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The tragedy of Chris Henry and the disaster on Twitter

Posted by: Michael Rand under Professional football Updated: December 17, 2009 - 11:52 AM

By now, most people know that Bengals WR Chris Henry died this morning from injuries sustained in an accident yesterday. The details are here, and they are tragic.

But we are not here to wax poetic about the death, however terrible it was. Rather, we want to take this opportunity to examine both the blessings and the curses of modern technology. As news of Henry's accident spread last night, the vast majority of official reports said Henry was in dire condition but still alive. There was one, however, that seemed to have more information than others: a series of tweets from the Twitter account of "Biodome10," who claimed to be a reporter for the Dallas Morning News. Around 5 p.m., tweets started coming from the account. One indicated a death confirmation from a doctor (pictured). Another indicated confirmation from a Bengals spokesperson. It seemed odd that such news would be coming from a Dallas Morning News reporter -- no connection to the team or the site of the accident -- but it made it through an initial filter.

Most people were, we imagine, following the saga on Twitter just as we were: searching only tweets that contained the words "Chris Henry." We saw the two tweets from "Biodome10," which were quickly re-tweeted by many and accepted as fact by others. Soon, the story of Henry's "death" was picked up by several outlets. We believe SportsbyBrooks might have been the first. We re-tweeted the SbB tweet announcing a story of Henry's death was up on that site. We also saw it on the Huffington Post, which also ran with the news from the tweet even though it was nowhere on the DMN web site.

Soon, Twitter was a chaotic mess of fans, media and curiosity seekers. Some were wondering why nobody else was reporting Henry's death last night. Others accepted the Tweet and subsequent pick-ups from on-line sites as gospel and started writing RIP tweets. By a little after 6, it became clear that Biodome10 is a fraud  -- and one with extremely poor judgment, to say the least. But we checked in last night at 11 p.m. and there were still people on Twitter re-tweeting "news" of Henry's "death."

Now: we know Twitter verifies accounts now. And we think Twitter can be an extremely useful tool. But it's also a tool that can be incredibly dangerous in this era where speed -- even a matter of a couple of minutes -- leads to page views. Last night was a reminder of the power of media, the power of technology and the process by which information should be vetted -- particularly in a matter of life and death.

We are also curious to see what might become of Biodome10 and whether there are any legal ramifications for what was done. Needless to say, the @biodome10 search on Twitter reveals some foul-mouthed and justifiably harsh opinions of whomever is behind the account.




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