Twitter suicide hoax leaves Toronto police alarmed
Police spend hours investigating hoax, which appears to be marketing ploy
Toronto police have determined that a series of tweets sent out about a possible suicide attempt were part of a hoax.
Const. Scott Mills said he was notified on Wednesday evening about a person who was allegedly threatening to swallow pills.
Someone in Toronto had been trying to reach out to the individual who was allegedly going to take their own life — and soon police were informed about the situation.
For the next four hours, Mills and two other police staff members frantically investigated the tweets.
Through Twitter, they initiated an emergency trace, which eventually helped them determine that several accounts were linked to a proxy address in Greece.
"That's where the proxy is coming from. We believe [the source of the tweets] is probably the United States somewhere, but it's really hard to trace," Mills told CBC Radio's Here and Now on Thursday afternoon.
Police concluded that the suicide wasn't real and that a marketing company appeared to be behind the tweets. The goal appears to have been to get an album release to trend on Twitter.
"We came to the conclusion that this was a scam and a hoax," he said.
Mills said that he has previously dealt with a suicide hoax on Twitter, but that was a case of young people playing a prank.
He said that police want the public to realize that online hoaxes tie up resources and distract police from real emergencies.
An incident like this, if it involved Canadians, could lead to criminal charges of public mischief, Mills said.
"The message clearly has to get out there that scams and hoaxes like this will not be tolerated and will be investigated," he said.
"And we'll get to the bottom of it, one way or another, and identify the people involved."
Twitter has made an increasing number of cameo appearances in episodes involving police in Toronto and the surrounding area in recent years.
The social-messaging site has also become a key conduit for police to get their message out to the public.
More than 36,000 tweets have been sent out from the @TorontoPolice account as of Thursday. Those include the tweet police used to let the public know that last night’s purported suicide bid was a hoax.
Below are summaries of three prior episodes involving police from around the Greater Toronto Area who found themselves reacting to statements made on Twitter — in one case finding that one of their own was behind the messages.
Blogger summons help from the Twitterverse
Four years ago, Perez Hilton, a well-known celebrity blogger, used Twitter to ask for help after an alleged assault in Toronto.
His followers, including at least one person in China, passed on the message to the police.
Toronto police investigated and an assault charge was laid, though it was later dropped.
Search for pot leads to firing
In August, a man sent out a tweet that appeared to be a call for someone in Vaughan, Ont., to sell him marijuana.
York Regional Police saw the tweet and issued a response: "Awesome! Can we come too?"
The police tweet was shared thousands of times and within hours, the man had lost his job at a local Mr. Lube.
Wrong officer behind offensive tweets ID'd
Also in August, Ontario ombudsman André Marin identified a Durham Regional Police officer he believed was responsible for a series of offensive tweets.
The police force investigated and found that one of its officers was indeed responsible for the tweets in question, but not the officer that Marin named.
Marin later apologized for the mix-up, though he said that the police force — and the officer behind the tweets — should be apologizing to him as well.