Welcome gibberish

A bit of gibberish on Twitter from US nuclear monitoring agency caused panic. But nonsense is hardly the worst social media sin

Remember “covfefe”? In 2017, Donald Trump, then US president and not yet exiled from social media, tweeted gibberish and people around the world went into a tizzy. On Tuesday, the official Twitter handle for the US Strategic Command posted a message — “l;;gmlxzssaw” — prompting its very own covfefe moment. After all, when the organisation responsible for looking after the world’s largest nuclear arsenal appears to tweet in code, conspiracy theorists and satirists find common ground.

Perhaps the accidental tweet was the nuclear launch code. Maybe it was a message from the Illuminati, the favourite fantasy of conspiracy theorists who believe a secret group of elites controls the world. And why not just a simple hacker enjoying an early April Fool’s Day? As it turns out, Occam’s Razor holds good and if it looks like gibberish, it probably is. A child from the family of the Strategic Command’s social media manager was left unattended with the phone that had access to the account — “l;;gmlxzssaw” was the result of a toddler pressing random buttons.

Covfefe 2.0 has much in common with the original. It could well be an allegory for the social-media-obsessed world. There is too much power in words and it’s easy now to cause a panic, even over a bit of nonsense. Often, the great and common alike are left unsupervised with this power, free to lie for self-promotion and be cynically bigoted in their pursuit of attention. There is no solution to this problem — free speech has a price. Given the hatefulness people on social media have become accustomed to, a bit of gibberish is actually a relief.

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