World / Reporter's Journal

WWIII hoax reminds: There's no room for miscommunication

By Chen Weihua (China Daily USA) Updated: 2015-01-19 11:44

World War I resulted in the deaths of 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians. World War II caused an estimated 50 million to 85 million fatalities. A World War III, with all the 21st century's lethal weapons, is fated to be far more catastrophic.

So when the Twitter accounts of United Press International (UPI) and the New York Post tweeted on Jan 16 that a war had broken out between China and the United States, it should send more than just a chilling message to anyone who read it.

WWIII hoax reminds: There's no room for miscommunication

One UPI message said: "BREAKING: Chinese anti-ship missile fired at USS George Washington. Another: "US Joint Chiefs of Staff: USS George Washington damaged, US Navy now engaged in active combat against Chinese vessels in South China Sea."

Soon enough people realized it was a false alarm, that both accounts had been hacked that day.

The US Navy confirmed on Jan 16 that the US aircraft carrier George Washington had not been attacked and WWIII had not begun. The carrier was in port and not even in the South China Sea.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby on Jan 16 afternoon also said in a press briefing that "I can assure you and everybody else that the George Washington is safe and sound in a dry dock getting some needed maintenance done. She has not been attacked by anybody."

Kirby cautioned people about the bad information out there and its possible repercussions.

"That's why, you know, we check and double check and triple check," he said. "There's no overriding concern here about a false tweet leading to some kind of armed conflict, no."

Kirby said the US has avenues of communications with the Chinese leadership, such a direct communication between Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey and his counterpart in Beijing and other avenues in other government agencies, in particular the State Department, but he said it's not yet a hotline.

While praising social media as a good platform to share information, Kirby said, "it's also, regrettably, a platform for foolish people to do foolish things".

"We're not going to overreact," he said. "We have ways of checking and rechecking."

The Pentagon website has posted a new guide aimed at helping managers keep social media accounts safe.

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