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Have you ever been pranked on Twitter? The number of Twitter pranks, hoaxes and jokes is on the rise. This isn’t a big surprise considering the incredible popularity of this microblogging site. If you are a regular Twitter user then you probably have been exposed to some of the “vulgar trends” pranks, celebrity impersonators and fake death claims already. A few of them are even good for a laugh, or a minute of time on the evening news. Luckily, for most of us, the majority of Twitter pranks have been mischievous and humorous rather than malicious.
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Twitter: A Brief History
It’s impossible to be active on the Internet today and not know about Twitter. Twitter is a microblogging site that was introduced on the web in 2006. Although they had acquired several hundred users since it began, the site itself did not become popular until a 2007 SXSW festival. At the festival Twitter executives decided to broadcast tweets live on 60-inch plasma screens in the hallways of the conference. After that, the site's popularity took off and the amount of tweets tripled. Currently, Twitter is a huge social media outlet on the Internet and is used widely by celebrities, politicians, musicians and regular people. Consequently, the number of scandals, attacks and pranks have increased. In the past few years some Twitter pranks have even become big enough to be covered by the national, or world, news media.
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Kutcher VS Turner
Perhaps one of the most memorable and entertaining Twitter prank involved Ashton Kutcher and CNN anchor, Ted Turner. Ashton challenged Ted to see who would reach one million Twitter followers first. He suggested that the loser would donate 10,000 mosquito nets to charity and he promised to prank the newsman if he won. Their race was widely publicized across national and world news, which caused thousands of people to flock to the site. In the end, Ashton hit the million mark 30 minutes before Ted. He celebrated his victory by leaving eight hundred boxes of ding-dongs in front of Ted’s Montana Grill Ranch restaurant. Ashton later followed up this epic prank with a hilarious shot of his wife, Demi Moore, wearing a bikini and bending over. The text accompanying the tweet was something like “Shhh don’t tell my wife!” implying that Demi wasn’t aware of her bikini clad bottom being visible to millions of Twitter users.
At first glance the entire episode seemed a bit frivolous and silly, especially for the amount of coverage it received. However, the world malaria charity benefited by receiving 11,000 combined mosquito nets from both pranksters plus hundreds of thousands from other Twitter users. Ashton’s cute prank helped to demonstrated the power of social media around the world and increased the already growing popularity of Twitter. After that incident millions of people realized how powerful Twitter was as a tool for communication since it was one of the first times in history that a social media site featured so prominently on CNN.
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The great Twitter meltdown is an excellent example of harmless curiosity and mischievous pranksters getting out of hand. In September a Japanese developer discovered a flaw in Twitter’s homepage and wrote some code to exploit it by creating rainbow-colored tweets. This inspired a Norwegian programmer named Magnus Holm to create a worm that retweeted itself when someone hovered over it with their mouse. His worm managed to spread to nearly 200,000 users, and then began to snowball out of control. Other users began creating their own versions of the worm and some of them even linked to porn sites causing massive havoc and spam to invade Twitter and eventually leading to a massive meltdown of the site.
The Great Twitter Meltdown is a great example of a few normal people turning a harmless prank into something bigger. No one was hurt by this prank, the intent of the people involved was clearly not malicious but things easily got out of hand. Why is that…simple curiosity? Perhaps what they say about idle minds and curiosity killing cats has some merit! One thing is for certain; in the future our “human web” might be measured in tweets instead of degrees of separation. With millions of people existing only a few seconds of text from each other we might be headed for the greatest prank in history…or the biggest disaster.