Delays at Twitter kept the bogus news displayed past dawn.
Earlier this month, the FBI and New York Police Department opened an investigation into a potential terror threat after several digitally enhanced images of the New York skyline appeared on an Islamic terrorist group's online forum. The graphic carried a caption, "Al Qaeda coming soon again in New York."
Terrorist organizations commonly weave empty threats into social media. The "coming soon" graphic is likely another one, said Steve Stalinsky of the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors the Web activity of terrorist groups. But could a flurry of idle threats lead to a "cry wolf" complacency that puts America at greater risk of a real attack?
"The Taliban has several Twitter accounts and they're very social-media savvy," Stalinsky said. "YouTube is totally infested with Jihadi propaganda ... Why is this allowed to happen?"
Most social-media platforms will flag or remove hate speech and deceptive spam when such material is brought to the service provider's attention. Twitter early his year announced it will restrict offensive content "in countries that have different ideas about the contours of economic freedom."
The company cited the examples of France and Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content.
Recent cases of social-media causes gone viral underscore the benefits of the public platforms as well as the drawbacks.
Last month, the hottest video in the history of YouTube turned out to be artful spin, the story of an east African conflict almost two decades older than YouTube itself.
The "Kony 2012" mini-documentary nonetheless seemed fresh, credible and urgent to Twitter and Facebook users, who shot out links to the half-hour video, from friend to friend, until it drew more than 25 million views.
The clip elicited public horror and a supportive U.S. Senate resolution for the "invisible children" of Uganda, youngsters abducted and enslaved as soldiers by rebel leader Joseph Kony.
Foreign-policy experts eventually pointed out that Kony hadn't been stirring much trouble and hadn't even been seen in Uganda for several years. Donating money to help the country capture him, as the viral video implored, might not be such a wise thing, traditional news sources reported.
An online petition campaign launched by a Texas mother set off alarms over a ground-beef additive dubbed "pink slime." The cheap, finely textured filler has been served up on school lunch trays, diner counters and kitchen tables for decades, and it's treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill bacteria.
The federal government and some food-safety groups say pink slime is safe. But the public outcry was virulent enough to shut down some meat factories and drive grocers to clear their shelves of ammonia-treated beef.
Many school districts, bowing to online petitions, pledged from here on to serve only the more expensive, slime-less beef.
As with "Kony 2012," the pink slime controversy raised awareness and triggered citizen action in ways once unimaginable. But food without the additive will require more cattle, and industry groups say the public will pay more to stock school cafeterias.
David B. Schmidt, president of the International Food Information Council, issued an online statement:
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