At 10 a.m. this morning, Current Events Aggregate (or Agg. for short) broke the news of an explosion in Singapore.
It was the first in a series of updates on the increasingly dire situation in Singapore. The account seemed to have the story exclusively.
Except it wasn't real news. Nothing out of the ordinary was, or is, happening in Singapore. No quarantine zone has been established; the actions of military drones were made up. The state has not declared Martial Law.
Current Events Agg. had never tweeted any real news before, unless that news was related to Call of Duty. A more perceptive Twitter user than I likely noticed immediately that this Singapore explosion story was coming from the Call of Duty series' handle; it had changed its branding, name and bio.
This was a bad idea.
The Twitter platform is at its most productive when deployed as a crowd-sourced news-gathering and -generating service. It's been used in this manner to break stories as they develop around the world and communicate them to an international audience.
In order to get people talking about the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, which will undoubtedly sell millions without the use of this type of dramatic, poorly packaged stunt, the developer re-appropriated one of social media's most beneficial functions in order to serve its needs. Many on Twitter were horrified when they realized the tweets were part of a publicity stunt.
So @CallofDuty has more than 2M followers & is faking news that could be devastating for those unaware it's video game marketing. Awful.
— Tauriq Moosa (@tauriqmoosa) September 29, 2015
This @CallofDuty Twitter stunt is so bad. So irresponsible.
— Mark Lawson (@Born2beSlicker) September 29, 2015
This was a social media play nightmare. Anyone with 2 weeks experience in the internet should know how dumb a decision it was.
— LavenderTownMarowak (@athenahollow) September 29, 2015
Who was the audience here? Breaking news is broadly relevant, and the lack of new or interesting Call of Duty-related content suggests this was a move to attract a wider audience. The new branding and tweets required a second, if not third look to find out it was all promotional.
Considering that the Singapore explosion story was directly fed to those interested enough in the series to follow it on Twitter, however, means that this would only happen if fans were duped into thinking that, yes, this was a real breaking news story.
Even if they weren't, the number of retweets removing the snippet from its context could have exposed those with a personal connection to Singapore. Without awareness of the stunt, the story would misinform and worry those with family in the state.
Looking at the replies, it seems people were categorically annoyed and/or bewildered by the sudden change in focus for the account. In that sense, then, the experiment backfired. Trying to grab someone's attention by appropriating social media's strengths during breaking news, while trying to momentarily fool people into thinking real people are dying, is hard to defend.
Who was the audience for this?
As someone who has a minimum amount of story-based knowledge about Call of Duty as it is, I can't say that the Current Events Agg. masquerade has taught me much about the game or increased my interest in it. Instead, it stands solely as a notable failure in marketing, an attempt to grab some attention by playing to the strengths of social media during actual military action. While we're here talking about the game, it's not like Black Ops 3 was hurting for mainstream attention.
This can also be seen as an example of that fabled "bad press" for an upcoming game release.
The account has since changed back to its standard franchise branding, and tried to play off today's events with a clarifying tweet:
This was a glimpse into the future fiction of #BlackOps3.
— Call of Duty (@CallofDuty) September 29, 2015
Utilizing a non-fictional country as the center of a realistic story in order to advertise a work of fiction based on a dystopian future is marketing from beyond the realm of any logic. This was a bad idea, and should never have happened.