Two trolls carrying boxes.

How two guys trolled reporters outside Twitter

In the rush to cover “breaking news” live at Twitter, journalists fell for a fairly simple hoax.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

This morning I had plans to write some quick thoughts about the Musking of Twitter. But events at City overtook me and, in the end, I’m just writing this up now as I wait for a train home. I’d initially planned to suggest we’d see a few days before we saw waves of layoffs because Musk is smart enough to know not to cut too fast in departments critical to the site’s functioning.

And so, I was more than a little surprised to see reporters saying that an entire team of data engineers was gone:

At first glance, I thought it was a good thing that I hadn’t posted this morning — I wasn’t expecting staff layoffs to start that quickly. But it looked like they had. And the tweets supporting the story kept coming:

Bloomberg and CNBC had written it up. It must be accurate, right?

Remember double-sourcing, anyone?

But the more I looked at it, the more odd it seemed. Just two people, no corroborating sources — was this what it seemed. Others were raising questions, based on contacts within Twitter:

And then the climb-downs started:

And then I saw the give-away on the Reuters Live Stream:

Ligma. Ligma? Oh, boy.

Ligma was a clear signal this story is balls

It’s part of an old internet joke, where, if you get it, you reply “Balls”. Try it. Say “Ligma Balls” out loud (preferably not in an open-plan office). You’ll see the (rather juvenile) joke.

It’s a fake. Those reporters outside Twitter have been trolled by two guys with a sense of humour and some boxes. And they ran the story without independent corroboration. That’s ending up on my verification slides…

Journalists with a little more awareness of internet culture quickly debunked the story:

There are plenty of problems with what these two men say to reporters. The most glaring is that one man identifies himself as a software engineer named “Rahul Ligma.” The Verge has confirmed that name does not exist in Twitter’s Slack or email system. There is also no evidence that the employee exists on LinkedIn.

The apology you would rather not make

Stories were quickly edited, and the journalists who had jumped too quickly had to start climbing down. This is not a tweet anybody wants to have to send:

However, it’s rather terrifying that at least two major news outlets, without any other sources, reported that there were Twitter employees being laid off.

This is the real danger when live reporting and social media intersect. Caught up in the excitement of the moment, Bosa tweeted out an essentially single-sourced story with no qualifications or caveats at all. I’ve used a screen grab above because I assume that this tweet will eventually be deleted, but it’s still live now:

It’s happening.

No, it’s not. It might, and probably will. But you were trolled. And basic journalism practice would have saved embarrassment.


Inevitably, Twitter’s new “Chief Twit” had to have the final word:

And that, folks, is the sense of humour of the new guy in charge of Twitter.

This is going to be a ride…

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Adam Tinworth Twitter

Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.