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Wednesday 21 March 2018

Man in Dublin creates viral tweet about Hurricane in Texas... and it's not well received

Jesus Rodriguez rescues Gloria Garcia after rain from Hurricane Harvey flooded Pearland, in the outskirts of Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Jesus Rodriguez rescues Gloria Garcia after rain from Hurricane Harvey flooded Pearland, in the outskirts of Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
A dead dog lies out of the passenger window of an overturned pickup truck after Hurricane Harvey landed in the Coast Bend area in Port Aransas, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017. Harvey came ashore Friday along the Texas Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm with 130 mph winds, the most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. in more than a decade. (Gabe Hernandez/Corpus Christi Caller-Times via AP)
A flotilla of boats on the flooded Sam Houston Tollway. (Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle/AP)
People are evacuated from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey in a collector's vintage military truck belonging to a volunteer in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A family evacuates their Meyerland home in Houston complete with two dogs. (Mark Mulligan/AP)
Interstate highway 45 is submerged from the effects of Hurricane Harvey seen during widespread flooding in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Richard Carson
People are rescued from flood waters from Hurricane Harvey on an air boat in Dickinson, Texas August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Jennifer Bryant looks over the debris from her family business destroyed by Hurricane Harvey Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, in Katy, Texas. Harvey rolled over the Texas Gulf Coast on Saturday, smashing homes and businesses and lashing the shore with wind and rain so intense that drivers were forced off the road because they could not see in front of them. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Ryan O'Rourke

A Dublin based blogger has found himself at the centre of a media maelstrom after one of his tweets went viral as Texas continues to battle the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Jason Michael McCann, a Scottish academic based in Dublin, 4 tweeted a photo-shopped image of a shark on a highway as hared it from his own account with a misspelled Hurricane Harvey hashtag.

He told Buzz Feed news he knew the image was fake and sent the tweet as a joke for his followers, with the caption: "Believe it or not, this is a shark on the freeway in Houston, Texas."

"Of course I knew it was fake, it was part of the reason I shared the bloomin' thing," he told the news outlet.

"What I had expected was to tweet that and have my 1,300 followers in Scotland to laugh at it. This was, of course, the intent."

However, within hours the tweet had gone viral and Mr McCann found himself at the centre of a severe backlash with many accusing him of spreading fake news.

In a post on his blog Random Public Journal Mr McCann said he checked his account after being alerted by BuzzFeed and saw dozens of notifications.

He explained how he ended up sending the image out on social media.

"Shortly before seven in the morning yesterday I came across an old Sharknado meme; the one where one of the sharks is swimming at the foot of an escalator in a shopping centre," he said.

"It had been photoshopped so as to make it appear as though it was passing a car stuck on a flooded highway. Someone, as someone always does during a hurricane or a heavy flood, had put the darn thing up on Twitter again. Here’s what I did: I downloaded the image, recomposed what I thought was a rubbish tweet, and pressed the blue ‘tweet’ button. Frittering about online, I finished my coffee, and got on with the day."

Mr McCann said when he checked the computer that evening the Tweet had more than 25,000 retweets and people were trying to get US President Donald Trump to retweet it to his followers.

"Let’s be clear about this. I’m a Scottish columnist and blogger living in a two-up-two-down in the middle of Dublin, four and a half thousand miles from Houston, Texas. It says I live between Dublin and Glasgow on my profile, and, owing to the nature of some of the abuse I was getting, people were picking up on that. So that would have been the first real give-away that this wasn’t a picture I had taken, and that this wasn’t an effort at reporting the news," he writes.


Hurricane Harvey made landfall  four days ago as the fiercest hurricane to hit the US in 13 years.

The historic flooding event has affected millions of people in the city and at least 11 people have died with the death toll expected to rise.

President Trump visited the city today.

Mr McCann said the experience got him thinking about social media and how the original message had snowballed out of control, meaning that even legacy media outlets like the New York Times took it upon themselves to de-bunk the image.

The meme has resurfaced during several flood events in recent years.

Mr McCann found himself at the end of severe backlash, with many Americans getting in touch to express their negative reactions.

But the writer  said he has learned something about fake news from the experience.

"This tweet, which I wish to hell I had never tweeted – truth be told, is instructive. No, I am not attempting to teach the wold a lesson. Trolling the whole of America has been a real pleasure," he said in his blog.

"It has, but it is teaching me something about the power of fake news. At the time of writing it has 47,991 retweets, 68,958 likes, over four and a half thousand responses, and has reached 5,650,714 people. How did my Twitter account, with a following at the time of about 1,300 people – mainly in Scotland – do all of this in twelve hours?

"Simple answer: People love this sort of sensation. They eat it up. It entertains them. More than this, they love being part of it. It excites them to know they have been a part of its journey around the world. All the outrage is boloney. Had this not been the case, my followers – who for the most part recognised the meme and saw the humour in it – would not have retweeted."

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