, in which unverified news can easily gain momentum, through his hoax projects. De Benedetti uses fake Twitter accounts to pretend to be world leaders and release false news. In his previous stints he assumed the identity of Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti to communicate the (fake) death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro and that of the President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai. Among his "victims", Pope Benedict XVI, singer Julio Iglesias and the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. De Benedetti is said to use always the same account, creating a new identity at the end of each hoax. According to Karl Sharro of Karl reMarks, the new identity assumed by De Benedetti is that of Japanese Prime Minister Koichiro Gemba.
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