Sunday, March 14, 2010

Martian Ghosts: Fake invasion story panics Georgia

The grinning ghost of Orson Welles was haunting the streets of Tbilisi last night, when a Georgian television station caused a panic by broadcasting the news that the Russians had invaded the capital. The Imedi station caused a meltdown in the mobile phone network and people were reported to have fled into the streets when it aired a hoax news story, claiming that Russian tanks were advancing and that president Mikheil Saakashvili had been killed. The station went on the defensive in the aftermath, claiming that they had made it quite clear that the broadcast was a simulation of what might happen should the Russians invade again, but as has happened so often before, it seems not enough people were paying attention to the disclaimers. I've argued in a chapter of my book Waging the War of the Worlds that a new panic similar to the 1938 Orson Welles War of the Worlds radio broadcast could happen again, and here's the proof. You can watch some of the broadcast on the BBC website.