A fake BBC News Twitter account falsely claimed Tuesday that actor Daniel Radcliffe, known for his role as Harry Potter in the film series, had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Twitter suspended the account but the tweet was up for at least seven hours, raising questions about whether the social network is acting swiftly enough to combat misinformation.
The tweet was shared at least 762 times and had roughly a thousand likes before the account was suspended by Tuesday afternoon. "BREAKING: Daniel Radcliffe tests positive for coronavirus. The actor is said to be the first famous person to be publicly confirmed." The tweet included a link to a BBC News Alert Page that appears to not have been updated since 2017.
When asked about the tweet, a publicist representing Radcliffe said in an email "it's not true."
A Twitter spokeswoman said the fake BBC account has been permanently suspended for violating its rules against platform manipulation. Under the policy, Twitter users can't mislead others by using fake accounts or "misleading account information to engage in spamming, abusive, or disruptive behavior."
The fake account that shared the misinformation didn't have a verified checkmark and only had 192 followers, signaling that it's not affiliated with the news outlet. Still, the tweet duped some Twitter users, including journalists for The New York Times and Politico who shared the post. Others pointed out that the account and its tweet were fake.
Blake Hounshell, editorial director for digital at Politico, apologized to his followers in a tweet. "Sorry, folks – fooled by a fake BBC account."
Phil Davis, a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, also admitted in a tweet that he was duped too.
Misinformation about the coronavirus has been a top concern for social media companies as fears about the respiratory illness it causes continues to spread. More than 118,100 people worldwide have been sickened by the virus, which was discovered in China in December, and at least 4,262 people have died.
Facebook, Twitter and TikTok have been trying to direct people to accurate information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but it's unclear how well these efforts have been working. In February, an unpublished report from an arm of the State Department said that roughly 2 million tweets had spread conspiracy theories about the coronavirus over three weeks, The Washington Post reported. Hoaxes about the coronavirus have included that the illness is caused by 5G and that a vaccine already exists.
BBC News didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.