Bad Manners: Using Twitter to Hound People

March 29, 2012 | By | Comments (1)

Director Spike Lee caused a stir this week by gossiping on the Internet.

Lee re-tweeted to his 250,000 Twitter followers a Florida address purportedly belonging to a man who last month shot and killed a teenage boy who was wearing a hoodie, an incident that sparked nationwide outrage. Unfortunately, Lee re-tweeted the wrong address.

As a result, “A couple who say they were forced to leave their home after director Spike Lee re-tweeted their address to his Twitter followers has hired the Morgan & Morgan law firm to represent them,” the Orlando Sentinel reported.

How did the error happen? “The couple’s address was tweeted by a man who believed he had uncovered the address of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman who shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last month. The problem is, the address does not belong to Zimmerman, but to the McClains, who have a son named William George Zimmerman who lived there in 1995 and still lives in Central Florida,” according to the newspaper.

“After Lee’s retweet, the couple’s other son says, the McClains have been forced to flee their home and live in a hotel given the rapidly spreading threats of violence against the real Zimmerman,” the newspaper reported. The McClains’ lawyer added: “At this point, they’ve had to move out of their home and their lives have been upended.”

As for the Twitter user who originally tweeted the erroneous address? CNN reported yesterday: “The man who initially sent the message, identified on his Twitter account as Marcus D. Higgins of Los Angeles, has since apologized.”

If there’s a lesson to this story, it’s this: Don’t spread unverified gossip or innuendo on the Internet. It’s no different from standing in the backyard, whispering over the fence with your next-door neighbor, except that it spreads a lot faster.

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