As authorities continued to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, social-media users around the globe spread false rumors including incorrect reports that the craft made a safe landing.
Perhaps the most damaging rumor came shortly after the jet, which was carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was reported missing Saturday local time: A story spread mainly on Chinese social media that the craft had made a safe emergency landing in Nanning, China.
One Twitter user posted that he had "some inside news from a pilot uncle that #MH370 has emergency landed somewhere in China! Hope everyone is safe."
The rumors picked up steam, with some local Malaysian media outlets publishing similar stories. Both Malaysian Airlines officials and the Chinese government later said the safe landing rumors were false.
Malaysian Digest initially posted an "unofficial" update that the plane "has resurfaced and landed safely" in China. The site later updated its article.
Adding to the confusion, some of the incorrect rumors cited Nanming, Vietnam, not Nanning, China, as the landing site. Other variations of the story said the plane had run out of fuel and had either landed or crashed in mainland Malaysia.
Other social-media users engaged in pure speculation and posted unfounded theories, including claims that the plane could have been struck by a North Korean missile. (The South Korean government reported this week that North Korea had fired several short-range missiles out to sea.)
The Malaysia Airlines rumors echo the speculation and false stories that tend to whip through social media platforms in the wake of national tragedies. After last April's Boston Marathon bombing, for example, representatives for the social/news site Reddit were forced to apologize on behalf of users who falsely "identified" multiple people as the bombers.
But social media can also be a tool for authorities. Aviation safety expert Todd Curtis, founder and publisher of AirSafe.com, told NBC News on Friday that social-media updates in the region could become a valuable source of information during the search for the Malaysian Airlines craft.
First published March 8 2014, 6:25 PM