6th August 2012  Twitter Hoax Drives Up Oil.

Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, resplendent in a uniform that wouldn't put him out of place on the bridge of Galactica, confirmed earlier today on his Twitter account that embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had been killed along with his wife and two other people. Anticipating possible disruptions to oil flow that the end of the Assad regime and collapse of his government could bring the price of oil jumped sharply, with light sweet crude futures rising from $90.82 to $91.99 a barrel in the first half hour after the tweet was made.

The only thing is, Kolokoltsev doesn't have a Twitter account and al-Assad, unlike Francisco Franco, is very much alive.

As the real Russian interior ministry moved quickly to deny issuing a statement confirming al-Assad's death the fake @MiniInterRussia (account now deleted) took to the Twittersphere again and tweeted: "This account is an hoax created by italian journalist Tomasso De Benedetti".

De Benedetti is a serial Twitter hoaxster who in March tweeted from an account purporting to be that of Vatican No 2. Cardinal Bertone that Pope Benedict had died and in June he pretended to be the Egyptian Interior Minister confirming the death of Hosni Mubarak. "Twitter works well for deaths," he told The Guardian in an interview in March after a spate of fake tweets that included the deaths of Fidel Castro and Pedro Almodavar.

His aim is to expose the unreliability of social media sources like Twitter and Facebook (FB). Media outlets are becoming increasingly dependent on Twitter to not alone inform but to become informed themselves and often don't take time to verify the information they are receiving.

How much of an effect De Benedetti's tweets had on the spike and continued elevated oil price is questionable but it shows that social media can be used to affect the world of high finance. Twitter has recently introduced a 'cashtag' which allows its users to click on ticker symbols and bring up other tweets about that stock, effectively copying StockTwits. StockTwits however has strict rules governing the editing and deletion of posts; namely, you can't. Media outlets, already heavily tuned into Twitter for celebrity and political news, will now be able to follow business and market news much closer and the tendency to favour speed over veracity could see incorrect news effecting share prices.